Stuart's Ride Around McClellan
(From, "Lee's Lieutenants, Chapter XX, Stuart Justifies His Plume")
(Map of the Ride)
The general strategic plan that rapidly was taking form in the mind of Lee contemplated an offensive against that part of McClellan's force North of the Chickahominy River. Little was known of the position of the right wing of the Army of the Potomac. Presumably, it had been placed where it was for the twofold purpose of forming a junction with McDowell and of protecting the line of supply from White House on the Pamunkey River. How far had the Federal flank been extended? Did it guard the ridge between the Chickahominy and the next stream to the Northeast, Totopotomoy Creek, an affluent of the Pamunkey? For a most particular reason, known only to a few, General Lee desired these questions answered. A reconnaissance in force was, of course, the means of ascertaining the facts. Cavalry would have to undertake the reconnaissance and, in doing so, they might drive some cattle into the Confederate lines. Should they find that the Federals were using the road that led to McClellan's right, an opportunity might offer of destroying Union wagon trains.
On June 10, Brig. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, then 29 and in command of all the cavalry, was called to Army headquarters at the Dabb House, High Meadows, on the Nine Mile road. Stuart had been with the Army through all its experiences since the day he had charged on the extreme left at Manassas. His zest, his vigilance, his skill in reconnaissance soon increased the admiration that Johnston had formed for him in the Shenandoah Valley. "He is a rare man," Johnston wrote of Stuart on August 10, 1861, "wonderfully endowed by nature with the qualities necessary for an officer of light cavalry." Johnston continued: "Calm, firm, acute, active and enterprising, I know of no one more competent than he to estimate the occurrences before him at their true value. If you can add to this army a real brigade of cavalry, you can find no better brigadier-general to command it." Newspaper correspondents with the Army shared Johnston's opinion and praised Stuart often.
The conduct of the young Colonel in an affair at Lewinsville on September 11 brought further commendation from Johnston and a plea that he be advanced in rank. After the President granted Stuart promotion on September 24, the new Brigadier General soon became one of the shining figures at Manassas. All the advanced outposts were placed under him. In the projected reorganization of the Army, October 22, 1861, he was to command all the cavalry." On December 20, he had a clash with the Federals at Dranesville, where he lost 194 men, foot and horse. Although he could not then bring himself to admit defeat-it was characteristic of him never to do so-he had distinctly the worse of the encounter." Thereafter, his service was routine. He covered well the retreat from Manassas; at Williamsburg he aided in putting troops in position when his own forces were unoccupied; in front of Seven Pines, where woods immobilized the cavalry, he acted virtually as an aide to Longstreet." In none of these events had he gratified measurably his martial ambition or won the loud plaudits he craved.
He did not lack self-confidence or self-opinion. On the fourth day of Lee's command, Stuart felt that he should suggest a strategical plan to the commanding General. He prefaced it in this wise: "The present imperilled condition of the Nation, I presume, will be a sufficient apology for putting forth for your consideration, convictions derived from a close observation of the enemy's movements for months past, his system of war, and his conduct in Battle, as well as our own." The young cavalryman then argued that the Federals would not advance until they had perfected their works and armament on the south side of the Chickahominy. As a result, said Stuart, "a pitched battle here, though a Victory, [would be] utterly fruitless to us." The proper course, Stuart went on, was to hold the Confederate left on the Chickahominy with a heavy concentration of artillery and to attack South of that stream. The youthful instructor of his chief concluded: "We have an army far better adapted to attack than defense. Let us fight at advantage before we are forced to fight at disadvantage. It may seem presumption in me to give these views, but I have not thus far mistaken the policy and practice of the enemy. At any rate' I would rather incur the charge of presumption than fold my arms in silence and indifference to the momentous crisis at hand. Be assured, however, General, that whatever course you pursue you will find nowhere a more zealous and determined cooperator and supporter than yours with the highest respect."
The earnestness and naivete of this had offset the defects of the strategy suggested, which essentially was that of throwing a numerically inferior force on a long front against an entrenched foe who had greatly superior artillery. Now, June 10, Stuart was not summoned to discuss strategy but execution. As he was ushered into the office of General Lee, he was introduced to the opportunity for which he had been waiting. Quietly he was told by General Lee of the design for an offensive North of the Chickahominy, and of the importance of ascertaining how far the enemy's outposts extended on the ridge. As the purpose of the reconnaissance was, revealed, Stuart's imagination took fire: he could do more than ascertain the position of the Federal right; if the commanding General permitted, he would ride entirely around McClellan's army." Lee probably shook his head at so rash a proposal, but Stuart would not dismiss it from mind. In high expectancy, he rode back to his own headquarters. What luck for a trooper who fifteen months previously had been a Captain! The color of the adventure was heightened that very evening: Lee sent Stuart the substance of intelligence reports which indicated that the Federals were stronger on their right than had been anticipated. There might lie ahead more than an exciting ride. A fight might be the reward of diligence and aggressiveness.
The next day, June 11, a courier handed Stuart his instructions in Lee's - autograph. Caution was enjoined in these words: "You will return as soon as the object of your expedition is accomplished, and you must bear constantly in mind, while endeavoring to execute the general purpose of your mission, not to hazard unnecessarily your command or to attempt what your judgment may not approve; but be content to accomplish all the good you can without feeling it necessary to obtain all that might be desired. I recommend that you take only such men as can stand the expedition, and that you take every means in your power to save and cherish those you take. You must leave sufficient cavalry here for the service of this army, and remember that one of the chief objects of your expedition is to gain intelligence for the guidance of future operations. . . . Should you find upon investigation that the enemy is moving to his right, or is so strongly posted as to render your expedition inopportune-as its success, in my opinion, depends upon its secrecy-you will, after gaining all the information you can, resume your former position."
