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J.E.B. Stuart's Potomac Crossing

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by Tom Elmore, Mar 11, 2017.

  1. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore First Sergeant

    Jan 16, 2015
    In his official report, Stuart wrote that Hampton’s brigade, in the advance, was ordered to move directly for Rowser’s Ford on the Potomac. Hampton forded the river at that point after dark on June 27, but he reported back that the artillery would not be able to cross there.

    Stuart looked for another solution. He said, “A ford lower down was examined, and found quite as impracticable from quicksand, rocks, and rugged banks.” Eventually the rest of his command crossed at Seneca Falls around midnight.

    Richard Byrd Kennon, a courier for Stuart, later recalled that Stuart requested that he attempt to find an alternate route across the Potomac that night. Kennon rode his horse “Red Indian” across a ford and back, but the crossing was so difficult that he had to rest his horse for a time on a rock outcropping. In the meantime Stuart waited on the bank until he lost hope of seeing his courier again. However, Kennon completed his reconnaissance, although “Red Indian” was in no condition to continue the journey, so Kennon swapped horses with his servant (slave), Stirling, and directed him to return home with “Red Indian.”

    As an aside, I find it interesting that Stirling would supposedly have accompanied Kennon into Maryland and Pennsylvania were it not for this mishap. Other cavalrymen in Stuart’s command had servants along during the campaign, but I would have guessed that they accompanied the wagon trains that followed the main body of the army.

    Despite the many obstacles encountered, surely the most difficult faced by any command in either army, the rest of Stuart’s men made it across safely. The next morning, June 28, they resumed their trek toward Rockville, Maryland.

    But before departing, they completed another military mission - disrupting barge traffic along the canal that ran parallel to the river. John William Watson of Company K, 3rd Virginia Cavalry recalled that they “burned five canal boats at daybreak.” Sgt. Lawson Morrisett of Company B, 4th Virginia Cavalry thought it was seven boats. One of these was laden with commissary supplies, according to a member of the Black Horse Troop (Company H, 4th Virginia Cavalry). Capt. Frank S. Robertson of Stuart’s staff later wrote, “It was amusing to see the canal boats come gliding unexpectedly into these sleepy Rebs. One was a packet crowded with ladies and officers. They stared at us blankly as they passed on to where we had a committee at work giving paroles and burning freight boats."

    Our colleague, Eric Wittenberg, is praised for his work on this topic in these helpful references:

    22ndGa, Nathanb1, Wallyfish and 2 others like this.

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  3. Joe Ryan

    Joe Ryan Cadet

    Mar 13, 2010
    Los Angeles
    In his 500 page 2003 book, Gettysburg, Stephen Sears wrote this sentence: "Lee let Jeb Stuart talk him into an expedition that, considering all the risks inherent in invading the enemy's country, made no military sense." See, Stuart's Movements From Westminster at
  4. Eric Wittenberg

    Eric Wittenberg 2nd Lieutenant

    Jun 2, 2013
    Columbus, OH
    Spin it any way you like...

    In the end, Lee gave the order. His military secretary, Col. Charles Marshall, wrote that order. Marshall's order is just about as clear as mud. It's poorly written, and it gave Stuart discretion. Stuart exercised that discretion. If Lee didn't want Stuart to exercise that discretion, he either (a) should not have ordered the expedition in the first place or (b) had Marshall write such a wretched order that was full of holes and which gave Stuart discretion to do what he did. The blame falls on the shoulders of Lee. Marshall certainly deserves plenty of the blame for his terrible order.

    End of story.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2017
    Mark Roth, FZ11, Wallyfish and 4 others like this.
  5. ivanj05

    ivanj05 First Sergeant

    Jun 8, 2015
    If Lee wanted Stuart do something specific, specific orders should have been given. If Lee didn't want Stuart to move according to his own judgement, then he shouldn't have issued orders granting Stuart the discretion to do so. If Lee had concerns about the quality of the cavalry Stuart left with the army, then he should have specified to Stuart what units were to remain with the infantry.

    At no point during the Gettysburg campaign was Stuart acting outside the authority given to him by Lee. If the Confederate cavalry was sub optimally used during the campaign, then that ultimately falls on Lee.
  6. John S. Carter

    John S. Carter Sergeant

    Mar 15, 2017
    Stuart had a attitude just as Lee.Since he had not been routed by any Union force he had the super ego of believing as the comment says JEB believed what he read in the papers.Lee had the overwhelming confidence in his army that he would not listen to any other suggestion.The issue is that once he left Va, and entered into Pa, he was not in Kansas to quot Dorthy to her dog.Longstreet at least had a informer to tell him of Union force Lee had Stuart. But even if JEB had been there before the first would it had altered Lee's mind set? They were there and I will fight them here.or something like that.
  7. christian soldier

    christian soldier Sergeant

    Mar 18, 2015
    Eric. As usual you are absolutely correct. According to Napoleon as well as Frederick the Great, the commanding officer should always give clear and concise instructions to their subordinate officers, whether the orders are verbal or written. Lee always seems to have a habit of not giving clear and concise orders to his officers and staff. David.
    Eric Wittenberg likes this.

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