Earning Lees trust

In June 1862, General Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Stuart was delighted to hear about the promotion of his old West Point superintendent, and over the next several months he became one of Lee's most trusted officers. In fact, Stuart proved how valuable he and his cavalry could be almost immediately. In mid-June, Lee sent Stuart and his cavalry on a reconnaissance (exploration and spying) mission into southeastern Virginia, where a large Union force commanded by General George B. Mc-Clellan (1826-1885; see entry) had moved. Over the course of four days, Stuart's cavalry gathered a great deal of valuable information about the Union Army's size and movements, while at the same time avoiding all Federal attempts to catch them. One of the many Union commanders who chased Stuart was his father-in-law, General Phillip St. George Cooke. The information that Stuart gathered helped Lee develop a winning strategy to stop the invasion. "History cannot show such another exploit as this of Stuart's!" exclaimed the Richmond Daily Dispatch. "The whole country is astonished and applauds. McClellan is disgraced. Stuart and his troopers are now forever in history."

In July 1862, Lee promoted Stuart to major general and placed him in charge of the Army of Northern Virginia's entire calvary corps. Lee's decision was a good one. As historian Gary W. Gallagher noted in Civil War Journal, Stuart was "a hard-headed professional soldier who knew exactly what cavalry should do and who was as good at those tasks as anybody on either side. When it came to screening his own army, gathering information about the opposing army, and controlling the middle ground between the two armies, Stuart was unexcelled [unequalled]."

Over the next several months, Stuart's bold raids and clever scouting methods increased his fame throughout the South and his fearsome reputation across the North. During this time, however, he became almost as well known for his colorful taste in clothing as for his military abilities. Unlike other military leaders who preferred to wear regular army uniforms, Stuart wore clothing that reinforced his image as a dashing cavalryman. His garments—which often included a cape lined with red cloth and a fancy hat with a big plume (a large feather) in the band—made him instantly recognizable to Southerners everywhere and contributed to the widespread popularity of the Confederate cavalryman.

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