Jeb Stuart, circa 1863. (National Archives)
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Although military historians will likely conclude yesterday’s great cavalry clash at Brandy Station was a draw, Confederate cavalry commander Maj. Gen. James “Jeb” Stuart is feeling more like a beaten-down mule than the proud stallion he seemed just a few days ago.
Just one day after Stuart’s proud horsemen paraded before Gen. Robert E. Lee in a Grand Review near the banks of the Rappahannock River — which has become the front line on the eastern front — Union cavalry caught Stuart’s men by surprise in an early morning raid yesterday.
After an entire of day of heavy fighting, Federal troopers were forced to withdraw to their side of the river, but not before taking prisoner several hundred rebels and driving home the point that they are now a force to be reckoned with.
“The surprise of Stuart on the Rappahannock has chilled every heart, notwithstanding it does not appear that we lost more than the enemy in the encounter,” says John B. Jones, a clerk in the Confederate War Department. “The question is on every tongue — have the generals relaxed in vigilance? If so, sad is the prospect!”
Southern newspapers have been even more pointed than Federal sabers.
“If the war was a tournament, invented and supported for the pleasure and profit of a few vain and weak-headed officers, these disasters might be dismissed with compassion. But the country pays dearly for the blunders which encourage the enemy to overrun the land with a cavalry which is daily learning to despise the mounted troops of the Confederacy. It is high time that this branch of the service should be reformed,” writes the Richmond Examiner, suggesting Stuart should get sacked.
The criticism has left Stuart on the defensive.
“The papers are in great error, as usual, about the whole transaction,” says Stuart. “It was no surprise, the enemy’s movement was known, and he was defeated.”