Despite the fact that the Civil War was fought nearly 150 years ago, it remains a polarizing topic for the country to this day. But among the most popular perceptions of the Civil War is the “Lost Cause”, which romanticized the war’s toughest and most famous fighters and continues to fuel the popularity of generals like Robert E. Lee.
Alongside Lee, no one epitomized the chivalry and heroism celebrated by the Lost Cause more than JEB Stuart (1833-1864), the most famous cavalry officer of the Civil War. Stuart was equal parts great and grandiose, leading the cavalry for the Confederacy in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia until his death at the Battle of Yellow Tavern in May 1864. Stuart was a throwback to the past, colorfully dressing with capes, sashes, and an ostrich plumed hat, while sporting cologne and a heavy beard. But he was also brilliant in conducting reconnaissance, and he proved capable of leading both cavalry and infantry at battles like Chancellorsville. As the eyes and ears of Robert E. Lee’s army, none were better, despite the fact that he was only in his late 20s and early 30s during the Civil War, far younger than most men of senior rank.
Nevertheless, Stuart’s tough fighting was and still is eclipsed by his reputation for audacious cavalry movements. He embarrassed the Army of the Potomac by riding around it twice, making him famous and embarrassing Union generals like George McClellan. However, Stuart’s role at Gettysburg was far more controversial.