The circumstances attending the wounding and death of the “Flower of Cavaliers” (General J.E.B. Stuart) ought to be put in permanent form for the use of the future historian, for no history of the Army of Northern Virginia would be complete which did not give large space to the chivalric deeds of this great soldier.
Among our most precious memories of those stirring times are those which cluster around the person and character of Stuart. We remember him as he led an infantry charge on the outpost in the autumn of 1861– as he appeared at his headquarters on his red blanket on Munson’s hill, with a kindly word and a cordial grasp for even the private soldier — as all through the campaigns which followed he appeared at the head of his column or in the heat of battle always gay, quick and daring — and especially do we love to recall him amid the sweets of social intercourse or sitting a deeply interested listener in the meetings of our Chaplains’ Association at Orange Courthouse. We were present when he took leave of his devoted wife at the opening of the campaign of 1864, saw him several times amid those bloody scenes in the Wilderness, and wept with the whole army when the sad news came that the great cavalryman had fallen — that the “Chevalier Bayard” of the Confederacy had yielded up his noble life in defending our capital from imminent danger.
We would be glad to have from some competent hand a sketch of that last campaign of Stuart’s, and a detailed account of the circumstances immediately connected with his fall. Meantime we give below the very interesting account of his last moments, which appeared at the time of his death in the Richmond Examiner:
No incident of mortality, since the fall of the great Jackson, has occasioned more painful regret than this. Major General J.E.B. Stuart, the model of Virginian cavaliers and dashing chieftain, whose name was a terror to the enemy, and familiar as a household word in two continents, is dead – – struck down by a bullet from the foe, and the whole Confederacy mourns him. He breathed out his gallant spirit resignedly, and in the full possession of all his remarkable faculties of mind and body, at twenty two minutes to eight o’clock Thursday night, at the residence of Dr. Brewer, a relative, on Grace street, in the presence of Drs. Brewer, Garnett, Gibson, and Fontaine, of the General’s staff, Rev. Messrs. Peterkin and Keller and a circle of sorrow stricken comrades and friends. We learn from the physicians in attendance upon the General that his condition during the day was very changeable, with occasional delirium and other unmistakable symptoms of speedy dissolution. In the moments of delirium the General’s mind wandered and, like the immortal Jackson (whose spirit, we trust, his has joined), in the lapse of reason his faculties were busied with the details of his command. He reviewed, in broken sentences, all his glorious campaigns around McClellan’s rear on the Peninsula beyond the Potomac, and upon the Rapidan, quoting from his orders and issuing new ones to his couriers, with a last injunction to “make haste.”
About noon, Thursday, President Davis visited his bedside, and spent some fifteen minutes in the dying chamber of his favorite chieftain. The President, taking his hand, said, “General, how do you feel?” He replied, “Easy, but willing to die, if God and my country think I have fulfilled my destiny and done my duty.” As evening approached the General’s delirium increased, and his mind again wandered to the battlefields over which he had fought, then off to wife and children, and off again to the front. A telegraphic message had been sent for his wife, who was in the country, with the injunction to make all haste, as the General was dangerously wounded. Some thoughtless but unauthorized person, thinking probably to spare his wife pain, altered the dispatch to “slightly wounded,” and it was thus she received it, and did not make that haste which she otherwise would have done to reach his side.
As the evening wore on, the paroxysms of pain increased, and mortification set in rapidly. Though suffering the greatest agony at times, the General was calm, and applied to the wound with his own hand the ice intended to relieve the pain. During the evening he asked Dr. Brewer how long he thought he could live, and whether it was possible for him to survive through the night. The Doctor, knowing he did not desire to be buoyed by false hopes, told him frankly that death, that last enemy, was rapidly approaching. The General nodded and said, “I am resigned if it be God’s will; but I would like to see my wife. But God’s will be done.” Several times he roused up and asked if she had come.
To the Doctor, who sat holding his wrist and counting the fleeting, weakening pulse, he remarked, “Doctor, I suppose I am going fast now. It will soon be over. But God’s will be done. I hope I have fulfilled my destiny to my country and my duty to God.”