Three times that important word "expedition" was to be read in these instructions! The affair was being lifted above the level of scouting, even of armed reconnaissance. Stuart read, pondered, and proceeded at once with his plans. Whom should he choose to go with him? Fitz Lee, the General's nephew-the same Fitz Lee who had been aide to Ewell at Manassas-was now Colonel of the First Virginia Cavalry." He must lead his regiment on the "expedition," along with four companies of the Fourth, whose Colonel, Williams C. Wickham, had been wounded at Williamsburg. The second son of Gen. R. E. Lee, the quiet, handsome and capable "Rooney" Lee, who had celebrated his 25th birthday the day Seven Pines was fought, must take part of his Ninth Virginia Cavalry with him, and two squadrons of the Fourth." Lt. Col. Will Martin, of the Jeff Davis Legion, must pick 250 of the best men of his command, and of the South Carolina Boykin Rangers. The Stuart Horse Artillery could supply a twelve-pound howitzer and a rifle gun, under Lt."Jim" Breathed. That young physician, just 22, had chanced to share the same train-seat with Stuart, as the two of them had come East to tender their services to Virginia, and after Breathed had volunteered as a private in Company B of the First Virginia Cavalry, he again met Stuart, then Colonel of that regiment. Stuart had urged him, in 1862, to transfer to Pelham's Horse Artillery and had arranged his election as First Lieutenant. The grateful young Breathed could be relied upon to requite kindness with valor.
The members of Stuart's staff must go, of course, and with them Heros von Borcke, a Prussian officer on leave, who had joined headquarters as a volunteer aide and had shown joyous intrepidity on the field of Seven Pines. John S. Mosby likewise must accompany the expedition. He had volunteered in "Grumble" Jones's company from Southwest Virginia, a company that Jones deliberately had garbed in homespun. So apparelled, Mosby had not seemed different from any other mountaineer of the command. When named Adjutant of the regiment, he had taken especial delight in using a civilian saddle, and when at length he had procured a uniform, he had defied regulations by wearing the red facings of the artillery instead of the buff. Regimental gossip had it that he had found the uniform offered cheaply in Richmond and, as it had fitted him, he had bought it as a bargain.
Mosby had good social station and had attended the University of Virginia until arrested and imprisoned for wounding a fellow student. In jail, his prosecutor had taught him some law, which, after his term expired, Mosby had practiced in Bristol. Professional man though he was, it pleased him to affect the drawl and the vernacular of his clients. As a friend of "Grumble" Jones, who hated Stuart and was as cordially hated by the General, Mosby joyed in bedevilling Fitz Lee, Stuart's. close friend. One day, when Jones was away and Lee was in command of the regiment, Mosby sauntered up as Adjutant and said: "Colonel the horn has blowed for dress parade." The punctilious Lee was livid. He looked furlously at Mosby. "Sir," he burst out, "If I ever again' hear you call that bugle a horn, I will put you under arrest!" In the spring election of officers, Mosby had been defeated along with Jones, but Stuart by that time had sensed the daring and initiative of the former Adjutant, and had retained him at headquarters. Yes, there would be use on the expedition for that gaunt, thin lipped Mosby with his satirical smile, his stooped neck and his strange, roving eyes.
Another scout who must accompany the expedition was the alert and tireless Redmond Burke, who seemed to have been born for outpost service. Still a third scout who must accompany the expedition was William Downes Farley. This high-born South Carolina boy, a former student of the University of Virginia, was a devotee of Shakespeare and of the early English poets. One of the handsomest young men in the Army, with hair a deep brown, and eyebrows and lashes so dark that they seemed to cast a shadow over his gray eyes, he had a soft voice, a quick smile and a quiet, modest grace. He would have made a perfect staff officer for a General on duty at the Confederate capital had there not flowed in his veins blood that fairly lusted for adventure. As a youth he had delighted to wander in forests of Arden, with his beloved Shakespeare in his pocket; but if he heard the sound of the horn and the cry of the pack, he was up and gone with the huntsmen. On the outbreak of the war, he had volunteered as a private in Gregg's Regiment, and soon had become a Lieutenant. Upon the disbandment of that command, Farley remained in Virginia as an aide to General Bonham, with rank of Captain.
By that time, Farley's bold spirit had led him to undertake scouting in the enemy's country. Alone or with a few companions, armed, uniformed and mounted, he would spend days in the woods on the flank of the Federal columns, and, if opportunity offered, he would assail outposts or small detachments. On Nov. 27, i86i, he and two other South Carolinians were scouting in some timber beyond Dranesville when they sighted the ist Pennsylvania Regiment, which had descended on the village and had captured the two pickets there. Without hesitation, Farley decided to attack the head of the column. At his word, the three scouts fired. Two men dropped; the horse of the Colonel of the regiment was killed. Immediately the Federals scattered, surrounded the woods and, closing in, captured the three Confederates." For his daring, Farley spent some months in Old Capitol Prison, but at length won exchange and rejoined johnston's Army as a scout.
