This is my first blog post in many months. The reason that I have been missing in action is because I have been either on an airline trip or in my home office finishing up Stuart’s Finest Hour: The Ride Around McClellan, June 1862. Well, 344 pages, 75 photos and 7 maps later, plus revision after revision … I have finally emerged from my cave exile.The book is at the printer now and will be available at the end of September. The national release will be at Hanover Tavern on Tuesday, September 17 at 7 pm.
Stuart’s Finest Hour details the Confederate cavalry raid that placed Jeb Stuart’s name on the front pages of newspapers both North and South. Mere days after his dusty Southern horsemen returned to Richmond following their 110-mile ride around General George McClellan’s huge Union army, Stuart became the equivalent of a modern-day rock star. This successful mission ensured that Stuart’s name would be etched in the history books. His meteoric rise from a mere first lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1861 to a heroic Southern brigadier general in June 1862 outlines how skill, luck and adversarial ineptitude can launch a persona.
In contrast, this dramatic chase also helped to destroy the career of the most experienced cavalry officer in the Union army, who like Stuart was a native Virginian and a West Point graduate. For many years this officer had fought Indians on the western Plains and then in the late-1850s Federal authorities selected him to write a cavalry tactics manual. His name was Brigadier General Philip St. George Cooke, and in mid-June 1862, he had the misfortune of leading the blue-clad troopers who chased after Stuart’s raiders.
Jeb Stuart wanted nothing more than to embarrass Cooke and to whip him in battle -not only because the elder Cooke had remained with the Union, but because Stuart had married Cooke’s daughter. The modern-day psychologist turned television star, Dr. Phil, could easily spend an entire show delving into this fiery wartime family squabble.