The absence of the greater part of the Confederate cavalry had so disastrous an effect on Lee's operations in Pennsylvania that the reasons why it did not sooner rejoin the infantry were naturally discussed at the time. Criticised for allowing himself to be separated from Lee when the commanding general needed all his mounted troops to establish the positions of the Federals, Stuart vigorously defended his conduct.1 During the long controversy over Gettysburg, provoked in 1877 by the request of the Comte de Paris for information on the campaign, and given at length in S. H. S. P., vols. 4‑7, Stuart's failure to arrive promptly on the flank of Ewell was repeatedly mentioned as one of the causes of Lee's failure to accomplish what he hoped, but little effort was made to analyze fully the orders under which Stuart acted and the reasons that prompted him to make a complete circuit of the Federal army. The criticisms of Stuart gradually increased in severity with successive biographers until 1896, when Longstreet printed his From Manassas to Appomattox and Colonel Charles Marshall delivered an address on Stuart's movements.2 Colonel John S. Mosby replied hotly to both.3 In 1908 he published his Stuart's Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign, an intemperate book, in which he tried to demonstrate the inaccuracy of General Lee's two reports on Gettysburg. This provoked replies by Colonel T. M. R. Talcott and Doctor R. H. McKim, whom Mosby answered.4 The most recent word in the argument was the publication of Colonel Marshall's critique of Stuart in An Aide de Camp of Lee, edited by General Sir Frederick Maurice, a chapter which contained so much special pleading that one is led inevitably to conclude that Marshall considered he was subject to censure for the form of Lee's letters of June 22 and 23 to General Stuart.
For the purposes of this biography it is not necessary to consider all the arguments advanced in this controversy. The battle has raged p548 chiefly over the question whether or not Lee intended to instruct Stuart to cross the Potomac immediately east of the mountains. The writer believes that the sequence of events set forth in the text proves that this was not the case. Certainly the claim would not have been advanced with so much assurance or defended so positively if those who entered the controversy had based their arguments on the information that Lee and Stuart possessed at the time, instead of confusing what those officers then knew with what they subsequently learned.
The essential fact is that when Lee sent his final letter to Stuart on June 23 he had information from at least two sources that Hooker was preparing to cross the Potomac at Edwards' Ferry. That of necessity involved so heavy a concentration between Leesburg and the ferry, and from the ferry for some miles southward that it would have been a physical impossibility for Stuart to ride around the rear of Hooker's army and then cross "immediately east of the mountains" without doubling back on his tracks and making a journey twice as long as that which seemed to be open to him by crossing between Hooker and Washington. Lee frankly stated both in his preliminary and in his final report that Stuart had discretion to cross either east or west of the mountains.5 When Marshall put into the draft report a criticism of Stuart for disobedience to orders, Lee struck it out and said he could not adopt Marshall's conclusions or charge Stuart with the facts as Marshall had stated them, unless they were established by court-martial.6
Little time need be spent over the claim of Colonel Marshall put forward in this language: "This explicit order [for Stuart to 'move on and feel the right of Ewell's troops'] precluded any movement by Stuart that would prevent him 'from feeling the right of Ewell's troops' after crossing the Potomac. So that under these restrictions he was practically instructed not to cross the Potomac east of the Federal army, and thus interpose that army between himself and the right of General Ewell."7 This is a manifest non sequitur. If Lee had meant that Stuart should not cross east of the mountains in order to reach General Ewell he could readily have said so. Colonel Marshall must himself have felt this, because while he included this charge in the manuscript he left unpublished and unrevised at the time of his death, he did not advance it as an argument in his address of 1896.8
p549 Doctor McKim claimed9 that when Hill and Longstreet had crossed the Potomac there was no further hope that Lee's movement could be concealed, and that, in consequence, Stuart should have crossed west of the mountains and passed over the Potomac at Shepherdstown. Doctor McKim overlooked three facts. Under Lee's instructions, Stuart was not to move at all until the First and Third Corps were beyond pursuit from the south side of the Potomac. Secondly, Lee was solicitous that nothing should be done by the cavalry until this movement was safely under way. Thirdly, when this movement was in progress Stuart had a minor mission to perform in annoying and delaying the enemy.
Colonel McIntosh asserted10 that when Stuart had crossed the river and found Hooker on the north side, he should have turned back, gone up the south bank and recrossed at Shepherdstown. But an examination of the map will make it plain that this would have more than doubled Stuart's march to Ewell's right flank, which was the most important part of his movement.
The claim that Stuart delayed unduly after crossing the Potomac in seeking to put himself on Ewell's flank11 will be considered in Appendix III-4. The serious charge of Colonel Mosby that General Lee gave an improper record of Stuart's achievements in his two reports is trivial and has already been answered effectively by Colonel Talcott in 37 S. H. S. P., 22‑28.
There remains but to answer this very important question: If Lee gave Stuart discretion to pass around Hooker's army, knowing that this would almost certainly force Stuart to cross the Potomac east of Edwards' Ford, who was to blame for what followed? The answer will be clear from a narration of the facts.
