For non-believers, death is often considered the end of all things, but, to Christians, it represents a new beginning. Our time here on Earth is short compared to eternity in Heaven, and what we do with this time determines our reward in the afterlife.
Unfortunately, many people today waste their precious time focusing on self-fulfillment. Sadly, few leave behind a meaningful legacy. A legacy is the memory of who we were and the ways in which we touched the lives of others. History has recorded countless men who served their time on Earth in such an inspirational way. Their legacy continues to live on, years and years after their death. Such is the story of J.E.B. Stuart: soldier, servant, and Southern hero.
James Ewell Brown Stuart was born in Patrick County, Virginia, on February 6, 1833. His lineage was that of a Scotch Presbyterian, his forebears having immigrated to the Americas seeking refuge from religious persecution. Thanks to a distinguished ancestry, it’s not surprising that Stuart men were widely known as gentleman of great virtue. Both their Christian roots and their sincere appreciation for their religious freedoms inspired them to give back to the community whenever possible. Their undying commitment to serve God provided a foundation of values and morality that benefited their family for generations to come.
In June of 1850, Stuart was accepted as a candidate for West Point. Both a good student and a skilled horseman, J.E.B. applied himself diligently and rose successively through the ranks. After graduating thirteenth in a class of forty-six, he was immediately commissioned as a second lieutenant in the prestigious regiment of Mounted Rifles and assigned to duties in the mid-western territories. It was during this period that J.E.B. became more intimate in his relationship with God. Often he would conduct a Bible study with his fellow Christian troopers, and his dedication to the reading of the written Word grew more each day. Both the desolate location of his post and the lack of distractions may have played a big part in Stuart’s salvation.
A few years later, secession and a “Call To Arms” for the recently established Confederate States of America, led J.E.B. back to his homeland of Virginia. As with many of his comrades, it was with a heavy heart that Stuart entered the War Between the States. After pledging his loyalty to the Union and serving the government with such impeccable duty over the years, his conscience was troubled over participating in what many referred to as a “forced resolution.” As with all civil wars, both sides believed they were justified. Both believed that they were acting on behalf of God.
Over the next few years, J.E.B. achieved many great victories that boosted the morale of Southerners everywhere. Many papers covered his actions with great bias, and his flamboyant reputation as a raider grew to immense proportions. One particular skirmish involving Stuart’s troops resulted in the largest cavalry battle in American military history.
On May 8, 1864, J.E.B. and his men prepared to engage the enemy at a strategically superior location known as Yellow Tavern. Although they had achieved the element of surprise, the cost was dear as both the men and horses were exhausted from the ride. Realizing the desperateness of their situation, Stuart rushed among his men and tried to rally them. As the Federals withdrew, a private hurriedly fired his pistol into a group of mounted Confederates by the Telegraph Road. Instantly J.E.B. clutched his side. Looking down at his bleeding abdomen, he calmly whispered, “I am shot.” Later he said, “I’m afraid they’ve killed me. I will be of no more use.” As several of his troopers rushed to his aid, the wounded general scolded them, yelling, “Go back! Go back! Do your duty as I’ve done mine.”
Fleeing the ensuing battle, an ambulance managed to evacuate Stuart to the house of his brother-in-law on Grace Street in Richmond. After placing the distraught commander in bed, the wound was inspected and judged mortal, given the medical capabilities of the time. After his worldly matters were concluded, J.E.B. focused his remaining thoughts on the journey that lay ahead. He turned to the Reverend Peterkin of the Episcopal Church and asked him to sing his favorite hymn, commencing, “Rock of ages cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee…” Then he joined the ministers in prayer. He said his last words to the doctor, stating, “I am going fast now; I am resigned; God’s will be done.” J.E.B. Stuart finally died at about 7:30 p.m. on May 12, 1864, just hours before his family arrived. He was 31 years old.
In the end, it was far more than the service record, personal items, horses, and other accoutrements that Stuart left behind. It was the deep spiritual roots and patriotism that he had instilled in his children and his men. These are the memories that have truly made his story unforgettable. Captain R. E. Frayser, from Stuart’s staff, later stated, “In this short period of thirty-one years, four months and twelve days, he won a glorious and imperishable name, and one that posterity will delight to cherish and honor.”
Such is the legacy of James Ewell Brown Stuart, the Christian cavalier who lived for the glory of God all the days of his life.
(Excerpts taken from Christian Cavalier: The Spiritual Legacy of JEB Stuart by Michael Aubrecht, Publish America, Copyright 2005)
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I don't ever remember reading any of your articles on civil war heroes (I know you wrote a book). However, I was happy to delve in this one and learn a thing or two. Most importantly, your message rings loud and clear to those who wait for life to happen to "them" without ever adding anything spiritual, memorable or special to it. Great message. Nicely penned! Jo