[From Richmond, Va., Times-Dispatch, January 30,1910.]



A Defense of the Cavalry Commander.




Below is printed Colonel John S. Mosby's answer to Colonel T. M. R. Talcott's criticism of his work on "Stuart's Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign." Colonel Talcott's article appeared in this column several weeks ago and consisted largely of direct citations from the "Official Records of the War of the Rebellion," showing General Lee's plan of campaign and elucidating his orders to his subordinates. Since Colonel Mosby's article was received Rev. Randolph McKim, D. D., of Washington, D. C., late aid to General Edward Johnson, delivered an address on the same subject before R. E. Lee Camp, No. 1, Confederate Veterans, in which he vigorously defended General Lee. We hope soon to print this address.-Editor's note.

Three letters have lately appeared in the Times-Dispatch from Colonel T. M. R. Talcott, in which he attempts to answer my objections to General Lee's two reports of the Gettysburg campaign in my book, "Stuart's Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign," which was published nearly two years ago. The ground of my objection is the injustice they do to the commander of the cavalry.

As his name is not mentioned in any of the official reports of the campaign, I do not know what were Colonel Talcott's relations with the army at that time, or what opportunity he had for observing its operations. He does not even profess to have discovered any new evidences to support the old and exploded charge against Stuart of disobedience of orders, and all the documentary evidence he produces is quoted or referred to in my book. It is true that he publishes a letter to himself from Colonel Walter H. Taylor, Assistant Adjutant-General to General Lee, but as Taylor is already a discredited witness, his testimony is entitled to little weight in this controversy.

The statements in his letter to Colonel Talcott are contradicted by a letter from General Lee to Stuart, dated 5 P. M., June 23, 1863. A copy of this letter appears in General Lee's letter-book in Colonel Taylor's handwriting. Colonel Taylor says Stuart "was admonished all the while to keep in touch with our main army and to keep General Lee informed as to the movements of the enemy."

Colonel Taylor depends on his imagination for his facts. I defy him to point out one word in General Lee's letter to Stuart about keeping "in touch with the main army," or keeping General Lee "informed of the movements of the enemy."

"It was in reference to this oblivion which has come over General Lee's staff officers that I said the Homeric legend of the Lotus-Eaters, who lost their memory, is no longer a romance, but a reality.


On June 22d, General Lee had written Stuart to leave two brigades of cavalry with him, and to cross into Maryland with three brigades, "and take position on General Ewell's right, place yourself in communication with him, guard his flank, keep him informed of the enemy's movements, and collect all the supplies you can for the use of the army. One column of General Ewell's army will probably move towards the Susquehanna by the Emmittsburg route, another by Chambersburg." This letter is in Colonel Charles Marshall's handwriting. General Lee was then in the Shenandoah Valley with the corps of Longstreet and A. P. Hill; Ewell was about Hagerstown, Md., and had been ordered to the Susquehanna.

According to Colonel Taylor, General Lee issued an absurd order requiring Stuart to cross the Potomac and put himself on Ewell's right flank on his march to the Susquehanna, and at the same time keep in touch with the other two corps; and in addition to watch and report to him the movements of Hooker's army on the Potomac. If Stuart could have performed all those things he would have surpassed anything in the enchanting tales of the Arabian Nights.

Colonel Taylor does not say what General Lee expected to do with the two brigades of cavalry he kept with him in Virginia.

The letter of June 22d was sent to Longstreet, to be forwarded if he thought Stuart "can be spared from my (his) front." Longstreet did forward the instructions, and, referring to General Lee, said: "He speaks of your leaving via Hopewell Gap [the Bull Run Mountain] and passing by the rear of the enemy." At the same time Longstreet, who was at Millwood, wrote to General Lee, "Yours of 4 o'clock this afternoon received. I have forwarded your letter to General Stuart with the suggestion that he pass by the enemy's rear if he thinks he may get through." This was notice to Lee of the route Stuart would go. So the cavalry movement around Hooker's rear had the approval in advance of both General Lee and General Longstreet.

Hooker was then in Fairfax; General Lee was in his front. General Lee could not have expected Stuart to pass around Hooker's rear to cross the Potomac, and at the same time keep in touch with the main army and in communication with him unless he had a machine that could fly over Hooker's head and navigate the air. Yet his report complains that "by the route he pursued the Federal Army was interposed between his command and our main body--preventing any communication with him until he arrived at Carlisle."


