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General Stuart in camp and field.

Colonel John Esten Cooke.
The famous General “JebStuart was, perhaps, the most picturesque figure moving on the great arena of the late civil war. Young, gay, gallant; wearing a uniform brilliant with gold braid, golden spurs, and a hat looped up with a golden star and decorated with a black plume; going on marches at the head of his column with his banjo-player gayly thrumming behind him; leading his troops to battle with a camp song on his lips; here to-day and away to-morrow, raiding, fighting, laughing, dancing, and as famous for his gallantry toward women as for his reckless courage. Stuart was in every particular a singular and striking human being, drawing to himself the strongest public interest both as a man and a soldier. Of his military ability as a cavalry leader, General Sedgwick probably summed up the general opinion when he said: “Stuart is the best cavalryman ever foaled in North America.” Of his courage, devotion, and many lovable traits, General Lee bore his testimony on his death, when he retired to his tent with the words: “I can scarcely think of him without weeping.” Stuart thus made a very strong impression both on the people at large and on the eminent soldiers with whom he was associated, and a sketch of him ought to interest, if faithfully drawn. The writer of this paper believes it is in his power to present such a sketch, having enjoyed his personal friendship, and observed him during a large part of his career; and the aim will be to make the likeness presented as accurate as possible to the original.

Up to the outbreak of the war Stuart's life was scarcely marked by any incident of interest. He was a native of Patrick county, [666] Virginia, and came of a family of high social position and some distinction. Having graduated at West Point, he served for some years as a lieutenant in the United States army, and when it was obvious that Virginia would secede, he resigned his commission and came to his native State, where he was put in command of the First Regiment of Cavalry,operating on the Upper Potomac. He had been prominent, at this time, in only one scene attracting public attention. This was in 1859, at Harper's Ferry, where he was directed by General, then Colonel, R. E. Lee to summon John Brown to surrender. He recognized Brown, then passing as “Captain Smith,” as soon as the engine-house door was half opened, as an old acquaintance in Kansas, and advised him to surrender, which Brown declined doing, adding, “You know, lieutenant, we are not afraid of bullets,” when Stuart stepped aside, and the attack and capture of the old marauder followed.

In a sketch so limited as the present, it is impossible to more than refer to the main points in Stuart's career as a soldier. From the first, his cavalry operations were full of fire and vigor, and General J. E. Johnston, under whom he served in the Valley, called him “the indefatigable Stuart.” He became famous for his gayety, activity, and romantic exploits, and after fighting all day would dance nearly all night at some hospitable house. He wore at this time his blue United States army uniform, and a forage cap covered with a white “havelock,” resembling a chain helmet, which made his head resemble that of a knight of the days of chivalry; and at the head of his troopers, as they moved through the spring forests, he was a romantic figure. When Johnston crossed the mountains, Stuart covered the movement with very great skill, charged the Zouaves at Manassas, held the outposts afterward toward Alexandria, and brought up the rear when Johnston fell back to the Rapidan, subsequently taking a prominent part in the obstinate battles on the Chickahominy. Just preceding these battles he made his remarkable march, with about fifteen hundred cavalry, entirely around General McClellan's army, originating thus the system of cavalry “raiding,” which afterward proved so fatal to the South.

