Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/February/General Fitz. Lee's Eulogy on Stuart
Speech of General Fitz. Lee, at A. N. V. Banquet, October 28th, 1875.
After speaking in general terms to the sentiment of the toast to the cavalry, General Lee delivered the following beautiful tribute to his old commander, General J. E. B. Stuart:
Brother Confederates—I hope I may receive your pardon if I occupy a brief portion of your time in talking to you of the Chief of Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia, for my thoughts just now go out, in the language of General Johnston, to the "Indefatigable Stuart."
To-day, comrades, I visited his grave. He sleeps his last sleep upon a little hillside in Hollywood, in so quiet, secluded a spot that I felt indeed that no sound "could awake him to glory again." A simple wooden slab marks the spot, upon which is inscribed—"General Stuart, wounded May 11th, 1864; died May 12th, 1864." And there rests poor J. E. B. Stuart.
It was in 1852 I first knew him, the date of my entry as a cadet in the United States Military Academy—twenty-three years ago. Having entered West Point two years before, he was a second-class-man at the time—a classmate of Custis Lee's, Pegram's and Pender's. "Beauty Stuart" he was then universally called, for however manly and soldierly in appearance he afterwards grew, in those days his comrades bestowed that appellation upon him to express their idea of his personal comeliness in inverse ratio to the term employed.
In that year, I recollect, he was orderly sergeant of his company, and in his first-class year its cadet captain.
I recall his distinguishing characteristics, which were a strict attention to his military duties, an erect, soldierly bearing, an immediate and almost thankful acceptance of a challenge from any cadet to fight, who might in any way feel himself aggrieved, and a clear, metallic, ringing voice.
I can well remember, when a cadet there and in the next company to his in the line at parade, always listening with eagerness to hear him bring his company to "order arms, parade rest"—there was so much music in his voice; and even as I speak here I fancy I can almost hear it once more, sounding like the silver trumpet of the Archangel.
Little, gentlemen, did I imagine then that I would hear that same voice so often above the roar of battle and trampling of steeds upon so many hard fought fields—still delightfully musical, calm and clear as of old—only perhaps a little more powerful.
After his graduation, I never saw him again until the commencement of the late war. He was assigned to the First United States Cavalry, whose Colonel was Sumner and whose Lieutenant-Colonel was Joseph E. Johnston. Two years later, when I graduated, I was put in the Second Cavalry, serving in Texas. My Colonel was Albert Sidney Johnson; the Lieutenant-Colonel was R. E. Lee; the Majors were Hardee and George H. Thomas, and the two senior Captains Van Dorn and Kirby Smith.
Stuart served with much distinction as a United States officer; had plenty of roving, riding, and fighting Indians.
When John Brown's troops were marching on and took possession of the engine-house at Harper's Ferry, Stuart was in or near Washington on leave of absence, but he immediately volunteered for the occasion, and accompanied the then Colonel R. E. Lee as his the "messenger and prophet," as some at the North delighted to call him.to that place. He it was who, at great personal risk, carried the summons to surrender to Brown, and afterwards united in the charge the marines under Green made there when battering down the door, and largely contributed to end forever the career of
J. E. B. Stuart's duties began in the late war in the Valley of Virginia, as a Lieutenant-Colonel of cavalry under General Johnston, when he was confronting Patterson, and after that his person, his prowess, his daring, his dash, his gay humor, his great services, are as familiar as "household words" to all of us. Many within the sound of my voice recall him then. His strong figure, his big brown beard, his piercing, laughing blue eye, the drooping hat and black feather, the "fighting jacket," as he termed it, the tall cavalry boots, the high health and exuberant vitality, forming one of the most jubilant and striking figures in the war, which cannot easily be forgotten.
It was after the first battle of Manassas that my personal intercourse with him began. I in turn, as he was promoted, commanded his old regiment, his old brigade, and his old division—being one step behind him—and feel that, perhaps, I have a right to speak of him. Can I or any one else do justice to his many exploits as commander of the cavalry of the historic "Army of Northern Virginia?"
