He never brought me a "fat" piece information." Robert E. Lee's words, uttered upon his hearing of Stuart's death, were a fitting epitaph for "the eyes of the army." General Joseph E. Johnston, on his transfer to the war's western theater, wrote to Stuart, "How can I eat, sleep, or rest in peace without you upon the outpost." Lee and Johnston well knew that Stuart's greatest contribution to the Confederacy was in his ability to discover and decipher the enemy's movements correctly and to shield their own maneuvers from prying eyes. No other general, North or South, could claim superior or equal status to Stuart as a reconnaissance/counter-reconnaissance officer.
Stuart excelled at personal reconnaissance. In accordance with his code of never asking his men to do that which he was unwilling to do, Stuart participated in many scouts during his career. A private in the 1st Virginia Calvary accompanied Stuart on one of the the General's earliest expeditions. A trek through rough, off-the-road terrain, a brief survey of enemy's position and then Stuart turned for home. To his companion's surprise, Stuart kept to the road they had so carefully avoided during their piercing of enemy's lines. Before long a picket post loomed ahead. Still Stuart did not turn aside. The private inquired if it might not be wise to return to the thickets,
but Stuart smiled and said they were perfectly safe, as the enemy would never expect from the direction they were coming. Confirmation of Stuart's words came rapidly as the two riders thundered past the pickets and with minnie balls hissing around them, galloped home. Scouting with Stuart was an adventure and not for the weak of heart.
Gathering information either by personal reconnaissance, through other scouts, or by reconnaissance-in-force was only the first step in safeguarding Lee's army. Stuart also had to decide on the accuracy of the material brought to him. Knowing what to accept and what to discard seemed easy for the plumed cavalry commander. Whether from captured dispatches, prisoners, his own eyes and ears or those of his men, Stuart took each bit of information, analyzed it, added or subtracted it from what he already knew, and determined the truth. That and that alone he forwarded to Lee. Of all his talents and abilities this was probably his most remarkable.
Screening the army's movements from the enemy became a priority for Stuart whenever Lee's men received their marching orders. Again and again in his career Stuart kept enemy patrols from discovering when and where the gray columns were going. The reports of Lee, Jackson, and others following the Second Manassas campaign sang Stuart's praises. Having first discovered that Federal commander
Major General John Pope was in firm control of the Rappahannock River crossings, Stuart launched a raid to confuse Pope, collecting valuable information in the process, then covered Jackson's move west to outflank the enemy army, helped Longstreet guard the river crossings against Pope, rejoined Jackson's command behind enemy lines, and screened Longstreet's advance prior to the final attack that drove Pope from the field. Rarely had cavalry been used more efficiently, yet this was but one occasion out of many in Stuart career. Well might Lee write that Stuart was, "always ready for work and always reliable."
Indeed, Lee and the men of his army could "eat, sleep, and rest in peace" when Stuart was "on the outpost."
Robert S. Trout
This sign is a gift of
Dr. and Mrs. Eugene W. Adcock III of Winston-Salem, North Carolina
In Memory of Sgt. Major William R. Webb C.S.A.
Company K - 2nd North Carolina Cavalry