03 July 2007 by Published in: Union Cavalry 1 comment

Phil Trostle of Gettysburg, my favorite certified public beancounter, posed a really fascinating question to me earlier today. Frankly, it’s a comparison that I’d never thought to make, but it makes for an intriguing juxtaposition that’s worthy of further thought and study.

Phil asked whether he was “accurate in drawing some similarities between Stoneman at Chancellorsville and Stuart at Gettysburg.” I’d never even thought to make this comparison. I’d always focused on the ill-advised decisions of Hooker and Grant to send their cavalry away on raids toward Richmond, but not a comparison to Stuart in the Gettysburg Campaign.

Here’s what I wrote in response to Phil’s question:

Phil,

Interesting. Frankly, I’d never considered the parallel. There are clearly some similiarities, but there are also some major differences.

First, and foremost, Hooker insisted that the raid go on even after the element of surprise was lost. Lee apparently decided it wasn’t much of a threat, because only Rooney Lee’s brigade was sent to pursue. They blocked Averell at Beverly’s Ford and then, after Averell packed it in, pursued Buford for a while. The blame for the debacle definitely has to begin and end with Hooker.

Second, the result is very much the same–insufficient cavalry to screen the advance, but the reasons and implications are different. As just one example, Devin’s brigade–the only one with the army–conducted a superb delaying action on the first day at Chancellorsville, and also was very effective on May 2. Lee, on the other hand, made atrocious use of the cavalry forces available to him.

There is no doubt that both raids were ill-advised and that neither accomplished what their author imagined. There’s also no doubt that these two reaids both left their armies without their eyes and ears.

However, Stuart’s ride at least accomplished what it was ordered to do: he fulfilled each aspect of Lee’s orders, including gathering supplies for the use of the army. Stoneman’s raid, on the other hand, accomplished absolutely nothing of use other than to largely wreck the Cavalry Corps by leaving many of its mounts unusable in the field.

Finally, there’s the issue of additional contributions to the army by the cavalry commander. Assuming, for argument’s sake, that Stuart was late to arrive at Gettysburg, he nevertheless performed magnificent service–perhaps his finest hour–during the retreat from Gettysburg. Stoneman, on the other hand, took medical leave on May 15 and never commanded horse soldiers in the AoP again, bringing Alf Pleasonton to command the Cavalry Corps. Thus, it seems to me that the failure of the Stoneman Raid had more far-reaching implications than did Stuart’s ride during the Gettysburg Campaign.

Very, very interesting thought, Phil. I had not considered previously, and I think it’s worthy of further thought.

Eric

I do believe that this question is worthy of further and additional consideration, and I will report back once I work my way through it. It is a fascinating comparison, though, and I thank Phil for bringing it to my attention.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Tue 03rd Jul 2007 at 10:56 pm

    It’s indeed fascinating, and one I never thought to make either. Stoneman’s Raid definitely had more far-reaching consequences – in fact, a change in the AOP Cavalry command from nearly top to bottom. But they both definitely entailed similarities: as you said, cavalry was detached from the main army, leading to a major battle that was a clear defeat for one side; and in both, each battle was begun by a small remaining cavalry force that conducted a textbook delaying action against advancing infantry – Devin along the Plank Road at Cville, Buford along Chambersburg Pike at Gburg.

    I think there are definitely fascinating comparisons and contrasts between the two. Especially regarding the missions’ objectives, results, and consequences.

    J.D.

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