By the Milky Way
by John Paul Strain
Generals Robert E. Lee & J.E.B. Stuart with Major Walter Taylor
Near Hamilton's Crossing - Virginia
Winter of 1862 – 1863
The year of 1862 had been amazing for General Lee. He had been commanding the Confederate Army for only seven months, and yet incredibly, during that time his outnumbered armies had won victories at Port Republic, Cross Keys, Mechanicsville, Gaines’s Mill, Savage Station, Frayser’s Farm, Malvern Hill, Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, Boonsboro, Harper’s Ferry, fought a draw at Sharpsburg, and now the great win at Fredericksburg. Southern forces had fought thirteen battles, large and small, and held the field in every instance except Boonsboro, and Sharpsburg.
As the winter winds of December and January brought snow and freezing temperatures, morale in the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia was high. New Year’s Day found General Stuart and his cavalry back in camp after his successful Christmas raid, with 600 prisoners and bountiful plunder from federal camps.
General Lee had great admiration for Stuart in his abilities as a battlefield commander. General Stuart’s easy going, and happy disposition was in contrast to Lee’s more stoical and serious inclination. But this difference in personality seemed to compliment each other, and the two leaders had become good friends. Lee would often worry when his friend was in harm’s way, because of Stuart’s reckless courage and bravery which needlessly exposed himself to danger.
Perhaps from Stuart’s example, General Lee decided to set an example of good cheer that winter. Whether General Lee was inspecting his troops, visiting his brigadiers, entertaining dignitaries, or in council with his commanders, Lee tried to keep the spirits high of his lieutenants and soldiers during winter quarters. Stuart would often accompany Lee, on his rounds, as the two conversed over strategy and plans on how best to counter the next move of Lincoln’s armies.
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