|Taken from the Southern Historical Society Papers
Volume VII, January to December, 1879 0- No.
3 March --
The Wounding an Death of General J. E. B. Stuart -
Several Errors Corrected.
The following comes from a source entitled to the very
highest consideration, and will be read with mournful interest by all who
feel - and who does not? - an interest in the minutest details concerning
the career and death
of our "Flower of Cavaliers":
In the last number of the Historical Papers - that
for February, 1879 - I find an article entitled
"The Death of Major-General J. E. B. Stuart."
In the main it is true, yet there are several errors
that should be corrected ere it becomes a part of history.
In speaking of the dispatch sent to his wife these
words occur: "Some thoughtless but unauthorized person, thinking probably
to spare his wife pain, altered the dispatch to 'slightly wounded,' and
it was thus she received it, and did not make that haste which she otherwise
would have done to reach his side."
This is entirely a mistake. The circumstances were
these: as soon as possible after General Stuart reached Richmond, the evening
of the 11th May, a telegram was written by Major H. von Borcke, and sent,
as he supposed, to Mrs. Stuart, who was at Colonel Edmund Fontaine's, near
Beaver Dam station. It was found to be impossible to send it direct, as
all communication had been cut off, both by way of what was then the Central
railroad and telegraph line and by the Fredericksburg railroad. Some delay
was thus occasioned, and the dispatch was not actually on its way until
the next morning; then it was sent by way of Lynchburg and Gordonsville,
and some difficulty attended its transmission by that line.
Colonel Fontaine, with several members of his family,
and Mrs. Stuart were that morning (the 12th) at the depot doing all in
their power to relieve the many wounded and dying who had been started
to Richmond by General Lee, but captured by the Yankees while on their
way and left by them at Beaver Dam, two days before. While there, at about
twelve o'clock, Colonel Fontaine received the dispatch, which read follows:
"General Stuart has been seriously wounded; come at once." Colonel Fontaine
hurried the party home, but
did not tell Mrs. Stuart of it; after she reached
her own room, the sad news was lovingly broken to her by his gentle and
compassionate wife. Colonel Fontaine had made some arrangement for an engine
and car to carry Mrs. Stuart and little children to Ashland, that road
not having been destroyed between those points, and at a few minutes after
one o'clock they started - there not having been one moment's delay.
The Rev. Dr. Woodbridge, who had been visiting his
son, a member of General Stuart's command, reached Beaver Dam that morning,
and at once offered to escort Mrs. Stuart in her sad journey. Mr.
Charles Carter, of Hanover county, proved himself also the kind and attentive
Some two hours or more were consumed in reaching Ashland,
for the engineer was a volunteer. At that place
a new difficulty presented itself. How was the party
to go from there to Richmond? Fortunately, an ambulance
had just been made ready for the trip, in which one
or more wounded cavalry officers were going; these most courteously insisted
upon Mrs. Stuart using it. Under
the circumstances Dr. Woodbridge accepted it for her,
and in a few minutes they were on their way.
The roads were very bad, and soon after leaving
Ashland a heavy storm gathered, and it became dark
and threatening, with constant and terrifying flashes
of lightning; but still they pushed on. Frequently on the way soldiers
were met, and each time the same question was asked by Dr. Woodbridge,
"Any news from General Stuart? Almost invariably the answer was, "No, but
we heard his wound was not serious," - so that the anxious hearts of the
poor wife and friend were encouraged to hope for the best.
About eight o'clock they reached the Chickahominy,
and found to their distress that the Confederate cavalry
had destroyed the bridge. In the rain and dark, after some
little detention, a cavalry picket was found not far off, who directed
the driver to a ford a mile or two lower down. This difficulty was surmounted
in time, and once more they were traveling on the turnpike towards Richmond.
Just before reaching the suburbs of the city they were
delivered from what might have been a most distressing accident. It was
so very dark, it now being after ten o'clock and still storming, that neither
the driver nor
Dr. Woodbridge, saw the dark masses of horses and
men lying along the roadside; but suddenly they became
aware of a horseman being directly in front of their horses' heads.
When the noise of the moving vehicle ceased, he was heard to say, "Who's
there? - stand!"
Dr. Woodbridge discovered he was a sentinel on duty,
and at once told him his errand and who were in the ambulance, when he
exclaimed: "Thank God! my cap snapped twice when you did not answer my
repeated challenge," - and then added, "We are Lomax's men."
Not until half-past eleven o'clock did they reach Dr.
Brewer's residence, on Grace street, and then a certain quiet resting on
all about the house instantly impressed them, and words were not necessary
to convey to the quick perceptions of an anxious and devoted wife the
sad intelligence awaiting her.
During that day, in his longing desire to once more
see his dear one, this noble man had done what he had
never before consented to do - use spirits as a stimulant,
hoping thus to delay, for a few hours, what he well knew to be inevitable.
But God's will must be done, and for a wise purpose, no doubt, this last
hope was denied.
A second error occurs in the latter part of the article,
in regard to General Stuart's age. He was born in Patrick county, on the
6th of February, 1833; died 12th of May, 1864, being thirty-one years,
three months and six days old.