Nobody would suspect from reading his first report that General Lee kept two cavalry brigades with him to watch the enemy, or that he ever authorized Stuart to cross the river in rear of the enemy; or that Ewell had gone into Pennsylvania a week in advance of the main army.

The first report is dated July 31, 1863, and was immediately published in the newspapers. It is the origin of all the criticisms of Stuart. It says: "In the meantime a part of General Ewell's corps had entered Maryland and the rest was about to follow.* * * * General Stuart was left to guard the passes of the mountains and observe the movements of the enemy, whom he was instructed to harass and impede as much as possible should he attempt to cross the Potomac.

"In that event General Stuart was directed to move into Maryland, crossing the Potomac east or west of the Blue Ridge, as in his judgment should be best, and take position on the right of our column as it advanced."

The statement that Stuart was authorized to cross the Potomac east or west of the Ridge is true; but it is not the whole truth, for, taken in connection with the complaint of Hooker's army being interposed between Stuart and our army, persons who read the report naturally inferred it meant that Stuart had authority to cross at some of the fords east of Harper's Ferry, but in front of Hooker's army. The report did not say a word about Ewell's corps having been detached and sent on several days in advance to the Susquehanna, and that Stuart was ordered to join Ewell. It speaks only of Ewell being in Maryland.

On the contrary, and one reading the report would conclude that the corps of Longstreet, Ewell and A. P. Hill united at Hagerstown, in Maryland, and that Stuart was ordered to put himself "on the right of our column as it advanced" into Pennsylvania. Now, as Ewell was at Hagerstown when he received General Lee's order of the 22d to move to the Susquehanna, and as he crossed the State line that day while Stuart was still in Fauquier County, Virginia, it could hardly have been expected that Stuart would overtake Ewell before he reached the Susquehanna, or that General Lee would rely on Stuart to watch and report Hooker's movements on the Potomac, especially as he had kept two brigades of cavalry with him.

Yet Colonel Taylor says that General Lee expected Stuart to perform that miracle.


Again, General Lee's final instructions to Stuart were written from Berryville at 5 P. M., June 23d. As I have said, they were copied by Colonel Taylor in General Lee's letter-book. They were substantially a repetition of those sent through Longstreet the day before, but more explicit about crossing the Potomac. They gave Stuart the alternative of coming over the Ridge the next day, crossing the Potomac at Shepherdstown and then moving on over the South Mountain to Fredericktown; or he could pass around Hooker's rear, "doing them all the damage you can, and cross the river east of the mountain. In either case, after crossing the river, you must move on and feel the right of Ewell's troops, collecting information, provisions, etc."

Clearly, when General Lee told Stuart that if he crossed at Shepherdstown he must move on over to Frederickstown, he did not mean for Stuart to stop there, but merely to indicate the best route to join Ewell, as he had written Stuart that one of Ewell's columns would move to the Susquehanna by Emmittsburg. In this second letter he said: "The movements of Ewell's corps are as stated in my former letter" (22d). On that day he had written Ewell from Berryville:* * * * "Mine of to-day authorizing you to move towards the Susquehanna, I hope has reached you.* * *

I also directed General Stuart, should the enemy have so far retired from his front as to permit of the departure of a portion of the cavalry, to march with three brigades across the Potomac and place himself on your right and communicate with you, keep you advised of the movements of the enemy and assist in collecting supplies for the army." There is not a word in the instructions to Stuart, although the report says so, about his being left to guard the passes of the mountain or harass and impede the enemy, "should he attempt to cross the Potomac"; for the plain reason that he was expected to cross in advance of the enemy and move on into Pennsylvania with Ewell.


Nobody can reconcile the statements about the cavalry in General Lee's two reports with his orders to both Ewell and Stuart on June 22d, and his letter of 5 P. M., June 23d, to Stuart, which is, as I have said, in Colonel Taylor's handwriting. No discretion was given to Stuart to remain with the army in Virginia or join Ewell in Pennsylvania; but discretion was given him to go by Shepherdstown, or cross in Hooker's rear at Seneca. No matter which route he went he would be equally out of sight of the enemy and out of communication with General Lee. Stuart would have been where General Lee put him. In his last letter to Stuart General Lee speaks of the movements of troops in the Valley the next day.

