JEB Stuart Gettysburg Battle Report

JEB Stuart / General JEB Stuart

The JEB Stuart Gettysburg battle report offers good detail into the cavalry operations that often take a back seat when studying the Battle of Gettysburg.

General JEB Stuart has been often criticized for leaving the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia blind just prior to, and for the first day of the battle.

JEB Stuart Gettysburg Battle Report - August 20, 1863


Col. R. H. CHILTON, Chief of Staff, Army of Northern Virginia.

Reaching Dover, Pa., on the morning of July 1, I was unable to find our forces. The most I could learn was that General Early had marched his division in the direction of Shippensburg, which the best information I could get seemed to indicate as the point of concentration of our troops.

After as little rest as was compatible with the exhausted condition of the command, we pushed on for Carlisle, where we hoped to find a portion of the army. I arrived before that village, by way of Dillsburg, in the afternoon. Our rations were entirely out. I desired to levy a contribution on the inhabitants for rations, but was informed before reaching it that it was held by a considerable force of militia (infantry and artillery), who were concealed in the buildings, with the view to entrap me upon my entrance into the town. They were frustrated in their intention, and although very peaceable in external aspect, I soon found the information I had received was correct. I disliked to subject the town to the consequences of attack; at the same time it was essential to us to procure rations. I therefore directed General Lee to send in a flag of truce, demanding unconditional surrender or bombardment. This was refused. I placed artillery in position commanding the town, took possession of the main avenues to the place, and repeated the demand. It was again refused, and I was forced to the alternative of shelling the place.

Although the houses were used by their sharpshooters while firing on our men, not a building was fired excepting the United States cavalry barracks, which were burned by my order, the place having resisted my advance instead of peaceable surrender, as in the case of General Ewell. General Fitz. Lee's brigade was charged with the duty of investing the place, the remaining brigades following at considerable intervals from Dover. Maj. Gen. W. F. Smith was in command of the forces in Carlisle. The only obstacle to the enforcement of my threat was the scarcity of artillery ammunition.

The whereabouts of our army was still a mystery; but, during the night, I received a dispatch from General Lee (in answer to one sent by Major Venable from Dover, on Early's trail), that the army was at Gettysburg, and had been engaged on this day (July 1) with the enemy's advance. I instantly dispatched to Hampton to move 10 miles that night on the road to Gettysburg, and gave orders to the other brigades, with a view to reaching Gettysburg early the next day, and started myself that night.

My advance reached Gettysburg July 2, just in time to thwart a move of the enemy's cavalry upon our rear by way of Hunterstown. after a fierce engagement, in which Hampton's brigade performed gallant service, a series of charges compelling the enemy to leave the field and abandon his purpose. I took my position that day on the York and Heidlersburg roads, on the left wing of the Army of Northern Virginia.

On the morning of July 3, pursuant to instructions from the commanding general (the ground along our line of battle being totally impracticable for cavalry operations), I moved forward to a position to the left of General Ewell's left, and in advance of it, where a commanding ridge completely controlled a wide plain of cultivated fields stretching toward Hanover, on the left, and reaching to the base of the mountain spurs, among which the enemy held position. My command was increased by the addition of Jenkins' brigade, who here in the presence of the enemy allowed themselves to be supplied with but 10 rounds of ammunition, although armed with the most approved Enfield musket. I moved this command and W. H. F. Lee's secretly through the woods to a position, and hoped to effect a surprise upon the enemy's rear, but Hampton's and Fitz. Lee's brigades, which had been ordered to follow me, unfortunately debouched into the open ground, disclosing the movement, and causing a corresponding movement of a large force of the enemy's cavalry.

Having been informed that Generals Hampton and Lee were up, I sent for them to come forward, so that I could show them the situation at a glance from the elevated ground I held, and arrange for further operations. My message was so long in finding General Hampton that he never reached me, and General Lee remained. as it was deemed inadvisable at the time the message was delivered for both to leave their commands.

Before General Hampton had reached where I was, the enemy had deployed a heavy line of sharpshooters, and were advancing toward our position, which was very strong. Our artillery had, however, left the crest, which it was essential for it to occupy on account of being of too short range to compete with the longer range guns of the enemy, but I sent orders for its return. Jenkins' brigade was chiefly employed dismounted, and fought with decided effect until the 10 rounds were expended, and then retreated, under circumstances of difficulty and exposure which entailed the loss of valuable men.

