18 November 2011 by Published in: Confederate Cavalry 9 comments

The following inquiry appeared on some forum boards:

What is the reasoning behind most historians today not willing to accept that Stuart’s attack was in cooperation with Pickett’s attack ? Now I have heard that one reason was because neither Stuart nor Lee made mention of it in their Gettysburg Battle reports. They also did not make mention of the signal shots but most historians think they happened, but not as signal shots.

The reason I am bringing this up again is due to the more research I do the more sources I find that state that Stuart was acting in cooperation with Pickett’s attack. Even the Union General in charge in the East Cavalry fighting, General D.McM.Gregg in an article states that it was. I have so far found 10 different sources that back’s this claim up. I just can’t accept it when historians say there is no evidence that Stuart was in cooperation with the frontal attack on Cemetery Ridge on July 3rd, 1863. As I have stated I have 10 different sources so far.

There actually is a rather simple explanation to all of this.

Let’s remember that late in the day on July 2, 1863, there were two separate but simultaneous engagements involving two separate divisions of Union cavalry on or near the far left flank of the Army of Northern Virginia’s position. David M. Gregg’s Second Division was engaged with Confederate infantry of the Stonewall Brigade of Maj. Gen. Edward “Alleghany” Johnson’s Division on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, while Judson Kilpatrick’s Third Division tangled with troopers of Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton’s Brigade at Hunterstown.

Brinkerhoff’s Ridge is squarely on the far left flank of the Army of Northern Virginia’s infantry position. The Stonewall Brigade ended up performing flank duty because of the breakdown of command after Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins was severely wounded that morning, and nobody thought to tell Col. Milton J. Ferguson, Jenkins’ senior colonel, that he was now in command of the brigade. Because of that inexplicable breakdown, Jenkins’ men failed to perform the flank duty. That forced the Stonewall Brigade to do so, keeping it tied up for most of the day and leaving it unavailable to assault Culp’s Hill. Stuart himself sat on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and watched the climax of that fight. He knew that the Stonewall Brigade was fighting dismounted Union cavalry there. He could see Gregg’s guidons.

Just a few miles away at Hunterstown, Kilpatrick’s division tangled with the rearguard of Hampton’s Brigade, which was escorting the tail-end of the infamous wagon train captured by Stuart during his ride to the Gettysburg battlefield. A short but very spirited fight occurred there before both sides broke off.

Therefore, as the sun set late in the afternoon of July 2, there were a total of four brigades of veteran Union cavalry operating in the vicinity of Lee’s flank and rear, well positioned for a possible dash around the flank and into Lee’s rear, where they could make immense trouble.

Hence, on the night of July 2, Robert E. Lee knew that two of the three divisions of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps were operating on or near his far right flank. He was legitimately concerned that the Federals might try to dash around that flank and make mischief in his rear. He was so concerned, in fact, that he called Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden’s Northwestern Brigade–a command that Lee did not know or particularly trust, largely because it was untried–to the battlefield. The following are Imboden’s own words, from an 1871 article that appeared in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: “on arriving near Gettysburg about noon, when the conflict was raging in all its fury, I reported directly to General Lee for orders, and was assigned a position to aid in repelling any cavalry demonstration that might occur on his flanks or rear. None being made, my little force took no part in the battle. I then had only about 2,100 effective mounted men and a six-gun battery.” (emphasis added by me)

Lee was concerned enough about this situation that he placed Imboden’s command in a position where it could quickly and readily deal with a thrust at the flank or into his rear.

By contrast, there was no known force of Union cavalry operating on Lee’s far right. In fact, Brig. Gen. John Buford’s First Division had left the field about 11:15 on the morning of July 2, and no cavalry troops (other than a single regiment of Gregg’s division) had been sent to take its place. Thus, as morning broke on July 3, there was absolutely no cavalry threatening Lee’s far right, as neither Wesley Merritt’s Reserve Brigade nor Elon J. Farnsworth’s brigade of Kilpatrick’s division arrived in the vicinity of the Confederate far right flank until about 11:00 in the morning of July 3. Consequently, the small force of 100 or so troopers of the 1st South Carolina Cavalry, with a single piece of horse artillery, was more than sufficient, as there was no known threat.

As J. D. Petruzzi and I have documented extensively in our book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, both Stuart’s men and horses had just finished a grueling eight day expedition around the Army of the Potomac that took a tremendous toll on both men and horses. Indeed, both men and mounts were at the limits of their endurance when they arrived on the battlefield very late in the afternoon of July 2, and neither men nor animals were in condition to undertake or engage in aggressive offensive activity, something that is well-documented. Therefore, the only mission for these troopers that makes any sense, given their worn-out condition, is a purely defensive one.

