May 12, 1864 – The “Cavalier of Dixie” succumbed to a wound suffered at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, and another legendary Confederate general was gone.
Major General Jeb Stuart, cavalry commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, had led a portion of his force in fighting a delaying action against Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal troops just six miles from Richmond. Stuart was shot during the fight, and he was subsequently taken on an agonizing six-hour ambulance ride to the capital.
Along the way, Stuart said, “I don’t know how this will turn out; but if it is God’s will that I shall die, I am ready.” The ambulance stopped at the home of his sister-in-law on Grace Street at 11 p.m. Four of Richmond’s top physicians tended to him, but there was little they could do. The bullet had severed his intestines, and he was slowly dying most likely from internal bleeding and peritonitis.
Messages were sent to Stuart’s wife Flora and their children, who were staying at Beaver Dam Station. However, Federals had cut the telegraph lines out of Richmond, so the message did not arrive until noon on the 12th. Flora and the children boarded a train for Richmond, but Federals had wrecked the tracks. Wounded Confederate cavalry officers gave them their ambulance wagon to finish their journey.
That morning, Stuart dictated his will to Major Henry McClellan, his adjutant. Stuart noted the sound of artillery, and McClellan assured him that it was Major General Fitzhugh Lee chasing the Federals east, away from Richmond. Stuart said, “God grant that they may be successful, but I must be prepared for another world.”
President Jefferson Davis visited Stuart and asked his condition. Stuart replied, “Easy, but willing to die, if God and my country think I have fulfilled my destiny and done my duty.” When a doctor told him that he would probably die before nightfall, Stuart said, “I am resigned if it be God’s will, but I would like to see my wife… But God’s will be done.”
Around 7 p.m., a clergyman led everyone in the house in prayer. Stuart then asked him to lead a singing of “Rock of Ages,” his favorite hymn. Stuart tried singing along but could not. He said, “I am going fast now. I am resigned; God’s will be done.” James Ewell Brown Stuart, the “Cavalier of Dixie,” died at 7:38 p.m., at age 31. Flora and the children finally arrived at the Grace Street house at 11:30 that night.
Back at Spotsylvania, General Robert E. Lee received word of Stuart’s wounding and paid him his highest compliment: “He never brought me a false piece of information.” Composing himself, Lee announced to his officers, “Gentlemen, we have very bad news. General Stuart has been mortally wounded.” As Lee returned to his tent around midnight, he received word that Stuart had died. Lee quietly remarked, “I can scarcely think of him without weeping.”
Funeral services were held on the 13th at St. James Church in Richmond. Stuart’s wife Flora and their children attended, along with Davis, Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg, and several other high-ranking Confederates. Many others, including those still pursuing Sheridan and those at Spotsylvania, could not be there. Lee could not spare any men for a funeral escort as Stuart’s body was brought to Hollywood Cemetery and buried. News of his death shocked and deeply sorrowed the South.
Meanwhile, Sheridan’s raid continued. His Federals rode east, where they damaged the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and temporarily cut communications between Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the capital. Sheridan planned to ride southeast and join Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federal Army of the James at Bermuda Hundred, south of the James River.
On the 14th, the Federal troopers entered Butler’s lines at Haxall’s Landing, bringing 400 freed Federal prisoners and 300 Confederate prisoners. They suffered 625 casualties on the raid, and while they did not attack Richmond as hoped, they damaged Beaver Dam and Ashland. And most importantly, Sheridan showed that he could match Stuart’s legendary cavalry. Sheridan reported that Stuart’s death at Yellow Tavern “inflicted a blow from which entire recovery was impossible.”
Sheridan’s men rested and refit their horses for the next three days before heading back north to rejoin the Army of the Potomac. They returned on the 24th, 15 days after their expedition began. The raid proved successful, as the Federals wrecked telegraphic communications and 10 miles of railroad track on three different lines while freeing imprisoned comrades and capturing vast amounts of supplies.
More importantly, this demonstrated the growing skill of the Federal cavalry. Perhaps most importantly, it permanently deprived the Confederacy of Stuart, whose leadership could not be replaced.
Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 475; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20102; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 406, 408, 410, 412; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 4932-73; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 437; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7070-82; http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-yellow-tavern.htm; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 123-24; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 679-80, 727-28; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 499-502, 504; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 680, 846-47