The left, where Hampton's and Lee's brigades were, by this time became heavily engaged as dismounted skirmishers. My plan was to employ the enemy in front with sharpshooters, and move a command of cavalry upon their left flank from the position lately held by me, but the falling back of Jenkins' men (that officer was wounded the day previous, before reporting to me, and his brigade was now commanded by Colonel [M. J.] Ferguson, Sixteenth Virginia Cavalry) caused a like movement of those on the left, and the enemy, sending forward a squadron or two, were about to cut off and capture a portion of our dismounted sharpshooters.

To prevent this, I ordered forward the nearest cavalry regiment (one of W. H. F. Lee's) quickly to charge this force of cavalry. It was gallantly done, and about the same time a portion of General Fitz. Lee's command charged on the left, the First Virginia Cavalry being most conspicuous. In these charges, the impetuosity of those gallant fellows, after two weeks of hard marching and hard fighting on short rations, was not only extraordinary, but irresistible. The enemy's masses vanished before them like grain before the scythe, and that regiment elicited the admiration of every beholder, and eclipsed the many laurels already won by its gallant veterans. Their impetuosity carried them too far, and the charge being very much prolonged, their horses, already jaded by hard marching, failed under it. Their movement was too rapid to be stopped by couriers, and the enemy perceiving it, were turning upon them with fresh horses. The First North Carolina Cavalry and Jeff. Davis Legion were sent to their support, and gradually this hand-to-hand fighting involved the greater portion of the command till the enemy were driven from the field, which was now raked by their artillery, posted about three-quarters of a mile off, our officers and men behaving with the greatest heroism throughout. Our own artillery commanding the same ground, no more hand-to-hand fighting occurred, but the wounded were removed and the prisoners (a large number) taken to the rear.

The enemy's loss was unmistakably heavy; numbers not known. Many of his killed and wounded fell into our hands. That brave and distinguished officer, Brigadier-General Hampton, was seriously wounded twice in this engagement. Among the killed was Major [W. G.] Conner, a gallant and efficient officer of the Jeff. Davis Legion. Several officers and many valuable men were killed and wounded whose names it is not now in my power to furnish, but which, it is hoped, will be ultimately furnished in the reports of regimental and brigade commanders.

Notwithstanding the favorable results obtained, I would have preferred a different method of attack, as already indicated; but I soon saw that entanglement by the force of circumstances narrated was unavoidable, and determined to make the best fight possible. General Fitz. Lee was always in the right place, and contributed his usual conspicuous share to the success of the day. Both he and the gallant First Virginia begged me (after the hot encounter) to allow them to take the enemy's battery, but I doubted the practicability of the ground for such a purpose.

During this day's operations, I held such a position as not only to render Ewell's left entirely secure, where the firing of my command, mistaken for that of the enemy, caused some apprehension, but commanded a view of the routes leading to the enemy's rear. Had the enemy's main body been dislodged, as was confidently hoped and expected, I was in precisely the right position to discover it and improve the opportunity. I watched keenly and anxiously the indications in his rear for that purpose, while in the attack which I intended (which was forestalled by our troops being exposed to view), his cavalry would have separated from the main body, and gave promise of solid results and advantages.

After dark, I directed a withdrawal to the York road, as our position was so far advanced as to make it hazardous at night, on account of the proximity of the enemy's infantry.

During the night of July 3, the commanding general withdrew the main body to the ridges west of Gettysburg, and sent word to me to that effect, but his messenger missed me. I repaired to his headquarters during the latter part of the night, and received instructions as to the new line, and sent, in compliance therewith, a brigade (Fitz. Lee's) to Cashtown, to protect our trains congregated there. My cavalry and artillery were somewhat jeopardized before I got back to my command by the enemy having occupied our late ground before my command could be notified of the change. None, however, were either lost or captured.

During the 4th, which was quite rainy, written instructions were received from the commanding general as to the order of march back to the Potomac, to be undertaken at nightfall. In this order two brigades of cavalry (Baker's and Hampton's were ordered to move, as heretofore stated, by way of Cashtown, guarding that flank, bringing up the rear on the road, via Greenwood, to Williamsport, which was the route designated for the main portion of the wagon trains and ambulances, under the special charge of Brigadier General Imboden, who had a mixed command of artillery, infantry, and cavalry (his own).

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