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.