DescriptionThe Personal Battle Flag of Confederate General JEB Stuart, The Most Famous Cavalry Officer of the Civil War. General James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart was the most famous, daring and flamboyant cavalry commander in the Civil War. This battle flag was carried by Stuart in the Civil War. It is made of a red bunting field, 34" square, with a white border on all four sides. The centered, blue "Saint Andrew's Cross" is trimmed in white as well and incorporates the 13-star design. The most recognizable banner of the Confederacy, this design, approved by Generals Pierre G. T. Beauregard and Joseph Johnston, originally called for flags of different sizes to be issued to the infantry, cavalry, and artillery. However, in practice, the flags were issued to units based on availability with no regard to protocol. One of this historic flag's significant attributes lies in the fact that it was hand-sewn by General Stuart's wife Flora.
In the tradition of Betsy Ross of "Old Glory" Revolutionary War fame, many women of the Confederacy sent their husbands and sons off to war with beautiful hand-sewn battle flags. A hand-sewn Revolutionary War flag carried by General George Washington's cavalry recently sold at auction for $12 million, lending speculation as to the market value of this most important flag of the Civil War. Adding to the historical significance of this flag, Stuart actually sent the flag home to his wife since it had fallen in a campfire. His apologetic note to Flora details the accident: "My Darling One - My battleflag - the beautiful one you made fell from the tent front the other day into the fire... It has proudly waved over many battlefields and if ever I needed a motive for braving danger and trials I found it by looking upon that symbol placed in my hands by my cherished wife...Yours ever JEB Stuart".
Although the fire-singed corner of the flag is still evident, professional conservators have labored over it to ensure that the flag is preserved for generations to come. The most famous cavalier of all Civil War cavalrymen personally carried it; a dynamic general with a plumed hat and cape, JEB Stuart was the epitome of a military icon. His last battle was at Yellow Tavern, Virginia where he suffered a mortal wound, dying at Richmond the next day, his beloved Flora tragically arriving just hours after his death on May 12, 1864.
JEB Stuart was already a prominent military officer by the time he became famous during the Civil War. Attaining the rank of major general in the Confederate army within 15 months of resigning his Union army commission to join forces with his native Virginia and the South, Stuart came from a long and patriotic line of Scots-Irish Virginians. Descended from Revolutionary War patriots who fought at Yorktown and Guilford Courthouse, JEB Stuart was born February 6, 1833 at Laurel Hill Plantation, Patrick County, Virginia. The youngest son of Archibald and Elizabeth Letcher Pannill Stuart, JEB's father was a respected attorney and politician having served in both houses of Virginia's General Assembly and one term in the United States House of Representatives.
At the age of 14 JEB enrolled at Wytheville School and later attended Emory and Henry College. But Stuart's heart, and legacy, was to be found in the military. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1850, graduating four years later (Class of 1854) thirteenth in a class of forty-six. A later comrade and subordinate, Confederate General Fitzhugh Lee (Class of 1856) remembered JEB while at West Point fondly: "I recall his distinguishing characteristics which were a strict attention to military duties... an immediate and almost thankful acceptance of a challenge to fight, from any cadet who might in any way feel himself aggrieved, and a clear, metallic, ringing voice."
Fitzhugh Lee, nephew of Robert E. Lee, would be assigned to JEB's 1st Virginia Cavalry at the start of the Civil War. But JEB had seen much action between his West Point years and the start of the Civil War in 1861. He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the regiment of mounted riflemen and assigned to the wild untamed Texas frontier right after graduation from West Point. A year later he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas with the First Regiment, United States Cavalry to subdue hostile Indians. He would later be wounded at the Battle of Solomon's Creek, fighting the Cheyenne Indians.
Just two months later JEB would meet the love of his life, Flora Cooke, daughter of the Ft. Riley commander Colonel (and future Union Army Major-General) Philip St. George Cooke. Married in November 1855, Flora would be a loving and doting wife throughout their too-short marriage, eventually seeing him off to battle with the hand-sewn battle flag offered here. Two years later Stuart received a 6-month leave of absence to travel to Washington, DC to patent a saber attachment he had invented, seeking to sell the device to the War Department.
It was on that occasion in 1859 when Stuart would almost incidentally take part in an historical episode that was to be played out at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. While in Washington, DC he carried secret instructions to (then) Union Army Colonel Robert E. Lee, orders directing Lee to put down an anti-slavery rebellion at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. Lee had been superintendent at West Point while Stuart was a cadet and Lee requested that Stuart accompany him on the mission. Upon their arrival Stuart and Lee found that a party led by a man known only as "Smith" had led a raid into the little town, seizing an undefended armory, arsenal and rifle works. Subsequently flushed from the armory and into a firehouse, the group barricaded themselves in and waited. Stuart was ordered to take the building and subdue "Smith" and his 21 recruits on October 18, 1859, killing two raiders and capturing the others.
Stuart immediately identified "Smith" to be John Brown, known to Stuart personally from his service in Kansas and being instrumental in settling hostilities between free and slave-leaning settlers. "Old Brown of Osawatomie" was tried and hanged along with several of his followers in December of 1859, an event that helped spark the start of the Civil War in which JEB's star would shine.
