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“How can I eat, or sleep, or rest in peace, without Stuart on the outpost !” But by this time Stuart, ascending in reputation, had obtained a division, then a corps, and was indispensable in the great campaigns of Lee, whose right-hand man he became.
In December, 1861, while on the lines of the Potomac, Stuart met with a serious disaster in an affair called by exaggeration the battle of Dranesville, where the Federals gained their first success since Rich Mountain. He had set out with a large foraging force of about 2,500 men, escorting nearly 300 wagons. He was successful in securing forage, and about midday of the 20th December, arrived near Dranesville. On the same day, a foraging force of the enemy had marched to the same neighbourhood. It consisted of Gen. Ord's brigade--four full regiments of “Bucktail rifles," and some artillery-in all, at least 3,500 men. A rocket shot up by the enemy gave to the Confederates the first intimation of their presence. They were deployed in heavy clouds of skirmishers in the woods. To give his wagon-train time to retreat in safety, Gen. Stuart instantly prepared for battle. He was taken at disadvantage; the enemy, in superiour force, occupied a strong position, and was sheltered by the woods; the Confederate artillery could gain no position except by advancing right up the road. The consequence was that Stuart's command was thrown into disorder; and after an irregular fight, he ordered a retreat, having, however, saved his wagon-train, and the enemy making no attempt to pursue him. His loss in killed and wounded was about 200 men.
The adventure which gave Stuart his first instalment of brilliant reputation was his famous "ride around McClellan," on the Richmond lines. He had already done excellent service in the preceding campaigns, operating in front of the enemy towards Arlington Heights, and covering the rear of Johnston's army when it fell back from Centreville. He had now become the chief cavalry leader of the war. On the 13th, 14th, and 15th June, 1861, with portions of the First, Fourth, and Ninth Virginia cavalry, a part of the Jeff Davis Legion, with whom were the Boykin Rangers and a section of the Stuart horse artillery, the daring commander made a reconnoissance between the Pamunkey and Chickahominy Rivers, and succeeded in passing around the rear of the whole of the Federal army, routing the
enemy in a series of skirmishes, taking a number of prisoners, and destroying and capturing stores to a large amount. He lost but one man on the perilous circuit. On his return he came upon the Chickahominy below all the bridges, and where deep water flowed. He found it impossible to cross his command. It was a desperate suspense. The enemy had blocked up all the main roads, and had thousands scouring the country, eager to entrap the daring cavalier. He was but two miles from McClellan's headquarters. In the darkness of night cavalryman after cavalryman essayed to swim the river. Not more than fifty succeeded in getting over, and as they stood on the opposite bank, a strange but friendly voice whispered in the dark : “ The old bridge is a few yards higher up; it can be mended." The men on the other side caught at the new hope, and soon found the wrecked bridge. It was severe work; tree after tree was felled ; earth, and twigs, and branches were carried and piled up on the main props; old logs were rolled and patched across the stream; and after long and weary labour the bridge was built, and the silent procession of cavalry, artillery, prisoners, and spoils, safely and quietly passed on the frail, impromptu support, scarcely any sounds being heard but the rush of waters beneath. Once across, and as the rising sun crimsoned the tree tops, the command, seeking the shade of the woods, plunged through the last lines of the enemy, dashed into the open ground, and, speeding along the Charles City road, were soon in sight of the Confederate pickets.
The audacity of this enterprise delighted the people of Richmond, and they were especially pleased with the annoyance it caused the enemy. It was said that McClellan had got “his rear well spanked,” and that the castigation was a proper prelude to his more severe punishment in the coming battle. There is no doubt the expedition was designed by Gen. Lee to discover all the positions of McClellan preparatory to the decisive battle, and that the information it obtained was more important than the éclat reckoned by the popular applause.
In referring some time afterwards to the perils of the expedition, especially when it confronted the swollen waters of the Chickahominy, fifteen feet deep, with an aroused enemy in the rear, one of Stuart's officers said: “It was a tight place, General. I expected the column to be attacked at any moment, and we might have been destroyed without the possibility of retreat!” “ One thing was left," replied Stuart. “What?” “To die game!” : After the battles of Richmond, when Jackson was about to make his famous advance on Manassas, Stuart was required to place his cavalry on his flanks. Leaving his pleasant headquarters in the grassy yard of the old Hanover Court-House, he hastened to put his column in motion for the head-waters of the Rapidan. On Jackson's march to Manassas, Stuart was on the right of the Confederate column, with a cordon of pickets, and a network of scouting parties, scouring the whole region. To penetrate his chain of vedettes in any important movement was next to impossible, a task which the enemy often attempted without effect.
