J.E.B. Stuart and the Question of Corps Command

JEB Stuart

In the days after his victory in the Chancellorsville Campaign, Gen. Robert E. Lee faced a number of critical decisions, among them the reorganization of his Army of Northern Virginia. The death of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson on May 10, 1863 had left a void at corps command. There were a number of officers, including Maj. Gens. Richard Ewell, Ambrose Powell Hill and Richard Anderson in the running to replace Jackson. Another name which may have been the most intriguing was the commander of Lee’s cavalry division, Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart. Over the course of the last month or so, I’ve been trying to locate primary evidence regarding Stuart’s consideration for corps command. The search is far from over, in fact in may never be over, but I wanted to share what I have found so far and offer my thoughts on the matter. I also invite our readers to share any primary sources on the subject for additional research.

When Jackson fell victim to friendly fire on the night of May 2 at Chancellorsville, command of his Second Corps eventually fell to Stuart. The cavalry chief turned in a splendid performance the following day and his efforts eventually led to a Confederate victory. Stuart returned to command of the mounted division on May 6. Following Jackson’s death on May 10, rumors regarding his replacement began to circulate through the Confederate ranks.

Stuart’s own headquarters was not immune to such innuendo. Captain John Esten Cooke, a relative of Stuart’s wife, Flora, and member of his staff recorded in his journal a brief discussion he had with the gray cavalier. According to Cooke, Stuart related a story told to him by Col. Thomas L. Rosser, the commander of the 5th Virginia Cavalry, “that Jackson on his death bed had expressed a desire that he…should succeed him in the command of his corps.” Stuart then told Cooke that he “would rather know that Jackson said that, than have the appointment.”

Interestingly enough, Rosser  did not visit Jackson during the final six days of his life. Additionally, the statement from Jackson has not been corroborated by those who were with him as he passed away his last hours in Thomas Chandler’s plantation office near Guinea Station. That isn’t to say those that were closest to Jackson were not impressed by Stuart’s performance. Jackson’s cartographer, Jedediah Hotckiss, praised Stuart for his actions at Chancellorsville in a letter to his wife written on May 19. Hotchkiss, however, does not mention the potential of Stuart taking over Jackson’s corps. Stuart also mentioned the camp rumors in a letter to Flora. “There has been a great deal of talk of my succeeding General Jackson,” he wrote, “but I think without foundation in fact.”

On May 20, Lee wrote to President Jefferson Davis to propose a reorganization of his army. This restructure revolved around the creation of a third corps. Stuart’s name is not mentioned either as a replacement for Jackson or as a new corps commander. It does appears from a letter written by Lee to Stuart on May 23 that Stuart offered his thoughts on who should succeed Jackson.

That’s not to say Stuart did not covet a third star and a promotion to Lieutenant General, a grade synonymous with corps command in Lee’s army. Stuart stood fourth on the seniority list of Major Generals behind Ewell (January 24, 1862) Hill (May 26, 1862) and Anderson (July 14, 1862). Such a promotion, vaulting Stuart over three other officers, could create discontent and friction within the army. Lee was in the midst of planning his second Northern invasion where cooperation and cohesion among his subordinates would be critical to the operation’s success.

Still, rumors regarding Stuart’s consideration for command persisted. It appears one of the chief purveyors was Brig. Gen. William Dorsey Pender, a brigade commander in Hill’s division. “I hear that Gen’l Jackson is thought to be in very serious condition”, he wrote to his wife, Fanny, on May 9. “He has pneumonia…he will be a great loss to the country  and it is devoutly hoped that he may be spared to the country. Some think in his absence Stuart will be made Lt. General, but I hope not.” In another letter two weeks later, Pender wrote, “it is rumored that Stuart has tendered his resignation because they will not give him this corps, but I cannot think him so foolish.”

Stuart’s elevation to the corps level had the potential to upset Pender’s own rise within the army. Pender’s direct superior, A.P. Hill, was Jackson’s senior division commander and stood to receive the Second Corps. If Stuart were given Jackson’s corps, Hill would remain at the division level. On the other hand, Hill’s elevation would create a vacancy for his division. Pender,  stood second on the seniority list among Hill’s brigadiers behind Henry Heth. It should be noted that Pender shared his appointment with fellow brigade head James Archer. Heth, however, presented problems of his own.

“If A.P. Hill is promoted, a major general will be wanted for his division,” Lee wrote  in the aforementioned letter to Davis. “Heth is the senior brigadier in the division. I think him a good officer. He has lately joined this army, was in the last battle, and did well. His nomination having been once declined by the Senate, I do not know whether it would be proper to promote him.” In the subsequent reorganization, both Heth and Pender were promoted to Major General and received a divisional command.

But at end of the day, the discussion may be a moot point. In August, 1863, Lee recommended that Stuart’s cavalry be restructured as a corps. Davis approved the measure and Stuart finally received his corps command in September. It should be noted that Stuart was not promoted to Lieutenant General upon the reorganization, which might be worth looking into at some point as well.

All things considered, there appears to be little evidence that Stuart was a major contender for an infantry corps after Chancellorsville. Still, the search goes on and the process continues.