Friday, October 8, 2010

J.E.B. Stuart Makes a Name for Himself

Since starting this blog, I have written a few times about the "Battle of Lewinsville" on September 11, 1861.  (See herehere and here.)  This small skirmish interests me for a number of reasons.  The clash at Lewinsville took place right in the middle of present-day McLean, not far from my home, but is hardly known to local residents.  Lewinsville also involves a cast of characters who became prominent figures during the Civil War, including J.E.B. Stuart, Charles Griffin, and "Baldy" Smith.  In fact, one of the best stories to come out of Lewinsville  involves then-Colonel J.E.B. Stuart, commander of Confederate forces, whose performance led to recognition and promotion.

General J.E.B. Stuart (courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

On the afternoon of September 11, as the recall was sounded and the Union reconnaissance force of around 1,800 assembled to return to camp near Chain Bridge, Stuart led over 300 men of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, the 13th Virgina Infantry, and the Washington Artillery of Louisiana in a surprise attack.  The skirmish mostly involved an exchange of artillery fire, and the Union retreat was orderly and involved few casualties.  However limited the engagement, Stuart impressed his superiors with his conduct during the fight.  In forwarding Stuart's official report of the skirmish to General Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the Confederate Army of the Potomac, General James Longstreet, wrote:

The affair of yesterday was handsomely conducted and well executed. . . .  Colonel Stuart has, I think, fairly won his claim to brigadier, and I hope the commanding generals will unite with me in recommending him for that promotion.

General James Longstreet, Stuart's immediate commander based at Falls Church, VA (courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

General Joseph E. Johnston (courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

General Johnston and General P.G.T. Beauregard, the other top Southern commander in Northern Virginia, endorsed Longstreet's recommendation, and added:

We think with Brigadier-General Longstreet that Colonel Stuart's laborious and valuable services, unintermitted since the war began on this frontier, entitle him to a brigadier generally. His calm and daring courage, sagacity, zeal, and activity qualify him admirably for the command of our three regiments of cavalry, by which the outpost duty of the Army is performed. The Government would gain greatly by promoting him.
Johnston wrote separately to General Samuel Cooper, Adjutant General and Inspector General of the Confederate Army in Richmond:

Connected with this communication and these reports is a recommendation form General Longstreet, General Beauregard, and myself for forming a cavalry brigade and putting Colonel Stuart at is head. A new organization of the cavalry arm of our service is greatly needed, and greater strength as well as an effective organization.

General P.G.T. Beauregard (courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)
Immediately after Lewinsville, Johnston and Beauregard had considered Stuart's use of the artillery overly brash; he had put the guns too close to the Union lines and risked capture of precious weaponry.  Longstreet came to Stuart's defense, and obviously won the day.  In the end, Stuart was made a brigadier general and given an independent command of cavalry.  Lewinsville had helped to put Stuart on the road to fame as the head of one of the best-known cavalry commands of the entire Civil War.

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