His exploit made so great a sensation, despite his modest bearing, that he was a marked man. When he and Stuart met, an instant attachment was formed. "Farley the Scout," as every one styled him, soon was a fixture at Stuart's headquarters. To him were entrusted many dangerous duties. The more desperate they were, the more they pleased him. Nor did success spoil him, or create jealousies. Always in camp he was the quiet, self-effacing gentleman. For every one he had a smile and never a reference to his own feats. At Williamsburg he so distinguished himself that Stuart wrote in his report: "Captain W. D. Farley has always exhibited such admirable coolness, undaunted courage, and intelligent comprehension of military matters that he would be of invaluable service as a commanding officer assigned to outpost service." " Farley would not have it so: a scout he was, and a scout he would remain. It was enough to ride with Stuart on this daring, new expedition."
These, then, were among the men Stuart selected-Fitz Lee, his cousin "Rooney," Will Martin, Jim Breathed, von Borcke," John S. Mosby, Redmond Burke, William Farley-these and the best 1200 troopers that the cavalry had. Stuart chose them quietly on the 11th but apparently did not notify them. The secrecy which the commanding General enjoined on him was to be respected to the letter. All the cavalry heard was a vague rumor that something was afoot."
At 2 A.M. on the 12th, Stuart himself, in the cheeriest of moods, awakened his staff. "Gentlemen, in ten minutes," he announced, "every man must be in the saddle." Soon the troopers were astir in the camps near Mordecai's and around Kilby's Station on the R. F. & P. Railroad." Quietly and with no sounding of the bugle, the long column presently was in motion. Its route was toward Louisa Court House, as if it were bound for the Valley of Virginia, whence reports had come of a dazzling victory by Jackson. Reinforcement of "Stonewall" presumably was the mission of the cavalry, though nothing was confided by Stuart.
Along empty roads, past farms where the women waved handkerchiefs or aprons and the old men stared admiringly at the display of so much horse flesh, the troopers rode all day. Twenty two miles they covered and then they went into camp on the Winston Farm near Taylorsville, close to the South Anna River.
Scouts were sent out; 35 troopers were left to their sleep. When everything was in order, Stuart mounted with "Rooney" Lee and rode to nearby Hickory Hill, the home of Mrs. Lee's family and of Col. Williams C. Wickham of the Fourth Cavalry. After his wound at Williamsburg, the Colonel had been paroled by his captors, and had been permitted to return to the gracious old plantation, where he was recovering. With him and with the other members of the household, "Rooney" Lee had high converse. Stuart, for his part, went to sleep in his chair."
Back at camp before day, Stuart had a few rockets sent up as signal for the start, but again he permitted no reveille. He had, by that time, reports from his scouts that residents said the enemy was not in any of the country to the southeastward, as far as Old Church, twenty miles distant by the shortest road. Confidently, then, when men and beasts were fed, the column got under way again. The moment it turned toward the East, a stir went down the files: despite the ostentatious suggestion of a march to Louisa, the men had suspected that McClellan's flank was their objective, and now they knew it." The day for which they had waited long had come at last. They were to measure swords with the enemy. Greatly must the leading squadron have been envied; deep must have been the resentment of Will Martin's Legion that it was designated as rearguard."
Stuart ere long left the road and called the field officers in council. Every eye was fixed expectantly on him as he sat with careless rein on his horse. Not more than five feet ten in height, wide of shoulder and manifestly of great physical strength, he had a broad and lofty forehead, a large, prominent nose with conspicuous nostrils. His face was florid; his thick, curled mustache and his huge wide-spreading beard were a reddish brown. Brilliant and penetrating blue eyes, now calm, now burning, made one forget the homeliness of his other features and his "loud" apparel. The Army boasted nothing to excel that conspicuous uniform-a short gray jacket covered with buttons and braid, a gray cavalry cape over his shoulder, a broad hat looped with a gold star and adorned with a plume, high jack boots and gold spurs, an ornate and tasselled yellow sash, gauntlets that climbed almost to his elbows. His weapons were a light French saber and a pistol, which he carried in a black holster. On the pommel of his regulation saddle an oilcloth overall was strapped; behind the saddle was a red blanket wrapped in oilcloth. When he gave commands, it was in a clear voice that could reach the farthest squadron of a regiment in line. On this particular morning of the 13th of June -a Friday at that-the information he had to confide to his field officers was not to be shouted on the battlefield: it was to be explained in an undertone. He gave his instructions for the next stage of the reconnaissance and aroused among his young companions no less enthusiasm than he exhibited.
The officers galloped off to take their places with their regiments. On moved the column, through the woods and past fields where the young corn was showing itself. When the force came in sight of Hanover Court House, which straggled on either side of the road, horses and men were observed. Scouts reported that the enemy was there, but in what strength, nobody in the neighborhood knew." Quickly it was decided that Fitz Lee should take his regiment and swing around on a detour to the right, which would bring him back into the Courthouse road, South of the village. When sufficient time had elapsed for Lee to reach that intersection, Stuart was to advance with the remainder of the column. The Federals would be cut off and would be forced either to surrender or else to scatter where they might be caught.
Fitz Lee and the First regiment slipped off; the Ninth Virginia and the Jeff Davis Legion waited impatiently. At length, fingering his watch, Stuart gave the word. Scouts near the Courthouse came out from their hiding places. The Southerners prepared to charge. Almost immediately a few shots rang out from the village. The game was flushed! Stuart shouted a command. The column dashed down the road. It was too late. The "blue birds," as the Confederates dubbed their enemy, had taken alarm and had fled under cover of the dust they raised. Stuart found nothing in the village except its few residents, the old Courthouse where Patrick Henry had won his first reputation as a lawyer, and the tavern where the great Revolutionary had worked for his father-in-law. III luck it was to lose the first covey! Fitz Lee made it worse by getting his regiment into a marsh, the passage of which was so slow that the enemy passed the crossroads before he arrived."
