(Picture: J.E.B. Stuart by Don Troiani)
Aug. 22, 1862- J.E.B. Stuart’s raid at Catlett Station
Robert E. Lee had already decided on a course of action by the time Maj. Gen. Jeb Stuart arrived at his headquarters around noon on August 17 outside Orange Court House. Facing Lee was Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia. Pope held a line along the north bank of the Rapidan River with his back to the Rappahannock. Lee was concerned with the possibility that elements from McClellan’s army might join Pope via Fredericksburg. As such, Lee intended to assail his enemy’s left flank. The Confederate commander directed Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to cross the Rapidan at Somerville Ford while Maj. Gen. James Longstreet moved over Raccoon Ford. Stuart, in company with Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade was also assigned the task of crossing at Raccoon Ford. From there, the gray cavalry was to cut off Pope’s line of retreat by destroying the bridge at Rappahannock Station. The Federals would then be pinned between the river and Lee’s infantry. The Confederate movement was slated to begin the next day.
As aggressive as Lee was, his timetable for the offensive was unrealistic. Elements from Longstreet’s command had still not arrived. Fitz Lee, who was to play a major part in the plan, was also still en route from Beaver Dam. Anxiously awaiting the arrival of his horsemen, Stuart, John Mosby, Heros Von Borcke and Captain St. Pierre Gibson from the 4th Virginia Cavalry rode out the Orange Plank Road to the hamlet of Verdiersville early that evening to meet Lee.
Waiting for the small party was Stuart’s Adjutant General, Maj. Norman Fitzhugh and Lt. Chiswell Dabney. Stuart had dispatched them earlier in the day in the hopes of locating Lee. The two men reported they had not heard from or seen the brigade. Surprised at this news, Stuart dispatched Fitzhugh to find the missing Confederates. Fitzhugh rode off as his chief bivouacked for the night at nearby farmhouse owned by Catlett Rhodes.
Stuart’s adjutant had not gone far when he encountered a column of riders. It was not, however, his fellow Confederates. In the darkness, Fitzhugh had stumbled upon the 1st Michigan Cavalry and 5th New York Cavalry under Col. Thornton Brodhead, a veteran of the Mexican War. Brodhead had been dispatched to patrol the Union left and had slipped across the Rapidan when Brig. Gen. Robert Toombs recalled the two regiments guarding Raccoon Ford. Fitzhugh was quickly taken prisoner and the Federals continued their march toward Verdiersville.
Around 4 a.m., Stuart was awakened by the sound of approaching hoof beats. Anticipating Lee’s arrival, he sent Mosby and Gibson out to greet his missing brigade. “They had not gone 100 yards before they were fired on and pursued rapidly by a squadron” Stuart wrote. “I was in the yard bareheaded, my hat being on the porch. I just had time to mount my horse and clear the back fence, having no time to get my hat or anything else. I lost my haversack , blanket, talma, cloak and hat.”
Stuart’s party bolted in different directions to avoid capture. Fortunately, they were able to get away. Along with the personal belongings, Brodhead also found papers outlining Lee’s plan to attack Pope. Once received, Pope decided on a retrograde movement and withdrew to the north bank of the Rappahannock, leaving the Confederate commander to cast about for other options.
“I am greeted on all sides with congratulations and “where’s your hat!” wrote an embarrassed Stuart to his wife. “I intend to make the Yankees pay for that hat…my cavalry has an important part to play.”
On August 21st, after Union Maj. Gen. John Pope moved his army north behind the Rappahannock River, Stuart proposed to General Robert E. Lee an ambitious plan to ride around Pope’s flank and cut his supply line along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. The next morning, Stuart rode off with 1,500 troopers.
In Warrenton, he met a young woman named Miss Lucas, who had become acquaintances with a Union quartermaster, Maj. Charles N. Goulding. Goulding boastfully wagered her a bottle of wine that he would be in Richmond within 30 days. Miss Lucas told Stuart that was a bet she was happy to lose, if Goulding could be captured and sent south.
Later that evening, as a thunderstorm rolled in, Stuart headed to Catlett’s Station to destroy the railroad bridge over Cedar Run. His men surprised a small garrison consisting mainly of quartermasters and rear-duty troops, including Maj. Goulding. The next morning, Stuart presented Goulding to Miss Lucas, who handed him a bottle of wine and waved goodbye as he was sent to Richmond as a prisoner of war.
Though unable to burn the bridge because of the rain, Stuart’s men captured Pope’s headquarters train with his personal baggage and papers and cut telegraph lines. The victorious horsemen returned to Confederate lines with 300 prisoners, horses and mules, $200,000 in gold, and John Pope’s dress uniform.
“You have my hat and plume,” Stuart wrote Maj. Gen. Pope. “I have your best coat. I have the honor to propose a cartel for the fair exchange of the prisoners.” No response came, so Stuart sent the jacket to a friend in Richmond, who placed it in exhibition in the window of a bookstore on Main Street with a card labeled, “Headquarters in the saddle” and “the rear taking care of itself.”