"Raiding with General Stuart is poor fun and a hard business. Thunder, lighting, rain, storm, mud, nor darkness can stop him when he is on a warm fresh trail of Yankee game." Horse artilleryman George M. Neese's opinion of Stuart following the Catlett's Station Raid in August 1862 holds many truths to Stuart's success as a raider. Though many times today's perception of Stuart's raids is that of a romp behind enemy lines, defying and fooling a bewildered foe at every turn, the truth is closer to Neese's summary of "poor fun and a hard business." Stuart just made it look easy.
In June 1862 when Stuart launched his reconnaissance-in-force of the right flank of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's army that was poised to capture Richmond no one knew what a remarkable feat the world was about to witness. Robert E. Lee needed information in order to plan the salvation of the Confederacy's capital and Stuart was sent to get it. Once the information was obtained Stuart faced the problem of returning to Lee through what he knew would be a gauntlet of enemy troops waiting to destroy or capture him. The decision Stuart made marked him as one of the greatest cavalrymen of all time. Solid reasoning showed him his route home but it was his daring that allowed him to execute it. He did not turn back the way he came, but rode on, completely around
McClellan's army. With courage and speed the daring gray cavalry overcame every obstacle it faced along the one hundred-mile ride to safety. When at last Stuart and his gallant cavaliers rode into Richmond they were greeted as heroes. They had accomplished what no other cavalry had ever done in the history of warfare - ride completely around an enemy army. The world sang Stuart's praises, but he was just getting started.
The success Stuart achieved as a raider highlighted a number or his talents as a leader and a commander of cavalry. He planned carefully, making sure he had men with him who the territory he would be passing through, and calculated his route accordingly. He took the best officers and men available to do the job. He moved with clarity and speed toward his target. He faced difficulties with courage and boldness when required and with deception and caution when necessary. He left little to chance but was always aggressive when chance placed him in a difficult situation. His ability to make quick decisions under pressure saved him on more than one occasion. His formula for success allowed for very little "fun" and was indeed a "hard business."
Surprisingly, Stuart spent only twenty-six days of his career raiding. Yet for many students of the war Stuart is known primarily as a raider. His greatest contributions to the army lay in his talent as
a reconnaissance/counter-reconnaissance officer, but had he not had success as a raider, he may not have gained the fame he enjoys today. Stuart and raiding seemed to go together. Nobody did it better.
Robert J. Trout
This sign is a gift of
The Families of Jim "Matt" Wood - 6th Virginia Cavalry and
Charles Alexander Powell - Ringold Artillery