- Jeb Stuart and the Confederate Defeat at Gettysburg
This brief book offers a fascinating re-consideration of the long-debated question of why Jeb Stuart and his Confederate cavalry were not present at the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg and what the result of their absence might have been. Robinson sketches the operational situation in Virginia on the eve of the campaign, along with the personalities of Stuart and his commanding officer, Robert E. Lee. He then carefully analyzes Lee's orders to Stuart, showing that, like all of Lee's orders, they were fairly general and allowed a considerable amount of discretion to the subordinate. He notes that the orders might have been clearer, particularly since Lee knew Stuart well and might have been expected to anticipate his flamboyant tendencies.
Nevertheless, as Robinson convincingly argues, those orders were sufficiently clear in indicating Lee's expectation that the cavalry should remain on the Army of Northern Virginia's right flank during the campaign, screening the infantry and scouting for the approach of Gen. George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac. Rather than remain within the rather broad confines of Lee's orders, Stuart grossly abused the discretion Lee had given him by going off on a grandiose raid to the outskirts of Washington, D. C. This he did simply because he was determined to make a raid, not because Lee's orders hinted at any such course, much less compelled Stuart to adopt it. Robinson carefully analyzes the various routes available to Stuart to show that in fact he had a number of options available to him that did not involve the highly dangerous and irresponsible attempt to ride around the Army of the Potomac.
Robinson then recounts the course of events during Stuart's ride, showing not only how extremely risky the endeavor was but also that Stuart conducted the operation without much concern for haste, almost as if he were conducting his own independent campaign without any reference at all to the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia. This was, apparently, an operation Stuart had wished to carry out, and Lee's campaign into Pennsylvania was simply the occasion he seized for doing so. As to Stuart's reason for doing so, Robinson minimizes the effect of Stuart's embarrassment at Brandy Station, suggesting instead that the decision to carry out an independent raid was as likely as not simply the natural outgrowth of Stuart's showy, flamboyant style of cavalry leadership.
The author next turns his attention to the effects of Stuart's absence on the course of the Gettysburg Campaign. He argues that the lack of information about the foe's movements seriously hurt Lee's conduct of the campaign both operationally and tactically. Lee's late concentration of his forces and his reluctance to commit all of his reserves on the first day of the battle were among the [End Page 578] results. So too was the clumsy initial on-set of Henry Heth's and William Dorsey Pender's divisions, resulting in unnecessarily high casualties and the partial disorganization of both units. Finally, he argues that even when Stuart did arrive on the field, his men and horses were exhausted and therefore ineffective when Lee attempted to use them on July 3 in conjunction with the Pickett-Pettigrew assault. Had Stuart not abused his discretion, Robinson thinks it possible that Lee might have been victorious in the campaign, forcing a defeated Army of the Potomac to retreat into the defenses of Washington while the Army of Northern Virginia continued to rove unhindered through south-central Pennsylvania.
Robinson credits Confederate president Jefferson Davis with too much willingness to gamble on offensive operations and greatly over-rates the importance of Gettysburg both in the opinions of contemporaries and in its impact on the outcome of the war, but his examination of Stuart's controversial role in the campaign is well researched, carefully reasoned, and engagingly...