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Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to…

by Eric J. Wittenberg, J. David Petruzzi

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June 1863. The Gettysburg Campaign is in its opening hours. Harness jingles and hoofs pound as Confederate cavalryman James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart leads his three brigades of veteran troopers on a ride that triggers one of the Civil War's most bitter and enduring controversies. Instead of finding glory and victory--two objectives with which he was intimately familiar--Stuart reaped stinging criticism and substantial blame for one of the Confederacy's most stunning and unexpected battlefield defeats. In Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi objectively investigate the role Stuart's horsemen played in the disastrous campaign. It is the first book ever written on this important and endlessly fascinating subject. Stuart left Virginia under acting on General Robert E. Lee's discretionary orders to advance into Maryland and Pennsylvania, where he was to screen Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell's marching infantry corps and report on enemy activity. The mission jumped off its tracks from virtually the moment it began when one unexpected event after another unfolded across Stuart's path. For days, neither Lee nor Stuart had any idea where the other was, and the enemy blocked the horseman's direct route back to the Confederate army, which was advancing nearly blind north into Pennsylvania. By the time Stuart reached Lee on the afternoon of July 2, the armies had unexpectedly collided at Gettysburg, the second day's fighting was underway, and one of the campaign's greatest controversies was born. Did the plumed cavalier disobey Lee's orders by stripping the army of its "eyes and ears?" Was Stuart to blame for the unexpected combat the broke out at Gettysburg on July 1? Authors Wittenberg and Petruzzi, widely recognized for their study and expertise of Civil War cavalry operations, have drawn upon a massive array of primary sources, many heretofore untapped, to fully explore Stuart's ride, its consequences, and the intense debate among participants shortly after the battle, through early post-war commentators, and among modern scholars. The result is a richly detailed study jammed with incisive tactical commentary, new perspectives on the strategic role of the Southern cavalry, and fresh insights on every horse engagement, large and small, fought during the campaign. About the authors: Eric J. Wittenberg has written widely on Civil War cavalry operations. His books include Glory Enough for All (2002), The Union Cavalry Comes of Age (2003), and The Battle of Monroe's Crossroads and the Civil War's Final Campaign (2005). He lives in Columbus, Ohio. J. David Petruzzi is the author of several magazine articles on Eastern Theater cavalry operations, conducts tours of cavalry sites of the Gettysburg Campaign, and is the author of the popular "Buford's Boys" website at www.bufordsboys.com. Petruzzi lives in Brockway, Pennsylvania.… (more)

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Plenty Of Blame To Go Around
Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi

Many historians and much popular historical fiction blame Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg on Jeb Stuart’s absence, gone on a raid around the rear of the Army of the Potomac, leaving Lee without vital intelligence of the whereabouts of the Union forces until the battle was inadvertently started on July 1. The raid has been condemned as a joy ride, an attempt on Stuart’s part to refurbish his image after being caught by surprise at Brandy Station on June 9 and defeated at Upperville a short time later. Stuart was condemned in the Confederate army for his absence, starting on July 2, when Colonel Charles Taylor, Lee’s military secretary, was furious enough to want him shot. Stuart had his defenders; the controversy that started while the battle was still going on has continued to the present day.

Wittenberg and Petruzzi have very carefully and thoroughly researched Stuart’s ride, unearthing heretofore unknown sources (including one that caused the publisher, Savas Beatie, to literally stop the presses so that it could be incorporated into the book) to present a very well written, very thorough, very balanced examination of, not only Stuart’s ride, but also of Lee’s and Longstreet’s orders, which are at the heart of the controversy. The question really boiled down to: did Stuart obey his orders or did he gake unwarranted liberties with the discretion given him, ignore the good of the Army and set out on a joy ride to bolster a bruised vanity?

The book is extremely well written. It covers the skirmishes and two major battles, at Hanover and Hunterstown, that Stuart’s cavalry fought. It follows Stuart’s ride with enormous attention to fascinating detail, not just of the tactics involved but also of the very real, usually ignored problems of maintaining both men and horses in the field. I’m not a horse person, so I have only a vague idea of what is involved in maintaining the animals. The authors do a great service in pointing out just what was involved. Given the problems, the controversial capture and retention of the Union wagon train takes on a different light.

One of the chapters that was extremely interesting to me personally was that describing Stuart’s shelling of the Army barracks at Carlisle, PA, since I received my undergraduate degree at Dickinson College. The chapter is no better than others, but I enjoyed it more for obvious reasons. That said, it’s a dramatic story that I wish I had known at the time I was a student!