The ability and energy displayed in these movements gained for him the commission of major general, and from that time, to his death, he remained Chief of Cavalry of General Lee's army. When the Confederate forces advanced northward in the summer of 1862, Stuart's cavalry accompanied the column, and took part in all the important operations of that year — on the Rapidan, the Rappahannock, the Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, and Fredericksburg. In [667] these bustling scenes Stuart acted with immense energy and enthusiasm, laying broad and deep his reputation as a cavalry officer. By incessant fighting, and an ardor and activity which seemed to pass all bounds, he had by this time won the full confidence of General Lee. His rank, in the estimation of General Jackson, was as high. This will be understood from what took place in May, 1863, at Chancellorsville. When Jackson was disabled, and Stuart assumed command, and sent to ascertain Jackson's views and wishes as to the attack on the next morning, the wounded commander replied: “Go back and tell General Stuart to act on his own judgment, and do what he thinks best. I have implicit confidence in him!” --an expression for which my authority was his brave Adjutant General, Colonel Pendleton, and which ought to be sufficient to make the reputation of any soldier. Stuart's attack with Jackson's Corps on the next morning fully justified this confidence. His employment of artillery in mass on the Federal left, went far to decide this critical action. At the battle of Fredericksburg, in the preceding December, the same masterly handling of his guns had protected Jackson's right toward the Massaponnax, which was the real key of the battle; and in these two great actions, as on the left at Sharpsburg, Stuart exhibited a genius for the management of artillery which would have delighted Napoleon. In the operations of 1863, culminating at Gettysburg, he was charged with misconception or disobedience of orders in separating himself from the main column, although he protested to me, with the utmost earnestness and feeling, that he had been guilty of neither. Then the hurried and adventurous scenes followed, when General Lee attempted, in October, 1863, to cut off General Meade at Manassas, when the cavalry was the only arm which effected anything, and General Kilpatrick was nearly crushed near Bucklands — the brief campaign of Mine Run-and the furious wrestle between Lee and Grant in the Wilderness, in May, 1864. When General Grant moved toward Spottsylvania Court-House, it was Stuart who, according to Northern historians, so obstructed the roads as to enable General Lee to interpose his army at this important point. Had this not been effected, Richmond, it would seem, must have fallen; Stuart thus having the melancholy glory of prolonging, for an additional year, the contest, ending only in April, 1865. His death speedily followed. General Sheridan turned against him his own system, organized on the Chickahominy, in June, 1862. The Federal horse pushed past Lee's army to surprise Richmond; Stuart followed in haste, with such small force of cavalry as he could collect on the instant. The collision took place [668] at Yellow tavern, near Richmond, and in the engagement Stuart was mortally wounded, and, two or three days afterward, expired.

The death of the famous cavalryman produced a deep and painful sensation, in some degree akin to that produced by the death of Jackson. The Southern people, indeed, had become accustomed to couple together the three great names, Lee, Jackson, and Stuart, valuing each for his peculiar qualities. No comparison is intended to be made between these three distinguished soldiers; but it is interesting to notice how sharply contrasted they were in character, and how peculiarly each was fitted for the sphere in which he moved, and his special functions. Lee, the head and front of the struggle, was the born commander-in-chief, fitted for the conception of great campaigns, ever wide awake, a man of august dignity by nature, calm, suave, grave, taking good and evil fortune with the same imposing serenity; in person, one of the most noble and graceful men of his epoch, and the finest rider in the Southern army; in character, simple, pure, patient, binding to himself both the love and respect of men. Jackson was the infantry leader, the “right arm” to execute what Lee conceived; in person not graceful, in manner silent, reserved, and often abrupt; cautious in council, but rapid and terrible in execution, going to battle with muttered prayers on his lips, leaving all to Providence, but striking with all the power of his arm to do his own part, and in many ways resembling the Ironsides of Cromwell. Stuart, on the contrary, was the cavalier, essentially belonging to the class of men who followed the fortunes of Charles I.-ardent, impetuous, brimming over with the wine of life and youth, with the headlong courage of a high-spirited boy, fond of bright colors, of rippling flags, of martial music, and the clash of sabres; in all the warp and woof his character an embodiment of the best traits of the English cavaliers — not of their bad traits. Although his utter carelessness as to the impression he produced subjected him to many calumnies, it is here placed on record, by one who knew his private life thoroughly, and was with him day and night for years, that he was, in morals, among the purest of men — a faithful husband, absolutely without vices of any description, and, if not demonstrative — in his religious views, an earnest and exemplary Christian. His love for his wife was deep and devoted; and on the death of his little daughter, Flora, he said to me, with tears in his eyes: “I shall never get over it.”

