I read an intriguing article yesterday in this month’s America’s Civil War by Tonia J. Smith. The article discusses a controversial letter written by Stuart in early 1864 about who should succeed him as the leader of the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia. I won’t retell the article here, as I couldn’t do it the justice she did, but I was truck by what occurred after the letter was written.
In a letter to George Washington Custis Lee, aide de camp to Jefferson Davis, Stuart expressed specifically who should succeed him as the cavalry’s leader. Before the letter was acted upon, Stuart was killed at Yellow Tavern. What the article does not explore is why the letter then remained confidential. Lee retained the letter briefly before returning it to Flora Stuart.
It seems to me that when he was killed, the letter should have been forwarded to General Lee. This could have helped him make a decision on one leader to succeed Stuart instead of the cumbersome system that actually resulted. Although numbers and resources were clearly on the decline in the Confederate cavalry at this point in the war, centralized leadership could have made them far more effective. Given the proximity of the army to Richmond, such a delivery could have been easily effected.
Then again, it is possible that mention of the letter’s contents was made by Custis Lee to his father and General Lee chose not to act on it. Once General Lee made and announced his decision, knowledge of the letter’s existence would have done more harm the good.
Eric Wittenberg said:
Don,It’s not that simple.Hampton was senior to Fitz. Appointing Fitz over Hampton would have created political problems, so General Lee decided to avoid the problem altogether. Instead, he designated the three divisions as independent commands reporting directly to him, which made coordination in the field next to impossible.Fitz dug his own grave by being, in the words of one of Hampton’s biographers, slow and stupid at Trevilian Station and then during the Wilson-Kautz Raid, while Hampton’s performance was nothing less than spectactular. Two of Hampton’s subordinates, Matthew C. Butler and Tom Rosser, actually wanted Hampton to bring court-martial charges against Fitz. However, Hampton, a natural politician, knew very well that court-martial charges against the favorite nephew of the commanding general of the army wouldn’t get very far, and declined to do so. Robert E. Lee was watching, and he knew what was going on.That’s the very specific reason why, on August 12, 1864, Lee wrote to Jefferson Davis and specifically requested that Hampton be appointed the permanent commander of the ANV Cavalry Corps, a request that was readily granted and approved by the CSA Senate.Eric
Eric, Ah, thanks for the clarification. I thought it would have been possible at the time, since Hampton was trying to move (or Stuart wanted him moved) to the Trans-Mississippi at the same time. I get back to Five Forks tomorrow, where I should be able to grab the Wilson-Kautz raid book. I know very little of Treveillian Station. It’s the next one of your books up now that I’ve finished Rush’s Lancers, but the list has grown rather long lately. Longacre’s account in Fitz Lee’s biography was somewhat gentler in its treatment of his onduct there, but the battle was only briefly addressed.
Eric Wittenberg said:
Don,Do you have a copy of the Trevilian book? It’s been out of print for several years, although the University of Nebraska Press is bringing it back this summer. If you need a copy of Trevilian, just let me know, and I will hook you up. I still have some of the first edition.By the way, what did you think of the Lancers book?Enjoy the rest of your trip.Eric
Eric, I loved the Lancers book, will be talking about it here more next week. I’d post it this week, but I’m slammed and will be out of computer range Thursday-Sunday. I’m pretty sure it was your writing style, but it could be that it’s the first regimental history I’ve read this year written after 1930…. 8^) I was fortunate enough to find a copy of the Trevillian book on Amazon yesterday. Thanks for the offer, though, as I haven’t been able to find it anywhere else. GFCA’s probably next on the acquisition list, but I’ve out-acquired my reading pace for the next couple of months. Off to the woods for the day.