Can I Really “Jine the Cavalry”?

Stuart’s Ride (Library of Congress)

I was about ten years old when I first read a reference to the Civil War song “Jine the Cavalry” in a kid’s biography book about J.E.B. Stuart. Curious, I wrote a friend, asking if he knew the lyrics and would share them with him; it really irked me for a long time that he never sent them. Years later, I wonder if this older history buff knew I wouldn’t understand the words and all the context at that young age and wanted me to find them when I was a little older and a little farther in my war studies.

The song came to mind on my recent trip during the day I attempted to trace Stuart’s 1862 Chambersburg Raid on a drive that took me into four states and got me lost on backroads. (It was a perfect day!) I was trailing the Confederate cavalry route, and a day or two later as I combed archives in two different states I realized that I have “jined the cavalry” – maybe not forever, but at least for this particular research project.

However, I’m still not sure I’ve “jined” the cavalry. Most of the time, I feel more like I’m chasing them, searching for the truth, and trying to separate it from legends. I can say I’ve trailed them across the Potomac to Mechanicsburg town square and Chambersburg’s center, through Pennsylvania fields and over Maryland roads, at multiple river fords, to The Bower, and into Loudoun County. They have “led” me on mysterious jaunts into local libraries and archives to find their words and the accounts of civilian witnesses. The need to know the details about these men has propelled me up the granite steps of Library of Congress to spend (wonderful) hours in the manuscript division and prints and photograph rooms.

Town Square at Mechanicsburg, PA. A cannon or two of the Horse Artillery parked in the square, threatening to fire on the town if there was any civilian trouble.

So it begs the question, can I really “jine the cavalry”? Of course not, the Confederate cavalry is all dead. And they wouldn’t let me in anyway – I’m a girl. Although I might have gotten an invitation to a dance, but that type of event will have to be a discussion for a different day.

I’m not the ten-year-old with a starry-eyed dream about Stuart and his cavalry. The Confederate cavalry projected a romantic image, and Stuart carefully built that public image, but does that actually hold up with historical facts? Gallantry existed, but so did the dirt and grime of the march. In wonderful confusion, the legends have factual basis and the darker sides of war exist too  – the challenge comes to figure out where to separate the two and where reality holds them together. And where post-war stories grew out of proportion…

At yet another unmarked cavalry and horse artillery site…

Searching for the facts, approaching with context, and interpreting with honest respect have always been my goals, and they are good guiding points in this project too. Each day I’m collecting primary sources and tracking down the backgrounds of secondary or third sources, testing their interpretation against the original primary sources. I’ve “jined” up to find the truth for myself and clear some questions I have had for a while. I’ve already been pleasantly surprised at the puzzle pieces I’ve pulled together and am confident that the picture I’m piecing together with old and new factual research will both uphold the traditional interpretation in all the best ways and add new information that has been missing for a long time.

Can I “jine the cavalry”? All I know is that I need to continue following and I am excited to see where their words lead. I want to understand the military tactics and culture that Stuart reshaped and and how it affected the lives and memory of his officers, men, and the civilians they encountered.

Here is Bobby Horton’s version of the Confederate cavalry song:


11 Responses to Can I Really “Jine the Cavalry”?

  1. Particularly apt for us right now- we began with Brandy Station, up to Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville. Winchester. Then up to Monterey Pass to follow the cavalry during Gettysburg’s denouement. We have still to pick up the track after Monterey Pass down into Maryland. Next week… Would like to do Stuart’s ride next. Map recommendations?

    1. Still, working on better directions and maps for that route. I found a study in a local library that had it traced out better than I managed with my books and Google maps. Let me see if I can dig out of my notes. Can I email you if I find it easily?

      1. Yes, please. Maybe we need a Retracer Methodology series. Online map services + HMDB + CWT brochures + books = nutso, and a lot of distracted driving with junk in the front seat!

    1. Very nice! Yeah, I think some of my family was laughing at me because I kept texting them photos of river fords. I was so excited to locate some of these places, but to them it was like “Great. Another photo of trees and water.” LOL The hidden treasures of history, right?

  2. (a little late to the party) I recently read a story about Stuart that took place just before 2nd Manassas in 1862, where his famous plumed hat was stolen from him during a raid at Raccoon Ford along the Rapidan. A few days later he conducted his own raid at Catlett’s station and one of his officers picked up the dress coat of General John Pope. The story says that he sent a letter to the Union general suggesting an “exchange of prisoners”. His hat for the dress coat. Have you found this story anywhere in your studies? I don’t question his ride to Catlett Station, but the rest about this hat and such. The book was written some years ago and I wasn’t sure if that was just one of those popular myths.

  3. Yes you can “jine the cavalry”! Some of the best tours I ever had when I was younger led me to see many beauriful rivers, obscure country roads and lovely old homes in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The cavalry never gets the credit it deserves. When they did it right they truly were the eyes and ears of an army. But for the average trooper it was a hard life and of course so many horses really suffered the most. Good luck on your research.

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