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James Ewell Brown Stuart was born in Patrick County, Virginia, on February 6, 1833. His great grandfather, Major Alexander Stuart, commanded a regiment in the Revolutionary War, and his father, Archibald Stuart, fought in the War of 1812 before serving as a Commonwealth and U.S. Representative. After attending Emory and Henry College he followed his military heritage by entering West Point, from which he graduated 13th of 46 in 1854.
Commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Cavalry, Stuart served in Kansas and on the western frontier from 1855 to 1861. During that time he was involved in several Indian conflicts and "Bleeding Kansas" incidents. In 1859, while in Washington on official business, he was sent to assist Colonel Robert E. Lee's suppression of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry.
In May of 1861, Stuart resigned from the Union Army in order to serve in the Confederate Army. Although he entered as a Captain, his experience as a cavalry officer was considered so valuable that he was promoted to Colonel, on July 16. His regiment was first assigned to General Joseph Johnston's army in the Shenandoah Valley, country his men well. After distinguishing themselves at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas; July 21, 1861), he and his regiment participated in the pursuit of the routed Union Army. He then directed the army's outposts until being promoted to Brigadier General and given command of the cavalry brigade, on September 24.
Stuart's next major action came just before the Seven Days' Battle (June 25-July 1, 1862), when he was set out by General Robert E. Lee to locate the right flank of General George McClellan's army. After successfully completing his mission, he took his entire division around McClellan's rear in order to deliver his report to Lee at Richmond. After the Battle of Gaines' Mill (June 27) his cavalry raided McClellan's abandoned line of communication with the White House.
Promoted to Major General on July 25, 1862, Stuart led his cavalry at the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28-30, 1862). During the Maryland Campaign (September 4-20) his troops defended one of the passes of South Mountain, enablinsg Lee to concentrate his army at Antietam. After the final battle at Antietam, Stuart's cavalry embarked on a series of raids that forced the Union cavalry to wear itself out in futile efforts to catch them. At Fredericksburg (December 11-15) his horse artillery proved invaluable at checking an attack on General "Stonewall" Jackson by diverting an entire infantry division.
Stuart was participating in the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863) when "Stonewall" Jackson was mortally wounded. Appointed by Lee to take temporary command of Jackson's 2nd Army Corps, Stuart performed so well during the rest of the battle that many felt he deserved permanent command. That command ultimately went to Major General Richard Ewell, however. Returning to command of the cavalry, Stuart led his men in the largest cavalry engagement ever fought on the American continent, Brandy Station (June 9, 1863). Literally surprised by the appearance of two large columns of Union cavalry, Stuart's men only barely managed to hold the battlefield, and for the first time in his career Stuart found his leadership abilities being questioned.
Stuart's abilities again came into question following the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863). Rather than marching north from Brandy Station and joining up with Lee's main army as ordered, Stuart led most of his cavalry on a mission around the Union Army that ended up depriving Lee of valuable information concerning the Union Army's strength and movements. By the time his men reached Gettysburg the battle was well into its second day. Too late to turn the tide of battle in favor of the Confederates, all Stuart and his cavalry could do was cover Lee's retreat. Exactly why Stuart apparently defied orders has been a matter of debate since, with some historians blaming a series of conflicting orders from Lee and others blaming Stuart's desire to "atone" for his near loss at Brandy Station.
Although Stuart was not reprimanded or disciplined in any official way for his role in the Gettysburg campaign, his appointment to Commander of the Cavalry Corps on September 9, 1863 did not carry with it the customary promotion to Lieutenant General. He redeemed himself during the "war of maneuver" between Lee and Union General George Meade in the autumn of that year, before going into winter quarters.
Stuart's cavalry next saw action at the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-7, 1864), during which one of his brigades suffered heavy losses against a Union brigade led by General George Custer. The cavalry did, however, manage to delay the advance of the main Union Army long enough for Lee to gain an advantage at Spotsylvania Courthouse (May 8-21).
On May 11, 1864, the Confederate cavalry engaged General Philip Henry Sheridan's cavalry at Yellow Tavern, just outside Richmond, Virginia. Although Stuart's men were able to stall Sheridan's advance on Richmond, a dismounted Michigan trooper was able to get close enough to Stuart to shoot him with a pistol. Stuart died the next day, and was subsequetly buried at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
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This page was last updated on May 12, 2017.