"Rooney" Lee's Ninth Virginia was now in front. Its advance squadron, scouting ahead of the regiment, was under the eye of the regimental Adjutant, Lt. W. T. Robins, a daring man. As the Federals had escaped down the Courthouse road, that approach to the village of Old Church was certain to be guarded. Stuart accordingly left the. highway about a mile below Hanover Courthouse and, turning South, followed the route via Taliaferro's Mill and Enon Church." The march was hard and rapid. As the sun climbed toward noon, heat radiated from every field, but nobody heeded it. Only one thing mattered-to find and to drive the enemy.
Seven miles were covered from the turnout. Enon Church was passed. Then, near Haw's Shop, anxious eyes caught a glimpse of bluecoats. Some were ahead, some in a field on one flank. Before Stuart's leading squadron knew what was astir, the Federals came forward with a roar. They dashed almost to the head of the column, fired a shot or two and veered off.
"Form fours! Draw saber! Charge!" Stuart commanded. Almost as uttered, his orders were obeyed. The Confederates swept forward-and again to no purpose. A few videttes were surprised and captured. Some dismounted men were bagged. The others escaped. All the satisfaction the Southerners had was in the behavior of their captives. Some of the prisoners stared at Col. Fitz Lee, then broke into grins of recognition and greeted him as "Lieutenant." They were of the 5th United States Cavalry, formerly the 2nd, with which Lee had served as a junior officer. He was as glad to see his former troopers as they were to hail him. Inquiries were made concerning old friends; familiar jests were revived. It was difficult to believe that the disarmed, laughing troopers and the smiling young Colonel represented opposing armies mustered to slaughter each other."
Rumors, coming presumably from the prisoners, were that the 5th was in front and would make a stand," but Stuart's column moved on at a trot and encountered no opposition. When the van approached Totopotomoy Creek, a difficult little stream, with its banks a maze of underbrush, there was every reason to assume that the Federals would contest the crossing. Perhaps the very fact that the bridge had not been destroyed was a reason for suspecting an ambush. Cautiously Stuart held back the main column, dismounted half a squadron, and sent these men forward as skirmishers. Once again there was disappointment. The Federals had left the barrier unguarded."
It was now about 3 P.M. Old Church was distant only two and a half miles. There, if anywhere, the enemy would offer resistance, because wagon trains from Piping Tree Ferry and from New Castle Ferry would have to pass that point in order to supply the right wing of the Federals North of the Chickahominy. Inasmuch as the Federal cavalry were known to be under Stuart's own father-in-law, Brig. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke, a Virginian and a renowned trooper of the "old army," it could not be that he had neglected that important and exposed crossroad.
For the first time that day, military logic was vindicated. Word came back that the enemy was at a stand and apparently was awaiting attack. Stuart did not hesitate. Straight up the road, the only avenue of approach, he ordered the column to charge. With a shout and a roar, the leading squadron, that of Capt. William Latane, dashed forward and threw itself squarely against the Federals. For a few minutes there was a mad melee, sword against pistol; then the Federals made off. A brief second stand, a short distance to the rear, ended in the same manner. When the clash was over, Captain Latane was dead, pierced by five bullets. The Federal Captain who had met him in combat was said to have been wounded badly by a blow from Latane"s saber. A few Federals had been shot or slashed. Several bluecoats were killed; others were taken prisoner. Five guidons were among the trophies-the first that had fallen into the hands of the expeditions.
Fitz Lee was all entreaty to push on and to rout his old regiment. Stuart gave ready permission but admonished the Colonel to return quickly. In a few, moments the First Virginia rushed on and soon reached the camp of the troops who had disputed the advance. The tents were deserted, though supplies were there in abundance. As there was no time to collect even what the men most coveted, the place was fired; but an ambulance that contained a keg of whiskey, a regal seizure in the eyes of some, was rescued and made ready to move with the column. Of men, only a few near-by stragglers could be found. The Federals, strong or weak, had disappeared. Nothing was to be gained, of course, by pursuing them toward their main force, whicb could not be far distant.
Stuart was now fourteen miles from Hanover Court House He had established the main fact he had been directed to ascertain: there was no Federal force of any consequence on the watershed down which he had ridden. Of that he could be sure in the report he made General Lee when he returned ... but should he return the way he had come? The enemy would expect him to do so. If alert, the Federals would burn the bridge across the Totopotomoy. In event they neglected that, they would of course watch the route by which the column had advanced, and they could waylay the Confederates at or near Hanover Court House., to which the most direct road led. Stuart could not skirt the village and strike for the South Anna, in an effort to cross that stream and swing back to Richmond on a wide arc. The bridge across the river had been burned; the fords were impassably high." So Stuart reasoned. If he turned back, danger and perhaps disaster, he concluded speedily, would be his.
Perhaps, at the moment, or when he came to write his report, Stuart magnified the difficulties of a march to the rear, because he yearned for the more exciting adventure that lay ahead. Nine miles to the Southeast was Tunstall's Station on the York River Railroad, McClellan's main line of supply. A great achievement it would be to tear up that railway and, if only for a day, or even for a few hours, to have the Federal Army cut off from the base at the White House. How the public would praise that feat!
Escape from Tunstall's would not be impossible. By turning South there, and riding eleven miles, Stuart could reach Forge Bridge on the Chickahominy. That crossing, his troopers from the neighborhood told him, had been burned but not beyond quick repair. At Forge Bridge, moreover, there was every reason to believe the column would be well beyond the left flank of the enemy. Once he was across the Chickahominy, Stuart told himself, General Lee could make a diversion that would keep the enemy from dispatching a sufficient force to trap the returning column.
