21 June 2010 by Published in: Research and Writing 20 comments

One of the myths that J. D. Petruzzi and I tried to dispel in our book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg is the criticism that Jeb Stuart failed to take steps to provide intelligence to Robert E. Lee during his ride to Gettysburg. That criticism is not well-founded, as Stuart did, indeed, forward significant intelligence to the Confederate authorities.

We know this because a June 27, 1863 dispatch from Stuart, reporting that the Army of the Potomac had moved north toward Leesburg and the Potomac River and had abandoned its base of operations at Fairfax Court House, was published in John Beauchamp Jones’ excellent 1866 book A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary. As the title suggests, Jones worked in the Confederate War Department, and saw these dispatches as they came through. Jones included the language of the dispatch in his book in its entirety. We quoted it verbatim in the book and cited to Jones’ book as the source.

So, we know for a fact that the report was received by the Confederate War Department, and we know for a fact that the report is available for use by researchers in a prominent and well-known source.

Yesterday, while searching the online archive of the Richmond Dispatch newspaper, I found the article below, which was published in the July 2, 1863 edition of the paper:

Capture of Fairfax C. H.–Hooker’s army.

The following official dispatch was received at the War Department Tuesday night:

Headq’rs Cav. Div.,
June 27, 1863.

General S. Cooper:

I took possession of Fairfax C. H. this morning at 9 o’clock, together with a large quantity of stores. The main body of Hooker’s army has gone towards Leesburg, except the garrison of Alexandria and Washington which has retreated within the fortifications.

Very respectfully,
Your ob’t serv’t,

J. E. B. Stuart,

Major General.

So, the dispatch obviously was published in the newspaper verbatim, meaning it was published in two common, well-known sources. I acknowledge that I didn’t know about its being published in the newspaper before yesterday, and J. D. didn’t either. Nevertheless, the Richmond Dispatch has long been fertile ground for Civil War researchers, and that fact is no secret. Indeed, anyone working on the Eastern Theater of the Civil War proceeds with their projects at their own peril if they don’t at least check the Dispatch, the Richmond Times, and the other handful of daily newspapers that were published in Richmond during the Civil War.

What I really don’t understand is how, with this dispatch having been published in two prominent, conspicuous places, all of the researchers who have looked at Stuart’s Ride in the past, including the likes of Douglas Southall Freeman, could have missed it. It’s truly a mystery to me. And it makes me wonder if it was a deliberate choice to miss it.

As Alice said to the Cheshire Cat, “It gets curiouser and curiouser.”

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Comments

  1. John Lundstrom
    Mon 21st Jun 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Eric,

    I admire your work very much. It is quite possible for something as momentous as Stuart’s dispatch to be right out in the open and still be ignored by all the authorities until someone like yourself has the “Eureka!” moment. Something similar happened to me while researching the Battle of Midway. Admiral Nimitz’s Op-Plan 29-42 (27 May 1942) clearly states the four Japanese carriers were expected to operate in two separate groups, when actually as everyone now knows, all four carriers were together. Yet until one grasps that salient point one cannot understand the US Navy’s plans for its carriers in the battle.

    Best wishes,
    John Lundstrom

  2. Mon 21st Jun 2010 at 10:20 pm

    When I read the text of this dispatch again tonite, I did a double-take and had to call Eric about it. I noticed that in this article, the note is shown as addressed directly to Gen. Samuel Cooper.

    Wait a minute, I thought – so I went back to Jones’ diary to check his recording of the dispatch, and for some reason, although he records the rest of the dispatch in its entirety, Jones failed to include that it was addressed to Cooper. Because of that, Eric and I assumed that the note was only addressed to Lee, and we postulated in our book that perhaps the courier carrying this note couldn’t find Lee, and perhaps decided to ride for Richmond to cover his ass. Or, perhaps, the note Jones saw was only a copy of the one sent to Lee, with no other import to it.

    However, the fact that this one is addressed to Cooper throws an entirely different light on it. For those who don’t know, Cooper was the highest ranking CSA general during the war. He was made a full general prior to anyone else. Cooper reported directly to, and only to, Jefferson Davis.

    Cooper was, during the war, in effect the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was in Richmond at the time, of course. So, the fact that Stuart addressed this missive directly to Cooper meant that the note was INTENDED for Richmond (it’s not just a copy of one sent to Lee, and the courier was not somehow simply diverted to Richmond). Stuart was covering all of the bases, and attached such importance to the fact that Hooker was heading for Leesburg (thus meaning only one thing – he was going to cross soon) that he in effect sent the message to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

    All of which begs the question – are there any other examples where Stuart sent such a note to Cooper, especially while on active campaign? This will take some digging. But the end result is that Stuart deserves even more credit for getting this information to his superiors even more than we gave him before. The note to Richmond isn’t a simple copy, and it didn’t end up there by mistake. It was meant to get there, and in Cooper’s hands. Amazing.

