A Hat for a Coat: Revisiting the Famous Parley between J. E. B. Stuart and John Pope

While Robert E. Lee and John Pope came to grips with one another in central and northern Virginia in August 1862, J. E. B. Stuart and Pope had their own back-and-forth tiff.

John Pope (left) and J. E. B. Stuart (right)

On the night of August 17, Federal cavalry raiders surprised Stuart at his headquarters in Verdiersville. Beyond capturing important military dispatches that warned Pope of a Confederate strike against him, the Yankee horsemen rode off with prized personal possessions of Stuart, most notably his famous plumed hat. As Stuart rode hatless through his ranks the next day, catcalls rang out from his own horsemen, asking “Where’s your hat?” Stuart would soon get his revenge on Pope.

Five days later on August 22, Stuart embarked 1,500 of his cavalry for a raid behind Federal lines to cut Pope’s supply line at Catlett’s Station. In a thunderous rainstorm, Stuart’s men failed to achieve their ultimate objective, the destruction of the bridge carrying the Orange and Alexandria Railroad over Cedar Run. Nonetheless, Stuart and his men found some success during their ride. They captured 300 Federal soldiers and 500 mounts, as well as an enemy safe that held millions of dollars worth of paper money and $20,000 in gold. Like the Federal booty at Verdiersville, Stuart’s men also found important military dispatches that spoke of Federal reinforcements coming to Pope’s aid. And amidst the pile of supplies, Stuart found a bargaining chip to win back his lost hat: Pope’s own hat and dress uniform coat.

Stuart quickly mailed the coat to Richmond, where thousands of the capital’s residents viewed it. The cavalryman could not resist the temptation, though. While he sent the coat south, he raced a messenger north to Pope. “General,” the jocular dispatch began, “You have my hat and plume. I have your best coat. I have the honor to propose a cartel for the fair exchange of the prisoners.”

According to the numerous recountings of this tale, Pope never replied to Stuart’s exchange request. At least, he never officially¬†replied through proper military channels but, contrary to popular belief, Pope did send a message back to Stuart.

During the course of the Second Manassas Campaign, Edward Landstreet, an 18-year-old courier on Stuart’s staff, fell into Federal hands. Known as “Parson Landstreet” among Stuart’s staff, the young man had a chance to meet many of the Army of Virginia’s high command during his brief imprisonment behind Federal lines. He even spoke with Pope, whom Stuart liberated a few days later. As Stuart related in a letter to his wife written on September 4, 1862, “Pope told him to tell me he would send me my hat if I would send him his coat. I must have my hat first.”

J. E. B. Stuart’s plumed hat (American Civil War Museum)

Thus, it seems that Stuart broke off the negotiations. It all came to naught anyway, as military matters soon separated Stuart, Pope, and their prizes of war. Stuart went to Maryland, and Pope went to Minnesota.

4 Responses to A Hat for a Coat: Revisiting the Famous Parley between J. E. B. Stuart and John Pope

  1. Colonel Thortan Brodhead – 1st Michigan Cavalry in August of 1862, just before 2nd Bull Run, Brodhead and his men came very close to capturing General J.E.B. Stuart at the Rhodes House where he was sleeping. Stuart, supposedly escaped in his nightshirt but lost his plumed hat and a silk lined cape.

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