Research fun

On a recent tip from a fellow student of The Late Unpleasantness, I got a copy of an 1863 diary of a trooper in the 8th Illinois Cavalry that’s located in the research library of a Pennsylvania college.  To my knowledge, this diary has never been used before in any capacity, and it’s a simply fabulous daily snapshot of life in the Federal Cavalry in 1863.  There are wonderful entries of each important action and battle during the year.  The trooper kept good notes for every single day of the year without exception, and I’ve been having fun working at transcribing it from his original longhand.  I passed on the June 9 Battle of Brandy Station material to Eric, and he recently worked it into the manuscript of the 3-volume study of Gettysburg Campaign cavalry actions we’re currently working on.  The diary is yielding an enormous amount of material that will find its way into the volumes.

My researcher also recently sent me a couple large envelopes with lots of primary material that he’s uncovered.  One bit of it is the recollections of a South Carolina cavalryman that served in Gen. Wade Hampton’s brigade.  This trooper makes many comments about the officers he served under, and I found one to be particularly interesting – and revealing.  It’s his impressions of Jeb Stuart, and it’s quite unlike any other.  While so many contemporary comments about Stuart are positive, this fella had little good to say about Jeb.  Here’s what he wrote in a contemporary observation:

I wish to say what I think of Stuart right now… He looks more like a clown and fool than a soldier, nor can you see him without a feeling of contempt for him; yet he is generous and brave – two qualities that redeem a multitude of faults.  You seldom see him on foot but on horse-back.  He wears a roundabout coat, the sleeves and collar of which are gorgeous with stars and trimmings.  His hat has some sort of insignia on it, I do not know what, with two long drooping ostrich plumes in it – high top dragoon boots with brass spurs and very fine, elaborate housing for his horse completes his outfit.  Red hair and long red beard make up the man that is thoroughly and firmly persuaded that J.E.B. Stuart is the great man of this war.  He keeps old Mike Sweeney at his headquarters to play the banjo for him, and he has a song that he sings most all the time (“Old Joe Hooker Come Out of the Wilderness”).
I do not know whether that this raid around McClellan originated from Stuart or not, but it sounds like him, as I don’t think that Gen. Lee would have thought of such a fool thing.

Well, you have to love someone who doesn’t pull any punches.  And it’s certainly a bit different than most contemporary observations of Jeb that I’ve ever read.

Published in: on July 31, 2008 at 4:08 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. JD,

    Is there a date on that commentary on Stuart? I’m looking for material on Jeb and his cav up to 20 September 1862.


  2. Hi Larry,

    Unfortunately, no date – but the writer (Pvt. Samuel Mays) closes his letter indicating that the ride around McClellan was just completed and that Robert E. Lee has only recently taken command. Based on several other things in the letter, I’d place it as no later than late June 1862.


  3. JD,

    Thank you. Is it OK with you if I use the quote in my work on the cav during the Maryland Campaign–I will cite the letter and your website? If you can make a photocopy and send it to me I will reimburse you for your costs of copying and mailing.

    If you have anything else relevant that you care to pass along about Conf/Union cav from 2-20 Sept. 1862, I would appreciate it greatly. I need more personal material, especially unpublished, to help flesh it out.


  4. Larry,

    Just sent you an email – will copy the material for you and send it. Happy to do it.


  5. I love this kind of discrepancy….It make you wonder what else is a little off..

  6. Hi J.D,
    I am curious abut the diary of the 8th Illinois trooper, can you tell me what company he was in and if there is any mention of E.J.F within the diary?

  7. Hi Rae-Ann,

    I’m glad you reminded me – yes, there are several mentions of Elon in it. He mentions his death, and then records that Uncle John came into their camp in MD for his body, then traveled up to PA to take charge of it and bring it home.

    I’m sending you a transcription of the diary as I have it thus far.


  8. J. D.

    Glad the tip proved benificial and thanks for your help with my project

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