Midpoint of the War: May to July 1863

Gettysburg: The Third Day

Where, meanwhile, was the Confederate cavalry?

J. E. B. Stuart was roundly criticized by his peers for having ill-served Lee’s army in the days leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, and he was determined to reverse the situation. On the morning of July 3, 1863, Lee gave him verbal orders to the effect of swinging around the federal position and driving off their cavalry. Stuart, typically, wished to do even more; he planned to drive off the Union horsemen, then attack the rear of the federal lines on Seminary Ridge. Had he done so, there was a chance, however slim, that Pickett’s Charge would have succeeded. But Stuart, like Pickett, was undone on July 3.

It was the newly minted brigadier-general, George A. Custer, who fought Stuart to a standstill, then saw the Confederate horsemen ride off in defeat. Custer made much of the success in his victory dispatch, and he perhaps exaggerated on some of the details, but the most important point was solid and could not be contested. The Union cavalry had attained a new level of success and were now fully on par with their Confederate foes.


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