Tuesday, March 02, 2004

A Jeb Stuart escapade...

I have a great many books about the late unpleasantness betwixt the states, most of which I've managed to read over the years. The majority of my books are somewhat of a specialist nature, Regimental Histories, books on equipment, books about specific campaigns (western theatre for the most part) and books about cavalry, but I have few concerning the Army of Northern Virginia. When I am confronted with a question concerning the eastern theatre I have limited resources for research. My interest has almost always been with the Army of Tennessee and the Atlanta campaign, so I have been a bit lax in my reading where it concerns the ANVA.

I recently obtained an older book; A Civil War Treasury. It was cheap and looked like a good book for my, umph, reading room, ahem, because it is mainly a collection of short anecdotes. There is a section in this book about Jeb Stuart which I turned to immediately (of course!) and found an odd little story that I've never heard before.

According to page 221 of the 1960 Promontory Press edition, Stuart's cavalry captured a telegraph station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad and Stuart "opened communication with old Abe, and elicited several respectful responses; when he concluded by remonstrating with him respecting the inferior qualities of his mules, in the following dispatch:"

President Lincoln
The last draw of wagons I've just made are very good, but the mules are of inferior stock, scarcely able to haul off the empty wagons; and if you expect me to give your lines any further attention in this quarter, you should furnish better stock, as I've had to burn several valuable wagons before getting them to my lines.
(Signed) J.E.B. Stuart

I had never heard that one before. My first thought was that this might be something interesting to write about.

I have a Stuart biography by Colonel John W. Thomason (an older book, published in 1930), but it has been several years since I read it. I did not recall reading anything of that nature in it, so of course I pulled it out to do a bit of checking. Colonel Thomason did indeed write of this incident (in a bit more detail), but it was not "old Abe" that Stuart corresponded with, it was Quartermaster-General Montgomery C. Meigs of the United States Army. Stuart may have actually addressed the telegram to Lincoln, the original message has been lost to history unfortunately...

This is what Colonel Thomason has to say about it;

"I could not find in the old records the original of it– hardly expected to, in fact, because from Quartermaster-General Meigs' papers, you deduce that he was deficient in humor, and probably threw it in the fire."

I don't like to make an idiot of myself, so I looked on the web for more evidence, but came up empty handed. I did find another version of the story in The Campaigns of Stuart's Cavalry by Major H.B. McClellan, Chief of Staff of the Army of Northern Virginia's Cavalry Corps.

"he caused his operator to send a message to General M.C. Meigs, Quartermaster-General, at Washington, in which he complained that the quality of the mules recently furnished to the army was so inferior as greatly to embarrass him in moving his captured wagons."

I will make a confession now; I've had The Campaigns of Stuart's Cavalry for a couple of years now and have yet to read the whole thing. It has also been quite some time since I've read Colonel Thomason's book and I admit, I probably skimmed through it, which explains how I missed this little tale before.