James Ewell Brown Stuart, known to friends and close acquaintances as Jeb, came from an acclaimed military lineage, his great grandfather, Major Alexander Stuart, having fought in the Revolutionary War, and his father, Archibald Stuart, having fought in the War of 1812. Born on 6 February 1833, Stuart was homeschooled by his mother, Elizabeth Letcher Pannill Stuart, before leaving to stay with his uncle in 1845.
After attending Emory and Henry College from 1848 to 1850, Stuart obtained an appointment to West Point Military Academy, graduating thirteenth of forty-six in 1854. During Stuart’s time at the Academy, Robert E. Lee arrived as superintendent. Stuart soon developed a friendship with the Lee family, one that would last to his death.
After graduation, Stuart found himself faced with the difficult choice of whether to pursue the profession of the military, or that of law. Typical of the rest of his life, Stuart here demonstrated a deep trust and reliance on the providence of God, writing to his father, “In making the selection I will rely upon the guidance of Him whose judgment cannot err, for ‘it is not with man that walketh to direct his steps.’”
In this time of decision, Stuart also relied greatly on his father’s counsel. Stuart enjoyed a remarkable relationship with his father, revealed by their correspondence. Archibald Stuart was a godly man who constantly encouraged his son to hold fast to his faith and to his morals in the temptations face at West Point and later in the military. Stuart would always treasure these words of wisdom and take them to heart, living with a steadfast purity throughout his life.
Eventually selecting the military as his career, Stuart received a commission as a second lieutenant down in Texas where he would take part in several conflicts with the Indians. He also served in “Bleeding Kansas” in 1856 in the attempt to preserve the peace between the new settlers. The only other notable event of Stuart’s prewar life came in 1859, when, while on leave in Richmond, Virginia, Stuart served as aide-de-camp to Robert E. Lee during the John Brown raid on Harpers Ferry.
As the stirrings of secession began, Stuart, having already resolved to follow his native state, Virginia, in whatever course she took, waited in suspense for Virginia’s decision. Upon hearing of Virginia’s secession, Stuart immediately turned in his resignation from the U.S. Army and took up his sword in defense of his native state, receiving the rank of lieutenant colonel on 10 May 1861. Just two months later, on 16 July, he received a promotion to colonel as well as command of the cavalry under Thomas J. (later “Stonewall”) Jackson. Here he served admirably as a cavalry commander in the Shenandoah, providing Jackson with timely and accurate information at all times.
At First Manassas, Stuart’s brave actions in holding off a Union assault on the Confederate left flank played a major role in bringing victory to the Confederate army. In part because of Stuarts gallant actions in this battle, he received yet another promotion in September to brigadier general.
Upon the arrival of Robert E. Lee as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, Stuart, by Lee’s request, conducted a reconnaissance of the Federal right flank with some twelve hundred troopers. Upon discovery that the Federal right flank was indeed vulnerable, rather than returning to Lee’s lines by the same rout he had come, a rout the now alerted Federal forces would expect him to take, Stuart swept entirely around the Federal forces returning to Lee’s lines three days later having thoroughly embarrassed the inferior Union cavalry.
Soon after this daring exploit, Stuart received yet another promotion to major general. Bearing this new rank, Stuart conducting several enterprising raids during the Northern Virginia Campaign, overrunning General Pope’s headquarters and providing Lee with vital information that enabled him to trap the commander of the Army of Virginia. Perhaps of greater importance to Stuart’s pride, he also successfully made away with General Pope’s uniform, getting revenge for the loss of his hat just days earlier. When battle came at Manassas, Stuart’s horse artillery played a key role in protecting “Stonewall” Jacksons’ flank and rear and in providing an enfilading fire during Longstreet’s assault.
Immediately following this battle, Stuart’s cavalry gallantly defended Crampton’s Gap and covered the withdrawal of Lee’s forces to Sharpsburg during the Battle of South Mountain. At Antietam, Stuart fought with unceasing energy, making skilled use of his horse artillery to pour fire into the flank of the advancing Federal troops. After the battle was lost, Stuart provided cover for Lee’s army as it withdrew back across the Potomac to Virginia.
However, soon after his return to Virginia, Stuart set out on yet another glorious raid, covering 126 miles in just sixty hours and embarrassing his Union counterparts as he rode circles around them. He returned from this raid to the recognition and applause of Confederate papers across the South, leading numerous captured horses and supplies in his train. Stuart continued to live up to Lee’s expectations at the Battle of Fredericksburg, where his cavalry and horse artillery protected Jackson’s flank, earning the commendation of Lee for his admirable performance.
