While Lee’s Army was going down in defeat, literally, on every front, in the late afternoon of 2 July, MG J.E.B. Stuart sauntered into his farmhouse HQ like Caesar returning from the defeat of Pompey in Greece! He did NOT receive an olive branch from Lee.
Oddly enough, this re-union of ‘friends’ was not recorded neither at the time it occurred nor in the later writings of either man. Had they ‘buried the hatchet” or was it too painful to recount? There were a number of Lee’s command staff, to include Longstreet, who thought that Stuart should have been court martialed for his actions in the past weeks.
[I will explore in other Sections what I construe to be the ALT Hx possibilities had Stuart’s cavalry been available to Lee in accordance with the manual of cavalry of the era . Or could Lee have better utilized that cavalry in support of Pickett on Day 3?]
Suffice it to say that rather than scouting and screening Lee’s right flank, he was off gallivanting and glory-hunting on a completely independent (and insubordinate?) campaign. He reportedly returned with dozens of wagon-loads of supplies captured from various raids and seemingly later in life blamed those wagons on the tardiness of his arrival at Gettysburg. They don’t explain why he arrived via the road from Carlisle!
Stephen Sears and Edwin Coddington have both written extremely detailed accounts of the Lee’s incursion into the north. Neither of them spend much time of Stuart. It would seem that Lee’s greeting to Stuart was curt at best and their reunion meeting was rather short, but we do not know what was said between them. By the end of that meeting, Lee had seemingly assigned Stuart a supporting role for Day 3. He was to attack the soft spot in the Union line south of Culp’s Hill and along the Baltimore Pike. This was intended as a further attempt to fix Union forces away from the main attack by Pickett.
It is not exactly ALT Hx to pose a question about the best possible utilization of Stuart’s cavalry. Pickett’s infantry and Stuart’s cavalry were the only two units that had yet to fight at Gettysburg. Stuart had more mounted men (about 6000) than Pickett’s 5000 infantrymen. Would it not have been wiser to add another 6000 to the attack force? Apparently, they were still en route from Carlisle and could easily have been re-routed to the area of Seminary Ridge rather than sent eastward as actually occurred.
Like just about everything else that Lee tried at Gettysburg, Stuart’s attack from the east was an utter failure in that it was completely blocked and then repulsed by the Union cavalry who were properly screened that flank as cavalrymen should have been. BG David Gregg’s Cavalry Division – which included a Brigade under (brevet) BG George Custer — stood firm against Stuart’s assault.
According to historian Peter Tsouras, there is an explanation if not an excuse for the ‘tour’ that Stuart took and the time it took him to reach Gettysburg. There are apparently historical documents that state that he and Lee agreed on a general strategy that Stuart would move east and threaten WASHDC and BALTIMORE. Stuart was on the outskirts of DC, at Rockville MD when he captured 150 supply wagons carrying mostly food and animal fodder. Dragging these with his division slowed him down somewhat. When he turned back to the west, he found his route to the South Mountain blocked. Hooker was moving his 7 Union Corps faster that anyone expected. So Stuart had to move farther east to try to swing around to the north of that Union advance.
In addition. Tsouras tells us that BG Robertson’s 2700-man cavalry brigade was expected to cross to the east side of South Mtn through one of the lower passes to provide a proper screening force to Lee’s east. For undocumented reasons, this did not occur. Robertson stayed with Longstreet’s Corps in the Cumberland Valley to the west of the mountain.
Perhaps the widely known history of what seemed like glory hunting on the part of Stuart is a bit harsh. Lee was correct in being concerned as to why he had not had contact with Stuart in over a week, but it seems that Stuart had dispatched messengers, but none were able to get past the Union forces in a timely manner.