    We recount in our book about Walter Taylor arguing with Stuart after the campaign about not receiving just such a dispatch that Stuart claimed he sent. Why, then, didn’t Cooper later pipe up about getting the note? As Eric posted, everyone, until now, missed not only the note in Jones’ diary (published in 1866, plenty early for everyone to see it and consider it) but also in the contemporary newspaper. It was indeed either missed or somehow squashed.

    In my mind, the fact that it’s addressed directly to Cooper means Jeb deserves far more credit that we even tried to give him in our book. I only wished we’d have had this article while we were writing it!

    JD

  3. Mon 21st Jun 2010 at 11:32 pm

    Great work. This is what second editions are for, no?

  4. Tue 22nd Jun 2010 at 9:55 am

    Or 4th’s – Plenty of Blame has already gone through 3 printings :)

    Seriously, as I told Eric last night, I’d love to be able to rewrite the pages on which we discuss this dispatch. But any changes in books cost money. We’ll see…

    JD

  5. James F. Epperson
    Tue 22nd Jun 2010 at 10:32 am

    This proves that word got to Richmond. Is there any evidence that word got to Lee?

  6. Tue 22nd Jun 2010 at 11:00 am

    Excellent information from Eric and JD, as usual. If I understand the newspaper report, which was published on Thursday, July 2, it appears that the dispatch was received in Richmond on the evening of June 30 (“Tuesday night”). Not sure what this means regarding whether and when the same information got to Lee. At a minimum, however, it clearly shows that Stuart was reporting intelligence concerning the whereabouts of the Army of the Potomac. I find it hard to believe that he would get that to Richmond but would make no effort to get at least the same information to Lee (who obviously had a far greater need for it). As for Freeman, I’ve always had some reservations about the thoroughness of research and the objectivity of analysis done by somebody who, if I recall correctly, admitted to pausing reverently before the Lee statue on his way to work every day.

  7. Tue 22nd Jun 2010 at 11:45 am

    The evidence we have (which is admittedly circumstancial in effect) that Stuart DID send the same/similar note to Lee on the 27th is that following the battle, when Taylor was pressing Jeb for his official report of the campaign, Jeb argued with Taylor about getting the note. “Didn’t you get my message (about Hooker moving)?” or something like that. Taylor answered that “We never received it.” As Eric and I postulate in the book, that courier sent to Lee either couldn’t get through or was captured. Originally, before Eric found this newspaper article, we thought that courier, sent to Lee, somehow had to make his way to Richmond instead, and that’s how the message got to the War Dept. We now know, because of this article and the fact that this message was directed to Cooper, that this note was intended for Richmond.

    We have no evidence that the courier sent to Lee ever, after the battle or after the war, ever came forward to claim responsibility for the message. We also don’t have any evidence that Jeb later sought him out for support of his claim. Perhaps the courier was captured/killed. Perhaps Jeb didn’t know/couldn’t remember who was sent with the note, and wasn’t able to find out.

    Like anything of this nature, it asks more questions than it answers. But it definitely shows that Jeb thought the news of such importance that in addition to (apparently) sending the note to Lee, he also sent one right to the ranking officer of the War Dept in Richmond. He deserves lots of credit for that. But the post battle/post war controversy becomes even more muddled now…. Cooper said nothing (he lived until 1876 IIRC). Beyond the publication of his diary, Jones never got into the controversy fray that we know of. No one brought up Jones’ diary (1866) and no one brought up the Richmond newspaper article.

    And as much as John Mosby did and wrote to defend Jeb – he apparently never saw either one. He would written pages and pages about it, but it seems Mosby completely missed this note and publications of it. It would have been a gold mine for Mosby.

    JD

  8. Tue 22nd Jun 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Well you’ve got Lee up north in PA, Stuart somewhere up north in MD, and Richmond to the south with a couple of major rivers and the Army of the Potomac between Stuart and Richmond. and between Richmond and Lee.

    Doesn’t surprise me in the least that a courier or twelve didn’t meet up with Lee in, say, Cashtown with this news. Northern newspapers knew that the AoP was on the move of course……

  9. James F. Epperson
    Wed 23rd Jun 2010 at 7:34 am

    JD—My point wasn’t that a courier might not have been sent, but that one almost surely didn’t get through. And, given my mental and probably erroneous picture of the positions of the forces, that is not surprising. But this does put a different slant on the whole episode of Stuart’s ride. He was trying to communicate w/ Lee. And you are dead on about Mosby.