Just a few months later, on 2 May 1863, Stuart accompanied Jackson on his flanking maneuver, eventually taking command of the Second Corps when both Jackson and Hill received wounds which took them out of the fight. Due to the confusion during this change in command, the attack ended that night. But Stuart picked it up again in the morning, leading the infantry corps with great skill and successfully exploiting Jackson’s success of the previous day. Indeed, Colonel Porter Alexander would later write, “Altogether, I do not think there was a more brilliant thing done in the war than Stuart's extricating that command from the extremely critical position in which he found it.”
Throughout the Civil War, Stuart served well as the eyes of the army. Though the task of reconnaissance and scouting is often a thankless job, frequently ignored, it would not be putting it too lightly to say that without Stuart, many of Lee’s brilliant victories would never have come about. Despite Stuart’s love of attention and applause, he served diligently as the eyes of the army, while still find the time to undertake daring raids whenever possible, earning him a place in the hearts of the South as their beloved and gallant cavalier.
Yet though in previous campaigns, Stuart’s troopers had demonstrated a marked superiority to their Union counterparts, the Federal cavalry was slowly gaining experience – and confidence. And one of the key figures in bringing about this growth in the Union cavalry was General John Buford.
John Buford, Jr. was born 4 March 1826 to John and Anne Buford in Versailles, Kentucky. When young Buford reached the age of eight, his family moved to Rock Island, Illinois where he would attend Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois for one year before following in the steps of his half brother and enrolling in West Point in 1844, graduating in 1848, sixteenth out of his class of thirty-eight.
Following his graduation, Buford received his first commission as a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Dragoons. Just six months later, Buford found himself transferred to the 2nd U.S. Dragoons, stationed in Fort Mason, Texas. During this transition period, Buford met Martha McDowell Duke, whom he would marry three years later.
In Texas, Buford fought against the Sioux before moving east to Bleeding Kansas late in 1855 to serve as a peacekeeper, and finally down to Utah where he participated in the Utah War of 1858. There he remained until the outbreak of the Civil War.
As the Civil War began, Buford, now a captain in the 2nd Dragoons, found himself torn between North and South. He himself had been born in the South to a slave-owning father and many of his wife’s relatives would fight for the Confederacy. Yet in the end, Buford found that he could not abandon the U.S. Army. When asked by the governor of Kentucky, his home state, to come as an officer for the Confederate Army, Buford replied immediately. He later told friend and colleague John Gibbon, “I sent him word I was a Captain in the United States Army and I intended to remain one!” Typical of Buford, he would not abandon what he saw as his duty.
On 12 November 1861, Buford received a promotion to major and a commission as assistant inspector general of the Washington defenses. However, this position of inaction was soon abandoned eight months later when John Pope procured Buford a brigadier’s star and set him in command of the cavalry brigade, II Corps of the Army of Virginia.
Buford soon justified this promotion at the Second Battle of Manassas, providing Pope with a stream of intelligence and even nearly capturing the Confederate cavalry commander, Jeb Stuart, causing Pope to later say of his promotion, “a better one was never made.” However, Pope ignored much of Buford’s information and blundered his way to defeat. Later, as the army retreated, Buford held off Beverly Robertson’s Confederate cavalry brigade long enough to enable the army to escape intact.
In the wake of Pope’s defeat, much of his army was incorporated into the Army of the Potomac, Buford receiving the appointment of “Chief of Cavalry” on 10 September 1862 by McClellan. However, despite the grand-sounding name, the position was little more than an advisory position on McClellan’s staff with few duties and no command. Buford would chaff at this position of inaction, constantly seeking a new appointment. But after Antietam and the sacking of McClellan, Burnside, a friend from Buford’s West Point days, retained him in this position. Yet again, Buford sat idly by in the next battle, little more than a figurehead.
All this was to change when Joseph Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac. Hooker reorganized the cavalry, consolidating it into a single corps made up of three divisions and an elite Reserve Brigade comprised of several regular army cavalry regiments. To command this force, Hooker selected Major General George Stoneman, though he later admitted that this was mainly for political reasons and that Buford would have made a much better decision. Buford instead was placed in command of the Reserve Brigade.
However, he did not participate in the upcoming Battle of Chancellorsville but instead, received orders from Stoneman to depart on a long and pointless raid conducted by the cavalry corps in Lee’s rear. Yet, though this raid had little effect on the battle, it brought pride to the cavalry: they had taken the offensive and fought as an independent unit. Buford and his hard-fighting cavalry now felt themselves ready to take on the legendary cavalry of Jeb Stuart.