Returning to duty in command of Company G with the 1st Cavalry, Stuart had been commended by Colonel Lee for his bravery at Harper's Ferry, noting that only through Stuart was John Brown identified. Stuart had money in his pocket now. He had sold his sword patent for $5,000, a princely sum at the time, and invested it in the Bank of Missouri at 10% interest. With tensions increasing among the southern states and the federal government that might lead to war, Stuart had made up his mind to "go with Virginia". With orders to venture out into the frontier in a campaign against the Kiowa and Comanche, it would be months before Stuart knew the fate of the controversy. All the while he kept a personal diary making notes to his beloved Flora.
Sensing the inevitable hostilities, Stuart tendered a letter to Virginia's Governor John Letcher, offering his services in the event Virginia left the Union - a letter that was personally delivered by Stuart's mother. With communication so slow, Stuart obtained leave and made it as far east as Fort Riley, Kansas where he learned that seven states of the deep South had already seceded and that Jefferson Davis had been named the provisional president of the new Confederate States of America.
Stuart immediately gathered up his family and made his way to Virginia by way of St. Louis and Memphis. En route home, he mailed his US Army resignation letter from Cairo, Illinois on May 3, 1861. On that same day, he sent another letter, this one to General Samuel Cooper, the newly minted adjutant general for the Confederate army. Ironically, during the transition Stuart had received a promotion to captain in the United States Army.
With JEB's resignation being accepted on May 7, 1861, Stuart immediately enlisted in the Confederate service, was ordered to report to Colonel Thomas (later "Stonewall") Jackson at Harper's Ferry, and received a commission as a lieutenant colonel. With a meteoric rise to colonel on July 16th and a promotion to brigadier general on September 24, 1861, Stuart was made a major general on July 22, 1862. He served gallantly and with a flair, donning a plumed hat, cape, and golden spurs (given to him by the "Ladies of Baltimore"). In addition, he carried this battle flag made for him by his beloved wife.
While commanding a cavalry brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia, he gave the Confederacy a much-needed morale boost as his exploits of routing Federal troops made news across the South. He was there at all the major engagements- 1st Bull Run, Seven Days, 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness.
Stuart was always in the thick of things. At 1st Bull Run in Virginia, after completing his mission of keeping the Union generals from learning the movements of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston's army, Stuart followed Johnston looking for the action. Stuart became restless as the action started without his two companies of cavalry being called to the effort. The thousands of men General P. G. T. Beauregard had amassed finally needed Stuart's men at about 2:00 P. M. on July 21, 1861. As the staff officer bringing the message announced, "Colonel Stuart, General Beauregard directs that you bring your command into action at once and that you attack where the firing is hottest!" Stuart ordered "boots and saddles", commanded the column into fours, and headed toward the loudest action he could hear. Now at a trot, his men passed a Confederate field hospital that showed the horrors of what lay ahead. Many of the men became sick as they rode through the severed arms and legs that gave evidence of what was just beyond the trees. Beyond a tree line there was smoke, masses of entangled men, and confusion. Stuart rode into what he at first thought were Louisiana Zouaves, dressed in Turkish uniforms; the troops were disorganized and apparently fleeing the field. Stuart tried to rally them until he noticed a critical accoutrement; they were carrying a Union flag. These were the New York Fire Zouaves combined with the 14th New York, reeling from General "Stonewall" Jackson's Confederates. Stuart ordered his column of horsemen, already in their columns of fours to form a broader line and attack the Union forces who by then were about 70 yards away. Regrouping to fire a volley, accounts of the battle state that a "sheet of red flame" arose from the Union line. Horses fell, nine of Stuart's men lay dead, but through the smoke Stuart and his remaining cavaliers tore through the Union line, carbines booming and sabers slashing. Their horses took their toll too. The cavalrymen used them as battering rams and weapons mowing down the Union troops. Eighteen horses died in the engagement.
Such was the bravado that Stuart and his cavalrymen would exhibit throughout the war. And this historic flag was surely there with him as he led his cavalry charges.
At Antietam in Maryland, Stuart served as General Robert E. Lee's "eyes and ears," in what would be the bloodiest single day of fighting in the war. At least a week before the September 17, 1862 battle, Stuart was obeying General Lee's orders to delay the Federal troops and to deny them knowledge of the Confederate's actions and movements. Lee's troops numbered 55,000, much outnumbered by McClellan's advancing army of 84,000. After coordinating delaying movements in Frederick, Maryland, Stuart quickly knew that Lee's forces were greatly outnumbered. As if the situation could not be worse, a Federal soldier had found a copy of General Lee's Special Order Number 191 that detailed Lee's complete invasion plans. With General McClellan now armed with valuable intelligence and having Lee vastly outnumbered, he still hesitated. Seeking to confirm the information, he lost valuable time allowing for a southern sympathizer in Frederick to warn Lee of the disclosure. Soon the battle was joined by Stuart with his men assisting the infantry in shoring up the gaps throughout the mountains, riding on the Maryland Heights to pass on information to commanders there. On to Crampton's Gap for more of the same, he returned to Maryland Heights and then on to Sharpsburg to brief General Lee. Assembling the rest of his men on the north of the Confederate line, they engaged the enemy. While the battle ended in a tactical draw, Stuart covered Lee's army as they made their way back into Virginia. McClellan had failed to pursue the outnumbered Confederates. With Stuart's help, the Army of Northern Virginia was saved that day.
