If knights in shining armor had fought in the Civil War, J.E.B. Stuart
would have had his waxed to the max. Even without the armor, the Confederate
cavalryman cut an eye-catching figure.
He retained the knight's plume, sported a bright red cape and, for those
intimate moments away from the front, wore cologne. He would have been
an easy target for cynics had he not backed up his knightly appearances
with heroic actions, which he did countless times.
Never were Stuart's leadership abilities more apparent than at the Rappahannock
River hamlet of Brandy Station in June 1863. There, Stuart's horsemen
and those of Union commander Alfred Pleasonton collided - to the surprise
The resulting struggle escalated into the largest cavalry battle ever
fought in this hemisphere. Despite his surprise, and the presence of a
Union "first team" on the field - among its officers were George
Cluster and John Buford - Stuart won a tactical victory at Brandy Station.
Pleasonton was keeping a low profile. Thus, by his presence and clear-headedness,
Stuart was able to seize the initiative from the enemy. The Confederate
press - critics tot he end - was not impressed. Lee's "eyes and ears"
were never supposed to be caught off guard. That and Stuart's failure
to win glorious victories in fighting later that month in Fauquier and
Loudoun counties were all the papers needed to call for his head.
After screening Lee's move north in the battles of Aldie, Middleburg
and Upperville, Stuart took off on another of his joy rides: He and his
men paid visits to Fairfax; Rockville, Md.; Westminster, Md.; York, Pa.;
and Carlisle, Pa. The psychological effect on his raid on loyalist Marylanders
and Pennsylvanians was great. Militarily, he accomplished little, however.
Meanwhile, the Army of Northern Virginia was groping its way through
the south-central Pennsylvania countryside. Like Brandy Station, Gettysburg
just happened. Bitter-end Lee defenders blame Gen. James Longstreet or
Stuart for the Gettysburg debacle. Lee's blunder was launching an attack
on the Union center, a move that proved disastrous for the Confederates.
Stuart had less than a year to live after Gettysburg. He fell mortally
wounded in 1864 at Yellow Tavern.