“…please furnish better mules…”— JEB Stuart’s 1862 Christmas Raid, Part Two

This is part two of a two-part series on Jeb Stuart’s 1862 Christmas Raid; part one was posted on December 26th.

Stuart's Christmas Raid, by John Paul Strain
Stuart’s Christmas Raid, by John Paul Strain

 After sending his famous message to Gen. Meigs, Stuart decided to confuse the Federals.  Instead of heading south toward the Occoquan and safety, he headed north towards Fairfax Courthouse – the heart of the Federal command structure in northern Virginia.  In moving northward, Stuart ordered rails removed from the Orange and Alexandria RR and ordered Gen. Fitzhugh Lee to take 12 men to burn an important trestle bridge that carried the railroad over Accotink Creek. Although termed an “inconsiderable structure” by the northern press, the raid was alarming to many because of its close proximity to Alexandria. Though they were able to destroy portions of the bridge, it was quickly rebuilt.

The Confederates rode for the Little River Turnpike, just east of Fairfax Courthouse. The Confederates made the decision to attack the village and see if it could be captured. But by now, the Federals were reinforced and prepared for the raiders.  The Federals attempted to draw Stuart into a trap, but the Confederates could tell the earthworks nearby were full of Federals. Stuart ordered his men to set campfires to give the impression that they were encamping along the turnpike.   Meanwhile the Confederate cavalry column headed west to Frying Pan. Here Stuart visited his longtime acquaintance Laura Ratcliffe – a friend of many Confederate officers and a local spy. The Confederates would rest in the fields around Frying Pan and Sully Plantation near Chantilly. Here Stuart, Hampton, Fitz and Rooney Lee breakfasted at Sully at the “pleasure” of local Unionist Maria Barlow. Barlow was forced to run the farm with all the men fleeing to Alexandria in fear of the Confederate raiders. As they departed Sully, the Confederates left several Federal wounded in the care of Barlow.

Laura Ratcliffe, Courtesy Stuart-Mosby Historical Society
Laura Ratcliffe, Courtesy Stuart-Mosby Historical Society

With the Federal cavalry confused on where Stuart was heading, the Confederates left Fairfax County and headed west into Loudoun County arriving near Middleburg on December 30th. Brig. Gen. Edwin Stoughton and Brig. Gen. Percy Wyndham attempted a pursuit but unsuccessfully brought the Confederate cavalier to battle. While staying at the home of Hamilton Rogers (Oakham), Maj. John S. Mosby approached Stuart about staying behind with a select group of men to operate in the rear of the Federal lines. Mosby was one of Stuart’s most trusted scouts and successfully led Stuart’s raid through northern Virginia. The past few days taught Stuart that the Federals in the area were ripe for continuous raids and harassment. Trusting Mosby as he did, he agreed and when he left Middleburg, Mosby and nine men were left behind to temporarily operate as partisans. After a few raids, Stuart made Mosby’s assignment permanent on January 18th.

By way of Culpeper Courthouse, Stuart and his men returned to the Army of Northern Virginia winter camps on New Years Day 1863.   The military success of the raid is questionable. Other than a few hundred prisoners, some horses, mules, supplies and one funny telegram, Stuart only accomplished a moral victory. However, the raid launched the career of Mosby as a partisan and proved the superiority of the Confederate cavalry. It would be a few more months before the Federal cavalry could match their counterparts on the battlefield. For now the Confederate cavalry could enjoy a short rest and celebrate the Christmas and New Years season.

Stay tuned for an Emerging Civil War Weekender post on sites to see relating to JEB Stuart’s 1862 Christmas Raid

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One Response to “…please furnish better mules…”— JEB Stuart’s 1862 Christmas Raid, Part Two

  1. Enjoyed Part 2 very much; thank you! I was not aware that J. Mosby’s partisan raids/actions began after this raid…I guess I need to dust off the Mosby biography on my shelf and read it.
    Laura Ratcliffe is an interesting person…nice to see her mentioned.

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