Was the whole plan feasible? Did it hang together? When the expedition had been planned, Stuart had suggested that the cavalry might ride entirely around the enemy: why not prove himself correct? Would the Federals have along the railroad sufficient infantry to destroy him? Could Union troops be sent down the railroad in time to intercept him? Cavalry he could beat off, but a heavy column of infantry . . . well, it was certain that the enemy would not expect him to do what he was contemplating. That was an excellent reason for doing it. Besides, whatever the risk, there was a chance of striking terror into the heart of "a boastful and insolent foe. He would do it!
There was not a shadow of misgiving on his face." Nor, when he found that his Colonels doubted the wisdom of his choice of routes, 54 was there any hesitation. Their misgiving hardened his resolution. He thanked them for their ready promise to go on, if he saw fit to do so, and he prepared to start forthwith. Ostentatiously he inquired of the farmers around Old Church which road he should take to Hanover Court House, and how far it was.
Quietly he picked his guides from soldiers who resided in the country he was to enter. Over them he placed R. E. Frayser, who knew every bypath to Tunstall's." Then, turning to John Esten Cooke, he said: "Tell Fitz Lee to come along. I'm going to move on with my column."
"I think," Cooke replied laughingly, "the quicker we move now the better."
"Right! Tell the column to move on with a trot."
Stuart touched the flank of his horse and was off. He was relishing every moment of the drama he was shaping. "There was something of the sublime," he later wrote, "in the implicit confidence and unquestioning trust of the rank and file in a leader guiding them straight, apparently, into the very jaws of the enemy, every step appearing to them to diminish the faintest hope of extrication."
The road of this adventure skirted the Pamunkey River. Southward, the country was populous' To the North and Northeast were great plantations that ran down to the meadows and swamps by the streamside. As the column passed, the women, the girls and the old men at every house came out to greet the first gray-clad soldiers they had seen in weeks. Now and again there would be a delighted scream of recognition, whereupon some dust-covered boy would break ranks, would leap from his horse and embrace mother or sister.
None of these jubilant residents knew much concerning the enemy's strength or position. Vessels were known to be at Garlick's Landing; wagon trains passed frequently; a guard was on the railroad at Tunstall's. That was all the information Stuart could get." Once, at a great distance to the Southwest, tents could be seen. It was surmised that they were McClellan's headquarters. A strange and thrilling experience it was, surely, to look on the opposing commander's lodging place from his own rear!
At Tignor's house, two miles and a little more from Old Church, Frayser turned out of the road that led East to Piping Tree Ferry, and took the right fork toward Tunstall's Station. Weary though the men were, they straightened up expectantly: the New Kent boys explained that the column was getting closer to the point where the enemy must be waiting. Stuart turned ere long to Cooke: "Tell Colonel Martin," said he, "to have his artillery ready, and look out for an attack at any moment." The staff officer hurried back, delivered his message to the commander of the rearguard, and was returning to the front, when a cry was raised: "Yankees in the rear!" Swords instantly were gripped tightly. In a moment there was relieved laughter. Some one had attempted a joke. The men slumped back in their saddles, but not too comfortably. Next time the alarm might not be false.
At length, the weary horses brought their tired riders to Wynne's Shop and Hopewell Church, whence a road led two miles East to Garlick's Landing. Satisfied that stores were there under scant guard, Stuart detached two squadrons to swoop down on the place, to bring off any horses they might find, and to apply the torch to what could not be moved off. The main column continued on its way. Its road now showed evidence of heavy travel and of vast alarm. Overturned wagons and booty of all sorts lay temptingly at hand, where it had been left or thrown away by Federals who had been warned that "the rebels" were descending upon them. Perhaps, at Tunstall's, which now was distant only two miles, the enemy might be squarely across the front of advance.
Stuart accordingly sought to close the column and to bring the artillery to the front. Breathed was most willing, but, at the moment, he was engaged with a foe distinctly his own. Both the rifle and the howitzer were in mud from which all the lashing of the teams and all the tugging and swearing of the gunners could not extricate them. Ankle-deep in the hole, the field pieces seemed in fixed position. Further pulling at them settled them more deeply.
"Gott, Lieutenant," said a sergeant of German stock, "it can't be done!"
Then he eyed the ambulance which, with its treasured keg of liquor, had been captured in the camp at Old Church. "But, the sergeant added, "yust put dat keg on der gun, Lieutenant, und tell the men they can have it if only they vill pull through!"
Lt. William McGregor thought the experiment worth trying, so, with a laugh, he had the keg placed on the gun. In a moment, the gunners sprang into the knee-deep mud and, with one mighty effort, lifted the piece to dry ground." The other gun the artillerists handled in the same way.
They had their reward, but they missed the excitement. While they were wrestling with the pieces, before the sergeant made his proposal, Frayser dashed up to Stuart from the direction of Tunstall's Station, which the head of the column was approaching. The scout reported that one or two companies of Federal infantry were guarding the station and that the commander of these troops had seen and greeted him, in broad Germanic accent, with the odd challenge, "Koom yay!" as if he hoped Frayser would ride into the lines and surrender. Stuart did not take time to laugh at this. Swiftly he advanced the head of the column within striking distance and then ordered: "Form platoons! Draw saber! Charge!"
