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Was Jeb Stuart at fault for
Gettysburg fiasco? (FLS 11/4/06)


Plenty Of Blame To Go Around: J.E.B. Stuart's Controversial Ride To Gettysburg by Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi
By Michael Aubrecht, FLS Town & County
Date published: 11/4/2006 CIVIL WAR

Perhaps no other event recorded in the biography of America is as highly contested as the Civil War. Even today, military historians, enthusiasts and preservationists continue to disagree over the causes and effects of the conflict. This has inevitably left many of the united divided, for generation after generation. In some ways, you could say that the "war of public opinion" never ended, and it continues to rage on to this very day.

One of the more inexhaustible arguments stemming from the War Between the States involves Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and his untimely arrival at the Battle of Gettysburg in the summer of 1863. The quarrel, both then and now, revolves around the absence of his cavalry on the first day of fighting and the devastating results that followed.

In the days preceding the battle, Gen. Robert E. Lee and Stuart were not aware of each other's locations. The enemy blocked the horseman's direct route to the Confederate army, which was blindly advancing into Pennsylvania without the benefit of his service. For a 19th-century cavalryman, there was perhaps no greater sin.

For decades, military historians have speculated that Stuart's presence might have helped to prevent the fight in Adams County altogether. Some experts have proposed that the Confederate cavalry's invaluable reconnaissance, if done properly, would have enabled the Army of Northern Virginia to meet the Union army on ground of its own choosing. This might, or might not, have dramatically changed the outcome of the battle. Hindsight remains 20-20.

The dilemma over judging Stuart's performance provided the foundation for cavalry historians Eric Wittenberg and J.D. Petruzzi's latest offering, "Plenty of Blame to go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg." Noted individually for their expertise in the study and interpretation of both Union and Confederate cavalries, Wittenberg and Petruzzi have joined forces for one of the most detailed and comprehensive narratives ever written about Stuart's ride to Pennsylvania in June and July of 1863.

As an attorney in Ohio, Wittenberg is renowned for his meticulous research and unbiased analysis. His first book, "Gettysburg's Forgotten Cavalry Actions," won the prestigious 1998 Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award. Since then, he has published a library of work, specializing in the history of horse soldiers.

J. David Petruzzi is an insurance broker from Pennsylvania, who is also a noted American Civil War cavalry historian and author. His studies have appeared in the pages of Blue & Gray Magazine and The Gettysburg Magazine.

Both men are currently working on a three-volume study of the Union and Confederate cavalries in the Gettysburg Campaign that is slated to be published by Savas Beatie LLC.

As expected with historians of this caliber, "Plenty of Blame to go Around" is a monumental piece of writing and one of the most complete studies that this reviewer has ever had the pleasure of reading. Taking into account all of the previous works that have been published on this subject, it is immediately apparent that these authors have truly labored to present what I like to refer to as a "total package."

In fact, this is one of those rare instances when a book is able to satisfy even the most inquisitive reader. It is a delicate balance of education and entertainment that makes any history book worthwhile, and I doubt that anyone will be left feeling anything but fulfilled.

Beginning with a well-written foreword by historian and author Mark Grimsley, the story of the "Southern Knight" opens with a comprehensive hourly account of the events encompassing Stuart's mission. These include sporadic and unplanned engagements, which are complemented by multiple firsthand accounts from soldiers and civilians on both sides.

Immediately, readers are reminded of the misery and hardship that were unavoidable while on campaign and the overwhelming adversity that was faced by the Southern horsemen. Equal emphasis is devoted to the Federal cavalry and its own challenges while dealing with an invading army.

"Plenty of Blame" goes on to present a very fair and balanced account of the whirlwind of controversy that started just days after the defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Included in this seemingly infinite paper trail are myriad action reports, field orders and multiple dissertations by Stuart's critics and defenders, as well as the cavalier's own explanation of the event.

Various interpretations from other books published on the subject are quoted throughout, and the authors offer their own conclusions as well, without forcing their theories on the reader.

One of the most interesting and original sections of this book is included in Appendix D, which features "A Driving Tour of Jeb Stuart's Ride to Gettysburg," complete with tour stops, directions and photographs. The authors actually went so far as to retrace Stuart's steps, and have shared their findings with readers who are inclined to do the same. It is a wonderful addition to any historical study, and I wish that more historians would follow this example.