But Gen. Stuart was not as careful of his personal safety as he might and should have been, and in this respect he was constantly running the narrowest risks. One of these personal adventures happened on this expedition, and he barely escaped with his life. Attended by only a portion of his staff, he had ridden to Verdiers ville, a small settlement on the road from Orange Court-House to Chancellorsville, where he expected to be joined by Fitzhugh Lee's brigade of cavalry. Awaiting this portion of his command Gen. Stuart, attended by his few companions, passed the night in the village, the commander sleeping in the porch of one of the houses. About this time the country was very much infested by prowling detachments of Federal cavalry. In the early morning, Stuart, who had just awakened from his sleep, descried a body of cavalry coming up the road. He supposed it to be the head of Fitzhugh Lee's column, but, not without momentary uneasiness, he called to Capt. Mosby (afterwards so famous as a partisan, and who kept some of the upper counties of Virginia so clear of the enemy that they were designated “Mosby's Confederacy") to observe the approaching horsemen. Mosby had just walked to the gate of the inclosure, when a volley of bullets whistled over his head, and gave all the information that was desired. By the time the cavalrymen had galloped to the fence a few swift steps had brought Stuart to the side of his favourite mare " Skylark,” grazing in the yard, and, seizing the halter, without bridle or saddle, on the bare back of
the horse, he leaped the inclosure, cleared the open ground under a shower of bullets, and, digging the spurs into the sides of the noble animal, shot towards the forest with the speed of an arrow, and was soon lost in the cover of the woods. He left behind him, on the porch where he had rested, the cape of his overcoat; and, lying near it, a brown hat, looped up with a golden star, and decorated with a floating black feather, was evidence to the Federal cavalrymen of the strange and noble game that had escaped them.
Just one week after this adventure, when Pope was hastily retiring before Lee's column, Gen. Stuart made an expedition to the enemy's rear, and struck the Orange and Alexandria Railroad at Catlett's Station. It was a complete surprise of the enemy in a dark and stormy night. Without light enough to see their hands before them, the attacking column plunged forward at full speed through ditches and ravines, overrunning the enemy's baggage train, burning his wagons, and creating an indescribable confusion. As chance would have it, Stuart came upon Pope's headquarters just in time to find that that General had fled from the scene, in such hurry and disorder, however, as to leave his plans and papers, and among other things, his uniform coat, which Stuart at once seized in restitution for the cape and hat he had lost at Verdiersville. It was more than a fair equivalent for the adventure at the latter place. The captured papers were sent to Lee, and the coat reserved for exhibition in Richmond as a trophy of the raid. It was placed in a shop-window there, with a label attached to it, on which Stuart wrote: “Taken from the man who said he never expected to see anything but the backs of rebels.”
After the exhausting campaign of the summer of 1862, terminating on the field of Sharpsburg, both armies rested for a brief period. Gen. Stuart had inaugurated a policy of raids in these intervals between the great contestants; and as it was advisable to beat up the quarters of the enemy, he was sent in October, with 1,800 men, and four pieces of artillery, to essay a second ride around McClellan. At daylight on the 10th October he crossed the Potomac, between Williamsport and Hancock, proceeded by a rapid march to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, which he reached at dark on the same day, captured the place
and destroyed the machine shops and railroad buildings, containing large numbers of arms and other public stores. From Chambersburg Gen. Stuart decided, after mature consideration, to strike for the vicinity of Leesburg, as the best route of return, particularly as the enemy's presence would have rendered the direction of Cumberland, full of mountain gorges, exceedingly hazardous. The route selected was through an open country. Of course the wily commander left nothing undone to prevent the inhabitants from detecting his real route and object. He started directly towards Gettysburg, but, having passed the Blue Ridge, turned back towards Hagerstown for six or eight miles, and then crossed to Maryland by Emmettsburg, where, as his troopers passed, they were hailed by the inhabitants with the most enthusiastic demonstrations of joy.
Taking the route towards Frederick, Gen. Stuart intercepted some dispatches directed to Washington, which satisfied him that his whereabouts was still a problem to the enemy. He now took the bold resolution of passing entirely around the Federal army, and cutting his way through to the ford near Leesburg. Moving with the utmost rapidity, he reached Hyattstown, below Frederick, at daylight on the morning of the 12th, and pushing on towards Poolesville, found that the road in that direction was barred by Gen. Stoneman with about 5,000 troops, and that railroad trains were standing ready, with steam up, and loaded with infantry, to move instantly to the point where he attempted to cross. Making a circuit through the woods, and guarding well his flanks and rear, Stuart avoided the town, and, pushing boldly
ville, at a point near White's ford. Quick as thought, Stuart's sharpshooters sprang to the ground, while the charging cavalry cut through the enemy's lines; and with Pelham's guns on a high crest screening the movement, Stuart made a bold and rapid stroke for the ford. The passage of the river was effected with all the precision of passing a defile on drill. All the results of
man killed. The march, in respect of rapidity, is perhaps without a parallel in the record of the war. The distance from Chambersburg to Leesburg, ninety miles, was accomplished with only one hour's halt, in thirty-six hours, including a forced pas