Given those circumstances, does it make nothing but sense for Lee to send Stuart and his three and a half brigades (about half of Jenkins’ brigade went with Stuart) to hold and protect that flank? So that there would be a significant force under his trusted and beloved cavalry commander, should that two-division threat to the flank and rear develop?

When analyzing all of these factors, and given Stuart’s dispositions and deployments on what became East Cavalry Field, it seems quite obvious to me that Stuart’s primary mission was to guard the flank. He deployed in an ambush formation, intended to draw David M. Gregg’s troopers in and engage them, thereby keeping them tied up and unable to make that dash around the flank. Stuart, always the opportunist, was looking for opportunities, and should he be able to defeat and scatter Gregg’s troopers, then, and ONLY then, would he attempt to make his own dash down the Low Dutch Road and into the rear of the Army of the Potomac’s position.

Finally, neither Lee nor Stuart EVER said anything about Stuart’s activities that day being somehow coordinated with the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble assault on the Union center. That, to me, is proof positive that neither officer contemplated anything other than what they both said in the official reports.

If you have studied the engagement on East Cavalry Field, and you know both the terrain and the condition of Stuart’s command, the battle plan that I have laid out above is ONLY explanation of Stuart’s mission on July 3 that makes any sense.

This essay is a synopsis of a small part of the 5500 word essay that I have written to rebut the ridiculous and implausible theory of Tom Carhart for the new edition of my book Protecting the Flank that will be published by Savas-Beatie in the early spring of 2012.

Scridb filter


  1. Fri 18th Nov 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Well said. As Lee wrote in his OR, Stuart “effectually protected our flank.” Period. End of sentence. Anything else is pure speculation.

    As to the other commentators sources, of course you’ll find a plethora of post-battle stuff written by (especially) Union cavalry veterans that Stuart was operating in concert with Pickett’s Charge. It was much more glorious for Gregg’s and Custer’s veterans to claim that they had turned back part of the great “tide” of the attack of July 3. But unless any Union veteran was standing with Lee and Stuart when the former gave any supposed concert attack orders to the latter, you can completely discount anything any Federal every said or wrote as obvious dramatic, romantic embellishment about Stuart’s true intentions.

    There is not a single, solitary contemporary shred of any evidence from any Confederate that said that at the time Stuart was operating under ANY orders other than protecting that flank. As you documented, Stuart watched the fighting along Brinkerhoff’s Ridge on July 2, saw Gregg’s troopers there, and the next day decided to kick up some dust with him. No more, no less. He tried to draw out Gregg by firing the three cannon shots in his direction, then got an answer from one of Pennington’s guns. If Stuart intended to secretly get on the Union right flank and make some sort of surprise attack should Pickett’s Charge break through, announcing your presence by firing three artillery rounds is a damn stupid way to keep it all secret, ain’t it?

    Some folks seem to make a cottage industry about the “Stuart to the Rear” nonsense, but hopefully our writings and those others who have studied this episode in great detail will go some distance in putting the silliness to rest.

    J.D. Petruzzi

  2. Bob Hamann
    Fri 18th Nov 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Here is more food for thought Eric- maybe- McPherson wrote the intro for Carhart- many out there think he is the greatest CW writer of all time, so they link his praise to Carhart’s line about Lee and Stuart- you might disagree- I respect that, but many I’ve given you food for thought there with that linkage as intro’s like he wrote are basically endorsements.

    ” At about noon Stuart, with Jenkins’ and Chambliss’ brigades, moved out on the York turnpike, to take position on the left of the Confederate line of battle. Hampton and Fitz Lee were directed to follow. Breathed and McGregor had not been able to obtain ammunition, and were left behind, with orders to follow as soon as their chests were filled.”


    So Eric- THAT is the great Carhill plam????

  3. Bob Hamann
    Fri 18th Nov 2011 at 8:46 pm

    The biggest problem with Carhart’s theory is that it doesn’t pass the smell test.

    1. Union artillery slaughtered the Confederate batteries om the crest near Rummel’s barn.

    2. Same as above- substitute Brenner’s Hill.

    Stuart had to have known his men would be slaughtered in the type of attack Carhart insisted was planned and executed.

    3. Stuart’s own AG- a man he trusted to the highest degree, Henry McClellan himself said that everything was delayed on the 3 rd because of the lack of ammo- he went into DETAIL on how Stuart had to leave behind thousands of men for lack of ammo, yet never once hints that it would cripple a pending attack- be fatal to Stuart’s plan to work with the attack on the Federal Center, or even describe men that acted like they were about to follow Carhart’s plan.