When one day some person in my presence indulged in sneers at the expense of “preachers,” supposing that the roystering young commander would echo them, Stuart said, coldly: “I regard the [669] Christian ministry as the noblest work in which any human being can engage.” He never touched spirits in any form during his whole life, having promised his mother, he told me, that he would not; did not use tobacco even; never uttered anything approaching an oath, or touched cards, or indulged in any one of the vices supposed to be habitual with soldiers. In spite of all, however, those who hated or envied him, called him a drunkard and a libertine.

Stuart naturally attracted most attention in his military character, and I am satisfied that, as time passes on, and the circumstances of the late struggle are better known, his reputation as a soldier will steadily increase. His youth, gayety, and apparent thoughtlessness, his song-singing, his rattling banjo-all were against him in the estimation of grave people in black coats, who could not or would not believe that this “mere boy” was by birth a soldier-even a great one. Successful soldiership requires a peculiar organization, Which. is neither that of the statesman, the orator, the writer, and the thinker. What is demanded is the genius of the man born to lead, direct, and act-often on sudden emergency, and as though from instinct. Stuart was, by nature, intended to lead and command men. He took his place at the head of troops as by right, and his followers felt that he was entitled to lead them, without sharing in that unthinking admiration which he generally aroused. I had the conviction forced upon me, after observing him in his earliest campaigns, that he was a thorough soldier. He had the instinctive power of penetrating his enemy's design, an eye consummate in the choice of ground for fighting on, with cavalry, infantry, or artillery; and, while reckless, apparently, in attacking, knew well when he ought to retreat. The success of his retreats, indeed, from positions of the most hazardous character, will probably remain his greatest claim to good soldiership-at least they so impressed me while closely observing how they were accomplished on many occasions in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

His personal bearing on the field was peculiar. He was rarely excited by anything, though he exhibited all the ardor of a young soldier while actually fighting, and often crossed swords like a common sabieur. As frequently, however, he remained quiet, appearing to be indulging in reflection. In very dangerous and critical situations I have seen him throw his leg over the pommel of the saddle, drum upon his knee carelessly, and then give his orders so quietly that it was difficult to believe that it was “touch and go” whether he would extricate his command, or be cut to pieces. Any question of his personal fate obviously never entered his mind — a common [670] trait, it may be said, with soldiers; but Stuart evidently possessed the additional merit of being able to think with entire calmness, while the air around him was full of bullets, and shells were bursting over and around him. In a cavalry charge, however, the thinker disappeared, and he became the actor. He went in front of his men, at a gallop, with immense joy, ardor and elan. His face glowed, he was full of laughter, and often roared out, in his gay, sonorous voice, some one of his favorite ballads. This eccentric habit attracted the attention of Jackson's men at Chancellorsville-men habituated to the gravity and prayers of their wounded leader. Stuart led Jackson's Corps against General Hooker's intrenchments, with drawn sabre and floating plume, singing “Old Joe Hooker, will you come out of the Wilderness!”

He had the genius to understand what an enemy ought to, and probably would do — in proof of which I remember that he said to me, in the winter of 1862: “The next battle will be near Chancellorsville,” where it accordingly took place, nearly six months afterward; but he was as great as an executive officer as in council, if not greater. I am sure that he loved fighting in person, from the ardor of his blood, his high health, and natural excitability and impetuosity. He would certainly have made an excellent private, and told me, when there was some question of virtually superseding him, that, if they did so, he would enlist. The War Office might deprive him of his commission, he said, or force him to resign; but there was one thing they could not do-prevent him from going into the ranks with his sabre as a private of the Confederate States army, which, he added, he certainly should do. I am certain that he would have followed this course at once, and not in the least from any feeling of “spite.” He produced upon me the impression of being more thoroughly and completely devoted to the cause in which he was fighting than any other person, without exception, with whom I was thrown during the war. His faith in the justice of the struggle was absolute, and he never, to my knowledge, had one moment's doubt as to the result of the war. His words and actions invariably indicated the most unswerving conviction that the South was fighting in the holiest of causes, and must achieve her independence. His duty, therefore, was plain. He would do his best, count his life as nothing, and stand or fall as heaven decreed. He said to me: “I never expect to come out of this war alive ;” and though he was undoubtedly ambitious, immensely so even, and void of glory, he ought to have credit for the nobler motive-love of the cause, and devotion to it, even to the death. [671]