Is it necessary to tell you that his ride around McClellan's army, on the Richmond lines, was not undertaken to gain eclat by the popular applause it might bring him, but it was made to locate the flanks of the Federal army—to blaze the way for the great Stonewall Jackson, whose memory has been so vividly recalled to us, and whom General Lee was planning to bring down upon the right and rear of McClellan, and wanted to know where it was located. I commanded a regiment upon that expedition, and know that after Stuart found himself in rear of the Federal right, his own grand genius taught him to make the circuit—the entire circuit of the Federal army—as the easiest way to avoid the dispositions that were being made to cut him off, should he return the way he marched.
Must I tell you of his trip to Catlett's, in Pope's rear, or of his second ride around the same McClellan, and of his ride from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, to Leesburg, Virginia, a distance of ninety miles, in thirty-six hours—a march that has no equal in point of rapidity in the records of the war? Of his behavior upon the right of Jackson at Fredericksburg? Of Chancellorsville, where an eye-witness asserts that he could not get rid of the idea that "Harry of Navarre" was present, except that Stuart's plume was black; for everywhere, like "Navarre," he was in front, and the men "followed the feather"? And where, riding at the head of and in command of Jackson's veterans, his ringing voice could be heard high, high above the thunder of artillery and the ceaseless roar of musketry, singing, "Old Joe Hooker, won't you come out the wilderness"? Of the 9th of June, at Beverly's Ford; of Brandy Station; of Gettysburg; of his action during the memorable early days of May, 1864; of his last official dispatch, dated May 11, 1864, 6.30 A. M., where he was fighting against the immense odds of Sheridan, preventing them from occupying this city, and where he said, "My men and horses are tired, hungry and jaded, but all right?" Of "Yellow Tavern," fought six miles from here, where his mortal wound was received, given when he was so close to the line of the enemy that he was firing his pistol at them? His voice—I can even now hear—after the fatal shot was fired, as he called out to me as I rode up to him, "Go ahead, Fitz, old fellow, I know you will do what is right," and constitutes my most precious legacy.
Shall I tell you when he was on the Rappahannock, and they telegraphed him his child was dying—his darling little Flora—that he replied that "I shall have to leave my child in the hands of God; my duty to my country requires me here."
Comrades, here in the city of Richmond, and for whose defence he fell, his pure spirit winged its way to heaven. Faith, which overcomes all things, was in his heart. Right here he, who on the battle-field was more fiery than even "Rupert of the bloody sword," quietly lay awaiting the summons of the angel of death. The bright blue eye, that always beamed with laughter, now looked into the very face of death without a quiver of the lid. About noon of the day of his death, President Davis visited his bedside, and in reply to his question as to how he felt, the dying hero answered, "Easy, but willing to die if God and my country think I have fulfilled my destiny and done my duty," showing that beneath the gay manners of the cavalier there was a deep, divine and religious sentiment that shone forth, illuminating the hero's character and giving dignity to the last moments of his life.
"Sing," said he to the Rev. Dr. Peterkin, the very worthy pastor of St. James church in this city, "Rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee," and the fast sinking soldier joined in with all the strength his failing power permitted. He then prayed with the friends around, and with the words "I am going fast now, I am resigned, God's will be done," the great, grand cavalry leader furled his battle-flag forever.
Gentlemen, my object in all this is to bring you to the simple grave upon the hillside in beautiful Hollywood that I saw to-day, and to ask you if the Pantheon of Virginia's heart can be complete until it contains the image of this, one of her most gracious cavaliers?
The city of Richmond, saved by the fight at "Yellow Tavern" from capture, pledged itself to erect a monument to this hero, and I hope the day is not far distant when she will be able to redeem so sacred an obligation.
Soldiers! from the depths of my heart I rejoice to have witnessed the splendid tribute that has reached us from across the ocean to the memory of the immortal Jackson. I feel a natural pride in the knowledge that the day is close at hand when the capital of the State can boast of an equestrian statue to the great Confederate Commander-in-Chief; and after that, may I not express the fond hope that the memory of his trusted and chosen commander of cavalry will also be transmitted to posterity in a statute that will not only be an ornament to the city, but around which we all can unite in paying a true tribute to the virtues of the hero to whose name and fame it will forever stand in lofty and lasting attestation?