The Life And Times Of Major General J.E.B. Stuart
Ancestry, Boyhood And Youth
James Ewel Brown Suart was born on the 6th of February, 1833, at Laurel Hill, a Plantation in Patrick County, Virginia (near the Virginia/North Carolina border). He was the eighth son of eleven children. His father, Archibald Stuart, was a politician and an attorney, and represented Patrick County in both houses of the Virginia Assembly. He served one term in the United States House of Representatives. His mother, Elizabeth Letcher Pannill Stuart, was a stricky religious woman with a great love of nature. She had good business sense and ran the family farm.
James ancestry on his father's side is traced to Archibald Stuart, a native of Londonderry, Ireland, but of Scotch-Presbyterian parentage, who, about the year 1726, was compelled by religious persecution to flee from his native country. He found refuge in western Pennsylvania, where he remained in seclution for seven years. At the expiration of this period the passage of an act of amnesty rendered it safe for him to disclose his hiding place, and his wife and children joined him in his new home. About the year 1738 he moved from Pensylvania to Augusta County, Virginia, where he aquired large land estates, which, either during his lefetime or by will, he divided among his four children.
His second son and third child, Major Alexander Stuart, was early in the Revolutionary War commissioned as Major in Colonel Samuel McDowell's regiment, in which he served throughout the war. During Colonel McDowell's illness he commanded the regiment at the Battle of Guilford Court House. Two horses were killed under him in this action, and he himself, dangerously wounded, was left upon the field of battle and fell into the hands of the enemy. He was subsequently exchanged, and his sword was returned to him. This valued relic is now in the possession of his grandson, the Honorable Alexander H.H. Stuart, of Virginia. Major Stuart was a warm friend of education, and aided liberally in the endowment of the school which afterwards expanded into Washington College, and is now known as Washington and Lee University. He was a man of large stature and uncommon intelligence. He died at the advanced age of ninty years.
Judge Alexander Stuart, the youngest son of Major Alexander Stuart, was a lawyer by profession. He resided for some years in Comberland County, Virginia, but having been elected a member of the Executive Council of the State, removed thence to Richmond. He subsequently resided in Illinois, where he held office of United States Judge; and in Missouri, where he held office as United States Judge, Judge of the Circuit Court of the State, and Speaker of the Missouri Legislature. He died in Staunton, Virginia. in 1832, and was there buried.
The Honorable Archibald Stuart, of Patrick County, Virginia., the eldest son of Judge Alexander Stuart and the father of General J.E.B. Stuart, was an officer in the United States Army in the War of 1812. He embrased the profession of law. Throughout his long and eventful life he was actively engaged in the practice of his profession and in political life. He represented, first, the county of Cambell in the Virginia Legislature, and was repeatedly elected to both branches of that body from the county of Patrick. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1829-30 and of the Convention of 1850. In this latter body, he and the Honorable Henry A. Wise were two of the four members residing east of the Blue Ridge who advocated a "white basis" of representation for the State. He represented the Patrick district in the Federal Congress during the Nullification agitation, and was a strong supporter of Mr. Calhoun in that crisis. He is represented as a man of splended talents and wonderful versatility. A powerful orator and advocate, he charmed the multitude on the hustings, and convinced juries and courts. In addition to these gifts, he was one of the most charming social companions the State ever produced. Possesing wonderful wit and humor, combined with a rare gift for song, he at once became the centre of attraction at every social gathering. Among the peoples of the counties where he practiced his name is held in great respect, and his memory is cherished with an affection rarely equalled in the history of any punblic man.
He married Elizabeth Letcher Pannill, of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, by whom he had four sons and six daughters. Among these, James E. B. Stuart was the seventh child and youngest son.
On his mother's side the ancestry of General Stuart is not less distinguised. Giles Letcher was descended from ancient Welsh families - the Hughses, Gileses, and Leches. He was born in Ireland, to which country one of his ancestors had removed from Wales during the reign of Charles the Second. He emigrated to the New World before the Revolutionary War, and was married in Richmond, Virginia., to Miss Hannah Hughes, a lady of fortune and of Welsh extraction. He settled in Goochland County, Virginia. He had four sons and one daughter. His eldest son, Stephen Letcher, was the father of Governor Robert P. Letcher, of Kentucky. His third son, John Letcher, married the daughter of the Honorable Sam Houston, of Texas, and was the father of Governor John Letcher, of Virginia. His second son, William Letcher, removed to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, where he married Elizabeth Perkins, daughter of Nicholas Perkins, who owned a considerable estate upon the Dan River. He finally settled in Patrick County, on the Ararat, a small stream which rises in the Blue Ridge and empties into the Yadkin River in North Carolina.
