Jeb Stuart Riding Around McClellan Facts, Analysis and Information

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General Jeb Stuart Civil War Ride Around McClellan's Troops

On June 11, 1862, General Robert E. Lee, commanding general for the Confederate States of America, ordered Brigadier General James Ewell Brown (Jeb) Stuart on a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines in the vicinity of the White House and the Pamumkey River, Virginia. The mission was meant to be a simple scouting expedition. However, Stuart turned the mission into a big fanfare by taking far too many troops as was necessary and wrecking havoc on enemy lines therefore, making his presence known. This boldness made it necessary to circumvent McClellan's army which Stuart had intended to do from the start. It appeared that Stuart was just looking for fame, but the end result was he fooled the Federal troops into thinking that the reconnaissance mission was only a raid. Therefore, by careful planning Stuart was able to hide the true intentions of his mission.

In early June 1862, Lee was making preparations for the offensive against Federal troops in what would later be known as the Seven Days battles. These plans included an advance by General Stonewall Jackson being led through the vicinity of the Totopotomoy Creek and the White House on the Pamumkey River near where the Federal right was suspected to be. Lee needed intelligence on the exact location of Federal troops, their strength and their line of communication. Moreover, Lee knew of the location of the Federal center and left, but he lacked confirmation of the Federal right flank. [1] Therefore, Lee called upon Stuart to run a reconnaissance mission to obtain this information.  On June 11, 1862, Stuart received his orders in a meeting with Lee. [2]While talking with Lee about the expedition, Stuart boasted that he could ride around McClellan's entire army. Lee responded by telling Stuart not to take any undo risks. He reminded Stuart that the purpose of the mission was to obtain intelligence and if possible cut the Federal lines of communications. Moreover, Lee stressed, 'To accomplish all the good he (Stuart) could without feeling it necessary to obtain all that might be desired.' [3] Although Stuart knew exactly what Lee meant, the orders were vague. Lee never said not to ride around the Federal troops because he did not know how far Stuart would have to go to complete his mission. However, Stuart implied in his official report that he had gone much farther than Lee had contemplated in his instructions. [4] In addition, Lee did not tell Stuart how to conduct the mission either. He left all the details to Stuart. Therefore, Stuart could very well 'obtain all that might be desired' by saying it was necessary to complete his mission. This is exactly what Stuart did. In writing his official report, Stuart justified his actions by writing, 'I feel assured that the considerations which actuated me will convince you that I did not depart from their spirit, and that the boldness developed in the subsequent direction of the march was the quintessence of prudence.' [5]

Stuart and his men returned from the mission as heroes. Newspapers covered the event. Crowds cheered and threw flowers. [1] Stuart gave credit to his men for the success of the mission. [2] He reported to Lee the extent of damage inflicted upon the enemy and relayed the intelligence gathered. The information Stuart revealed to Lee was most valuable. Stuart confirmed that Jackson could advance with little difficulty down towards the White House. He also concurred that the roads behind enemy lines were in terrible shape and would slow McClellan's army down. In addition, Stuart had found out that Federal troops were being supplied from wagon trains via the White House which also justified the raid conducted there.  After Lee had talked to Stuart, he sent infantry to test the Federal center to see if they had indeed sent part of their defense to their right as Stuart had suggested they would. The results indicated that the Federal troops had not fallen for Stuart's antics and thereby left their right exposed. [3]This further supported the idea that the Federals believed the raid to be just that and not a reconnaissance mission. In the end, Stuart accomplished what he set out to do. He rode around McClellan's army and delivered the intelligence report Lee needed for the upcoming offensive. From this time forward, Stuart became one of Lee's most trusted Generals. [4] Stuart did not think he disobeyed orders even though he went farther than Lee intended him to go. [5]

Stuart did not have to take twelve hundred men and horses with him to complete his mission. He had already established much of the condition of the Federal troops from consulting his spies and scouts. The expedition was too large to keep a secret as it was intended. Moreover, the havoc raised behind enemy lines would have certainly gained the enemy's attention and thereby closed all avenues for returning the expedition from wince they came. Therefore, Stuart had no choice but to ride around McClellan's army. Yet, the raid was a success because it never occurred to the Federal army that the raid was a reconnaissance mission. The size of the expedition, the bold attacks on Federal installations and even the complete circumvent of McClellan's army completely fooled the Union. Moreover, the Federal Right Flank was never reinforced. Stonewall Jackson's advance through the White House was met with very little resistance. In addition, Stuart became a legend, his men became heroes and the morale of the Confederacy was boasted. The idea that one Rebel could whip ten Yankees was reinforced. Therefore, Stuart obtained all that he desired and more.