The object of this sketch is chiefly to draw the likeness of General Stuart as he appeared in the familiar scenes of the camp; as this familiar phase of any human being is generally the most characteristic and suggestive; but the subject of his genius as a soldier ought not to be dropped without some reference to the estimate placed upon him by those best able to judge him truly. General Lee unquestionably regarded him as a cavalry commander of the first order of merit, and attached the very highest value to his co-operation in the campaign. The estimates of General Lee, either of friend or foe, were calm, impartial, and rarely, if ever, affected in the least degree by private feeling. Thus, he esteemed the late General Meade very highly as a soldier, declaring that he was the best officer of the Federal army, and had “given him more trouble than any of them.” An estimate which he precisely reversed in the case of General Sheridan, whose ability as a cavalry officer he considered very small. His opinion of Stuart may be seen in his reports, but was plainest to those who observed, at close view, how much he counseled with and trusted to him. The cavalry, under their ardent young leader, were the eyes and ears of his army in every campaign; and although Lee would not officially censure Stuart, it seems plain that, right or wrong, he regarded the defeat at Gettysburg as in some measure due to the absence of Stuart, to whom he had always looked for prompt and reliable information of the movements of the enemy. Finally, when Stuart fell, in May, 1864, and Lee said that he could scarcely think of him without weeping, the acute grief of the great soldier for a man he had loved so much was certainly mingled with deep regret for the loss of the soldier whose services were so important to him in the critical condition of affairs at the moment.

In camp, in bivouac, on the march, and “off duty” everywhere, Stuart was a striking personage. Some human beings are only notable on great occasions, in imposing attitudes gotten up for the emergency, and once back in private, living their every day lives, are commonplace and uninteresting. This was far from being the case with Stuart. There was about the man a perennial interest as vivid with those who saw him, hour by hour, as with strangers glancing at him in his splendid uniform at the head of his column, or leading a charge. The ardor, mirth, and romance of the man in his public phase, were all natural, and as characteristic of him in private with friends and staff officers as on the field before the eyes of the world. He had an immensely strong physique, and unfailing animal spirits --loved song, laughter, jesting, rough practical jokes, and all the [672] virile divertisements of camp. His surroundings were all in unison with his youthful love of movement, incident, and adventure. He rarely settled down, unless compelled to do so, in any formal headquarters. “Here to-day and away to-morrow,” might have been considered one of his maxims. Thus his quarters were, except in winter, the most impromptu affairs. A canvas “fly” stretched over a pole, the horses affixed to the boughs of the forest near, saddled and champering their bits, the red battle-flag rippling in the brilliant sunshine, couriers going and coming, the staff grouped around, waiting, booted and spurred, for the order to mount, which they knew might come at any moment, and from the canvas tent the song or laughter of Stuart busy at his desk, from which he would rise from time to time to come to the opening, yawn, throw a jest at some one, and then return to his work-such, in brief outline, were these first bivouacs of Stuart, who always moved in “light marching order,” that is to say, with his blanket behind his saddle, and his hat, gloves, and sabre beside him; a true cavalier, ready at all moments to be up and away.

With his staff officers, Stuart was perfectly familiar, and more. like a “big boy” among a group of small ones, than a general enthroned among subordinates. It was his delight to jest at the expense of each and all, and he was perfectly willing that they should jest at him in return. His humor was often rough, unceremonious — that of the cavalryman; but he was not guilty of the smallness of becoming irritated if he was retorted on in kind. He seemed cordially to hate ceremony, and wholly ignored his rank in his military family, though at times he was exceedingly imperious. If on such occasions, however, he thought that he had wounded any one, he would speedily regret it, put his arm around the individual, laugh, and say, “Come, old fellow, get pleased. I never joke with any one unless I love them.”

