Blame Examined: Stuart's Role at Gettysburg

By Kingseed, Cole C. | Army, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Blame Examined: Stuart's Role at Gettysburg


Kingseed, Cole C., Army


Blame Examined: Stuart's Role at Gettysburg Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg. Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi. Savas Beatie. 428 pages; maps; photographs; appendices; index; $32.95.

By Col. Cole C. Kingseed

U.S. Army retired

When a number of Southern historians and former Confederate generals examined the Gettysburg campaign to determine why the seemingly invincible Army of Northern Virginia commanded by Gen. Robert E. Lee suffered its first significant military defeat, most of the blame centered on Lee's flamboyant chief of cavalry, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. In the opening weeks of the campaign, Stuart allowed himself to be detached from the remainder of the Confederate army and Lee stumbled into the ensuing battle without the benefit of the "eyes and ... ears of his army." In Plenty of Blame to Go Around, Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi thoroughly investigate Stuart's role and conclude that no single person should be made "to shoulder the blame for the crippling Southern loss at Gettysburg."

Both Wittenberg and Petruzzi are emerging Civil War cavalry historians, specializing in Eastern Theater cavalry operations. Wittenberg's first book, Gettysburg's Forgotten Cavalry Actions, won the prestigious 1998 Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award. Petruzzi is the author of numerous magazine articles on mounted operations and is editor of the popular [Brig. Gen. John] "Buford's Boys" web site. Both are frequent visitors to the Gettysburg battlefield.

Plenty of Blame to Go Around is actually two books in one. The first section examines Stuart's controversial ride; the second part addresses the subsequent historical controversy as Stuart's detractors and his defenders attempted to affix blame for Lee's failure in the Gettysburg campaign. At the onset of the campaign, Stuart requested permission to leave sufficient cavalry with Lee and then to move the remainder of his force to "attain the enemy's rear, passing between his main body and Washington ... and to join our army north of the Potomac." Lee unwisely acquiesced and moved his army north with the expectation that if the Union Army moved, Stuart would return to army headquarters to operate in the traditional reconnaissance role.

Contrary to the allegation by Michael Shaara in The Killer Angels that Stuart was "joy-riding" in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Wittenberg and Petruzzi assert that Stuart actually dispatched a courier to Lee, informing him that the federal army was moving north. That report never reached army headquarters, nor did it appear in the official records of the War of the Rebellion. Complicating further communications between Lee and Stuart, however, was the disposition of the Army of the Potomac, which moved north and severed Stuart's communications with his commander.

Moreover, the Confederate cavalry force became hotly engaged even before it crossed the Potomac River. On more than one occasion Stuart's mission was compromised and Stuart himself was nearly captured. By the time Stuart joined the Army of Northern Virginia on July 2, 1863, his march had consumed eight days, covered nearly 200 miles and included four sizeable skirmishes and two pitched battles. The Battle of Gettysburg had concluded its second day when Stuart's cavalry reached Lee and the mounted force was completely exhausted.

The most significant question that the authors explore is what impact, if any, Stuart's absence from the Army of Northern Virginia had upon the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg. …

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