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J.E.B. Stuart Writes to Legendary Confederate Spy Laura Ratcliffe
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Full of braggadocio, Confederate cavalryman J.E.B. Stuart gives early mistaken reports of the Battle of Shiloh to an informant, the famous Confederate spy Laura Ratcliffe.“We are here quietly waiting for the yankees and if they ever come we will send them howling.”

J.E.B. STUART. Autograph Letter Signed “S”, to Laura Ratcliffe. April 8, 1862. 3 pp., 3⅞ x 6 in.

Inventory #27574       Price: $7,800

Complete Transcript

                                                            Rappahannock April 8 1862

My Dear Laura –

            We are here quietly waiting for the yankees and if they ever come we will send them howling – through Fairfax again. We have won a glorious victory in New Mexico, capturing the whole Federal command 5000 – under Genl Canby. We have also won a glorious victory near Corinth on the Tenn. Captured 3 genls Smith McClernand & Prentiss, & six thousand prisoners, all [2]their artillery & camp equipage & rumor says we are sure to bag the remainder who are in full retreat, A.S. Johnston was killed. Beauregard & Bragg were there –

            I have thought of you much, & hope soon to see you all again. Before another week we expect to win another glorious victory.

            Hurrah! Hurrah!! I wish I could see you read this --  [3]

            My regard to your folks – The bullet-proof is all right. Yours ever truly


[envelope:] Miss Laura Ratcliffe / Beauty’s Bower                                                      

Historical Background 
Laura Ratcliffe lived in Fairfax, Virginia, and her home was sometimes used as headquarters by the ranger John Singleton Mosby. Ratcliffe used to hide messages and money for Mosby, and once hid him from a search party of Federal troops. Among other Confederate officers to whom she offered various types of support was J.E.B. Stuart, who corresponded with her and occasionally even sent her poetry.

Stuart rapturously recounts a recent series of Confederate victories and anticipates others. “We are here quietly waiting for the Yankees and if they ever come we will send them howling through Fairfax again.” Apparently dependent on early newspaper reports, Stuart is mistaken about the Battle “near Corinth.” On April 4 and 5, 1862, after near-victory on the first day, General Albert S. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee was defeated by Ulysses Grant at the Battle of Shiloh. Stuart was correct in noting, however, that Johnston was killed at this battle.

The envelope for the letter bears the engraved address of “Head Quarters Cavalry Brigade, Army of the Potomac.” The Confederate Army of the Potomac was commanded by P.G.T. Beauregard, but in June 1862 it was renamed as the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia when Robert E. Lee assumed command. Beauregard had been sent west to be second-in-command to Albert Johnston, and led the Army of Tennessee on the second day of Shiloh. Stuart’s cavalry was soon transferred from north central Virginia (this letter is dated “Rappahannock”) to the Peninsula, where Union General George McClellan had landed his Army of the Potomac in an attempt to advance on Richmond from the southeast with the help of Union Navy transport vessels.

Laura Ratcliffe (1836-1923) was a legendary Confederate spy who operated a safe house in Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. She met cavalrymen J.E.B. Stuart and John S. Mosby early in the war, when she and her sister were nursing wounded soldiers, and soon began providing information on Union troop activity as the Confederate Army was forced south. In 1862 and 1863, when Stuart commanded Robert E. Lee’s entire cavalry corps, he made several raids on the Fairfax County area, often visiting Laura at her home. In the winter of 1862, Mosby was granted permission to stay with Ratcliffe and nine soldiers. There was a rock at the top of Squirrel Hill on her property where she would leave messages for Mosby or Stuart. She was never charged with a crime.

James Ewell Brown (“Jeb”) Stuart (1833-1864) was the most famous Confederate cavalryman and one of General Lee’s principal lieutenants in the Army of Northern Virginia. A Virginian, he graduated from West Point in 1854 and gained useful experience before the war in the 1st Cavalry Regiment on the Kansas frontier. In 1861 he entered Confederate service as colonel of the 1st Virginia Cavalry. He was promoted to brigadier general after distinguished service at First Manassas, and earned lasting fame in June 1862 by riding completely around General McClellan’s army on the Virginia Peninsula. After the Seven Days’ he was promoted to major general and command of the Cavalry Division (later Corps) of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He performed brilliantly at Second Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, and took temporary command of the Second Infantry Corps at Chancellorsville upon the mortal wounding of Stonewall Jackson. The major blemish on his reputation was his failure to arrive at the battlefield of Gettysburg until the evening of the second day’s combat. At the beginning of the Overland Campaign in 1864, Stuart himself was mortally wounded fighting off a vigorous attack by Philip Sheridan’s improved Federal cavalry at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, outside Richmond.

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