Stuart at Gettysburg

(Editor's Note: Buford is the name used by a regular in a Civil War Chat Room. Besides his many other accomplishments, he is a Civil War Historian of some renowned, and a published Civil War author. Though he has many interests in the Civil War, his favorite is Union Cavalry. This is a discussion he provided one night during one of the chat sessions.)

        When Lee was the superintendent at West Point, the young JEB courted one of Marse Robert's daughters. JEB was a regular visitor at Lee's home, and they were very close. Stuart was like a surrogate son, who got quite a bit of leeway from the old man. The relationship was extremely close and warm, unlike Lee and Jackson, who wasn't close to anyone except maybe his wife, or Lee and Longstreet, which was a mutual respect but not a friendship. Lee knew that Stuart was a brilliant cavalryman, AND an outstanding professional soldier, and gave him a lot of leeway. That sets the stage for the rest of this.
        First. It is entirely a myth that Lee was without cavalry on July 1. The truth is that Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins' cavalry brigade was with Ewell's Corps. It is further true that Jenkins' men were actively engaged with Devin's 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry at the Samuel Cobean farm at Gettysburg during the morning of July 1. See the OR's.
        Second, while Fitz Lee, Chambliss and Hampton were with JEB, there were also two excellent brigades of cavalry nearby. William E. "Grumble" Jones' outstanding brigade (in my opinion, the best Confederate cavalry brigade), and John D. Imboden's brigade of cavalry were nearby but actually had been ordered by Lee to remain in Maryland to guard the mountain passes and the line of retreat. If Lee felt that there was insufficient cavalry with him in Central Pennsylvania, this could easily have been rectified with a single order. There could have been two additional full brigades of cavalry at Gettysburg within a few hours of hard riding. Myth number 1 shattered, eh?
        Okay...the joyride. First, here's one for you. We all think that Stuart was a joyriding raider, right? Isn't the cw that Stuart spent all of his time joyriding and raiding?
        The truth is that my good friend Bob Trout has studied Stuart's career and has determined that Stuart spent a total of 28 days over the course of the war raiding. That's it. John Hunt Morgan's Raid of Indiana and Ohio was longer. I don't think anybody would consider that joyriding. Would you?
        The truth is that cavalry served one major role...scouting and screening. Fighting was a very low priority. Truly good cavalry usage entailed sending out cavalry videttes to screen and army's advance and gathering intelligence. Stuart was a master of this. One need only study things like the advance up the Loudoun Valley or the retreat to Gettysburg to know this. So, the legend of Stuart being a joyriding raider is just that--a legend.
        Next...the joyride. For those interested in reading more, John S. Mosby wrote a brilliant lawyer's brief about this whole thing called "Stuart's Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign". The whole thing was Mosby's idea, so that's why he wrote the book. Pick it up.
        Mosby discovered that there was a gap in the lines of march of the A of P. Stuart was given extremely flexible and vague orders to take his command up the valley. The problem was that the Second Corps (Hancock's command) was blocking his way. Mosby found a way around it, told Stuart, and the cavalry took a detour around it, to avoid being CUT OFF from the rest of Lee's army. Stuart then went around those elements of the A of P that were blocking his way. It was no joy ride; rather a legitimate argument can be made in Stuart's defense. It may be argued that Stuart's actions were actually IN COMPLIANCE with his orders since it enabled him to remain in proximity to the Army and to interpose his command between the Union masses.
        Having disspelled that myth, we move on to the dreaded wagons. It's true that Stuart captured a wagon train. It's also true that the wagon train slowed him down and clogged the roads badly. All of that is beyond dispute. It is also beyond dispute that Stuart may well have exercised poor judgment in bringing them along, but 150 wagons was quite a haul for any army far beyond its normal lines of support and communication, and horses, draught or otherwise, were a commodity in great demand during the CW. Finally, Stuart wanted to show off a bit. So, he kept the wagons. They probably did indeed keep him from arriving at Gettysburg in the timeliest fashion. However, I suggest that it would not have made a difference in the big picture, but for one thing, which we will address later.
