Loyal reader Valerie Protopapas is also the newsletter editor for the Stuart-Mosby Historical Society. Although I am not a member of the Society, I have given the address on the anniversary of Jeb Stuart’s birth. Valerie is kind enough to make certain that I receive the newsletter whenever one is published–thank you, Valerie. I do read them, and I do appreciate them.
The November-December 2009 issue had an article titled “Two Accounts of Mosby’s Affect on the Battle of Brandy Station” that’s worthy of some more exploration. The first is a quote from John Formby’s 1910 book The American Civil War–A Concise History of Its Causes, Progress, and Results:
It was in the spring of 1863 that the celebrated “Jack” Mosby began his raids and surprises on Union outposts and communications. He was a partisan leader pure and simple, who depended for success on ubiquity and the smallness of his communications. When the Army of the Potomac was lying in front of Centreville, he attacked their outposts continually, and caused such a scare that the planks of the chain bridge at Washington were taken up at nights; at this time he could not muster more than 20 men. He was often pursued by large forces, but easily escaped. In February he nearly succeeded in capturing General (sic) Wyndham in his own quarters, and did take General Stoughton in his, soon after. Just before the battle of Brandy Station, Hooker asked for the cavalry division from Washington to reinforce Pleasonton, but it was refused as being necessary to hold the communications against Mosby, who had just destroyed a supply train. He was chased by a major-general and 3,000 men, vanished, and a few days afterwards captured a cavalry camp in Maryland. He often neutralized a hundred times his own force, and created a constant feeling of insecurity on the Union side.
Mosby himself weighed in on the issue in his memoirs. He wrote:
If Pleasonton had had those 6000 sabers with him…on June 9, 1863, in his great cavalry combat with Stuart at Brandy Station, the result might have been different. Hooker had asked for them, but had been refused, on the ground that they could not be spared from the defense of Washington.
In support of his claims, Mosby quoted Joseph Hooker’s testimony before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War after the Battle of Gettysburg:
I may state here that while at Fairfax Court House my cavalry was reinforced by that of Major-Gen. Stahel. The latter numbered 6100 sabers, and had been engaged in picketing a line from Occoquan River to Goose Creek…The force opposed to them was Mosby’s guerrillas, numbering about 200; and, if the reports of the newspapers were to be believed, this whole party was killed two or three times during the winter. From the time I took command of the Army of the Potomac there was no evidence that any force of the enemy, other than that above named, was within 100 miles of Washington City; and yet, the planks on the chain bridge were taken up at night during the greater part of the winter and spring.
At first blush, the statement that the addition of 6000 sabers to the 12,000 or so that Pleasonton took into battle at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863 would have made a significant difference certainly makes sense, as the addition of that division would have meant that Pleasonton’s force would have been twice the size of Stuart’s. Nobody disputes that.
However, the real question is whether there was ever any chance of Stahel’s division being added to the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps any sooner that it was, which was at the end of June 1863. The answer is absolutely not.
The reasons why are actually pretty simple. At the time of the Battle of Brandy Station, Alfred Pleasonton–who was then the INTERIM commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps (the actual commander, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman was on medical leave)–was still a brigadier general of volunteers. Julius Stahel, who commanded that division, was a major general, and outranked Pleasonton. Thus, by virtue of seniority, Stahel would have been entitled to take command of the Cavalry Corps and the expedition. Pleasonton, whose ambition knew no bounds, never, ever would have permitted that to occur; once Stahel was in command, it would have been all but impossible to remove him. Thus, the only way that Pleasonton could have the benefit of that division was if Stahel was no longer in command of it.
Further, it was well known that Alfred Pleasonton had a rabid case of xenophobia, and Stahel was a Hungarian immigrant. Pleasonton firmly believed that foreigners had no place fighting in this most American of wars, and he took active, affirmative steps to rid his command of high-ranking foreigners that was as extreme as sacrificing an entire regiment at Middleburg, VA in an effort to rid himself of Frenchman Alfred N. Duffie during the early phases of the Gettysburg Campaign.
Pleasonton succeeded in ridding himself of the threat posed by Stahel, but it didn’t happen until the last week of June 1863. Stahel was relieved of command of his division, and then the division became the Third Cavalry Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, under the command of Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick.
However, at the beginning of June, prior to the Battle of Brandy Station, Stahel was well-ensconced i command of his division, and, at that time, was going nowhere. Given that, and given that Stahel ranked Pleasonton, there was absolutely NO chance that his division would have joined the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps on June 9, 1863.
So, while Mosby certainly had a point, his own ego prohibited him from seeing the truth, which is that he really didn’t play any role at all in the great Battle of Brandy Station.Scridb filter