- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF

J.E.B. STUART

By Clint Johnson

John F. Blair, Publisher

173 pages, $12.95

To really appreciate this travelogue (one of several Clint Johnson has written), the reader needs to be an aficionado of Confederate cavalry leader J.E.B. Stuart.

James Ewell Brown Stuart was born in Virginia in February 1833. He attended West Point, graduated in 1854 and was assigned to the Mounted Riflemen in Texas. He was soon transferred to and promoted in the 1st Regiment, U.S. Cavalry. He became a veteran of Indian fighting on the plains and of “Bleeding Kansas,” a period of deadly strife in Kansas and Missouri, where he had a brief encounter with John Brown.

In October 1859, Stuart accompanied Robert E. Lee and a troop of Marines to Harpers Ferry to crush John Brown’s armory raid. Stuart distinguished himself in his ultimatum to Brown before the assault. Promoted to captain on April 22, 1861, Stuart resigned from the U.S. Army on May 14, 1861, and was made a lieutenant colonel of Virginia infantry in the Confederate States Army.

Stuart led his regiment in First Bull Run and participated in the pursuit of the routed Federals. He then directed the army’s outposts near Washington until given command of the cavalry brigade. Besides leading the cavalry in the Army of Northern Virginia’s fights during the Seven Days’ Campaign and the battles of Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and the Wilderness, Stuart also was a raider.

Twice he led his command around Gen. George McClellan’s army, once in the Peninsula Campaign and once after the battle of Antietam. The Union general who failed to catch up with Stuart in the Peninsula was Philip St. George Cooke, Stuart’s father-in-law (Stuart had met and married Flora Cooke while stationed in Kansas. Stuart’s wife’s brother was Brig. Gen. John Rogers Cooke of the Confederacy.)

At Chancellorsville, he took over command of his friend Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps after Jackson was mortally wounded by his own men. Returning to the cavalry shortly afterward, he commanded the Southern horsemen in the largest cavalry engagement ever fought in North America, Brandy Station, on June 9, 1863. Although the battle was a draw, the Confederates held the field. However, the fight represented the rise of the Union cavalry and foreshadowed the decline of the formerly invincible Southern mounted arm.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, Stuart, acting under ambiguous orders, again circled the Union Army but in the process deprived Lee of his eyes and ears while in enemy territory. Arriving late on the second day of the battle, Stuart failed the next day to get into the enemy’s rear flank, being defeated by Gens. David Gregg and George Armstrong Custer.

During Grant’s drive on Richmond in spring 1864, Stuart halted Philip Sheridan’s cavalry at Yellow Tavern on the outskirts of Richmond on May 11. He was mortally wounded, however, and died the next day in the Rebel capital. Like his intimate friend Stonewall Jackson, Stuart soon became a legendary figure.

Mr. Johnson guides the reader to many sites, some well-known and others less so, associated with the life and legend of J.E.B. Stuart. Most are within a 150-mile radius of Washington. One example is Munson’s Hill, now a city park in Falls Church, about 12 miles west of Washington. There are no historical markers; a swing set stands where Stuart maintained a tent headquarters in 1861.

After the rout of the U.S. Army at First Bull Run, Stuart prepared for an expected attack on the Federal capital itself and established a string of picket posts from Munson’s Hill to the Potomac River, clear back to Confederate headquarters near Manassas.

The book then gives directions and some history of Stuart’s exploits in Virginia. At Dranesville, farther along Leesburg Turnpike from Falls Church, he suffered one of his first defeats. In command of 150 cavalrymen and 1,500 infantrymen in November 1861, he did not send out a patrol and stumbled into 4,500 Federals.

The resulting skirmish left 43 Confederates and seven Union men dead. The author then gives driving directions and short descriptions of the battles, skirmishes and other wartime adventures in which Stuart was involved.

Because most of the engagements happened on horseback, many physical elements remain. After traveling through Virginia, the author then describes Stuart sites in West Virginia (principally Harpers Ferry), Maryland and Pennsylvania.

There also is a section on Kansas (where he met his wife and where he was almost killed in an Indian skirmish) and Texas (site of his first Army posting).

Mr. Johnson’s book is an excellent guide for the Civil War romantic who can picture in his or her mind’s eye the plumed J.E.B. Stuart, in his fine gray uniform with scarlet trimming, leading his troops to glory for the Lost Cause.

William Connery lives in Alexandria and is a frequent contributor to the Civil War page.

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