    4. Look at Lee- look at how detailed the man is when writing reports- YET he never once mentions what Carhart feeds people- the same is true for Stuart. Unless I am wrong- when Stuart set out for East Cav Field the battle plan for the day did not include the huge desperation attack on the Union Center!

    What did Stuart say??????????

    ” Had the enemy’s main body been dislodged, as was confidently hoped and expected, I was in precisely the right position to discover it and improve the opportunity. I watched keenly and anxiously the indications in his rear for that purpose ”

    WELL- DUH- THAT IS WHAT CAV IS SUPPOSED TO DO! Stuart could have been successful in his attack at the East Cavalry Field and still not been near the rear of AOP, That rear went all the way back along the Baltimore Pike to Westminster. As I see the battle- with my humble education and knowledge- it would have been IMPOSSIBLE for Stuart to drive up the Baltimore Pike- hence Carhart is clueless.

  4. Keith Toney
    Sat 19th Nov 2011 at 10:58 am

    Eric, thought I would reply here instead of FB since many on my FB list would have no idea what’s being discussed. As they used to say on one of those 80’s game shows, good answer Eric, good answer! Yeah, i saw that thread yesterday; I suppose that’s proof I’m not quite ready to be back on the field since I rolled my eyes, said ahhh geez, not again, and didn’t reply. It always amazes me how often someone equates lack of evidence as proof of intent without stopping to realize how fluid any battlefield action is, whether its G’burg in 1863 or Iraq in 2003. Now if someone could convince Bill Hewitt applying early 21st century military strike force doctrine to a 19th century battle doesn’t work…hey, Lee and Stuart were excellent commanders, but they weren’t THAT far sighted…

  5. Terry Walbert
    Sun 20th Nov 2011 at 2:07 am

    Your point about the condition of Stuart’s men after their arrival on July 2 is the most important consideration. Sometimes historians forget that battles are not chess boards nor solders chess pieces.

  6. Dennis
    Sun 20th Nov 2011 at 6:33 am

    Keith wrote in part, “It always amazes me how often someone equates lack of evidence as proof of intent…”

    I was looking for the words I wanted but you summed it up perfectly.


  7. Jon Wallace
    Fri 23rd Dec 2011 at 10:18 am

    I think Stuarts “avenue of approach” to East Cavalry Battlefield might explain much. Personally, I think ECB is too deep in the Union rear to really allow Stuart to protect the flank. The location of ECB really makes for a seam between the right end of the CSA line and ECB that would be easily exploited. If Stuarts orders were to protect the right flank, he was doing a damned poor job of it. I think he was headed to a position whereby upon the breakthrough of the Union line and the subsequent collapse in echelon of the reserve, he could drive the Union troops and create more havoc. I think he was intercepted en route to this position. I think Lee was so confident about the success of this attack that he stationed Stuart so. Remember also that there was a second diversionary attack on the left, which ended up being as poorly timed as the actions on the right on the second day, which really added or subtracted nothing from Pickett’s effort in the middle. I dont think that we can fall back on Lee’s extraordinary detail in the writing of operation orders as an indicator of intent in this instance, because Lee’s coordination and lack of interior lines of communication had been so poor thus far. Secondly I would imagine that Lee’s relationship with Stuart (although strained at this moment) was such that he could simply show Stuart the battle plan and trust Stuart to understand his intentions AND take care of the logistical details. Further speculating along these lines, perhaps Lee gave Stuart some latitude to react to the situation as he saw fit in what I would call an If/then order.

  8. Jon Wallace
    Tue 27th Dec 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Something you wrote above put the hook in me. It took me a minute to think on it. Stuart was in ambush formation to “ambush” Hancock’s retreating corps as it retreated from the Union center, Not to receive Gregg. Gregg was an unexpected target of opportunity, which Stuart engaged in an attempt to regain favor with Lee.
    Stuart routinely deployed his small pieces in this way.

  9. Michael Brumbach
    Sat 26th Oct 2013 at 11:43 am

    I purchased a farm and farmhouse(built 1839) bordering East Cavlry field on Hanover Rd.(noth side) where it crosses Little’s Run. Spangler’s farm just east on the south side is reported to have been Custer’s headquarters. On battlefield maps my farmhouse is identified as belonging to an A.Little. I am interested in any info about the possible use of my farmhouse. The name in some accounts in this same scenario uses the Abrahanm Reevers farm as being involved. THANKS

    Mike Brumbach

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