Down swept the cavalry at a thunderous gallop. The Federals, too few to resist, scattered almost instantly. Some were captured. Others fled to the woods. Immediately, designated Confederates began to tear up the railroad in the delighted knowledge that, if they succeeded, they would separate the Federal Army from its base. Redmond Burke hurried off to set fire to the bridge across Black Creek. His fellow scouts proceeded to chop down the two telegraph poles nearest the station. The excited troopers who were ordered to remain in their saddles watched and yearned to search the countryside for prisoners and abandoned wagons for booty. It was a high moment-perhaps the most triumphant the cavalry had known since the time when the earliest volunteers had galloped across the fields that bordered Bull Run.
Now, above the chatter of the troopers and the sound of the axes on the telegraph poles, there came a shrill whistle from the westward. A train was approaching-did it bring infantry to oppose the raiders? From the boldness of the whistle blast, the engineer could not know that Tunstall's was in the hands of the Confederates. Derail the train, then; shoot or capture the troops on it. Quickly the orders were given. Lieutenant Robins ran to a near-by switch and tried to throw it, so that the train would run into the siding, but he had no success in hammering at the heavy lock. Such obstructions as near-by men could find at the moment they hurled on the track. The troopers in ranks were hurried into ambush alongside the railway to open fire if the train stopped or left the track when it hit the obstructions.
All this was swift work, not well done. Before the slowest of the cavalrymen could get to cover, the train came in sight-a locomotive and a string of flatcars loaded with soldiers. Almost immediately, the brakes began to squeak. Was the engineer going to make a regular stop at the station or had he seen the obstructions ? Slower still the train. A few of its passengers stepped off as if they knew it would remain at Tunstall long enough for them to stretch their legs or to find water." Then, nervously, one excited trooper in ambush fired his pistol." The engineer heard it, perhaps sensed danger and immediately put on full steam. All along the right of way, Southerners' pistols rang out. Startled Federals on the train dropped from wounds or threw themselves face down on the flatcars to escape the fire. Will Farley seized Heros von Borcke's rifle, spurred his horse till it caught up with the locomotive and, at a gallop, shot the engineer. The train continued on its way, fast and faster. A moment more, and it was out of range. Very different the story might have been if only the artillery had been near the head of the column. Now that the train had escaped them, there was nothing for the disappointed troopers to do except to round up the men who had fled from the station or had jumped from the train.
Stuart, for his part, had to make another decision: should he continue on his way, cross the Chickahominy and make for his own lines, or should he rush down the railroad and attempt to capture the Federal base at the White House? A vast prize that was, distant a bare four miles. If it could be destroyed, McClellan would be compelled to retreat. The world would resound with praise for the leader of 1200 men who had forced 100,000 to break off an attempted siege of Richmond. Such a prospect was alluring, but was it not an enticement? A start could not be made until the arrival of the two squadrons that had been sent to Garlick's Landing. Billowing, high-mounting smoke from that direction" showed that those troopers had reached their objective. They probably had escaped, but some time might elapse before they rejoined. Every moment that passed after the arrival of the train at White House would be devoted to preparation for defense by a garrison that might be considerable. If it put up a good fight, reinforcements from McClellan's front might come down the railroad and close the Confederates' line of retreat. Regretfully, then, but decisively, Stuart shut his mind to this highest adventure of all.
It was now close to nightfall, but not too dark to observe that many army wagons with deserted teams were standing around the station. Some of the vehicles had been in plain sight from the moment the column had arrived. A larger, tangled park was at a little distance. As rapidly as might be, the mules were unhitched. Then the wagons, which were loaded with grain and coffee, were set afire. While this was being done, something more than an hour after the train had passed, the squadrons from Garlick's Landing arrived. Their commander, Capt. 0. M, Knight, reported that he had destroyed two schooners and many wagons loaded with fodder. Not to be outdone by this feat, the rearguard, when it closed, presented the General with twenty five prisoners who had surrendered in the belief that they were surrounded.
As the bogged guns also had come up, without any evidence on the part of the gunners that the liquor in the keg had been too abundant, the column started at once for the Chickahominy. Stuart had no additional report of pursuit but he knew, of course, that the reflection of the fires and the report of the escaped trainmen and passengers would bring quickly toward Tunstall's Station a powerful force. He had reasoned at Old Church that the worst of his danger would be behind him after he passed Tunstall's." Now it did not seem so probable that retreat and return would be unmolested.
As the column wound southeastward to the vicinity of old St. Peter's Church, and then turned southward to Talleysville, the road grew worse. When Talleysville was reached by the vanguard at 8:30, a Federal hospital of 150 patients was found. Stuart did not molest it or disturb the surgeons and attendants. Close by, a well-stocked sutler's store naturally did not fare so well-fared so ill, in fact, that its entire contents were taken and devoured, to the distress of some who ate too much as surely as to the grief of the sutler, who lost all.
A bright moon now had risen, one day past the full, and lighted the bad road, but the column was strung out almost back to Tunstall's. It had to be closed again. Midnight came before the exhausted artillery horses dragged the pieces to Talleysville. From that point, the distance to Forge Bridge on the Chickahominy was less than seven miles. With good fortune, it could be negotiated before daylight. To expedite the march, which must be rapid if the column was to escape, the 165 prisoners were mounted on such of the captured animals as were not required for the troopers whose horses had broken down. By putting two prisoners on each of the fresh Federal mules, Stuart saved the time that would have been lost had any of the captives been afoot.
Long as each minute seemed, the night was almost ended. If all went well, the winding, marshy river soon would lie between the Confederates and their pursuers. Lt. Jonas Christian, who lived at Sycamore Springs on the bank of the Chickahominy, told his commander that he knew a blind ford on the plantation that was nearer than Forge Bridge. The columns could slip across at that ford and would not waste precious hours putting timbers in place on the site of the destroyed bridge. Should the Federals be near, they scarcely would learn of this plantation crossing and would press on to Forge Bridge."
