Ken Burns Classroom

Maj. General J.E.B. Stuart

Ken Burns Film: The Civil War

Collections: Civil War and Reconstruction (1861-1877)

Subject: US History

Grade Level: 6-12

James Ewell Brown ("Jeb") Stuart
Brig. Gen. James Ewell Brown (“Jeb”) Stuart. National Archives.


J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart’s military reputation was established before the Civil War by his two encounters with abolitionist John Brown. Like mentor Robert E. Lee, however, Stuart soon left the U.S. Army for the Confederacy, where he excelled as an intelligence gatherer, even duping his own father-in-law, a Union general. The charismatic Stuart was later killed at Yellow Tavern Crossroads, and said, “I had rather die than be whipped.”

James Ewell Brown Stuart excelled at cavalry tactics and horsemanship while a student at West Point, where he first came into contact with Lee, superintendent of the academy. Stuart graduated in 1854, 13th in a class of 46. He served on the frontier until 1859, when he volunteered to serve as Lee’s aide in capturing radical abolitionist John Brown at Harper’s Ferry.

Nicknamed “Beauty,” Stuart cut a dashing figure on the battlefield, sporting a red-lined cape, yellow sash, red flower in his lapel, and an ostrich plume in his cocked hat.

Despite the cavalier image, his reputation for hard work and bravery made him a trusted leader of the Confederate Army and an inspiration to Southern morale. He was given increasingly important cavalry commands, and, after service in the Upper Potomac, a promotion to brigadier general. In late June 1862, dispatched by Lee to scout the Union forces, Stuart and his brigade successfully rode around the entire Union periphery—embarrassing the Union cavalry commander and spreading Stuart’s fame across the South.

Promoted to major general, Stuart commanded the cavalry division in actions at Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and the Battle of Wilderness. At the Battle of Yellow Tavern, six miles north of Richmond, Stuart was mortally wounded, shot at close range in the left side. He died the following day, uttering his last words, “I am resigned; God’s will be done.” Stuart was 31 years old.

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