For many of the Southern officers in the U.S. army during the heady months of secession, April and May were a time of choosing sides. For some, like Robert E. Lee, the choice was difficult and painful. For U.S. army officer James Ewell Brown Stuart, it was just a matter of waiting for his home state of Virginia to officially secede.
For many of the Southern officers in the U.S. army during the heady months of secession, April and May were a time of choosing sides. As we read last month, for some like Robert E. Lee, the choice was difficult and painful. For others, the choice was much easier. For U.S. army officers like Captain James Ewell Brown Stuart, it was just a matter of waiting for his home state of Virginia to officially secede before making his move.
On May 3rd, just a few days after Virginia’s secession convention voted to leave the Union, Stuart sent a letter of resignation to the War Department and arrived in Richmond only a few days later. Upon his arrival, he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel of the Virginia Infantry in the Confederate Army and was later told to report to Colonel Thomas J. Jackson (not yet designated “Stonewall” Jackson) in Harper’s Ferry.
The Richmond Dispatch noted (with quite a bit of pro-Confederacy bias) his arrival on May 9th:
Resignation of an U. S. Army Officer – Capt. J. E. B. Stuart, late of the U. S. Cavalry, has resigned his commission, rather than head the minions of Lincoln in their piratical quest after “booty and beauty” in the South. The officer in question arrived yesterday, and tendered his services to Virginia. Richmond Dispatch, 5/10/1861
J.E.B. Stuart, known to his friends as “Jeb”, was a West Point graduate and a veteran of frontier conflicts with Native Americans. He was an experienced cavalry officer in the U.S. army, and upon his arrival later in the summer in Harper’s Ferry, Jackson would ignore the infantry designation given to him by Lee and place him in charge of all the cavalry companies in the Army of the Shenandoah.
The Civil War is often described as a war that pitted brothers against brothers and friends against friends. There are numerous stories of generals on opposite sides of a battle who were former classmates and brothers who chose to fight for different sides. Stuart found himself in a similar situation at the outset of the war when his father-in-law, Col. Philip Cooke, chose to stay in the U.S. Army. Stuart famously wrote of the decision in a letter to his brother-in-law, saying “He will regret it but once, and that will be continuously.” This is just the first of many epic one-liners provided by Stuart during the war. The two would later face each other in battle during the Peninsula Campaign.
Stuart is one of the more recognizable generals of the Civil War due in part to his unique sense of style. In sharp contrast to the simpler dress of many other Civil War officers, Stuart was known for wearing an iconic French-made hat with an ostrich plume, a red-lined grey cape, and a bright yellow sash. If we thought about J.E.B. Stuart in modern times, think of him as the self-confident guy in your group of friends who can pull off over-the-top outfits that you’d probably be way too nervous to wear. You know, the guy who gets all the girls. (Except, of course, Stuart was happily married.) In addition to his bold fashion choices, he also made some really bold strategic moves over the course of the Civil War, famously circling his cavalry around the entire Union Army of the Potomac not once, but twice.
We’ll be talking a lot more about J.E.B. Stuart as we continue to reflect on events of the Civil War, as he played a critical role in several battles, especially here in Virginia. Until we hear from him again, if you’d like to see Stuart’s style for yourself, you can head on over to the Virginia Historical Society on Boulevard, which has his jacket, sash, and some other personal effects. You can also head to the Museum of the Confederacy to see Stuart’s famous hat, LeMat revolver, riding boots, and many other items. You can also take in his larger-than-life presence at his statue on Monument Ave. at the intersection of Lombardy Ave.
If none of that quenches your interest for J.E.B. Stuart, there are a few other spots to check out both in the city and a little ways up I-95 that I’ll be telling you more about later. Stay tuned!