Civil War 
A Love of War
by Louise Ripley
Jeb Stuart in Battle A Love of War - CoverThe Preface

The first time I ran my fingers through the hair of my Captain, my hero, my commanding officer J.E.B. Stuart, I would know for certain why I was so different from other young men with whom I was raised and with whom I served in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee during the grand and glorious War of the Northern Aggression.

James Ewell Brown Stuart was not a handsome man in the traditional manner that men were supposed to be handsome. He was beautiful in his appearance and in his manner, and I would come to grasp that beneath this beauty, overflowing like a nourishing underground stream, lay his full acceptance of every part of him that made him what he was and what I loved. For indeed I loved him for what he was, but I loved him too for what I had never been, this man who would give to me the gifts my dreadful childhood had denied me, and eventually, an understanding and acceptance of who and what I was.

Stuart’s soft brown hair, with a touch of red when the sun hit it just so, fell long behind his ears. I loved that hair as I loved little else in this world. When you ran two fingers through it, twining it round your fist and gently stroking down its full length, you could detect all the colors of the rainbow, a lovely compromise of brown and gold and red and silver, because even at the age of thirty, his hair already was shot with silver; you don’t ride as Jeb Stuart rode and not get gray hairs pretty fast.

And when you took that hair fully in both fists, in the sunshine, his face between your hands, his eyes answering yours, those colors danced, a variegated multiplicity of colors dancing as Jeb once danced with me, but only once, the joy of my life, and the utter regret of my life that it was but once. I held that hair tightly in my fingers, tightly in my fists, as tightly as I held him, until I thought nothing would ever make me let him go and I thought nothing ever would, back then.

He was fastidious about his appearance, and notably vain. His uniforms, which he designed himself, were specially tailored and a good deal of my correspondence for him involved writing to his wife in the matter of the payment of tailor bills. He frequently used cologne. He appeared easy-going, self-assured, casual, but he worked at it, as he worked at every single seemingly silly, impertinent, saucy device he used to convince you he did not care, but he cared. He cared so much that you ached to watch him when he thought you did not see him.

If you glanced unthinking at Stuart, if you faced him across a table to debate military strategy, you would observe in his eyes the imperious confidence of the greatest cavalry chief in modern history. But if you took the risk and opened your heart, if you faced him, not across a table but eye to eye beneath his hat brim, those blue eyes mirrored my own. They begged “Love me, for all I stand so strong and ride so flamboyantly, and come to the rescue of anyone who needs me as if I needed no one, for God’s sake, love me.” Why else did he engage in the antics he adored? Why else did the man ride through enemy lines, circling the entire circumference of the countryside merely to prove he could do it when not only did it grant no value to General Lee, but it kept Lee waiting, wondering, worrying about his Jeb, his eyes and ears, his sole way to discern what lay ahead and for whom he must wait before he moved an entire army? Why else than to ensure you could do nothing else but love him? I never in my life met anyone so apparently boldly needless of love in his arrogance and his demeanor, yet so desperately in need of the full commitment of your heart once you came to know him. I never knew a man so beautiful or whose appearance upon a cavalry horse or with low sweeping bow upon a polished dance floor could rouse the blood so quickly.

Yet despite his handsome heroics and his courageous capers, there was one time General J.E.B. Stuart fell short of Lee’s expectations. Through the long years that followed the defeat of the South, it would be argued that no one knew why Stuart failed Lee at Gettysburg, but I know, and that is my story.