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A glimpse of Colonel “Jeb Stuart”

This sketch, may it please the reader, will not contain any “historic events.” Not a single piece of artillery will roar in it-not a single volley of musketry will sound — no life will be lost from the very beginning to the end of it. It aims only to draw a familiar outline of a famous personage as he worked his work in the early months of the war, and the muse of comedy, not tragedy, will hold the pen. For that brutal thing called war contains much of comedy; the warp and woof of the fabric is of strangely mingled threads-blood and merriment, tears and laughter follow each other, and are mixed in a manner quite bewildering! To-day it is the bright side of the tapestry I look at-my aim is to sketch some little trifling scenes “upon the outpost.”

To do so, it will be necessary to go back to the early years of the late war, and to its first arena, the country between Manassas and the Potomac. Let us, therefore, leave the present year, 1866, of which many persons are weary, and return to 1861, of which many never grow tired talking-1861, with its joy, its laughter, its inexperience, and its confiding simplicity, when everybody thought that the big battle on the shores of Bull's Run had terminated the war at one blow.

At that time the present writer was attached to Beauregard's or Johnson's “Army of the Potomac,” and had gone with the [203] advance force of the army, after Manassas, to the little village of Vienna-General Bonham commanding the detachment of a brigade or so. Here we duly waited for an enemy who did not come; watched his mysterious balloons hovering above the trees, and regularly “turned out” whenever one picket (gray) fired into another (gray).

This was tiresome, and one day in August I mounted my horse and set forward toward Fairfax Court-House, intent on visiting that gay cavalry man, Colonel “Jeb Stuart,” who had been put in command of the front toward Annandale. A pleasant ride through the summer woods brought me to the picturesque little village; and at a small mansion about a mile east of the town, I came upon the cavalry headquarters.

The last time I had seen the gay young Colonel he was stretched upon his red blanket under a great oak by the roadside, holding audience with a group of country people around himhonest folks who came to ascertain by what unheard — of cruelty they were prevented from passing through his pickets to their homes. The laughing, bantering air of the young commandant of the outpost that day had amused me much. I well remembered now his keen eye, and curling moustache, and cavalry humour-thus it was a good companion whom I was about to visit, not a stiff and silent personage, weighed down with “official business.” Whether this anticipation was realized or not, the reader will discover.

The little house in which Colonel Jeb Stuart had taken up his residence, was embowered in foliage. I approached it through a whole squadron of horses, picketed to the boughs; and in front of the portico a new blood-red battle flag, with its blue St. Andrew's cross and white stars, rippled in the wind. Bugles sounded, spurs clashed, sabres rattled, as couriers or officers, scouts or escorts of prisoners came and went; huge-bearded cavalrymen awaited orders, or the reply to dispatches-and from within came song and laughter from the young commander. Let me sketch him as he then appeared — the man who was to become so famous as the chief of cavalry of General Lee's army; who was to inaugurate with the hand of a master, a whole new [204] system of cavalry tactics — to invent the raid which his opponents were to imitate with such good results-and to fall, after a hundred hot fights in which no bullet ever touched him, near the scene of his first great “ride” around the army of McClellan.

As he rose to meet me, I took in at a glance every detail of his appearance. His low athletic figure was clad in an old blue undress coat of the United States Army, brown velveteen pantaloons worn white by rubbing against the saddle, high cavalry boots with small brass spurs, a gray waistcoat, and carelessly tied cravat. On the table at his side lay a Zouave cap, covered with a white havelock — an article then very popular-and beside this two huge yellow leathern gauntlets, reaching nearly to the elbow, lay ready for use. Around his waist, Stuart wore a black leather belt, from which depended on the right a holster containing his revolver, and on the left a light, keen sabre, of French pattern, with a basket hilt. The figure thus was that of a man “every inch a soldier,” and the face was in keeping with the rest. The broad and lofty forehead-one of the finest I have ever seen — was bronzed by sun and wind; the eyes were clear, piercing, and of an intense and dazzling blue; the nose prominent, with large and mobile nostrils; and the mouth was completely covered by a heavy brown moustache, which swept down and mingled with a huge beard of the same tint, reaching to his breast. Such was the figure of the young commandant, as he appeared that day, in the midst of the ring of bugles and the clatter of arms, there in the centre of his web upon the outpost. It was the soldier ready for work at any instant; prepared to mount at the sound of the trumpet, and lead his squadrons in person, like the hardy, gallant man-at-arms he was.

