Stuart's Ride Around McClellan
"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
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
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."
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
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.
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
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.
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
"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
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!"
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!"
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!"
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."
"To die game."