Passing of A Cavalier: The Death of J.E.B. Stuart

J.E.B. Stuart on campaign

For two years James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart was a thorn in the side of Federal armies in Virginia. His rise to prominence and fame began in the spring of 1862 when he led Confederate cavalry on a march around the Army of the Potomac. Dubbed the “Ride Around McClellan”, this operation embarrassed the Union high command and provided Robert E. Lee with valuable information concerning his enemy’s dispositions. Stuart’s intelligence gathering once again proved a boon for Lee during the Second Manassas Campaign when he confirmed plans to reinforce Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia with the Army of the Potomac. In October, Stuart once again rode around the Potomac army, this time through Maryland and Pennsylvania. Stuart’s scouting during the Chancellorsville Campaign helped Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson plan Jackson’s famous flank attack . When Jackson fell victim to friendly fire, Stuart took over command of his Second Corps. His leadership was critical in the latter stages of the Confederate victory. Although Stuart’s dominance over his blue counterparts began to wane after the Battle of Brandy Station in June 1863, he still remained a formidable opponent. Then, on May 11, 1864, the thirty-one year old Stuart was mortally wounded at Yellow Tavern.

Hustled into an ambulance, Stuart was evacuated from the battlefield. The fallen general was accompanied by Andrew Venable and Theodore Garnett, members of his staff, along with Walter Hullihan, an aide to Brig. Gen. Lunsford Lomax. Dr. John Fontaine, Stuart’s medical director, also accompanied the party. The ambulance headed north toward the Chickahominy. Once across the river and in an effort to stay clear of Philip Sheridan’s Union cavalry, the party swung toward Atlee’s Station. From there, they headed for the home of Dr. Charles Brewer, Stuart’s brother-in-law, located at 206 West Grace Street in Richmond.

Nearly seven hours after Stuart was struck, his ambulance pulled up at Dr. Brewer’s residence around 11 p.m. The cavalryman was carried to a room upstairs. Upon examination, Brewer found there was little he could do for Stuart except to make him comfortable. A .44 caliber pistol ball had penetrated his left side, entered his stomach and then exited through his back.

Notably absent from the Brewer house was Stuart’s devoted wife, Flora. She had been staying at the home of Edmund Fontaine, president of the Virginia Central Railroad, near Hanover Junction when her husband was wounded. Sheridan’s men had cut the railroad and she was forced to commandeer an ambulance which delayed her journey.

Word of Stuart’s wounding quickly spread through the city. Beginning early on the morning of May 12, a stream of visitors began to arrive at the Brewer house. Among them were Maj. Henry McClellan, a devoted staff member and future chronicler of Stuart’s campaigns. Former Prussian aide Johann August Heinrick Heros Von Borcke, himself wounded the previous summer in the Loudoun Valley also visited Stuart along with President Jefferson Davis.

As the day wore on, Stuart began to slip in and out of consciousness. During one moment of clarity, he turned to Brewer and asked if he would live through the night. Brewer answered that he would not and Stuart calmly replied “I am resigned, if it be God’s will.” When evening approached, a small group gathered at Stuart’s side. Reverend Joshua Peterkin of St. James Episcopal Church led them in singing the popular hymn”Rock of Ages”. ¬†Flora finally arrived that night. Tragically, it was too late. Her husband had died before she could reach him. Stuart had passed away at 7:38 p.m.

The next day, following a service at St. James, Stuart was interred at Hollywood Cemetery. Unfortunately, the Brewer residence is no longer standing although a historical marker stands next to the site. In June 1888, members of Stuart’s command gathered to dedicate a monument at the location of his wounding at Yellow Tavern. Appropriately, Flora Stuart was among those in the crowd at the ceremony.

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