Hopeful as was the outlook, the ride from Talleysville to the river was the hardest part of the long, long march. The Ninth Virginia, in advance, became separated from the First and made Stuart acutely anxious for a few minutes. When he relaxed after finding that the Ninth was ahead, he became so sleepy that he, the tireless man who never knew exhaustion, put one knee over the pommel of the saddle and nodded often. Sometimes he lurched so far that John Esten Cooke had to ride closely by his side to keep him from falling off." Like Stuart, the whole column dragged. Troopers snatched sleep, horses staggered. Fortunately, there was no alarm. If Federals were in pursuit, the rearguard caught no glimpse of them.
The moon was just being dimmed by a faint light in the East when Jonas Christian turned from the main road into the lane of Sycamore Springs, and led the head of the Ninth Regiment past the house and down toward the blind ford. An hour more and, with the stream behind the rearguard, a halt could be called and some rest could be given men and mounts. In a double sense, day was dawning. Presently young Christian halted in startled surprise. He was at the ford, but it had a different appearance from the easy crossing he had known all his life. In front of him was a wide, swift and evil-looking stream that extended far beyond its banks. The placid Chickahominy was an angry torrent, the ford might be a death trap. Col. "Rooney" Lee, the first officer of rank to arrive at Sycamore Springs, stripped quickly and swam into the stream to test it. Strong and powerful though he was, he had to battle to escape being drowned or swept down. stream.
"What do you think of the situation, Colonel?" John Esten Cooke asked when the Colonel pulled himself ashore.
"Well, Captain," replied the half-exhausted swimmer, with all the courtesy of his stock, "I think we are caught."
That was the feeling of the soldiers. The jig was up! Some of the boys, reconciled to the worst, merely stretched out on the ground. They were too weary to stand, but almost intuitively, they held their bridle reins over their arms, in order to be ready were an alarm sounded. Other exhausted cavalrymen " sat glumly on the ground and ate the remnants of what they had grabbed at Talleysville from the sutler's store. Gloom was written darkly on the face of all of them."
At that moment Stuart rode down to the ford. He had little to say. Carefully he surveyed the stream from the vantage point of his horse's back. Then he stroked his beard with a peculiar twist that his staff officers noticed he never employed except when he was anxious. He looked dangerous-just that. Silently he observed while young George Beale, son of the Lieutenant Colonel of the Ninth, went into the water, and swam across with his father's steed, which he tied on the opposite bank. Then young Beale did the same thing with his own mount, an animal he had caught the previous day after his horse had run off. The boy was an excellent swimmer and he got over, as did the captured animal, but when Beale started back to the shore where the troopers were waiting, the horse insisted on coming back with him.
Encouraged by this success, the most experienced swimmers began in the same way to cross the river with their horses, but only a few of the men had enough skill in the water to breast so wrathful a stream. Stuart continued silently to watch. Presently the General summoned Turner Doswell and asked that daring courier ff he thought he could reach the other side. When Doswell said he could, Stuart gave him a dispatch for General Lee. Doswell must ride hard, because the dispatch was a request to the commanding General to make a diversion that would keep the Federals from attempting to intercept the column on its return. It would return. Of that Stuart was certain; of the means, he was not.
Axes were sent for. Trees were felled in the hope that the men might clamber over them. The trees crashed in the desired direction, but they were too short to bridge the swollen stream. Thereupon, mustering their ingenuity, some of the men tried to made a crude ferry. They strung bridle reins and halters together to serve in place of a rope and, from fence rails, they made a raft. This floated so promisingly that some of the men put their belongings on it and ventured with it into the water. It tipped promptly and dropped its cargo."
Time was passing. The summer sun was up. A rumor was afloat that Federal infantry in large force were close at hand. Stuart decided that his one hope of escaping was to patch together a crude bridge. He directed the men who already had swum to the right bank-some thirty-five they were-to make their way downstream under Lt. Col. R. L. Beale. The main body, with a brief command, he ordered to the site of Forge Bridge. This familiar crossing of the Chickahominy, one mile below Sycamore Springs, was on the road from Providence Forge to Charles City Court House. From the north bank, a narrow stream of considerable depth led to an island. Beyond this island was the south channel, spanned in normal times by a second bridge. At the western end of the island, above this bridge, was a swampy ford which could be used in emergency.
All Stuart's information had been that the main bridge across the north channel was destroyed but that enough remained to make possible a reconstruction of the span. He found conditions precisely as described. The stream was swift but the channel was narrower than at the Sycamore Springs ford. Stone abutments on either side were intact. Stuart at once threw out videttes, posted his artillery and entrusted to Redmond Burke, as resourceful as dauntless, the task of building a bridge. Burke went instantly to work in the knowledge that delay might mean disaster, perhaps the destruction of the whole force. A skiff was found on the bank and was moored unsteadily in midstream by a rope tied to a tree. From a large abandoned warehouse near at hand, boards were stripped. Troopers and prisoners hustled several of these to the bank, placed the ends aboard the skiff, as if it were a pontoon, and in that way made a narrow if treacherously unstable bridge. Across this, one by one, troopers made their way. With their right arms they carried their saddles and with the left they held the rein of horses that swam on the downstream side of the bridge.
