A LIFE OF GEN. ROBERT E. LEE.
BY JOHN ESTEN COOKE.
"Duty is the sublimest word in our language."
"Human virtue should be equal to human calamity." LEE. 1876
IN FRONT OF RICHMOND.
V. Stuart's "Ride around McClellan"
General James E.B. Stuart, who now made his first prominent appearance upon the theatre of the war, was a Virginian by birth, and not yet thirty years of age. Resigning his commission of lieutenant in the United States Cavalry at the beginning of the war, he had joined Johnston in the Valley, and impressed that officer with a high opinion of his abilities as a cavalry officer; proceeded thence to Manassas, where he charged and broke a company of "Zouave" infantry; protected the rear of the army when Johnston retired to the Rappahannock, and bore an active part in the conflict on the Peninsula. In person he was of medium height; his frame was broad and powerful; he wore a heavy brown beard flowing upon his breast, a huge mustache of the same color, the ends curling upward; and the blue eyes, flashing beneath a "piled-up" forehead, had at times the dazzling brilliancy attributed to the eyes of the eagle. Fond of movement, adventure, bright colors, and all the pomp and pageantry of war, Stuart had entered on the struggle with ardor, and enjoyed it as the huntsman enjoys the chase. Young, ardent, ambitious, as brave as steel, ready with jest or laughter, with his banjo-player following him, going into the hottest battles humming a song, this young Virginian was, in truth, an original character, and impressed powerfully all who approached him. One who knew him well wrote: "Every thing striking, brilliant, and picturesque, seemed to centre in him. The war seemed to be to Stuart a splendid and exciting game, in which his blood coursed joyously, and his immensely strong physical organization found an arena for the display of all its faculties. The affluent life of the man craved those perils and hardships which flush the pulses and make the heart beat fast. He swung himself into the saddle at the sound of the bugle as the hunter springs on horseback; and at such moments his cheeks glowed and his huge mustache curled with enjoyment. The romance and poetry of the hard trade of arms seemed first to be inaugurated when this joyous cavalier, with his floating plume and splendid laughter, appeared upon the great arena of the war in Virginia." Precise people shook their heads, and called him frivolous, undervaluing his great ability. Those best capable of judging him were of a different opinion. Johnston wrote to him from the west: "How can I eat or sleep in peace without _you_ upon the outpost?" Jackson said, when he fell at Chancellorsville: "Go back to General Stuart, and tell him to act upon his own judgment, and do what he thinks best, I have implicit confidence in him." Lee said, when he was killed at Yellow Tavern: "I can scarcely think of him without weeping." And the brave General Sedgwick, of the United States Army, said: "Stuart is the best cavalry officer ever _foaled_ in North America!"
In the summer of 1862, when we present him to the reader, Stuart had as yet achieved little fame in his profession, but he was burning to distinguish himself. He responded ardently, therefore, to the order of Lee, and was soon ready with a picked force of about fifteen hundred cavalry, under some of his best officers. Among them were Colonels William H.F. Lee and Fitz-Hugh Lee--the first a son of General Lee, a graduate of West Point, and an officer of distinction afterward; the second, a son of Smith Lee, brother of the general, and famous subsequently in the most brilliant scenes of the war as the gay and gallant "General Fitz Lee," of the cavalry. With his picked force, officered by the two Lees, and other excellent lieutenants, Stuart set out on his adventurous expedition to Old Church. He effected more than he anticipated, and performed a daring feat of arms in addition. Driving the outposts from Hanover Court-House, he charged and broke a force of Federal cavalry near Old Church; pushed on to the York River Railroad, which he crossed, burning or capturing all Federal stores met with, including enormous wagon-camps; and then, finding the way back barred against him, and the Federal army on the alert, he continued his march with rapidity, passed entirely around General McClellan's army, and, building a bridge over the Chickahominy, safely reentered the Confederate lines just as a large force made its appearance in his rear. The temporary bridge was destroyed, however, and Stuart hastened to report to his superiors. His information was important. General McClellan's right and rear were unprotected by works of any strength. If the Confederate general desired to attack in that quarter, there was nothing to prevent.
The results of Stuart's famous "ride around McClellan," as the people called it, determined General Lee to make the attack on the north bank of the stream, if he had not already so decided. It was necessary now to bring Jackson's forces from the Valley without delay, and almost equally important to mask the movement from General McClellan. To this end a very simple _ruse_ was adopted. On the 11th of June, Whiting's division was embarked on the cars of the Danville Railroad at Richmond, and moved across the river to a point near Belle Isle, where at that moment a considerable number of Federal prisoners were about to be released and sent down James River. Here the train, loaded with Confederate troops, remained for some time, and _the secret_ was discovered by the released prisoners. General Lee was reenforcing Jackson, in order that the latter might march on Washington. Such was the report carried to General McClellan, and it seems to have really deceived him. [Footnote: "I have no doubt Jackson has been reenforced from here."--_General McClellan to
President Lincoln, June 20th_.] Whiting's division reached Lynchburg, and was thence moved by railway to Charlottesville--Jackson marched and countermarched with an elaborate pretence of advancing down the Valley--at last, one morning, the astute Confederate, who kept his own counsels, had disappeared; he was marching rapidly to join Lee on the Chickahominy. Not even his own soldiers knew what direction they were taking. They were forbidden by general order to inquire even the names of the towns they passed through; directed to reply "I don't know" to every question; and it is said that when Jackson demanded the name and regiment of a soldier robbing a cherry-tree, he could extract from the man no reply but "I don't know."
Jackson advanced with rapidity, and, on the 25th of June, was near Ashland. Here he left his forces, and rode on rapidly to Richmond. Passing unrecognized through the streets, after night, he went on to General Lee's headquarters, at a house on the "Nine-mile road," leading from the New Bridge road toward Fair Oaks Station; and here took place the first interview, since the commencement of the war, between Lee and Jackson.
What each thought of the other will be shown in the course of this narrative. We shall proceed now with the history of the great series of battles for which Jackson's appearance was the signal.