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Stuart’s Scouts a.k.a. The Iron Scouts

I have had a book on my shelf since the early sixties.  I remember reading some of it but I never really appreciated the treasure trove of special historical material it included.  The title is Beefsteak Raid by Edward Boykin published in 1960.  As a side light it sold for the massive amount of $4.95. 

For some reason I decided to pull it down and see what’s what.  Boy!!! was I pleasantly surprised.  I’ll share some with you.  The ultimate subject was the great Confederate russle of some 2500 cattle inGra nt’s herd of longhorns he brought to City Point to feed the Army of the Potomac.  He wanted fresh meat. He hated the desicated (sometimes called desecrated) canned beef as much as his men.  He acted to fix the problem.  I like that about Sam Grant.   One of the subjects covered as a backdrop to the theft was a very complete discription of the dimension and makeup of the City Point logistical base.  Another was the process, planning, and effort involved in the the pontoon bridge that carried Grant’s army across the James River and Lee’s complete surprise at the fait accompli.    General Grant’s 101 pontoon bridge crossed the tidal James River 80-feet deep with 7 mpg current and half a mile across.  The decking was 13-ft wide and required a 200 foot causeway approach.  No other temporary bridge of it’s dimension has ever been attempted-ever!

The herd of beef that crossed was about 5000 head that brought up the rear of the Union column.  It was the objective of one of the most brazen raids of the Civil War and was a godsend to Lee’s starving troops. 

But what of the Iron Scouts?  They were a picked group of volunteers who roamed behind Union lines wearing blue uniforms and provided JEB Stuart the intelligence he needed to plan and execute the reconnaisance missions assigned by Lee.  Sergeant  George Shadburne, from Texas,  was the leader of the scouts.  Some of the members were Jack Shoolbred, Hugh Scott, Billy Mikler, Dan Tanner, “Snake” Harris, Dick Hogan and Jim Niblett.  This crew  won Stuart’s admiration for their boldness and flair and they never came home empty handed.  After Stuart’s death at Yellow Tavern, they reported to Wade Hampton who organized the Beefsteak Raid.  All these men were very familiar with Headquarters General Order No. 6 from 1861 which prescribed hanging for rebels caught in blue uniforms. The fine line between spy, scout or guerilla was determined at the end of the rope.   These men and others perpetrated the great beef theft which occurred 14-17 September 1864.   

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