Stuart received his final orders "late in the night" of June 23‑24th.12 The next morning Major Mosby returned from a scout east of the Catoctin Mountains and reported that he had ridden freely among the Federal corps which, he said, were quiet. There was no sign of a movement.13 Under Lee's orders, Stuart had no discretion to undertake a ride around the Federal army unless it was moving northward. He sent off a dispatch to General Lee, however,14 reporting what Mosby had discovered. Then, instead of preparing to withdraw through the mountains westward to Lee, as contemplated by his orders in case he found the Federals inactive, he made ready to move eastward. p550 He doubtless reasoned that even if the Federals were inactive when Mosby passed among their camps on the 23d, they might be moving northward on the 24th. It Stuart's duty to ascertain that fact.
He construed his orders to mean that he was not to begin his march until "after" the 24th.15 He did not wait an hour thereafter. At 1 A.M. on the morning of the 25th he started eastward with three brigades so as not to be observed in daylight by the enemy's lookout on the Bull Run Mountains.16 The troops he took with him were Fitz Lee's, Hampton's, and Rooney Lee's brigades, the last-named under command of Colonel John R. Chambliss. Those he left were Robertson's and Jones's. Stuart's protagonists say he made this selection because Jones was the best outpost officer he had and because his was the largest brigade in his corps. Jones, however, was junior to Robertson, and would not command the force. Robertson's brigade consisted of only two regiments and was so small that it offset the strength of Jones's. Stuart could only justify in one way the contention of his friends that this was an equitable division of force:17 he would have to count with Jones and Robertson the brigade of Jenkins, which was in advance of Ewell in Pennsylvania. And the strength of this brigade did not approximate the 3800 men credited to it. Stuart's selection, in all probability, was due to his desire to have veteran troops with him, under co-operative commanders. He did not like Jones, who returned this feeling in kind with interest,18 and he had no high opinion of Robertson. Had he been able to rejoin Lee quickly in Maryland or in Pennsylvania, this selection of veteran troops for a difficult raid would have been a wise arrangement, but as it eventuated, Lee was served in the Gettysburg campaign by the less-experienced cavalry commanders, men who had never worked closely with him before. It was an unfortunate condition and was in part responsible for the difficulties Lee encountered.
When Stuart reached Hay Market, on the road to Centreville, he encountered Hancock's corps, and it was moving north. Stuart's underlying orders were that he should take position on Ewell's right as soon as he found the enemy crossing the Potomac. Apparently he did not regard Hooker's northward movement as necessarily indicating a crossing. He did, however, feel that the direction of the Federals' advance gave him the discretion he certainly desired to make a raid around the enemy's army instead of tamely following the First Corps p551 across the river under shelter of the Blue Ridge. Mosby, who had originally suggested the operation to Stuart, had proposed that Stuart "pass through the middle of Hooker's army," which Mosby believed to be camped by corps with intervals of at least •ten miles between each two.19 Such a dash appealed to Stuart. But Lee's orders did not permit him to ride through the Federal army. All Lee's consideration had been based on the advantage of attacking the rear of the Federals, and had specified that Stuart was to ascertain whether he could "pass around their army without hinderance."20 When Stuart found himself confronting Hancock's corps, and not the rear of the army, he encountered "hinderance" of the most serious sort. His restraining orders then applied. He should have turned back and proceeded northward when he believed the mountain passes safe. But enthusiasm and his desire to perform another dazzling feat carried him on. He had discretion up to a certain point; Lee must take whatever blame is attached to allowing it; but, with the best intentions in the world, Stuart misused that discretion by violating the essential proviso. Instead of starting westward as soon as he found his road by Hay Market blocked, he blazed away with his artillery at a Federal corps and forced it to extend a line of battle. Then he withdrew to Buckland,21 sent off a brigade to reconnoitre and, with the remainder of his command, spent the day grazing his horses, for he had no forage.
On the 26th he moved to Wolf Run Shoals, but had to make a halt there to feed his mounts. The next day the march of some of his men was slowed down by the proximity of the Federal horse and by uncertainty as to the positions of the enemy. By violating the one and only condition imposed in his orders — by pushing on in the face of opposition — he was so delayed that he could not cross the Potomac until the night of the 27‑28th.22 Lee had been anxious for him to enter Maryland as soon as possible after the 24th. As it was, Stuart took from 1 A.M. on the 25th, or three whole days, to cross the Potomac.
The facts convey the judgment: Stuart was innocent of most of the charges made against him, but he disregarded his principal mission of moving promptly to the right flank of Ewell and he was guilty of violation of orders when he encountered material "hinderance" and did not turn back. Lee hoped that Stuart could attack the Federal wagon trains and disorganize the Federal advance to the Potomac, but he neither anticipated nor authorized any such operation as Stuart conducted.
2 23 S. H. S. P., 205 ff.
3 Ibid., 238 ff., 348 ff.
4 37 S. H. S. P., 210 ff., 369 ff.; 38 S. H. S. P., 184.
6 D. G. McIntosh, quoting Marshall, in Review of the Gettysburg Campaign (cited hereafter as McIntosh), 37 S. H. S. P., 95.
7 Marshall, op. cit., 210.
8 23 S. H. S. P., 205 ff.
9 37 S. H. S. P., 224.
10 37 S. H. S. P., 92‑93.
11 Doctor McKim advanced this view in 37 S. H. S. P., 221.
12 H. B. McClellan, 316.
13 Mosby, Stuart's Cavalry, 78, 81.
14 Ibid., 81.
17 H. B. McClellan, 318‑19.
19 Mosby, Stuart's Cavalry, 76.
Images with borders lead to more information.
Robert E. Lee
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 26 Feb 11