The last chapters are devoted to a thorough discussion of the controversy, with liberal quotations from both sides in the Confederate army and extensive discussions from historians, both those immediately after the Civil War and modern ones. The conclusion: as the title indicates, there is plenty of blame to go around. Yes, Stuart holds responsibility for making several tactical errors, but Lee--whom no one wanted to criticize for the Confederate defeat --does as well, as does Jubal Early, Beverley Robertson (a cavalry commander in Stuart’s division) and Marshall himself. In retrospect, this seems logical; it’s a rare occurrence when a single action is the only cause of a major event as complicated as was the Battle of Gettysburg.

The book is blessed with not only adequate but downright lovely maps, clearly showing routes and troop dispositions. There is one particularly fine map showing Stuart’s routes: the one he did take, the one he was supposed to take, and the suggested alternative, which accompanies text clearly examining the pros and cons of each one.

There are four Appendices: Appendix A gives the roster of Stuart’s command; Appendix B gives the Orders of Battle for the engagements Stuart fought; Appendix C gives the complete text of Stuart’s official report; and Appendix D is a Driving Tour of Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg.

A word about the last-named Appendix: it seems to be de rigueur these days to include walking/driving tours in books on Civil War battles. This one seems particularly well-done, with extensive directions and plenty of photographs to go along with the text. How valuable it is in enhancing the knowledge or appreciation of Stuart’s ride is impossible to tell without having done it. Still, it’s there for those with the interest in doing so.

This is a very fine addition to the literature on the Battle of Gettysburg. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote Joycepa | Feb 15, 2009 |
Eric Wittenberg and J D Petruzzi have written a summary of Stuart's ride to Gettysburg and the ongoing debate since then about whether he was right or wrong and whether it made any difference to the outcome of the great battle.

While partisans of all sides will still find plenty of room to argue their conclusions (I think they've been much too lenient on General Lee, for instance) they'll be bound to admire the scholarship that Eric and JD have brought to the subject.

At a time when some Civil War luminaries have suggested that there is no more to be written (you know who you are, Gary) a book like this shows that there's always a chance that a fresh look and an intelligent eye can bring forth a worthwhile addition to any Civil War library. ( )
  kawebb | Jun 15, 2007 |
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June 1863. The Gettysburg Campaign is in its opening hours. Harness jingles and hoofs pound as Confederate cavalryman James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart leads his three brigades of veteran troopers on a ride that triggers one of the Civil War's most bitter and enduring controversies. Instead of finding glory and victory--two objectives with which he was intimately familiar--Stuart reaped stinging criticism and substantial blame for one of the Confederacy's most stunning and unexpected battlefield defeats. In Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi objectively investigate the role Stuart's horsemen played in the disastrous campaign. It is the first book ever written on this important and endlessly fascinating subject. Stuart left Virginia under acting on General Robert E. Lee's discretionary orders to advance into Maryland and Pennsylvania, where he was to screen Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell's marching infantry corps and report on enemy activity. The mission jumped off its tracks from virtually the moment it began when one unexpected event after another unfolded across Stuart's path. For days, neither Lee nor Stuart had any idea where the other was, and the enemy blocked the horseman's direct route back to the Confederate army, which was advancing nearly blind north into Pennsylvania. By the time Stuart reached Lee on the afternoon of July 2, the armies had unexpectedly collided at Gettysburg, the second day's fighting was underway, and one of the campaign's greatest controversies was born. Did the plumed cavalier disobey Lee's orders by stripping the army of its "eyes and ears?" Was Stuart to blame for the unexpected combat the broke out at Gettysburg on July 1? Authors Wittenberg and Petruzzi, widely recognized for their study and expertise of Civil War cavalry operations, have drawn upon a massive array of primary sources, many heretofore untapped, to fully explore Stuart's ride, its consequences, and the intense debate among participants shortly after the battle, through early post-war commentators, and among modern scholars. The result is a richly detailed study jammed with incisive tactical commentary, new perspectives on the strategic role of the Southern cavalry, and fresh insights on every horse engagement, large and small, fought during the campaign. About the authors: Eric J. Wittenberg has written widely on Civil War cavalry operations. His books include Glory Enough for All (2002), The Union Cavalry Comes of Age (2003), and The Battle of Monroe's Crossroads and the Civil War's Final Campaign (2005). He lives in Columbus, Ohio. J. David Petruzzi is the author of several magazine articles on Eastern Theater cavalry operations, conducts tours of cavalry sites of the Gettysburg Campaign, and is the author of the popular "Buford's Boys" website at www.bufordsboys.com. Petruzzi lives in Brockway, Pennsylvania.

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