Stuart’s Promotion Prank

Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart. Photo courtesy the National Archives.

It’s pretty well documented that General J.E.B. Stuart liked to make jokes and play pranks on his peers and subordinates. Recently, I came across another one in the reminiscences of Thomas S. Garnett who served as a courier for the Army of Northern Virginia’s Cavalry Headquarters:

I had retired for the night, or in a soldier’s phrase, “turned in” to my bunk in Maj. McClellan’s tent and was peacefully dreaming, when I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder and turning over recognized Major Venable, who had waked me, saying “get up, General Stuart wants to see you in his tent.” It didn’t take me more than a minute to complete my toilet, which consisted of pulling on a heavy pair of cavalry boots and slipping on my jacket, and rubbing my drowsy eyes, I groped my way to the General’s tent. Knocking at the door I was told to “Come in,” and entered finding the General stretched out on his couch with Venable sitting near hi. I wondered what was coming, and thought some trick or joke was about to be played on my by my laughter-loving chief; for I had fancied I could detect a suppressed smile on Maj. Venable’s countenance. Pointing to his open desk, on which the General’s private letter book was lying, with pens, ink, and paper, he very quietly said, “Sit down there, Garnett, and copy that letter for me.” I did as I was told, and taking up a pen, not even yet fully awake, commenced to write, as follows:

Theodore S. Garnett, 9th Virginia Cavalry, later promoted to Stuart’s Staff.

Headquarters Cavalry Corps, Army of Nor’n Va

January 27, 1864

Gen. S. Cooper, A&I Genl., Richmond.


I have the honor to recommend Private Theodore S. Garnett, Jr., of Co. “F” 9th Va Cav, for appointment as 1st Lieut. and Aide-de-Camp to be assigned to duty on my Staff, vice Lieut. Chiswell Dabney promoted.

Before finishing that sentence, I rose from my seat, blushing like a girl, and stammered out my thanks to General Stuart, grasping his strong hand in both of mine and pledging him my life-long gratitude and service. He burst into the heartiest laughter and seemed to enjoy hugely my utter surprise and confusion. Major Venable, joining in with his powerful lungs, and thus making it “worse confounded.” I finished the letter to Gen. Cooper and after a short conversation with the Genl went back to my blankets, but not to sleep, for my heart was thumping away and every pulse throbbing with pleasure and pride, at this the first mark of that great soldier’s esteem for me, a pleasure and pride which I can never again experience, and for which I would not exchange now any memory of my life.

The next morning, the 28th of January, I was invited to breakfast with General Stuart, and received the congratulations of my brethren of the Staff.


Theodore S. Garnett, edited by Robert J. Trout. Riding with Stuart: Reminiscences of an Aide de Camp. (Shippensburg: White Mane Publishing Company, 1994). Pages 31-32.

4 Responses to Stuart’s Promotion Prank

  1. Sarah, thank you for sharing this with us. Finding these little human-interest items in our research makes it all worthwhile!

  2. Heartwarming. I loved this little read. Stuart was certainly one of the good ones… it’s too bad he had to die so young…

  3. Given the hard nature of the work, having a chieftain who in part never grew up helped give it a certain flair.

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