In addition, both men are to be applauded for their conscious decision to embrace the participants often forgotten in studies of cavalry operations: the horses. It is easy to forget sometimes that for every trooper there was a mount that suffered along with its rider and required just as much care and attention along the way. This inclusion helps to put Stuart's ride in perspective and gives the reader a thorough understanding of what was required during the day-to-day operations of a Confederate cavalryman and his horse.

Above all, the supreme narrative of this work can be found in the extensive battle accounts leading up to Stuart's arrival in Gettysburg. In an interview conducted by Savas Beatie, Petruzzi was asked what it took to assemble such a detailed study. He said: "We collected many of the sources together and separately over the past 15 years or so. We employ a full-time researcher, and much of our own research is conducted at libraries, repositories, the National Archives and Library of Congress, and also the private collections of descendants and individuals."

His co-author added: "Like J.D., I was surprised by a lot of the material that surfaced during our research. Period newspapers proved to be an absolute treasure trove of great material, and we were both surprised that nobody had ever made effective use of these sources before we did."

When they had completed the book, both authors admitted, they had gained a stronger appreciation for the tribulations of Stuart's ride, its prominence in the battle and the available body of literature regarding the entire episode. They concluded: "If we cause just one person to reconsider his or her opinion in light of what we've done here, then we will have accomplished what we set out to do. Ultimately, we set out to challenge the reader, and we can only hope that we have managed to do so."

I believe that both Wittenberg and Petruzzi have accomplished their goal and left this one-time Stuart biographer with a newfound perspective on both the man and his mission. Anything but biased, "Plenty of Blame to go Around" presents a wealth of information and allows readers to judge for themselves. For more on this book, Eric Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi, visit

MICHAEL AUBRECHT is a Civil War author and historian who lives in Spotsylvania County. For more information, visit his Web site at Send e-mail to his attention to gwoolf@freelance



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Religion, slavery and 'Stonewall' Jackson (FLS 12/23/06)spacer

Stonewall Jackson "The Black Man's Friend" by Richard Williams
By Michael Aubrecht, FLS Town & County
Date published: 12/23/2006 CIVIL WAR

Most people with even a casual interest in the Civil War are familiar with the importance of religion in the day-to-day life of Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. However, what they may not be aware of is how much of a role he played with regard to the implementation and promotion of religion before, during and ultimately after the war.

In addition to being one of the South's most fearsome commanders, Jackson was also instrumental in the formal establishment of military-based chaplains in the Confederate army. As a devout evangelical Christian, he was actively religious and held the civilian position of a deacon in the Presbyterian Church. Throughout his participation in the fight for Southern independence, Jackson adamantly maintained the rituals of his faith while on campaign, and his steadfast allegiance to God became infectious throughout the ranks.

Despite Stonewall's popular and one-dimensional legacy as an Old Testament warrior, his prewar contributions may provide us with an even greater appreciation for the man, more so than his achievements on the battlefield. Most notable are his charitable efforts on behalf of local African-Americans, including the rarely discussed establishment of the first black Sunday school in Lexington. It is this kinder and gentler side of the Christian soldier that provides the basis for author Richard G. Williams' latest book, titled "Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man's Friend."

The obviously complex and somewhat paradoxical relationship between Southern Christians and their slaves has been a long-debated topic among Civil War historians and enthusiasts.

Many critics have questioned how the Confederacy could fight for its own freedom in good conscience, while denying the very same liberty to the African-American population. Others contend that slaves actually benefited spiritually by being baptized into the Christian faith while being held in captivity.

Thus, a book like this may be viewed differently according to one's own preconceived notions of faith and race relations.

As a seasoned author whose other works include "Christian Business Legends" and "The Maxims of Robert E. Lee for Young Gentlemen," Williams is well aware of this dilemma, as well as the merits of both sides of this argument. He strives to address all aspects of it in a fair and balanced manner. His message lies in finding the positive stories that are too often forgotten when discussing the racial divide of the antebellum South and its influence and impact on the lives of the minority population.

Unlike previous studies that have been published on Stonewall Jackson's prewar life, this book required a level of preparation that went well beyond the scope of most secular studies. In order to tackle subjects as highly contested and sensitive as slavery and religion, Williams understood that he must first be willing to present an honest representation of the sins of bondage in all of its unpleasant details.

He also recognized that he would have to take the time required to meticulously research the matter while using primary sources in an effort to establish balance and accuracy.

Frankly, it takes guts to write a study like this and Williams has shown the same courage and tenacity that Jackson did at the First Battle of Manassas.