After friendly greetings and dinner on the lid of a camp-chest, where that gay and good companion, Captain Tiernan Brien, did the honours, as second in command, Stuart proposed that we should ride into Fairfax Court-House and see a lady prisoner of his there. When this announcement of a “lady prisoner” drew forth some expressions of astonishment, he explained with a laugh that the lady in question had been captured a few days before in suspicious proximity to the Confederate lines, which [205] she appeared to be reconnoitring; and that she was a friend of the “other faction” was proved by the circumstance that when captured she was riding a Federal Colonel's horse, with army saddle, holsters, and equipments complete. While on a little reconnoissance, all by herself, in this guise she had fallen into Stuart's net; had been conducted to his headquarters; assigned by him to the care of a lady resident at the Court-House, until he received orders in relation to her from the army headquarters --and this lady we were now about to visit.

We set out for the village, Stuart riding his favourite “Skylark,” --that good sorrel which had carried him through all the scouting of the Valley, and was captured afterwards near Sharpsburg. This horse was of extraordinary toughness, and I remember one day his master said to me, “Ride as hard as you choose, you can't tire Skylark.” On this occasion the good steed was in full feather; and as I am not composing a majestic historic narrative, it will be permitted me to note that his equipments were a plain “McClellan tree,” upon which a red blanket was confined by a gaily coloured surcingle: a bridle with single head-stall, light curb-bit, and single rein. Mounted upon his sorrel, Stuart was thoroughly the cavalry-man, and he went on at a rapid gallop, humming a song as he rode.

We found the lady-prisoner at a hospitable house of the village, and there was little in her appearance or manner to indicate the “poor captive,” nor did she exhibit any “freezing terrour,” as the romance writers say, at sight of the young militaire. At that time some amusing opinions of the Southerners were prevalent at the North. The “rebels” were looked upon pretty much as monsters of a weird and horrible character-a sort of “anthropophagi,” Cyclops-eyed, and with heads that “did grow beneath their shoulders.” Short rations, it was popularly supposed, compelled them to devour the bodies of their enemies; and to fall into their bloody clutch was worse than death. This view of the subject, however, plainly did not possess the captive here. Her fears, if she had ever had any of the terrible gray people, were quite dissipated; and she received us with a nonchalant smile, and great indifference. [206]

I shall not give the fair dame's name, nor even venture to describe her person, or conjecture her age-further than to say that her face was handsome and laughing, her age about twentyfive or thirty.

The scene which followed was a little comedy, whose gay particulars it is easier to recall than to describe. It was a veritable crossing of swords on the arena of Wit, and I am not sure that the lady did not get the better of it. Her tone of badinage was even more than a match for the gay young officer's-and of badinage he was a master-but he was doubtless restrained on the occasion by that perfect good-breeding and courtesy which uniformly marked his demeanour to the sex, and his fair adversary had him at a disadvantage. She certainly allowed her wit and humour to flash like a Damascus blade; and, with a gay laugh, denounced the rebels as perfect wretches for coercing her movements. Why, she would like to know, was she ever arrested? She had only ridden out on a short pleasure excursion from Alexandria, and now demanded to be permitted to return thither. “Why was she riding a Federal officer's horse?” Why, simply because he was one of her friends. If the Colonel would “please” let her return through his pickets she would not tell anybody anything-upon her word!

“The Colonel” in question was smiling-probably at the idea of allowing anything on two feet to pass “through his pickets” to the enemy. But the impossibility of permitting this was not the burden of his reply. With that odd “laughter of the eye” always visible in him when thoroughly amused, he opposed the lady's return, on the ground that he would miss her society. This he could not think of, and it was not friendly in her to contemplate leaving him for ever so soon after making his acquaintance! Then she was losing other pleasant things. There was Richmond-she would see all the sights of the Confederate capital; then an agreeable trip by way of Old Point would restore her to her friends.

Reply of the lady extremely vivacious: She did not wish to see the Confederate capital!-she wished to go back to Alexandria!-straight! She was not anxious to get away from him, for [207] he had treated her with the very greatest courtesy, and she should always regard him as her friend. But she wanted to go back to Alexandria, through the pickets-straight!