This was the boy speaking through the man's lips; indeed, there was a pervading spirit of boyishness about Stuart which made it impossible to be permanently angry with him, however rough his jest at one's expense. He was, in the interval of all this gayety, an exceedingly hard worker, and a very stern disciplinarian. One of his humorous orders to his inspector general was: “Cry aloud-spare not-show my people their transgressions!” And he never hesitated to compel obedience to his orders, and to throw the whole weight of his official displeasure against any officer of his command, however high his rank. With a very warm and kind heart, he had little of the softness of disposition which induces reluctance to punish. [673] neglect of duty. This latter trait is said to have, in some measure, characterized General Lee. It did not characterize Stuart. He was a very stern man where he had convinced himself that there was wilful opposition to his orders, or even a failure, from negligence, to comply with them. From this resulted a very excellent state of discipline, generally, and a wholesome indisposition to act in opposition to his known wishes, or brave his displeasure. He had none of the mock dignity of small men in command, and spoke and acted with entire naturalness. Often his utterances were full of rough humor. Having reported to him, on one occasion, that a force of Federal cavalry had crossed the Rappahannock below Fleetwood, and were drawn up on the southern bank, I received from him the order: “Well, tell Colonel Beale to lick into 'em, and jam 'em right over the river.” At Fredericksburg, in the evening, when one of his officers sent a courier to ask how the battle was going, his answer was: “Tell him Jackson has not advanced, but I have, and that I am going on, crowding 'em with artillery.” While conversing with him, one day, in regard to his hazardous expedition around General McClellan's army, on the Chickahominy, I said that, if attacked while crossing below, he would certainly have been obliged to surrender, when his reply was: “No, one other course was left — to die game!” In these straightforward and unceremonious utterances, Stuart expressed his character, that of the hard-fighting cavalryman, revealed as he worded it on another occasion — to “go through, or die trying.” Returning to him as he appeared in camp, it may be said that he was both a lovable and a provoking person-lovable from the genuine. warmth of his character, and provoking from the apparent disregard of the feelings of those around him, or, at least, from his proneness to amuse himself at any and everybody's expense. When the humor seized him, he laughed at nearly everybody. General Lee he invariably spoke of, as he treated him, with profound respect; but he even made merry with so great a man as Jackson, or “Old Stonewall,” as he affectionately styled him. The two distinguished men seemed to have a sincere friendship for each other, which always impressed me as a very singular circumstance indeed; but so it was. They were strongly contrasted in character and temperament, for Stuart was the most impulsive and Jackson the most reserved and reticent of men. But it was plain that a strong bond of mutuall admiration and confidence united them. Jackson would visit Stuart, and hold long confidential conversations with him, listening to his views with evident attention; and Stuart exhibited, on the [674] intelligence of this great man's death, the strongest emotion. “It is a national calamity,” he said, in a voice of the deepest feeling.

Our recollections of human beings generally attach to some particular locality with which we associate them, and the writer of these pages returns in memory, when thinking of Stuart, more especially to his quarters near Fredericksburg in the winter of 1862, which he humorously styled “Camp no camp.” Here, with his tent pitched under shelter of a pine thicket, and his horses picketed near — for he believed that exposure hardened them — with a slender little Whitworth gun posted like a graceful watch-dog in front, and surrounded by his mirthful young staff officers, Stuart passed the long months of the winter succeeding the hard battle. Jackson's quarters were at “Moss neck,” some miles down the river, and they exchanged visits often-Stuart making merry over all things, and not sparing even the grave and devout “Stonewall,” whose eyes would twinkle at his companion's jests. Jesting, indeed, seemed to be a necessity of Stuart's nature. Mirth and humor burst forth from this strong nature as a flower bursts from its stalk. At “Camp no camp” the days and nights were full of song and laughter. Stuart's delight was to have his banjo-player, Sweeney, in his tent; and even while busily engaged in his official correspondence, he loved to hear the gay rattle of the instrument, and the voice of Sweeney singing “J'ine the cavalry,” “Sweet Evelina,” or some other favorite ditty. From time to time he would lay down his pen, throw one knee over the arm of his chair, and call his two dogs--two handsome young setters, which he had brought across the Rappahannock-or falling back, or utter some jest at the expense of his staff. As frequently he would join in the song, or volunteer one of his own-his favorite being “The bugles sang truce,” “The Dew is on the blossom,” and some comic ballads, of which the one beginning “My wife's in Castle thunder,” was a fair specimen. These he roared out with immense glee, rising and gesticulating, slapping his staff officers on the back, and throwing back his head while he sang, and almost always ending in a burst of laughter.

