May 11, 1864: Jeb Stuart Mortally Wounded at Yellow Tavern

The Civil War got quite a bit grimmer in 1864 and perhaps a symbol of this was the mortal wounding of General Jeb Stuart at the battle of Yellow Tavern on May 11, 1864.  Stuart and the cavalry he commanded had interjected a dash of romance and glamor into the War with their daring raids and the way they completely dominated Union cavalry in the early days of the War.  Stuart personified the cheerful cavalier.  He was friends with Stonewall Jackson, it was said of him that he was the only man in the Army who could get Stonewall to laugh, and his camps were always filled with music and good spirits.  He was a knight sans reproach in that he didn’t drink, use tobacco or curse and he was deeply devoted to his wife Flora and their children, although Flora was annoyed by the number of fan letters Stuart received during the War from ladies of the South.

Behind his dashing image however, Stuart had a good mind.  He netted $5,000.00 from the United States government during 1850′s for a new mechanism to hook cavalry sabers to belts, which equaled almost 4 years of his salary as a junior officer.  During the War he showed himself to be a skilled cavalry commander and at Chancellorsville he capably led Jackson’s corps after Jackson’s fatal wounding.

The battle of Yellow Tavern occurred as a result of Grant sending Sheridan and the Union cavalry off to raid South towards Richmond.  The lengthening odds against the South are demonstrated by the fact that Stuart could only bring 5,000 cavalry to the field against 12,000 commanded by Sheridan, most of them armed with repeaters.  Stuart maintained the unequal contest for three hours before the Confederates retreated.  Stuart was mortally wounded while he was rallying his troops.

Stuart died the next day, bearing with stoicism the dreadful pain of his wound.  He requested that the hymn Rock of Ages be sung.  He died soon after the hymn was completed, age 31.  His wife Flora arrived after his death.  She would wear widow’s black for the remaining 59 years of her life, turning down numerous requests for her hand in marriage, saying that being Mrs. Jeb Stuart was more than enough honor for one lifetime. She had a distinguished career as a teacher and principal of the Virginia Female Institute.  In 1907 it was renamed in her honor Stuart Hall School.

 

Here is an account of the mortal wounding of Jeb Stuart:

ON the morning of the fight at Yellow Tavern, May 12th, 1864, I was acting as one of Stuart’s couriers. At the beginning of it I was stationed in front of the tavern, under one of a row of trees that lined the way close by. To my left, about four hundred yards off, the enemy could be easily seen emerging from a piece of woods and forming for battle. A short distance to my right I saw an irregular line of Confederates. Pretty soon from the enemy came lively volleys whistling through the trees and starting the dust in the road. In a few minutes I saw two horsemen approach from the Confederate side. As they drew near I recognized General Stuart and Colonel Walter Hullion. They halted near by in the road, and Stuart, taking out his field-glass, deliberately watched the manoeuvres of the enemy, though balls were whizzing past him. Presently, regardless of the increasing fire, which was now accompanied with shouts, Stuart put his glass away, and taking out paper and pencil wrote an order. Handing it to Colonel Hullion, he told him to take it to General Lomax. That officer replied by pointing to me and suggesting that I should carry it. Stuart assented, and I rode off in search of General Lomax. The firing continued to increase, and many squadrons were in sight. The enemy, awake to their superior numbers, seemed about to make a general advance, while our men were availing themselves of the character of the ground to repel their attack. After going a few rods to the rear, my horse, excited by the firing, , suddenly stopped and refused to budge. After several vain attempts with the spur and the fiat side of my sword to start him, I at last struck him with all my strength right between the ears. This “downed” him, but he soon rose and ran off at the top of his speed. I soon came to where General Lomax was, and coming into collision with his horse gained his immediate attention. After reading the note he told me to go back and tell General Stuart that the order had been delivered. In a few moments I rejoine sitting on his horse close behind a line of dismounted men, who were firing at the advancing Federals. The disparity of numbers between the opposing forces was very great, to judge from appearances. Our men seemed aware of their inferior strength, but were not dismayed. The enemy confidently pressed forward with exultant shouts, delivering tremendous volleys. The Confederates returned their fire with yells of defiance.

Stuart, with pistol in hand, shot over the heads of the troops, while with words of cheer he encouraged them. He kept saying : ” Steady, men, Steady.

Give it to them.” Presently he reeled in his saddle.

His head was bowed and his hat fell off. He turned and said as I drew nearer: “Go and tell General Lee and Dr. Fontaine to come here. I wheeled at once and went as fast as I could to do his bidding. Coming to the part of the line where General Lomax was, I told him Stuart was hurt and that he wanted General Fitz Lee. He pointed to the left and told me to hurry. Soon I found General Lee, and delivered the message. He was riding a light gray, if I remember, and instantly upon receipt of the news went like an arrow down the line. When I returned, Stuart had been taken from his horse and was being carried by his men off the field. I saw him put in an ambulance and I followed it close behind. He lay without speaking as it went along, but kept shaking his head with an expression of the deepest disappointment.

He died the next day, May 12th.

I first became aware of General Jeb Stuart back in the Sixties as a kid while reading the Haunted Tank series published by DC comics.  In that series, begun in 1961 and running till 1987, the ghost of General Jeb Stuart gives combat advice during World War II, based on his experiences in the Civil War, to Sergeant Jeb Stuart Smith, the commander of a Stuart tank.  Sergeant Smith is a Yankee, but he and the General get along.  Smith is the only man who can see and hear the General.  The rest of his tank crew assume that he is crazy, but since he keeps them alive and wins in their combat engagements, not easy to do in the lightly armored and gunned Stuart, they tolerate him.  (Besides which, being Southerners to a man, they assume that all Northerners are a bit peculiar to begin with. )

 

The Haunted Tank

I think in the world beyond Jeb Stuart was probably tickled by the comic.

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