Again, Flora's hand-sewn flag for her husband was there. One can imagine it flying proudly as Stuart and his men raced from one town to another gathering information for General Lee then charging into battle to stave off a defeat at the hands of General McClellan.
But General Stuart may be best known as the Virginia cavalier who won fame for his raiding of Union forces. Twice he made runs around McClellan's army, first in the Peninsula Campaign and again after the Battle of Antietam. Later in the war he actually raided Union General Pope's headquarters, capturing the General's uniform and valuable papers that gave General Lee much-needed information. He had the distinction of fighting the largest cavalry battle on American soil at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863. Stuart had established his headquarters at Fleetwood Hill that overlooked Brandy Station, Virginia near Culpeper. A surprise appearance of Union General John Buford's division and brigade of cavalry across the Rappahannock sparked Stuart and his cavalry into action. The ensuing battle cemented Stuart as a legend. It was "boots and saddles" for his troops as they called on Rooney Lee, Fitzhugh Lee, William Jones, and Wade Hampton's cavalrymen to join the fight, four brigades in all to halt Buford's advance. With Stuart joining the battle, a full-scale fight ensued resulting in this massive battle. The classic cavalry engagement included charges and counter-charges with sabers and pistols slashing and blazing. Although the battle ended in a stalemate, due to the ferocity the Federal cavalry had exhibited, Stuart and General Lee knew that the Union cavalry had come of age.
General Stuart met Grant's forces in defending his beloved Richmond in the spring of 1864 where he stopped General Sheridan's cavalry at Yellow Tavern on May 11, 1864. Waves of dismounted Union troops from General Custer's brigade charged Stuart and his troops at about 4:00 P. M. Stuart was seen on the Telegraph Road rallying Company G of the 1st Virginia Cavalry. He was heard shouting encouragement, "Boys, don't stop to count fours. Shoot them! Shoot them!"
Stuart was firing his pistol as enemy horsemen and dismounted troops fled past him. A lone Federal trooper, reportedly from Michigan, stopped long enough to throw one volley from his .44-caliber pistol Stuart's way. From about 15 yards the bullet found the General's side, entering Stuart just under his right rib cage. The Union trooper fled and failed to see that Stuart didn't fall from his horse. The commander of Company K, Gus Dorsey, took Stuart to the safety of an ambulance wagon. As Stuart continued to shout orders, he saw some Confederate troops leaving the field. To them he commanded, "Go back! Go back and do your duty, as I have done mine, and our country will be safe. Go Back! Go back! I had rather die than be whipped!"
General Stuart was taken to the home of his brother-in-law, Dr. Charles Brewer, on Grace Street in Richmond. He was awake, but in severe pain. Stuart's wife Flora was at Beaver Dam Station and received word of his wounding via a messenger, General Sheridan's troops having cut the telegraph lines. In the interim, President Jefferson Davis visited Stuart at his bedside. When Davis inquired as to how he felt, Stuart replied, "Easy, but I am willing to die, if God and my country think I have fulfilled my destiny and done my duty." Stuart died at 7:38 P. M., resigning himself in his last words to "God's will." Flora and their two children made it to his side at 11:30 P.M., knowing by the silence that pervaded the house that her husband was dead.
General James Ewell Brown Stuart was buried the next day at five in the afternoon. Eight general officers of the Confederacy carried Stuart's coffin at Saint James' Church. The funeral procession traveled through a steady rain to Hollywood Cemetery where Stuart was laid to rest, the Grand Cavalier of the Confederacy.
For the rest of her life Flora Stuart wore black mourning attire and displayed this bullet-riddled battle flag on her wall. She was forever known as "Mrs. General JEB Stuart'. She became the principal of a girl's school at Staunton, Virginia called Virginia Female Institute. It was later renamed Stuart Hall in their honor. This battle flag was also displayed at Stuart Hall and later loaned to The Museum of the Confederacy. Flora Stuart died on May 10, 1923, - almost 59 years to the day after her beloved JEB's death.
General JEB Stuart's remarkable Confederate battle flag, hand-sewn by his wife and carried into war, serves as a constant reminder of the heroism of one man and the love and devotion of his wife. This flag is a singular expression and tangible reminder of these icons of American history.
The flag is accompanied by research and authentication prepared by distinguished author and flag expert Howard Michael Madaus. A framed print of Flora Stuart and copy of his letter about this flag is included as well.
Provenance: Descended from General JEB Stuart to his widow Flora to their son JEB Stuart, Jr. and then through the family to JEB Stuart IV - private collection.
Exhibited: Stuart Hall, Staunton, VA; the Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA
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