Adding to the credibility of his efforts is the validation by nationally acclaimed Civil War historian, Jackson biographer and historical consultant to the film "Gods and Generals" James I. Robertson Jr., who has written the foreword to the book. He states: "Exhaustively researched, teeming with useful nuggets and written with an undertone of faith that Jackson himself would have admired, this study clears the air of a lot of myths, accidental and otherwise. The narrative surprises and informs, memorializes and inspires, all at the same time."

Williams begins this journey by painfully depicting the deplorable trials faced by African-Americans as they were shipped from the slave-trading colonies in Africa to the coastal cities of the United States. Along the way, we are reminded of the horrible conditions and mistreatment faced by these prisoners, and the author holds nothing back in the telling. He then presents the social, political and financial aspects of slave trading and the history of its institution and practice in 18th- and 19th-century America, as well as the shared shame that fell equally on the North and the South.

This provocative opening provides a solid foundation for the story that is to come. Clearly the examples that follow, depicting the compassion and care given by a percentage of Christian Southerners on behalf of a poor mistreated people, need to be recognized in order to find something righteous beneath so much suffering.

Thomas Jackson's efforts are certainly worthy of such recognition, as contradictory, at times, as they may sound. Therefore, Williams continues to focus his attention on Stonewall's own path to sharing the message of salvation while citing the positive influence that his fellow believers had, in turn, on him.

As devout Christians, the Jackson family fervently believed that all people were welcome at the Lord's table regardless of their race or social stature. As a result, he and his wife were instrumental in the 1855 organization of exclusive Sunday school classes for blacks at the Presbyterian church.

Although Jackson could not alter the social status of slaves, Williams tells of how he committed himself to Christian decency and pledged to "assist the souls of those held in bondage." He also adds that Jackson and his wife were guilty of practicing civil disobedience by educating slaves.

Eventually the Sunday school grew beyond the allotted facilities and ultimately blossomed into new churches for African-Americans. In this regard, we can see how the evangelical white Christian slave owner had a positive influence on the spiritual education of those held in captivity. As a result, many ex-slaves became preachers themselves and were later responsible for some of the largest religious revivals that followed the South's surrender.

Above all others, though, the most inspirational stories from this book came out of the classroom itself. It is pleasant to read the accounts that were written by former slaves who leaped at the opportunity to learn to read and study biblical Scriptures. Their intellect and enthusiasm were evident in their writings, and it is compelling to see how they, in turn, impacted the church's white congregation. The resulting fellowship that was shared between these two communities continues to this day.

In a most fitting conclusion, Williams shows the fruits of Jackson's labor by visiting Lexington in person and sharing the stories of several local residents whose ancestors were participants in Stonewall's school. Through personal interviews, the author is able to publicize several generational stories that would not have been shared outside of the family if not for his book. A large percentage of these African-Americans hold the memory of Thomas Jackson in the highest regard, and all of them are thankful for his influence on their ancestors.

In the end, it is not that difficult to believe the notion of a Christian slave holder showing compassion and mercy in fulfilling an obligation to "make disciples of all nations." This book reinforces the reasoning as to why a Christian Confederate would go to such lengths to educate and enlighten slaves. Simply put, Thomas Jackson did exactly what his Lord had told him to do. He spread the Good News to everyone. His "students," in turn, accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and eagerly continued to spread this message as they left the cotton fields and entered the mission field.

So inspirational is this story that a film company called Franklin Springs Family Media, run by award-winning Christian film producer and director Ken Carpenter, is currently producing a documentary based on Williams' book, titled "Stonewall Jackson: His Fight Before the War." The movie is currently in the production phase and most of the filming has been completed. You can view the trailer for this film at

In an e-mail interview with me, Williams discussed his motivation behind the project. He stated, "The book was a labor of love that took four very enjoyable years to research and write. Growing up and living in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley that Jackson called home for the last 10 years of his life, I've always been keenly interested in Jackson. Having been a Sunday school teacher myself for the last 27 years led to a natural curiosity in Jackson's ministry to slaves and free blacks."

He added, "As I researched what led Jackson to start this most unusual ministry, I was struck by the poetic justice of the story. Slaves likely first piqued Jackson's faith, and this faith eventually led him to reach other slaves with the gospel, despite the evils of slavery. It is truly an amazing story."

It is an amazing story, indeed, and one that has been waiting for a very long time to be told. For more information on "Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man's Friend," visit Richard Williams' Web site at

MICHAEL AUBRECHT is a Civil War author and historian who lives in Spotsylvania County. For more information, visit his Web site at Send e-mail to his attention to gwoolf@freelance

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