If General Lee had anticipated that it would break up Stuart's plan of passing to the Potomac not around Hooker's rear, through Fairfax, but through the middle of Hooker's army, cutting it in two and destroying his transportation, he would have delayed the movement in the Valley, as there was no necessity for it that day. A. P. Hill was at Charlestown, about nine miles from Shepherdstown; he should have stood still to give Stuart time to cross the river.

Stuart would then have been so far ahead that Pleasanton's cavalry could never have overtaken him. From the day General Lee crossed the Rappahannock Hooker had always moved so as to keep in touch with Lee, and between Lee and Washington.

It could not be expected that after the whole Southern Army had crossed the Potomac, Hooker would halt in Virginia and uncover Washington.


On the 24th A. P. Hill's corps moved from Charlestown to the Potomac, in sight of the signal station on Maryland Heights. The news was telegraphed to Hooker, and he set his army in motion for the Potomac the next day. Stuart found Hooker's army marching on the roads which he had expected to travel, hence he had to change his route and make a detour through Fairfax around Hooker's rear. Instead of crossing the river on the evening of the 25th, he did not get over until the night of the 27th. Pleasanton's Cavalry Corps had been kept behind as the rear guard of the army, and crossed the Potomac some miles above on the same night. It was kept behind and neutralized by Stuart being in their rear, and gave no trouble to Genera Lee.

Colonel Talcott quotes from my book what is said about the premature movements in the Shenandoah Valley, making the Gettysburg campaign the Iliad of the South, and claims that this is an admission that the disaster was due to the absence of the cavalry.

His conclusions are illogical--a non sequitur --no such meaning can be given to any language. No matter where Stuart crossed the Potomac--east or west of the Ridge--he would not have been with General Lee or anywhere near Gettysburg, but away off on the Susquehanna. I never said it was the cause of the loss of the battle, but of the failure of the campaign as originally planned.


It was this movement of A. P. Hill on the 24th from Charlestown that disclosed our plan to the enemy and caused it to miscarry. There never would have been a battle at Gettysburg if Stuart had crossed the Potomac on the evening of the 25th, as he had expected. With his transportation destroyed, the canal on the Potomac, which had become his line of supply, broken, and all communications cut between Washington and the North, Hooker's attention would have been drawn from Lee to the Capital, and Stuart would have marched leisurely on to the Susquehanna. Longstreet was at Millwood on the 24th, and marched out of view of the signal station by Bunker Hill and Martinsburg to Williamsport. As he had to march about three times the distance that A. P. Hill had to march from Charlestown to cross at Shepherdstown, Hill might have waited a day and then he, Longstreet and Stuart would all have crossed the Potomac on the same day and would have left Hooker behind in Virginia.

Of course, General Lee did not anticipate that Hooker would follow so promptly and defeat the operation that was originally planned. Still Stuart did cross in the enemy's rear.

Colonel Talcott says it was necessary for the two corps to move on the 24th to support Ewell. But Ewell's, Early's and Rodes's reports show just the reverse. A few militia met them at two or three places, but scattered without firing a shot. When Early got to York he sent Gordon to secure the bridge across the Susquehanna, but the militia set fire to the bridge and ran over the river. Hooker had detached no forces to follow Ewell. General Lee held him in Virginia, while Ewell foraged in Pennsylvania. Jenkins' cavalry was skirmishing with some militia in the suburbs of Harrisburg when Ewell, who was at Carlisle, recalled him.


Colonel Talcott also says that when, on the 25th, Stuart found out that he could not pass through Hooker's army he ought to have turned back, gone over the Blue Ridge and crossed the river at Shepherdstown. But it was easier then to go on than to turn back. He simply obeyed General Lee's order, kept on and passed around Hooker's rear. He could not possibly have reached Shepherdstown before the night of the 27th, which was the time he crossed at Seneca. General Lee had then been two days at Chambersburg.

If Stuart had gone back to Shepherdstown he would have rested for a night, and then have moved on through some pass in the South Mountain to join Early at York. He would have reached there about the time Early was leaving to join Ewell.

Stuart's crossing at Seneca, so near Washington, cutting the canal, intercepting communications and capturing supply trains seriously impeded the operations of the Northern army. Meade's attention was directed from Lee; he sent two-thirds of his cavalry and three army corps off to the east to intercept Stuart, save Baltimore, and open his communications, which Stuart had cut. But the fruit of these operations was lost by A. P. Hill's and Heth's Quixotic adventures in going off without orders to Gettysburg.

