I’ve been busier than usual this month, but did not want May 12 to pass without noting the death of Gen. J.E.B. Stuart (I missed the anniversary of the death of Stonewall Jackson on May 10). As a historical fiction author, I like to show the human side of the great Civil War generals – rather than just their military achievements.
I think it is especially heart-breaking to read that a staff member changed the dispatch to his wife to read “slightly wounded” from “dangerously wounded” so that she would not worry. She arrived an hour and half after his death.
This account of the general’s death appeared in the Richmond Examiner:
“No incident of mortality, since the fall of the great Jackson, has occasioned more painful regret than this. Major General J.E.B. Stuart, the model of Virginian cavaliers and dashing chieftain, whose name was a terror to the enemy, and familiar as a household word in two continents, is dead – – struck down by a bullet from the foe, and the whole Confederacy mourns him. He breathed out his gallant spirit resignedly, and in the full possession of all his remarkable faculties of mind and body, at twenty two minutes to eight o’clock Thursday night, at the residence of Dr. Brewer, a relative, on Grace street…
We learn from the physicians in attendance upon the General that his condition during the day was very changeable, with occasional delirium and other unmistakable symptoms of speedy dissolution. In the moments of delirium the General’s mind wandered and, like the immortal Jackson (whose spirit, we trust, his has joined), in the lapse of reason his faculties were busied with the details of his command. He reviewed, in broken sentences, all his glorious campaigns around McClellan’s rear on the Peninsula beyond the Potomac, and upon the Rapidan, quoting from his orders and issuing new ones to his couriers, with a last injunction to “make haste.”
About noon, Thursday, President Davis visited his bedside, and spent some fifteen minutes in the dying chamber of his favorite chieftain. The President, taking his hand, said, “General, how do you feel?” He replied, “Easy, but willing to die, if God and my country think I have fulfilled my destiny and done my duty.” As evening approached the General’s delirium increased, and his mind again wandered to the battlefields over which he had fought, then off to wife and children, and off again to the front. A telegraphic message had been sent for his wife, who was in the country, with the injunction to make all haste, as the General was dangerously wounded. Some thoughtless but unauthorized person, thinking probably to spare his wife pain, altered the dispatch to “slightly wounded,” and it was thus she received it, and did not make that haste which she otherwise would have done to reach his side.
As the evening wore on, the paroxysms of pain increased, and mortification set in rapidly. Though suffering the greatest agony at times, the General was calm, and applied to the wound with his own hand the ice intended to relieve the pain. During the evening he asked Dr. Brewer how long he thought he could live, and whether it was possible for him to survive through the night. The Doctor, knowing he did not desire to be buoyed by false hopes, told him frankly that death, that last enemy, was rapidly approaching. The General nodded and said, “I am resigned if it be God’s will; but I would like to see my wife. But God’s will be done.” Several times he roused up and asked if she had come.
To the Doctor, who sat holding his wrist and counting the fleeting, weakening pulse, he remarked, “Doctor, I suppose I am going fast now. It will soon be over. But God’s will be done. I hope I have fulfilled my destiny to my country and my duty to God.”
His worldly matters closed, the eternal interest of his soul engaged his mind. Turning to the Rev. Mr. Peterkin, of the Episcopal Church, and of which he was an exemplary member, he asked him to sing the hymn commencing —
“Rock of ages cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.”
He joining in with all the voice his strength would permit. He then joined in prayer with the ministers. To the Doctor he again said, “I am going fast now; I am resigned; God’s will done.”
Thus died General J.E.B. Stuart.
His wife reached the house of death and mourning about ten o’clock on Thursday night, one hour and a half after dissolution, and was of course plunged into the greatest grief by the announcement that death had intervened between the announcement of the wounding of the General and her arrival.
Thus has passed away, amid the exciting scenes of this revolution, one of the bravest and most dashing cavaliers that the “Old Dominion” has ever given birth to. Long will her sons recount the story of his achievements and mourn his untimely departure.”