That the statement of her friendly regard for the young Colonel was unaffected, the fair captive afterwards proved. When in due course of time she was sent by orders from army headquarters to Richmond, and thence via Old Point to Washington, she wrote and published an account of her adventures, in which she denounced the Confederate officials everywhere, including those at the centre of Rebeldom, as ruffians, monsters, and tyrants of the deepest dye, but excepted from this sweeping characterization the youthful Colonel of cavalry, who was the author of all her woes. So far from complaining of him, she extolled his kindness, courtesy, and uniform care of her comfort, declaring that he was “the noblest gentleman she had ever known.” There was indeed about Colonel Jeb Stuart, as about Major-General Stuart, a smiling air of courtesy and gallantry, which made friends for him among the fair sex, even when they were enemies; and Bayard himself could not have exhibited toward them more respect and consideration than he did uniformly. He must have had serious doubts in regard to the errand of his fair prisoner, so near the Confederate lines, but he treated her with the greatest consideration; and when he left her, the bow he made was as low as to the finest “lady in the land.”

It is possible that the worthy reader may not find as much entertainment in perusing the foregoing sketch as I do in recalling the scene to memory. That faculty of memory is a curious one, and very prone to gather up, like Autolycus, the “unconsidered trifles” of life. Every trivial incident of the times I write of comes back now-how Stuart's gay laugh came as he closed the door, and how he caught up a drum which the enemy had left behind them in the yard of the mansion, sprang to the saddle, and set off at a run through the streets of the village, causing the eyes of the inhabitants to open with astonishment at the spectacle of Colonel Stuart running a race, with a drum before him, singing lustily a camp song as he rode. In a number of octavo volumes the reader will find an account of the great [208] career of Major-General Stuart-this was Colonel Jeb Stuart on the outpost.

And now if the worthy reader is in that idle, unexacting mood so dear to chroniclers, I beg he will listen while I speak of another “trifling incident” occurring on the same day, which had a rather amusing result. In return for the introduction accorded me to the captive, I offered to make the young Colonel acquainted with a charming friend of my own, whom I had known before his arrival at the place; and as he acquiesced with ready pleasure, we proceeded to a house in the village, where Colonel Stuart was duly presented to Miss — . The officer and the young lady very soon thereafter became close friends, for she was passionately Southern-and a few words will present succinctly the result.

In the winter of 1862, Colonel Mosby made a raid into Fairfax, entered the Court-House at night, and captured General Stoughton and his staff-bringing out the prisoners and a number of fine horses safely. This exploit of the partisan greatly enraged the Federal authorities; and Miss —, having been denounced by Union residents as Mosby's “private friend” and pilot on the occasion — which Colonel Mosby assured me was an entire error-she was arrested, her trunks searched, and the prisoner and her papers conveyed to Washington. Here she was examined on the charge of complicity in Mosby's raid; but nothing appeared against her, and she was in a fair way to be released, when all at once a terrible proof of her guilt was discovered. Among the papers taken from the young lady's trunk was found [209] the following document. This was the “damning record” which left no further doubt of her guilt.

I print the paper verbatim et literatim, suppressing only the full name of the lady:

To all Whom it May Concern:
Know Ye, That reposing special confidence in the patriotism, fidelity, and ability of Antonia J.--, I, James E. B. Stuart, by virtue of the power vested in me as Brigadier-General of the Provisional Army of the Confederate States of America, do hereby appoint and commission her my honorary Aide-de-Camp, to rank as such from this date. She will be obeyed, respected, and admired by all true lovers of a noble nature.

Given under my hand and seal at the Headquarters Cavalry Brigade, at Camp Beverly, the 7th October, A. D. 1861, and the first year of our independence.

J. E. B. Stuart.
By the General:
L. Tiernan Brien, A. A. G.

Such was the fatal document discovered in Miss--‘s trunk, the terrible proof of her treason! The poor girl was committed to the Old Capitol Prison as a secret commissioned emissary of the Confederate States Government, was kept for several months, and when she was released and sent South to Richmond, where I saw her, she was as thin and white as a ghost — the mere shadow of her former self.

All that. cruelty had resulted from a jest — from the harmless pleasantry of a brave soldier in those bright October days of 1861!

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