Yet nobody would suspect from reading General Lee's two reports, or what his staff officers have written, that A. P. Hill and Heth broke up his plan of campaign. And here I will notice a statement in Colonel Taylor's book-- "Four Years With Lee"--that does great injustice to his chief. He says that at Cashtown, on the morning of July 1st, Lee stopped and had a talk with A. P. Hill before he started to Gettysburg. If true, it makes General Lee responsible for the blunder of that movement. Fortunately for General Lee's reputation, this statement is contradicted by the report of General Pendleton, who rode that day with General Lee.

On the morning of July 1st his headquarters were at Greenwood, about ten miles west of Cashtown. From there he wrote Imboden that his headquarters for the next few days would be at Cashtown. It must have been long after noon when General Lee reached Cashtown, as Pendleton says he did not stop there, but rode rapidly forward to the sound of the guns. He reached the field, about eight miles off, near the close of the fight. Heth's report says he left Cashtown about 5 o'clock in the morning.


Colonel Talcott also says that Hill and Heth did not know that the enemy held Gettysburg. If he will read their reports he will see that they say they knew it; and A. P. Hill says that on the day before he sent a courier to General Lee informing him of it. I admit that Colonel Talcott, in making this statement about ignorance of the enemy, follows General Lee's first report, which is contradicted by his second report. The first report says that "finding ourselves unexpectedly confronted by the Federal army it became a matter of difficulty to withdraw through the mountains with our large trains." The fine Italian hand of a lawyer is manifest here. Both Hill and Heth say they knew the enemy held Gettysburg; if so, the meeting could not have been unexpected. Nor does the report explain why General Lee could not save his trains without a battle, when he saved them with small loss after losing a battle.

Nor does this report explain why Ewell, with Rodes' and Early's Divisions, was marching away from Gettysburg on the morning of July 1st, if the army had been ordered, as it says, to concentrate at Gettysburg. Colonel Taylor's book says the order was for the concentration at Cashtown. He contradicts the first report, which says Gettysburg. It is clear the absence of three brigades of cavalry with Stuart had nothing to do with bringing on or losing the battle. Ewell and Early had at least 2,000 cavalry with them, and General Lee had kept two brigades of cavalry with him. Nobody can show that General Lee did, or omitted to do, anything on account of his ignorance of the situation of the Northern army. As General Lee says that he had not intended to fight a battle unless attacked, it made no difference to him if the enemy were at Gettysburg, if they were not interrupting him; all he had to do was to be ready when they came. Lee's whole army would have been concentrated at Cashtown, or in supporting distance, that evening if Hill and Heth had not gone off on an excursion and dispersed it. It is not credible that General Lee should have stayed two days in Maryland, on the Potomac, and in the shadow of South Mountain, with Hooker's army on the other side and in the gaps, with their signal stations on the peaks, without discovering their presence. Such bucolic simplicity is inconsistent with the character of the Confederate commander. Every private in his army knew where Hooker was.


No doubt he left when he was sure that Hooker's army was over the river. Nor could he have been surprised to hear it was at Gettysburg, unless he expected Hooker to stand still. At Williamsport he wrote Mr. Davis that he thought he could throw Hooker's army over the river; and yet his report says he was surprised when he heard he had done it. For this reason I expressed the opinion that he must have signed without reading the report. Colonel Taylor says he read it. I am sorry to hear it.

It is strange that the biographers and staff officers who have charged the Gettysburg disaster to General Lee's ignorance of the enemy's movements have ignored the letter from General Lee at Chambersburg to Ewell at Carlisle, dated 7:30 A. M., June 28, 1863, which refutes all they say, and proves that General Lee knew perfectly well where Hooker was. This letter is published in my book, on page 117.

General Lee's report says: "It was expected that as soon as the Federal army should cross the Potomac, General Stuart would give notice of its movements, and nothing having been heard from him since our entrance into Maryland, it was inferred that the enemy had not yet left Virginia.

"Orders were therefore issued to move on to Harrisburg. * * * The advance against Harrisburg was arrested by intelligence received from a scout [spy] on the night of the 28th to the effect that the army of General Hooker had crossed the Potomac and was approaching the South Mountain." If General Lee had thought that Hooker was still in Virginia he would have marched directly to Washington and Baltimore. At least he ought to have done it.