These personal traits of an eminent man are recorded with the view of presenting him to the reader just as he appeared-precisely as a painter drawing his likeness would present his low, athletic figure, his heavy brown beard, his flowing mustache, his lofty forehead, finely-outlined nose, and blue eyes as penetrating and brilliant as an eagle's. This personnel of the man was a large part of him, so to speak. You could never dissociate the genius of the soldier from the appearance of the individual. If ever human being looked his [675] character, it was Stuart, in his short fighting jacket, heavy with gold braid, his huge gauntlets, and boots reaching to the knees, his hat with its black feather, his sabre and pistol, his rattling spurs, and his gay, alert, off-hand bearing as of one ready to mount in an instant and take part in a “fight or frolic.” Youth, high health, humor, courage-unthinking resolve, indeed, to “do or die” --were revealed in every trait and every movement of the individual. Here was plainly a powerful military machine with all the wheels in perfect order, and to be relied upon for any work, however arduous. One of his letters to me was signed, “Yours to count on,” and this truthfully expressed the character of the man. General Lee knew well that Stuart would never allow indolence or procrastination to stand in the way of obedience to an order — that he was what the Duke of Wellington called a “two-o'clock-in-the-morning man,” ready at any instant for any work; and it was this combination of a powerful physique, unfailing promptness, and military genius which made the services of the soldier so invaluable. In activity, energy, and acumen, Stuart was, I am convinced, the first cavalry leader of his epoch, and among the most remarkable of any epoch. When he fell, there were eminent men to take his place-leaders as devoted, hard fighting, and faithful-but no other could precisely fill the vacuum. With the death of Jackson and Stuart, in May, 1863, and May, 1864, something seemed wanting which could not be supplied. When these two men disappeared, the great conflict appeared gloomy and hopeless.

The familiar sketch here presented of this eminent man, has given the reader, I trust, a tolerably distinct conception of the character and appearance of the individual — the writer's aim having been to leave the record of events in the career of the soldier to the historian, paying chief attention to the characteristics of the man. The likeness is at least accurate as far as it goes, and has this merit, that it is based on intimate personal association with the personage whose portrait is traced. The traits of Stuart's character were as obvious as those of his personal appearance. All was on the surface. Foibles he had — a hasty temper, an imperious will, a thirst for glory, the love of appearance, and a susceptibility to flattery that all observed; but there his faults ended. To counterbalance these weaknesses, he was honest, true, devoted, generous, as brave as steel, and faithful to his principles and his religious profession. The controlling instinct, I believe, of his whole nature was to do his duty “up to the hilt” --to use one of his own phrases-and in the performance of this duty he disregarded all personal considerations. He fell defending the [676] capital, in a desperate struggle, and came to his death by reckless exposure of himself-his only thought having been to accomplish his end. And as his life had been one of earnest devotion to the cause in which he believed, so his last hours were tranquil, his confidence in the mercy of Heaven unfailing. When he was asked how he felt, he said, “Easy, but willing to die, if God and my country think I have done my duty.” His last words were: “I am going fast now; I am resigned. God's will be done.” As he uttered these words he expired.

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