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BOOK REVIEWS Bold Dragoon: The Life of J . E. B. Stuart. By Emory M. Thomas. (New York & London: Harper & Row, 1986. Pp. xi, 354. $22.95.) Was Jeb Stuart simply the last cavalier, "a gay knight-errant of the elder time," the "flower of cavaliers," "the gayest of the gay," "a fool at running around his enemy" (p. 2) as so many poets and historians have claimed? Emory M. Thomas, his latest biographer, would say not. Stuart was the laughing cavalier but he was more than this. And even his frolicking image was a deliberate creation: J. E. B. Stuart was a self-made man, right down to his black plume and buckskin gauntlets. It is the man, as much ifnot more dian die military leader, thatThomas is concerned with and thus the book is reminiscent ofWilliam S. McFeely's Grant: A Biography (1981) which also concentrated primarily on the human being. In building a composite picture of the whole man Thomas wisely mutes the obvious trappings ofStuart's military personality and field camp: the musicians, the golden spurs, the hearty laughter. Other aspects of the man emerge, aspects which do not fit the chivalric mold of the nineteenth century. Despite his carefree image, Stuart as a general spent a good deal oftime in meticulous planning and organizational detail. Though cavaliers were meant to eschew material gain, Stuart had enough capitalist instinct to make shrewd property investments and sufficient Yankee ingenuity to invent a new sabre sling, the patent ofwhich he sold to the United States Army for $5,000. Most of all, Stuart, like Stonewall Jackson in Richard Taylor's portrait (Destruction and Reconstruction, 1955), was highly ambitious. His "bold dragoon" mask was acalculated attire, made to fit his goal of becoming a famous cavalry leader. The man cut his dreams from whole cloth and then grew to fit diem. In so doing, Stuart became his legend. Paradoxically, this was the cause ofhis success and perhaps also of his later stagnation: he could grow into his legend but not beyond it. After Jackson's wounding at Chancellorsville, Stuart temporarily took over his corps and commanded it ably in the wilderness fighting that drove Hooker back over the Rappahannock. He expected to be given permanent command ofthe unit but Lee passed him over. Was he simply too young or had his self-advertisement been too effective? Could Lee see him in no other role than that of dashing cavalryman? The nineteenth-century beau sabreur was not supposed to calculate, scheme, and design, but Stuart did. Thus his various relations with members of the Lee family—Fitzhugh and Rooney for example—while based partly on mutual respect, also reflected Stuart's beliefthat they could help BOOK REVIEWS269 him with Robert E. Lee himself and even with Jefferson Davis. Stuart's army friends were always chosen with one eye to their usefulness. We have said that Stuart was a self-made man. He knew from the beginning that, unlike the sons of wealthy Southern planters, he would have his living to seek. His father was lawyer-politician of modest income. As Stuart did not like the parent, so he rejected the profession, saying that it was better to be "a Bold Dragoon than a petty-fogger lawyer" (p. 31). He resented those with wealth and fancied himself "elbowed in saloons by the puppies who plume themselves upon $100,000, a handsome person & a European tour." But the way to fight was not to "meet these gentlemen in lists." Rather, he advised a male cousin, "Gain position, information, influence, a name first, and then with the prestige ofa name, go ifwe choose and make the denizens of fashion bow before us" (p. 45). This Stuart did. He used women for this end, always applying his success with them as a gauge to measure his rise in polite society. Doubtless he was faithful to his wife. His flirtations, ifthat they may be called, come across as typical ofthe Victorian period with its formal, artificially fabricated relations between the sexes: sophomoric and meaning little. To some degree, we have the sense that Stuart was a shallow human being. He apparently said little about slavery (as also does...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 268-270
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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