I have proved in my book that the spy was only a ghost that somebody saw, and that no order was issued to move on to Harrisburg. Ewell was then over thirty miles north, at Carlisle; he had been a week in Pennsylvania and had detached Early's Division to go east to the Susquehanna; Jenkins' Cavalry was about Harrisburg; General Lee, with Hill and Longstreet, had crossed the Potomac several days before. Now I say that any private or teamster would have told General Lee that Hooker would not stay in Virginia when he was in Pennsylvania.. That was something that any man of ordinary sense would have known without being told.

According to Colonel Marshall, General Lee was thrown almost into a panic when he heard the news that Hooker was over the river and was following him.

"As I can't believe it, I said in my book, and I repeat, that in my opinion, when General Lee signed a paper containing such an absurdity he had never read it. If he had thought, when he crossed the Potomac, that Hooker's army was still in Virginia, then instead of marching north he would have turned east. The Chambersburg letter shows that General Lee knew that Hooker was still keeping between him and Washington. It told Ewell that he had written him "last night" (27th) that Hooker had crossed the Potomac and was moving towards South Mountain, and that he had directed Ewell to move back to Chambersburg; but if he had not already progressed on that road he wanted him to move east of the mountain in the direction of Cashtown or Gettysburg. So on the night of the 27th General Lee wrote Ewell what his report says he had first heard from a spy on the night of the 28th. Neither Colonel Talcott nor Colonel Taylor tries to explain this letter or make it consistent with the statement of the report.


I anticipated in my book (pages 117-121) that some one would insist that the date was a mistake, and should have been the 29th. But, if the letter in the Records should have been dated the 29th, then "last night's" letter would have been dated the 28th. Now, Early says that he received at York a copy of this letter on the evening of the 29th, and he started early the next morning, expecting to join Ewell west of the mountain. It is about seventy miles, via Carlisle, from Chambersburg to York.

The letter could not possibly have reached Early on the 29th if it had left Chambersburg later than the 27th. Again, Edward Johnson's division left Carlisle on the morning of the 29th on the Chambersburg pike, and before the second order arrived for Ewell to move east of the mountain, and Ewell's trains were passing through Chambersburg at midnight on the 29th, which shows that they must have left Carlisle probably on the evening of the 28th.

Again, Ewell says he arrived at Carlisle on the 27th, and was starting for Harrisburg on the 29th, but the movement was arrested by an order from General Lee to return. It is clear that Johnson left Carlisle and Early left York in obedience to the first order (27th).

But Ewell remained at Carlisle with Rodes' division, after receiving the second order, to give Jenkins time to return from Harrisburg and to unite with Early, marching west, at Heidlersburg. If the letter in the Records had been written on the 29th, then neither letter could have reached Ewell before he got to Harrisburg. His march north was arrested by the first letter. Of course all presumptions are in favor of the correctness of the date of the letter published in the Records. The burden of proof is on those who impeach it. But Ewell's, Early's and Johnson's reports verify the latter in every particular.

It would have been far better for General Lee's military reputation if he had written his own report of events of the campaign just as they occurred, instead of having an active lawyer to write a brief for him; this

"Had been an act of purer fame,

Than gathers round Marengo's name."

I am aware that in Virginia there is a sentiment that tolerates only one side of a question that concerns General Lee.


After General Stuart was killed, in May, 1864, 1 reported directly to General Lee. The following is the last order I ever received from him:

Headquarters, March 27, 1865.

"Rec'd 8-20.

"Col. J. S. Mosby,

"Care Major Boyle, Gordonsville:

"Collect your command and watch the country from front of Gordonsville to Blue Ridge, and also Valley. Your command is now all in that section, and the General will rely on you to watch and protect the country. If any of your command is in the Northern Neck, call it to you.

"W. H. Taylor,

"Assistant Adjutant-General."

It was forwarded from Gordonsville by courier to me in Loudoun.

A few days afterwards we heard from Appomattox. My battalion was then on the line of the Potomac, where the war had begun. For General Lee I have always had a deep affection, but, to my mind, the fashionable cult that exalts him above mortality and makes him incapable of error is as irrational as the mystic faith of the Hindoo in Buddha.

And now, in conclusion, I will say that some may think that Stuart needed no defense; and will apply to my effort to rescue his memory from undeserved blame the words of Milton on a monument to Shakespeake--

"Dear Son of Memory, great heir of fame,

What needs't thou such weak witness of thy name."

John S. Mosby.

Washington, D. C., January, 1910.

(Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 38, pages 184-196)