  10. Ken Noe
    Thu 24th Jun 2010 at 10:03 am

    After RE Lee came out, Freeman bought a Lee letter that seemed to implicate him in killing a Canadian lighthouse keeper in 1835 during a fight. Freeman sat on it for a decade, but he did investigate and he finally mentioned it in a footnote to later editions. The irony of course is that Freeman simply had no sense of humor; the letter is clearly a mock-heroic account of Lee killing a snake. But my point is that if Freeman was willing to tell observant readers that his hero probably was guilty of manslaughter if not murder, I just don’t think he would have ignored or suppressed the letter under discussion. Less was at stake. More likely that he simply never bothered to search the newspapers, which was quite an undertaking in the pre-microfilm era. [See John Gignilliat, Journal of Southern History, May 1977].

  11. Thu 24th Jun 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Ken,

    I agree. We’re all starting to use newspaper accounts much more these days (well, at least Eric and I are:) because they’re so much more easily accessible – online and on film. But I also wonder where the heck the original of that message is, if it exists? I’ve never seen mention of the original, and since it went to the War Dept, I’d bet my life it got burned up in one of the War Dept record trains when Richmond was evacuated near the end of the war. Jones, since he quoted it word-for-word except for the address to Gen. Cooper, must have had it in front of him as he wrote his diary entry. It probably stayed in the War Dept, and got toasted when the trains and records were burned.

    JD

  12. Thu 24th Jun 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Of course, after I posted I pulled Plenty of Blame off the shelf to refresh my recollection as to how the Jones reference was treated. I haven’t had the chance to look at any maps showing where Lee was at any time on June 27 in relation to where Stuart was or to where the various parts of the Army of the Potomac were. Understandably, it took at least 72 hours for the message to reach Richmond, and perhaps more depending on when Stuart dispatched it on June 27. One would think that the capture or killing of a courier bearing that kind of information would make the records somewhere, especially because it might also have shown the captors where Stuart was in relaion to the others. But who knows. The newspaper publication of this and similar intelligence during the War is endlessly fascinating in its own right.

  13. Ralph Hitchens
    Fri 25th Jun 2010 at 9:49 am

    Not sure you make your case here, or in the book for that matter.

    “One of the myths that J. D. Petruzzi and I tried to dispel in our book […] is the criticism that Jeb Stuart failed to take steps to provide intelligence to Robert E. Lee during his ride to Gettysburg. That criticism is not well-founded, as Stuart did, indeed, forward significant intelligence to the Confederate authorities.”

    OK, there was one dispatch from northern Virginia on June 27th, a full week before the armies collided far to the north of the Potomac River. Lee clearly felt let down by Stuart prior to the latter’s eventual appearance on the battlefield. Why were Hill’s troops surprised on July 1st — “Look at those black hats! That’s the Army of the Potomac!” (as I recall reading somewhere) If it’s a myth, I still need to be convinced.

    Your book, by the way, was outstanding. I gave it the “full monte” on Amazon.

  14. Fri 25th Jun 2010 at 10:34 am

    Hi Ralph,

    Well, we’ve never claimed that all the evidence is on Stuart’s side – hence the title of the book :-)

    We were (and are) just trying to make the case that Stuart did indeed try to forward intelligence on the AOP’s movement – contrary to the other extreme, which is what you always hear… that Stuart did absolutely nothing to notify Lee or anyone else. Consider this – if the note had indeed reached Lee (on or about June 29) would it have made any difference? Perhaps. It certainly would have reinforced what the spy Harrison was saying. The note may have caused Lee to take different and/or quicker action.

    The end result certainly came about by a combination of factors – Stuart’s one and only missive that didn’t get to Lee is certainly one.

    JD

  15. Jeff Mancini
    Sat 26th Jun 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Stuart not conveying his whereabouts and objectives clearly enough to make sure that Robert E. Lee and him are on the same page is the crux of the discussion. If they are on the same page then Stuart is not gallavanting, shelling and burning the Federal Cavalry barracks in Carlisle.A pointless exercise considering the scope, goal and objective of the operation. His overly ambitious route burned his troopers out. By the third day at Gettysburg at East Cavalry Field he commits some real amatuerish errors including the discharging of artillery in four directions.He literally telegraphed his wherabouts to Gregg. At this point his cavalry corps is exhausted. He fails to blast through the Federal rear and thus Pickett’s Charge gets no secondary help by virtue of a potential rear end thrust by southern horsemen. Stuart’s antics are filled with flashed of brilliance and yet his ability to be a team player in the critical invasion of the north is a stain on his record. Face it Stuart led by his heart and not his mind. A good example is his inability to reign in and utilze his best outpost commander Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones. Stuart let the cantankerous Jones get under his skin because Jones would chide him for not utilizing him properly. The clash of ego’s led to Stuart courtmartialing Jones and sending him to another theatre of operations. Stuart liked his role, he relished his role but his ego let him down. Despite the odds Stuart still ranks as the de facto face of the Confederate mounted effort in the eastern theatre. But he was not infallible and he had a personality that could hinder the effort. Robert Driver’s book on the 1st Virginia Cavalry supports the troopers dislike for his zeal for pomp and circumstance and parading at the cost of rest for the men and horses. Spread the blame, many are at fault but Stuart doesn’t help his cause with his mule headed stances.

