J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate Legend Survives

Published 9:44 am Thursday, March 30, 2017

LAUREL HILL, VA. — Except for the distance of a few miles, one of the most celebrated Confederate generals might have been a North Carolinian.

Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart was born just north of Mt. Airy on these beautiful rolling hills near the Ararat River encased in dense rhododendron.

A light rain had started by the time we arrived Sunday afternoon. We had determined to “go somewhere.” I didn’t want to go east or west and get in Interstate 40 traffic. So we went north to N.C. 8, winding through Germanton, Meadows, Danbury and Lawsonville with a planned destination of Stuart, Va. I wandered this area 35 years ago while chasing a couple of grisly murder stories.

We didn’t make it to Stuart.

A sign pointing to the birthplace of Gen. Stuart sent us searching 15 miles west through these hills until we reached this 75-acre preserved historic site, a Virginia tribute to the swashbuckling calvary genius who frustrated the North during the war.

He was a bit of a dandy, frankly.

Stuart wore a plume on his hat, a fine sash, and looked every bit of a commanding officer. He made himself a target.

He led a cavalry of 1,000 and more horsemen in the Army of Northern Virginia and remains with Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as one of the three best-known generals on the Confederate side.

The military was in his blood. Stuart’s great-grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War at the nearby Battle of Guilford Courthouse. His father fought in the War of 1812. Stuart went to West Point, where his unhandsome appearance and weak chin earned him the nickname “Beauty.”

He grew a beard to mask his chin.

As a young officer, he went with Robert E. Lee to quash the John Brown insurrection at Harpers Ferry.

When war broke out, Stuart left the Army to fight on the side of his native Virginia. His father-in-law Army officer, however, remained with the North. That angered Stuart so much that he re-named his infant son, who had been christened in honor of the father-in-law. At least once, he and his father-in-law were on the same battlefield … on opposite sides.

Late in the war, Stuart’s horsemen encountered another colorful cavalryman, William Armstrong Custer.

Stuart had many successes and was involved in many of the pivotal battles of the war. Some second-guessers have cast blame on Stuart’s late arrival at Gettysburg for contributing to Lee’s defeat.

Stuart’s horsemen had made it north to Rockville, Md., within striking distance of Washington, D.C., except that the horses were exhausted. They captured a mule train of supplies, which slowed the force from rejoining Lee.

Stuart was killed after Gettysburg at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, May 11, 1864. As Stuart led a charge against the retreating Northern army, a dismounted Yankee turned and shot Stuart with a pistol through the stomach.

He died the next day, whispering, “I am resigned; God’s will be done.” He was 31.

His widow, Flora, wore black for the rest of her life.

He is buried in Richmond, and a large statue of him astride a horse is on the city’s Monument Avenue. The statue faces north, indicating he was killed in battle.

Taylorsville, Va., was re-named “Stuart” in 1884 in his memory.

A Confederate battle flag stitched by Flora Stuart and carried by her husband in battle sold for $956,000 in 2006.

— Dwight Sparks