This soon proved too slow a procedure, and, besides, it would not permit of the passage of the guns. Burke accordingly decided to try the one expedient left him-to secure the main timbers of the warehouse and to see if they were long enough to span the river from the abutments. Battering-rams knocked down the frame of the structure. Tired men shouldered the old uprights and brought them to the streamside. From the skiff, with much effort, they were pushed across and then were lifted up toward the abutments. Stuart watched all the while and counselled with calm cheer. Ere long,the dangerous look faded from his face. He began to hum a tune. His eye told him the timbers were long enough, but even he must have held his breath when, with a final "pull together" the long beam was set It rested safely on both banks, but with few inches to spare.
A shout went up from the men. They could save the guns! Quickly the bridge was floored. Over it, in renewed strength, the men made their way. Undamaged, the rifle and the howitzer lumbered across. The rearguard was drawn in. Fitz Lee, listening and watching the road, left five men to fire the bridge and then he, too, crossed to the island. By the time the rear of the column had passed out of sight, the flames were crackling. Then -as if to add the perfect dramatic touch to the climax-a little knot of Federal lancers appeared on the north bank and opened fire. The margin of escape from a clash with this contingent was ten minutes." Time consumed in building the bridge was three hours."
Now on the island, the Confederate cavalry found that the ford from the western end to the south bank of the Chickahominy was difficult but not impracticable. Horses might flounder through the successive swamps but, with luck, they and even the guns could pass. The prisoners went across first, and a most unhappy time they had. Again and again a mule, with two bluecoats astride him, would lose his footing and, in scrambling to recover it, would jettison his riders. The Confederate guard would laugh; the prisoners would swear. One of them, entangled in a third swamp, exploded violently: "How many damned Chicken-hominies are there, I wonder, in this infernal country!"
Downstream, meantime, Lieutenant- Colonel Beale, early on the ground, had rebuilt a bridge, but the column did not know of this easy crossing until one of the limbers had been caught hopelessly in the swampy ford above. Had the artillery been sent down the island to Beale's bridge, Stuart might have been able to report that, except for the death of Captain Latane, and the runaway of a few horses which he had replaced five for one, he had sustained no casualties and had lost nothing entrusted to him.
When on the right bank of the Chickahominy at last, Stuart was thirty-five miles from Richmond. Twenty miles of this distance was East of the left flank of the enemy." The return meant tedious riding for the troopers and more suffering for their worn horses, but it was nothing compared with what had been endured on the other side of the river. Stuart himself turned over the command to Fitz Lee, and hurried on to report. He rested for two hours at Thomas Christian's, then rode on to judge Isaac Christian's plantation near Charles City Court House, stopped again for a cup of coffee at Rowland's Mill and, on the morning of June 15, forty-eight hours from the time he had left the Winston Farm at the beginning of the ride, reported to General Lee." The column moved more slowly from the river to Buckland, the seat of Col. J. M. Wilcox, and arrived in Richmond on the i6th, to receive a conqueror's welcome.
In the eyes of a jubilant city and an applauding South, the glamour of Stuart's exploit was not dimmed by the enemy's incredible slowness and lack of organization in pursuit. First news of the raid had been received at Federal cavalry headquarters in rumors of a direct attack on the camps. Countermoves were complicated by the insistence of a cavalry Lieutenant that he had seen not less than seven regiments of infantry with Stuart. The commander of the cavalry reserve, Gen. Philip St. George Cooke, whose service Virginia had coveted a year previously, proved himself utterly incapable of grasping his military problem or of acting promptly." There was no pursuit directly from Old Church. The first Federals to reach Tunstall's were infantry who arrived at midnight on the I3th-'4th, when Stuart was leaving Talleysville. Union cavalry did not get to Tunstall's until 2 A.M. The party that pushed on to Forge Bridge, ten minutes after the crossing of the Confederate rearguard, consisted of only eight men under Maj. Robert Morris of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry.
Although none of these circumstances was known, the Confederacy rejoiced that Stuart the son-in-law had outwitted Cooke the father-in-law. Honors were heaped upon the man who had "ridden around McClellan." Governor Letcher, to whom Stuart had sent a verbal report while he hastened personally to General Lee, rewarded him with a sword."' A few days after the expedition, when Stuart rode in to see the Governor, a crowd gathered in front of the Executive Mansion and demanded a speech. Stuart duly appeared "and acknowledged the compliment paid him in a few remarks full of spirit and good cheer." He told the crowd that "he had been to the Chickahominy to visit some of his old friends of the United States Army, but they, very uncivilly, turned their backs upon him." The early chronicler of this incident added: "Seeing a manifest desire on the part of the people to make for him an ovation, the General then mounted his charger and galloped off amid the shouts of the crowd, which by this time had increased to more than a thousand persons." 'O' In his own congratulatory order to the command, Stuart spoke of himself as "the general of cavalry," and in his formal report, written two days after his return, he minimized nothing of his own achievement; but, in an accompanying letter to Lee, he listed those of his subordinates who had most distinguished themselves and he urged their promotion."' The immediate reply of the commanding General was an order in which he took "great pleasure in expressing his admiration of the courage and skill so conspicuously exhibited throughout by the general and the officers and men under his command. Stuart's satisfaction was as boyish as his feat had been extraordinary. Whether the raid was well conceived by Lee--whether it did or did not put McClellan on guard for the security of his right flank-is a question much disputed. That the whole was flawlessly executed, none would dispute. Stuart became the hero of his troopers and one of the idols of the public. Lee's confidence in him and his confidence in himself were confirmed. What was not less important, the cavalry was shown to be as trustworthy as the infantry.
"That was a tight place at the river, General," John Esten Cooke said to Stuart when it was all over. "If the enemy had come down on us, you would have been compelled to have surrendered."
"No," answered Stuart, "one other course was left."
"What was that?"
"To die game."
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