Richmond, Virginia June 16, 1862
When General J.E.B Stuart rode to Capitol Square on June 16, 1862 to observe a military drill, he was already a hero to the citizens of Virginia. Arriving at the Governor's Mansion, members of the military and passersby instantly recognized him. According to a witness "the people, citizens and soldiers were pretty near crazy to see and hear him speak." Thanking the cheering crowds for their gracious welcome he spoke of the grand struggle of the Southern people and the heroic army he would help lead to victory. Stuart had just returned from an amazing feat that had captured the imagination of the South, his ride around McClellan.
General George McClellan and the Army of the Potomac had stood poised and ready to enter Richmond and end the rebellion. To prevent this from happening, General Robert E. Lee needed to devise a plan by which he could defeat a numerically superior army without sacrificing his own men. Lee knew he would have to bring Stonewall Jackson's army east from the Shenandoah Valley if he were to have any hope of turning back the Union tide. Jackson's march would bring him somewhere on the Federal's right flank. Lee needed to know if McClellan had fortified that flank or had left it open for an attack.
Orders were issued for General Stuart to make a reconnaissance of the right flank of the Federal Army and return with the intelligence Lee needed to put the overall plan into effect. Stuart took 1,200 cavalrymen on a pounding one-hundred mile ride around the Army of the Potomac, stopping only to accept kisses and flowers from the ladies who watched. Pursued closely by Federal forces and once pinned against a seemingly impassable river, Stuart nevertheless brought his command through safely. A federal officer observed, "That one stroke, that one-hundred mile ride around the Army of the Potomac, did more to unsettle McClellan than any other event that took place in the early stages of the Seven Days' battles."
The story made the headlines in newspapers north and south. On June 16, 1862 the Richmond Daily Dispatch said, "History cannot show such another exploit as this of Stuart's! The whole country is astonished and applauds. McClellan is disgraced. Stuart and his troopers are now forever in history."
General Stuart's ride around McClellan accomplished several goals. First it gathered for General Lee valuable knowledge of detailed positions and size of the Federal Army. Second, Stuart and his cavalrymen were able to disrupt Federal communications and supply lines. And finally, the ride dealt a psychological blow to McClellan and his army. General J.E.B. Stuart was well on his way in becoming one of the south's favorite sons.
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