  16. Sat 26th Jun 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I’ve always been baffled at the notion that Lee was “surprised” when Hill made contact with Buford’s cavalry and then elements of the I Corps on July 1. Back to June 27 (briefly). If, as Marshall claimed Stuart later told him, Stuart dispatched the intelligence to Lee via Ashby’s Gap, it’s not clear to me why that would not have gotten through. Given the relative positions on 6/27-28 (Lee apparently in the vicinity of Chambersburg, the Army of the Potomac moving generally N-NE, and Stuart S of the Army of the Potomac), Ashby’s Gap would seem to have been a reliable direction by which to get the ihformation to Lee. Lee was also a voracious reader of northern newspapers. Do we know that none of the newspapers he could have gotten his hands on (or, indeed, any other sources of information) reported anything during the 6/27-30 period regarding the Army of the Potomac heading north through Maryland? At some point, the roads were filled with thousands of troops and artillery moving at a hurried pace. In fact, wasn’t Lee aware of the command change from Hooker to Meade before July 1? Odd that he would know about that but not that Hooker’s/Meade’s army was on the move to deal with Lee’s widely-known invasion of Pennsylvania. As to how Stuart handled tactics during his operation, I think that’s a completely different question from the question whether he left Lee “bilnd”. As Eric and JD make clear, it wasn’t as if Lee didn’t retain a cavalry force after Stuart departed.

  17. Jeff Mancini
    Sat 26th Jun 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Lee had Jones’s,Robertson’s and Jenkins’ Cavalry available. It is documented that this was not the creme de la creme of the Rebel Cavalry force. Stuart had the “A” team on the march since Brandy Station and was more concerned with his exploits northward as the fertile grounds of Pennsylvania, I believe, seduced him into gathering a huge wagon train of forage for his troops. I think he lost focus and a grasp of his task. Furthermore it does not help that Robert E. Lee is moving northward to ease the strain off the Commonwealth of Virginia yet the summer heat is affecting his patience and he seems to be moving with an indecisive caution northward. His intelligence is sketchy and dated. Stuart is not communicating often enough or clearly enough. Robertson’s Cavalry is too green and poorly led to be fighters, Jenkins is not a large brigade and Jones might not be the ideal brigadier to coordinate the effort with Lee. If anything Stuart should be more closely attached with Lee and let Jones, the renowned outpost commander, to execute the end run to Hanover and Carlisle. Robertson and Jenkins should be led up the rear guarding the gaps and prepared to be the counter punch.

  18. Sun 27th Jun 2010 at 4:40 pm

    I’m still trying to figure out what Lee would have learned from Stuart that was better and more current than what he already knew/shuld have known. The Yankess had cavalry, as well, and that cavalry had become a much more effective force during Spring, 1863 (as the guy who runs this blog has shown in one of his many worthwhile books). Stuart’s only real option to stay “more closely attached to Lee”, it seems to me, would have been to keep west of the Army of the Potomac as it moved north. If the Yanks reacted to that with screens, he would have been furnishing reports about federal cavalry, and still would presumably have been involved in clashes with them. The function you suggest would likely only have been performed better if Stuart had actually been retained by Lee. Stuart could then have been at least probing south of the Chambersburg/Carlisle area. Once he was ordered to split off, the consequence seems fairly inevitable. Your point about Lee’s behavior is accurate, I think. But I don’t agree that the “A Team” was needed to perform basic reconnaissance and messaging – especially with all of the other information Lee had.

  19. Tom
    Mon 28th Jun 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I wonder what General Sam Cooper’s relationship was like with General JEB Stuart? Was it a good working one or did he not like Stuart? was Cooper just sleeping on the job?

    Tom

  20. Mike Maude
    Mon 28th Jun 2010 at 1:23 pm

    This thread inspired me to pull PoB off the shelf for another read–and what struck me really quick was a reference to another message Jeb sent on the 25th about the northward movement of II Corps after he shelled the column at Bucktown. Again, the message got to the War Dep’t and was filed but apparently never got to Lee. So the message on the 27th was not his only attempt to pass timely intelligence to Lee and Richmond.

    Really enjoying the re-read Eric & JD, and looking forward to the 3rd volume.

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