Rivalries between military branches are well-known (Army vs. Navy, anyone?). Throughout the Civil War, jabs between infantrymen and cavalrymen of the same armies can be found in letters, diaries, and postwar accounts of soldiers. On June 8, 1863, at the pinnacle of their success in the East, J.E.B. Stuart and his Confederate horsemen saw this plainly.
Three days earlier, Stuart staged a review of his cavalry command on the open plains surrounding Brandy Station. It was an impressive sight as thousands of soldiers mounted on horseback dashed across the plains. Blank artillery shots and music accompanied the martial scene. Perhaps hoping to impress his commanding general, Stuart invited Robert E. Lee, who declined the invitation. But when Lee moved his headquarters closer to Culpeper, he found no reason to not review the cavalry. The date was set for June 8.
It was set to be a grand spectacle, a show of the Army of Northern Virginia’s mounted arm. Fitzhugh Lee invited John Bell Hood and “any of his people” to attend. Hood brought a cavalcade of men with him that day–his entire division of 10,000 foot soldiers. “You invited me and my people and you see I’ve brought them,” Hood explained to Lee, no doubt tongue in cheek. Not missing a beat, Lee replied, “Well, don’t let them holler, ‘Here’s your mule!'” a common derisive phrase uttered from the mouths of infantrymen in the presence of the cavalry. Feeding off the festivities, Wade Hampton warned Hood that if his men catcalled the cavalrymen, “we’ll charge you.”
When the rest of the Confederate cavalry learned of Hood’s arrival with his division, they polished their sabres and buttons ever harder to impress their infantry counterparts. “Their presence only increased the ambition of the troopers to do their best,” said one cavalryman. “The infantry, at that stage of the war considered it a mere bagatelle to belong to the cavalry.”
Finally, the Confederate cavalry, 22 regiments in all, began to muster for the review. While gathering, one of Stuart’s artillerists showed up riding a long-eared mule. Sensitive to the “Here’s your mule!” comment, the man and his mount were quickly ushered away. “[T]he mule looked a little bit surprised,” recalled an eyewitness, “and, I think, felt ashamed of himself and his waving ears, which cost him his prominent position in the grand spectacle.”
With only the best looking participating in the review, the cavalry began to march. It was a spectacular scene but Hood’s Deep South division was not phased. “Wouldn’t we clean them out, if old Hood would only let us loose on ’em,” muttered one of Hood’s men. The foot soldiers equally played fun with the charging cavalrymen. “During the charges past the reviewing stands the hats and caps of the charging columns would sometimes blow off, and then, just as the charging squadron passed and before the owners could come back, Hood’s men would have a race for them and bear them off in triumph.” Overall, one of Stuart’s men believed Hood’s soldiers were “hardly the most appreciative audience.” No matter though, for Robert E. Lee was impressed by the whole affair.
The infantry-cavalry rivalry of Civil War armies played out on the plains of Brandy Station on June 8. The next day, it was mostly a cavalry versus cavalry action. But the friendly rivalry of Lee’s infantry and cavalry showed the pluck of the army was very much alive. They needed it in the coming weeks.