I’m happy to be a new subscriber to your magazine. I enjoyed the excellent article written by Ron Soodalter, “Bewilderment at Brandy Station” (May 2014). I would like to suggest to those interested in cavalry actions to read Plenty of Blame to Go Around, by Eric Wittenberg and J.D. Petruzzi. They chronicle exactly where Jeb Stuart was in the days prior to Gettysburg. The authors conclude: “The upshot is that the blame for General [Robert E.] Lee’s lack of intelligence cannot be deposited at Stuart’s feet.
Another good read is Eric Wittenberg’s Protecting the Flank at Gettysburg. It states that at South Cavalry Field, Generals Gregg and Custer saw the woods were full of Confederates. Knowing Custer had orders to join General H. Judson Kilpatrick on the Union left fank, Gregg said to Custer, “Say you never got the order, I need you here.” They knew it was crucial to stop Stuart from getting through to Union General George Meade’s rear.
I am an avid defender of Stuart and believe he has been treated unfairly about Gettysburg. As a re-enactor told me last summer at Gettysburg, “You can’t be late for somewhere you weren’t told to go.” Your publication is well-balanced. You present perspectives and articles from all points of view. I’m looking forward to future issues.
Brandy Station was the beginning of Stuart’s end
The answer to the question posed in the headline of your article on the Battle of Brandy Station (“Was the greatest cavalry battle on U.S. soil the beginning of the end of Jeb Stuart?”) is a resounding yes, and his end as a mystic leader came at the Battle of Gettysburg, with the help of Robert E. Lee. Yes, Robert E. Lee. First of all, Stuart can be faulted as a commander and leader for not thinking ahead. Stuart should have realized that the Union cavalry would get better and learn from their past mistakes. However, he continued to live in his dream world that the Confederate cavalry would continue to win against the Union horsemen all the time. Stuart was eviscerated by the press after his surprise at Brandy Station. Stuart’s pride was wounded deeply from the criticism he received in the newspapers, and his wounded ego demanded to do something great to get back on their good side. However, it is Lee’s instructions at the start of the second invasion of the North and the latitude he allowed
Stuart to operate that put the final nail in the coffin for him as a leader. Lee should have realized that Stuart was champing at the bit to do something great. Lee needed at this point to keep a firm hand on Stuart’s movements.
However, he did not.…By not keeping Stuart tethered to his army and allowing him freedom of action instead of screening Lee’s right flank and providing valuable intelligence, Lee lost the Battle of Gettysburg. The blame for this lies squarely with Lee and not Stuart. To this day, Stuart is still blamed in some circles for Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg. I, however, place more of the blame on Lee’s failure to keep a tighter control on Stuart. After Gettysburg, nothing would ever be the same again for Jeb Stuart and his vaunted cavalry.
James A. Goodwin II
Oak Park, Calif.
A little context, please
Harold Holzer (“Think This Election’s Critical? Consider 1864 [May 2014]) remarks of the American presidential election of 1864: “No other country had ever proceeded with a national election in the midst of a civil war.” He never stops to wonder how many national elections any other country had held before then. But the U.S. election of 1864 was hardly national—the Southern states, which had opposed Lincoln in the election of 1860 and would certainly not have voted for him in 1864, had seceded. They didn’t vote. Still, Holzer considers it a marvel that Lincoln got re-elected—with “nearly 56 percent of the popular vote”! Facts mean nothing without their context.
La Jolla, Calif.
Originally published in the September 2014 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.