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.