At half past seven o’clock it was evident to the physicians that death was setting its clammy seal upon the brave, open brow of the General, and told him so; asked if he had any last messages to give. The General, with a mind perfectly clear and possessed, then made dispositions of his staff and personal effects. To Mrs. General R.E. Lee he directed that his golden spurs be given as a dying memento of his love and esteem of her husband. To his staff officers he gave his horses. So particular was he in small things, even in the dying hour, that he emphatically exhibited and illustrated the ruling passion strong in death. To one of his staff, who was a heavy built man, he said, “You had better take the larger horse; he will carry you better.” Other mementoes he disposed of in a similar manner. To his young son he left his glorious sword.
His worldly matters closed, the eternal interest of his soul engaged his mind. Turning to the Rev. Mr. Peterkin, of the Episcopal Church, and of which he was an exemplary member, he asked him to sing the hymn commencing —
“Rock of ages cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee,”
he joining in with all the voice his strength would permit. He then joined in prayer with the ministers. To the Doctor he again said, “I am going fast now; I am resigned; God’s will done.”
Thus died General J.E.B. Stuart.
His wife reached the house of death and mourning about ten o’clock on Thursday night, one hour and a half after dissolution, and was of course plunged into the greatest grief by the announcement that death had intervened between the announcement of the wounding of the General and her arrival.
The funeral services, preliminary to the consignment to the grave of the remains of General Stuart, were conducted yesterday after noon in Saint James’ Episcopal Church, corner of Marshall and Fifth streets — Rev. Dr. Peterkin, rector. The cortege reached the church about five o’clock, without music or military escort, the Public Guard being absent on duty. The church was already crowded with citizens. The metallic case containing the corpse was borne into the church and up in the centre aisle to the altar the organ pealing a solemn funeral dirge and anthem by the choir.
Among the pall bearers we noticed Brigadier General John H. Winder, General George W. Randolph, General Joseph R. Anderson, Brigadier General Lawton and Commodore Forrest.
Among the congregation appeared President Davis, General Bragg, General Ransom, and other civic and military officials in Richmond. A portion of the funeral services according to the Episcopal church was read by Rev. Dr. Peterkin, assisted by other ministers, concluding with singing and prayer.
The body was then borne forth to the hearse in waiting, decorated with black plumes and drawn by four white horses. The organ pealed its slow, solemn music as the body was borne to the entrance, and whilst the cortege was forming — the congregation standing by with heads uncovered. Several carriages in the line were occupied by the members of the deceased General’s staff and relatives. From the church the cortege moved to Hollywood Cemetery, where the remains were deposited in a vault, the concluding portion of the affecting service read by Rev. Dr. Minnigerode, of Saint Paul’s Church, and all that was mortal of the dead hero was shut in from the gaze of men.
Doctor Brewer, the brother in law of General Stuart, has furnished us with some particulars obtained from the General’s own lips of the manner in which he came by his wound. He had formed a line of skirmishers near the Yellow Tavern, when, seeing a brigade preparing to charge on his left, General Stuart, with his staff and a few men, dashed down the line to form troops to repel the charge. About this time the Yankees came thundering down upon the General and his small escort. Twelve shots were fired at the General at short range, the Yankees evidently recognizing his well known person. The General wheeled upon them with the natural bravery which had always characterized him, and discharged six shots from his revolver at his assailants. The last of the twelve shots fired at him struck the General in the left side of the stomach. He did not fall, knowing he would be captured if he did, and nerving himself in his seat, wheeled his horse’s head and rode for the protection of his lines. Before he reached them his wound overcame him, and he fell, or was helped from his saddle by one of his ever faithful troopers, and carried to a place of security. Subsequently, he was brought to Richmond in an ambulance. The immediate cause of death was mortification of the stomach, induced by the flow of blood from the kidneys and intestines into the cavity of the stomach.
General Stuart was about thirty five years of age. He leaves a widow and two children. His oldest offspring, a sprightly boy, died a year ago while he was battling for his country on the Rappahannock. When telegraphed that his child was dying, he sent the reply, “I must leave my child in the hands of God; my country needs me here; I cannot come.”
Thus has passed away, amid the exciting scenes of this revolution, one of the bravest and most dashing cavaliers that the “Old Dominion” has ever given birth to. Long will her sons recount the story of his achievements and mourn his untimely departure.
Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. VII. Richmond, Virginia, February, 1879. No. 2.