A third error is in reference to the death of his child.
He left two children - a son, who bears his father's
name, and a baby daughter, only seven months old, to whom
he had given the name "Virginia," named for the State
in whose defence he yielded up his life.
The child he lost was a daughter, "Flora." She died
November 3, 1862, when the Confederate cavalry were for fourteen consecutive
days fighting untiringly, holding in check the whole of Pleasanton's cavalry,
supported heavily by infantry, who were covering McClellan's march across
to Fauquier, when McClellan was superseded by Burnside, before the army
moved to Fredericksburg.
The loss of this dearly loved child was a great blow
to him, greatly increased by his utter inability to be with her;
but in his letters he expressed the most beautiful Christian resignation
and his perfect willingness to meet the same great change whenever his
Maker should call.
The world knows little of the circumstances which led
to and immediately followed the wounding of General J. E. B. Stuart, at
Yellow Tavern, in May, 1864.
Some have pretended to tell "what they saw";
but the truth has been painfully distorted. The account given below was
written by Major H. B. McClellan to Mrs. Stuart, not long after the General's
death. The incidents of the charge in which the General received his wound
were related to the Major by Captain Dorsey, of the Maryland company, First
Virginia cavalry, who was by the General's side at the time.
Major A. R. Venable,
a member of the staff, was with him also almost immediately
afterwards, and remained by him until the last.
Major McClellan says:
"We reached the vicinity of the Yellow Tavern that
morning about ten o'clock, and found that we were in advance of the enemy's
column, and in time to interpose between it and Richmond. Not knowing what
force we had there, the General was uncertain whether to place himself
at once between the enemy and the city, or to take a position on his flank,
near the Yellow Tavern -
the latter he preferred if he could be satisfied that
had a sufficient force in the trenches to defend Richmond.
To ascertain this he sent me to see General Bragg. When I returned
to him about two o'clock, I found that a heavy engagement had taken place,
and, that after driving in a portion of our line, the enemy had been heavily
repulsed. When I found the General there was a lull in the fight,
and we sat quietly near one of our batteries for more than an hour, resting
and talking. About four o'clock the enemy suddenly threw a brigade of cavalry,
mounted, upon the extreme left, attacking
our whole line at the same time. As he always did,
General hastened to the point where the greatest danger
threatened - the point against which the enemy directed the mounted charge.
My horse was so much exhausted by my severe ride of the morning that I
could not follow him, but Captain Dorsey gave the particulars that follow.
"The enemy's charge captured our battery on the left
of our line, and drove back almost the entire left. Where Captain
Dorsey was stationed - immediately on the Telegraph road - about eighty
men had collected together, and among these the General threw himself,
and by his personal example held them steady while the enemy charged entirely
past their position. With these men he fired into their flank and rear,
as they passed him, in advancing and in retreating, for they were met
by a mounted charge of the First Virginia cavalry
and driven back some distance. As they retired, one man, who had
been dismounted in the charge and was running out on foot, turned, as he
passed the General, and, discharging his pistol, inflicted the fatal wound.
When Captain Dorsey discovered that he was wounded, he came at once to
his assistance and endeavored to lead him to the rear; but the General's
horse became so restive and unmanageable that he insisted upon being taken
down and allowed to rest against a tree. When this was done Captain Dorsey
sent for another horse. While waiting for this horse, the General ordered
him to leave him alone and return to his men and drive back the enemy;
said that he feared he was mortally wounded and could be of no more service.
Captain Dorsey told him that he could not obey that order - that he would
sacrifice his life rather than leave him until he had placed him out of
all danger. The situation was a dangerous one. Our men were sadly scattered,
and there was hardly a handful of men between that little group and the
advancing enemy. But the horse arrived in time; the General
was lifted on to him and led by Captain Dorsey to a safer place. There,
by the General's order, he gave him into charge of Private Wheatly, of
his company, and returned to rally our scattered men. Wheatly procured
an ambulance, placed the General in it with the greatest care, and supporting
him in his arms, he was driven from the field. As he was being brought
off, he spoke to our men, whom he saw retreating, and said: 'Go back! go
back! and do your duty as I have done mine, and our country will be safe.
Go back! go back! I had rather die than be whipped.' * * I was hastening
toward the part of the field where I heard he had been wounded, when I
met the ambulance bringing him out. The General had so often told me that
if he were wounded I must not leave the field, but report to the officer
next to him in rank, that I did not now presume to disregard his order;
and the more so, because I saw that Dr. Fontaine, Major Venable, Lieutenant
Garnett, and several of his couriers, were attending him. I remained with
General Fitz. Lee until the next morning, when he sent me to the city to
see General Bragg, and I had an opportunity to spend an hour with my General.
More than any brother did I love him; greater loss I have never known."
Thus closes the sad account from which we have copied
and as we read character it proves that the gay, dashing soldier possessed
such worth as not only to attract, but to retain the affection of those
with whom he was most intimately associated. May his deeds be long cherished
by those who love the cause for which he so willingly laid down his life.
*Editorial - From the Southern Historical Society Papers
Volume VII, January to December, 1879 0- No.
3 March -Pages- 141-