Here is an excerpt from my nonfiction book, Horses in Gray: Famous Confederate Warhorses. The book is available from all online booksellers, and has received numerous five-star reviews. It makes a great gift for that history buff/horse lover on your list, or for anyone who loves nonfiction.
J.E.B. Stuart’s Magnificent Mounts
One of the most flamboyant officers in the American Civil War was Brigadier General James Ewell Brown (J.E.B.) Stuart. Born on February 6, 1833 in Patrick County, Virginia, he was the descendant of military elite: his great-grandfather, Major Alexander Stuart, commanded a regiment in the Revolutionary War, and his father, Archibald, served during the War of 1812 before becoming a U.S. Representative. J.E.B. was the eighth of eleven children, and the youngest of five sons. His mother, Elizabeth Letcher Pannill Stuart, a strict religious woman with a good sense for business, ran the family farm,1 Laurel Hill, which was operated with slave labor.
J.E.B. was homeschooled until he was 12, when he was sent to various teachers in the area for schooling. He entered Emory and Henry College at age fifteen, and attended from 1848 to 1850.2 While growing up, he developed a profound love and admiration for horses, becoming a highly-skilled rider, like most young men of the South. In 1850, he obtained an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. It is there that he met Robert E. Lee, who was appointed superintendent in 1852. The two became close friends, and J.E.B. spent much time with the Lee’s. He was a popular student, always happy, and tolerated being teased by his classmates, who nicknamed him “Beauty” because of his comely appearance.
While at The Point, he rode his favorite horse, Tony, on cavalry exercises, until one day in March, 1853, when he wrote:
Tony was condemned by a board of officers as being unfit, and suffered “the penalty.” But there is consolation in the thought that such is the fortune of war, and we are all victims ready for sacrifice when it shall please U.S. I propose therefore that we wear mourning on the little finger for one week. His loss I deeply deplore.
There were plenty of other horses back home, however, and he wrote his cousin, Bettie, that: I suppose I will have to content myself with Duroc, Bembo, Rhoderick, Don Quixote, Forager, or Jerry.3
In 1856, Stuart graduated 13th in his class of 46, and ranked 10th in cavalry tactics. He intentionally degraded his academic performance during his last year of school to avoid being placed in the elite but dull Corp of Engineers.4 Upon graduation, he promptly grew a thick, cinnamon-colored beard to cover his face.
On January 28, 1855, J.E.B. arrived at Fort Davis once he was assigned to the U.S. Mounted Rifles in Texas.5 But after only a few months, he was transferred to the newly formed 1st Cavalry Regiment at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas Territory, and promoted to first lieutenant.
In September, he proposed to Flora Cooke, less than two months after they met. She was the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, the commander of the 2nd U.S. Dragoon Regiment. Completely smitten, J.E.B. said of the whirlwind romance, “Veni, Vidi, Victus sum,” which in Latin means I came, I saw, I was conquered. The death of his father postponed their marriage, but on November 14, they were wed before a small gathering limited to family witnesses.6
Stuart gained experience as a cavalry officer during conflicts on the frontier with Native-American Indians. He was wounded on July 29, 1857 by a Cheyenne, but the injury did little more damage than to pierce the skin.7 He was also involved in “Bleeding Kansas” on the Kansas-Missouri border, when John Brown’s militants murdered slaveholding farmers to bring attention to their radical abolitionist views.
The Stuart’s first child, a girl, was born in 1856, but she died the same day. However, on November 14, 1857, Flora gave birth to another girl, who survived. The Stuart’s named her Flora as well.
Two years later, J.E.B. patented a piece of cavalry equipment known as a saber hook, which was used to attach sabers to belts. While he was in Washington D.C.8 to discuss contracts, he heard about John Brown’s raid at the U.S. Arsenal in nearby Harpers Ferry, so he volunteered as an aide-de-camp. Arriving at Harpers Ferry astride his bay, blooded mare, Virginia, he accompanied Robert E. Lee with a company of U.S. Marines and four companies of Maryland militia. J.E.B. immediately recognized “Old Ossawatomie
Brown” from his days in Kansas.9 Under a flag of truce, Stuart attempted to negotiate surrender, but Brown refused. The “fort” where he and his followers were holed up was stormed, and a gunfight ensued. Sadly, the first death in the tragedy was that of Hayward Shepherd, a freed slave and railroad baggage handler on the B&O line. The first raider killed was also a freed black man, Dangerfield Newby. Stuart was on hand to see John Brown hanged, but not before the fanatical abolitionist made an ominous statement: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed, it might be done.”
On June 26, 1860, Flora gave birth to a boy, who was named Philip St. George Cooke Stuart after Flora’s father. On April 22, 1861, J.E.B. was promoted to captain, but because of Virginia’s secession, he resigned from the U.S. Army on May 3, and was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel for the Confederacy a week later. Learning that Colonel Cooke had chosen to remain loyal to the Union, J.E.B. changed his son’s name to James Ewell Brown Stuart, Jr. (“Jimmie”) in late 1861 out of disgust with his father-in-law.10
Besides Virginia, J.E.B. had many other horses during the war, including Skylark, My Maryland, Chancellor, Star of the East, Lady Margrave, General, Bullet, and Highfly. Most were great blooded bays with black points, animals of the hunter type with distinguished bloodlines.11 Many of the horses were given to him by admirers or his own troopers, and some he acquired through his brother, William Alexander, who Stuart had recruited to be on the lookout for such fine horseflesh. J.E.B. also owned two setters that he took with him on campaigns. The dogs usually rode in the wagon, but sometimes they could be seen riding with Stuart in his saddle.