Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Who rode with Venable to find Stuart at Gettysburg?


Veterans left us a great deal of information about the events in which they participated during the war. At times though, they skipped over small details that seem to haunt us as we try to tell their stories. Such is the case of Charles Venable, and the search for Gen. J. E. B. Stuart on July 2, 1863.

Charles Venable 
A brief summary: Stuart is off riding around the Army of the Potomac. Stuart is supposed to link up with Gen. Richard Ewell, but cannot quite find him.  So, Stuart sends Andrew R. Venable to look for Ewell.

In 1907, Venable writes Col. John S. Mosby about the events: "Dear Sir: On the Gettysburg campaign General Stuart's command arrived at Dover, Penn., during the night of June 30th, 1863, where, learning that General Early's command was marching towards Gettysburg, I was directed by General Stuart to take a detachment of thirty mounted men and go in the direction pursued by General Early, to learn the purpose of General Lee. I left Dover before daylight of July 1 with the detachment of thirty men and, after skirmishing all day with a regiment which was pursing us from Dover, we overtook General Early about 4 P.m., just approaching Gettysburg, where upon my arrival I reported to General Lee, and found him on the hill west of Gettysburg. On making my report, he ordered a squadron of cavalry to go in search of General Stuart at once." (Mosby, Stuart's Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign, 184-185)

JEB Stuart
So just which squadron of cavalry rode with Venable to find Stuart? When Stuart sets out on his raid, he takes three brigades of cavalry with him (W. H. F. Lee's brigades, under John Chambliss; Fitzhugh Lee's brigade, and Wade Hampton's brigade). Robert E. Lee is left with four cavalry brigades (John D. Imboden's brigade, Albert G. Jenkins' brigade, Beverly Robertson's brigade, and Grumble Jones' brigade). Lee has 12 regiments, plus McNeill's Rangers, at his disposal. Of course, we know that Lee does not utilize the cavalry he has at hand. That's why Heth's men blindly stumble into the Federals at Gettysburg on June 30/July 1.

Back to my question: just who does Lee send with Venable? Could it be portions of the 39th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry? Maybe. Eric Wittenberg and J. D. Petruzzi, in their book Plenty of Blame to Go Around advance that as a possibility (good read, by the way). However, no one in the 39th Battalion actually says that. Records are sparse. Franklin Walters writes his company was on picket duty behind the lines. Sergeant Martin V. Gander (Company C) recalled that he "placed four guards around the old stone house on the hill, the personal headquarters of Gen. Lee the evening of July 1, 1863." Members of Company A reported that they were detailed to accompany the engineers as they mapped the surrounding roads. How many men are even in a squadron? Four? Two companies?


Was it a part of Mosby's command? Or the Comanches? Maybe in this morass of books and articles on my desk there is an answer...