James Ewell Brown Stuart (aka Jeb Stuart) was born on February 6, 1833, at Laurel Hill Farm, his family’s plantation, in Patrick County, Virginia. He was the eighth of eleven children of Archibald Stuart and Elizabeth Letcher Pannill Stuart. Stuart’s great-grandfather, Major Alexander Stuart, was a regimental commander in the Revolutionary War, and his father fought in the War of 1812.
Stuart’s mother schooled her son before having him formally educated by tutors in Wytheville and Danville, Virginia. Between 1848 and 1850, he attended Emory and Henry College in Emory, Virginia.
U.S. Military Academy Cadet
In 1850, United States Congressman Thomas Hamlet Averett nominated Stuart for an appointment to the United States Military Academy. Stuart graduated thirteenth in his class of forty-six cadets in 1854. While attending West Point, Stuart became friends with the academy supervisor and future Confederate army commander, Robert E. Lee.
U.S. Army officer
After graduating from West Point, officials brevetted Stuart as a second lieutenant and assigned him to the Regiment of Mounted Rifles. Stationed in Texas, he campaigned against the Apache Indians. In 1855, he transferred to the newly formed 1st Cavalry at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory. Shortly after his transfer, Stuart met and married Flora Cooke, the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, on November 14, 1855. One month later, on December 20, 1855, Stuart received a promotion to first lieutenant. While serving in Kansas, Cheyenne Indians wounded Stuart during a conflict on July 29, 1857.
John Brown’s Raid
In 1859, while visiting Washington, DC., Stuart learned of John Brown’s Raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. He immediately volunteered to serve as Colonel Robert E. Lee’s aide-de-camp and accompanied Lee to Harpers Ferry to suppress Brown’s insurgents. Colonel Lee sent Stuart under a flag of truce to negotiate a surrender with Brown and his followers. When Brown refused, Stuart signaled a company of Marines to storm the engine house where Brown was sequestered. Stuart then took part in Brown’s capture.
Promoted to captain on April 22, 1861, Stuart resigned his commission in the United States Army in early May after his home state of Virginia seceded from the Union on April 17, 1861. On May 10, Virginia officials commissioned Stuart as a lieutenant colonel of the Virginia Infantry in the Confederate Army and assigned him to serve under Colonel Thomas J. Jackson in General Joseph Johnston‘s Army of the Shenandoah. On July 4, 1861, Jackson placed Stuart in command of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, comprising all cavalry companies of Johnston’s army. Officials promoted Stuart to the rank of colonel two weeks later, on July 16, 1861.
First Battle of Bull Run
Stuart played a prominent role in enabling Johnston’s army to move from the Shenandoah Valley to the vicinity of Manassas in time to reinforce General P. G. T. Beauregard‘s Army of the Potomac at the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861). Stuart led his regiment during the Confederate victory and the pursuit of the retreating Federals. After the battle, he commanded the army’s outposts along the upper Potomac River until given command of a full cavalry brigade. Confederate officials promoted Stuart to brigadier general on September 24, 1861.
In 1862, authorities reassigned Stuart to support Johnston’s troops, as federal forces threatened the Confederate capital at Richmond during Major General George B. McClellan‘s Peninsula Campaign. On June 12, Stuart began his famous “Ride around McClellan.” Over the course of three days, he led 1,200 troopers completely around McClellan’s Army of the Potomac on the Virginia Peninsula. Upon his return, he provided strategic information that helped General Robert E. Lee, who had replaced the wounded Johnston. Stuart’s report prompted Lee to launch a counteroffensive that drove the Federals away from Richmond. The flamboyant Stuart’s exploits made him nearly as popular as Stonewall Jackson in the eyes of adoring Southerners.
Army of Northern Virginia Cavalry Commander
On July 25, 1862, officials promoted Stuart to the rank of major general and upgraded his command to a cavalry division. A few weeks later, on August 22, Stuart embarrassed John Pope, commander of the Army of Virginia, by capturing the Union general’s dress uniform and personal baggage, along with $25,000, during a cavalry raid at Catlett’s Station. As a division commander, Stuart took part in the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28, 1862–August 30, 1862), the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11–15, 1862), and the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863).
During the Battle of Chancellorsville, Stuart temporarily assumed command of Stonewall Jackson’s corps after Jackson received a mortal wound. Under Stuart’s leadership, Jackson’s men forced General Joseph Hooker‘s army to retreat northward across the Rappahannock River.
Battle of Brandy Station
After the Battle of Chancellorsville, Lee launched his second invasion of the north. Stuart returned to his role as a cavalry commander.
On June 9, 1863, Major General Alfred Pleasonton led his Union cavalry corps, augmented by 3,000 infantrymen, in a two-pronged attack to “disperse and destroy” Stuart’s cavalry near Brandy Station, Virginia. Despite being surprised twice on the same day, Stuart’s cavalry prevailed at the Battle of Brandy Station, the largest predominantly cavalry engagement of the Civil War.
Despite his many successes, Stuart’s failure to advance to Gettysburg in time to be a factor during the first day of that pivotal battle blemished his reputation. Caught behind Union lines, Stuart could not provide Lee with vital intelligence and combat support. As a result, some historians have made Stuart a scapegoat for the Confederate loss at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863).
Cavalry Corps Commander
Overlooking any shortcomings Stuart may have displayed at Gettysburg, Lee promoted him to the position of corps commander on September 9, 1863. When Confederate fortunes began to decline the following spring, Stuart helped to delay Ulysses S. Grant‘s advance toward Richmond during the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5–7, 1864) and the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (May 8–21, 1864).
On May 11, 1864, during the Battle of Yellow Tavern, Union Private John A. Huff mortally wounded Stuart with a shot from his .44 caliber revolver while retreating from Stuart’s cavalry. Stuart died the next day, May 12, 1864, at age thirty-one. When General Lee learned of Stuart’s death, he lamented that, “Stuart had never brought me a piece of false information,” and that “I can hardly think of him without weeping.”
Stuart was buried at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.