January 10, 2010

The Letters of Major General James E. B. Stuart

Anyone coming to this blog or with a general interest in the Civil War will certainly know of Confederate cavalry general James Ewell Brown (“Jeb”) Stuart. Arguably the most famous horseman produced by the Civil War, Stuart served the Confederate army in the East with valor and even some controversy from the time of his promotion to brigadier general in 1861 up until his death at the battle of Yellow Tavern in May 1864.

"Jeb" Stuart has been the subject of no less than four biographies and numerous staff memoirs over the past 140 years with gallons of ink and countless trees turned into paper to tell of his various exploits. Therefore, as one of the most colorful and important generals in the Civil War, it might be considered surprising to see that Stuart’s personal letters were never published by a major publishing house or university press as was the case with any number of less important general officers. (This would not include the Letters of General J. E. B. Stuart to His Wife, 1861, a 30-page effort published by Emory University in 1943.)

The Letters of Major General James E. B. Stuart was published by the Stuart-Mosby Historical Society in 1990, four years after the society had published the letters of John Mosby. This venture resulted in a 1000-copy hardcover limited edition bound in blue cloth. The 400+ page book was edited by Adele H. Mitchell and featured an introduction by Stuart’s great grandson, J. E. B. Stuart IV. The work is divided into four sections: Stuart’s early years, as a cadet at West Point, on the western frontier, and wraps up with the Civil War years. Context and editorial annotations are scarce, all of which seems to give the book a vanity press or self-published feel. Nonetheless, it must be considered an integral primary source for anyone studying Stuart or the eastern theatre's cavalry operations. For the book collector, while not a difficult title to come by, it has clearly appreciated in secondary market value since it first appeared twenty years ago. You'll note that there are more than a handful of copies for sale via the internet.

The book was obviously deemed important enough to be included in In Taller Cotton: 200 More Important Confederate Books for the Reader, Researcher and Collector, which appeared in 2006. In it, the editors remark that Stuart’s letters “reveal the mixture of adolescent love of attention and hard-headed military ability that formed elemental parts of his personality. All serious students of Stuart’s career should read these letters with care.”

I've added a video link below that discusses Stuart's final days.

The Fall of J.E.B. Stuart - Civil War

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