The settlers in that part of virginia were greatly annoyed by the Tories, who were numerous in North Carolina, and many encounters had taken place between them and the Whigs in that border land. William Letcher had served in a volunteer company from his county that had defeated the Tories at the Battle of the Shallow Ford, on the Yadkin, a place which is still considered historic in that locality. This victory had inspired the Whigs with new courage and William Letcher, prominent among them, had openly expressed his determination to resist the robberies and depredations of the Tories, and to hunt them down to the death. In the latter part of June, 1780, while Mrs. Letcher was in her house alone with her infant daughter, then only six weeks old, a stranger appeared at the door and inquired for Mr. Letcher. There was nothing unusual in his manner, and Mrs. Letcher replied that her husband would soon be at home. While she was speaking, Mr. Letcher entered and invited the stranger to be seated. To this courtesy the stranger (he was a Tory named Nicholas) replied by presenting a gun and saying: "I demand you in his Majesty's name." Letcher seized the gun to get possession of it; the Tory fired, and Letcher fell mortally wounded. He survived a few moments, but never spoke. Nicholas fled. The terror-stricken wife despatched messangers to her relatives on the Dan River, who came to her as soon as possible, and attended the burial of her husband. Nicholas commited other murders and many robberies, but was finally overtaken in the southern part of North Carolina, and expiated his crimes on the gallows.
William Letcher was a man of fine appearance, and was greatly beloved and esteemed. His widow returned to her paternal home, with her little daughter Bethenia, and there remained until her second marriage with Colonel George Hairston, of Henry County, Virginia. In after years Bethenia Letcher married David Pannill, of Pittsylvania, County, Virginia. Her daughter, EZlizabeth Letcher Pannill, married Archibald Stuart.
She inherited from her grandfather, William Letcher, a beautiful and fertile farm in the southwestern part of Patrick County, which was named "Laurel Hill." Here her children were born. The large and comfortable house was surrounded by native oaks and was beautified with a flower garden, which was one of the childish delights of her son James, to whom she had transmitted much of her onw passionate love of flowers. The site commanded a fine view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and near at hand was the monument erected to the memory of William Letcher by his daughter Bethenia.
It was amid these surroundings that young James Stuart passed a happy boyhood. He loved the old homestead with all the enthusiasm of his nature, and one of his fondest dreams of his manhood was that he might own the place of his birth, and there end his days in quiet retirement.
James was schooled at home, mostly by his mother, but about 1845, he began being educated in the home of his Aunt Anne (Archibald's sister) and her husband Judge James Ewell Brown (Stuart's namesake), at Danville, Virginia. Around 1847, or when he was about 14 years of age, he enrolled in Wytheville for about a year. Then, in August, 1848, he entered Emory and Henry College. During a revival of religion among the students he professed conversion, and joined the Methodist Church. Throughout his afterlife he maintained a consistent Christian character. Ten years later, in 1859, he was comfirmed in the Presbyterian Episcopal Church by Bishop Hawkes, in St. Louis. The reasns for this change in his church connections were simple and natural. His mother was an Episcopalian, and had early instilled into him a love for her own church. His wife was a member of the same communion. He found, also, that a majority of the chaplains in the United States Army at that time were Episcopalian divines, and he considered that his opportunities for Christian fellowship and church privileges would be increased by the change. His spirit toward all denominations of Christians was as far removed as possible from narrow sectarianism.
In April, 1850, James Stuart left Emory and Henry College, having obtained an appointment as a cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point, on the recommendation of the Honorable T.H. Averett, of the Third District of Virginia. During his career as a cadet, Stuart applied himself assiduously to study, and graduated thirteenth in a class of forty-six members. He appears to have been more ambitious of soldierly than scholarly distinction, and held in succession the cadet offices of corporal, sergeant, orderly sergeant, captain of the second company, and cavalry sergeant; the last being the highest office in that arm of the service at the Academy.