        The truth is that it was well known that Jubal A. Early had taken a large force of Confederate infantry to York, PA, thirty-two miles due east of Gettysburg. When Kilpatrick came up into Pennsylvania, he knew this too. His force was deployed in that direction to look for Early, in an effort to pin down his location with some precision.
        Stuart and the wagon trains came up into the area of Hanover, PA on June 30, as Kilpatrick was headed back toward Gettysburg. There, they had a major, nearly day long engagement. Stuart was beaten there, nearly captured by the Wolverines of Custer's brigade, and forced to go farther around to the north to reach the main battlefield at Gettysburg. Hanover, more than anything, is the principal reason for the delay in Stuart's arrival at the big dance, as they say.
        Having gone out of their way to avoid Kilpatrick, Stuart then had a fairly major engagement with Custer again at Hunterstown, PA on July 2. Stuart won that fight, and Custer, the fool, almost got himself killed by Hampton's guys. Nevertheless, this fight also delayed Stuart and caused him detour a bit farther.
        So, Stuart's men finally arrived at G-burg late in the day on July 2. They had been either fighting or marching non-stop since Brandy Station on June 9. During that period, there were the following major battles involving Stuart's command: Brandy Station, Aldie, Middleburg, Upperville, the ride, Hanover and Hunterstown. All of this was hard, unrelenting marching and fighting. It is no wonder that they were tired and perhaps a bit tardy in arriving. Finally, however, there wasn't the great sense of urgency for them to get there, since there were already cavalry at Gettysburg who were engaged in the fighting . Make sense?
        Finally, what was the real impact? The real impact was that Ewell and Lee dropped the ball. They dropped the ball by not bringing Jones to the field until July 3, and by not bringing Imboden at all. Second, they did not deploy Jenkins' men properly or efficiently. Once the lines had settled in around Cemetery Hill on the first, either Jenkins (now commanded by Col. Milton Ferguson, since Jenkins was wounded) or Jones, brought up from Maryland, should have been placed on the Confederate left flank. Instead, since there was no cavalry there, Extra Billy Smith's command, and Walker's Stonewall Brigade were deployed to guard the flanks. Here is the true impact, to get to the punch line. If Confederate cavalry had been at Brinkerhoff's Ridge, or where Smith's men were, two additional brigades of infantry would have been available to join Ewell's attack on July 2. The Stonewall Brigade was part of Early's Division and would have participated in the assault on East Cemetery Hill. Perhaps their presence might have tipped the scales that night. Instead, they were doing duty properly assigned and performed by the cavalry.
        My read on it is as follows: Stuart does indeed deserve some degree of blame, since he allowed himself to be delayed by the wagons. However, I believe that Lee deserves the bulk of the blame for leaving an outstanding brigade of cavalry on the sidelines, for leaving another competent one behind and for putting an inferior one on the lines with Ewell. Instead, he should have brought Jones and/or Imboden north to join Jenkins. With two full brigades, one to cover each flank, things may well have been quite different indeed.
        So, the upshot here is that while Stuart is not blameless, he certainly is not the scapegoat that he is made out to be in THE MOVIE and The Killer Angels.
        Lee trusted Stuart a great deal, and trusted him to cover the army's advance. Study the retreat some time, and you will see why that trust was so well-deserved. If Stuart had problems before the battle, he certainly redeemed himself during the retreat.
        Beginning on the afternoon of July 3 at Fairfield, Stuart did a masterful job of covering the retreat. From July 3 until July 11, his cavalry single-handedly fended off the Army of the Potomac's pursuit. The following is a brief list of the engagements: Fairfield, Monterey Pass, Cavetown, Williamsport, Boonesboro, Beaver Dam Creek, Hagerstown, and Funkstown. In each of these engagements, Stuart either defeated the Federal cavalry, or he bought sufficient time to keep the pursuit off of Lee's tail. Finally, at Funkstown on July 11, facing Buford, Kilpatrick, and infantry of the 6th Corps, Stuart was defeated and brushed out of the way. However, by that time, Lee had established an extremely formidible defensive line along the Potomac, which was very flooded, which probably could have withstood an assault by the entire A of P. So, Stuart did a superb job of holding off the A of P, bought time for Lee to forge a nearly impregnable defensive line, and did a masterful job of performing the classic functions of cavalry, doing some excellent fighting along the way.

This Page last updated 01/26/02