“A Tale of Two Raids: Jeb Stuart’s Christmas Raid, and the Raid He Never Made”
Presented by Robert O’Neill
Sunday, September 10, at 2:00 p.m.
St. James United Church of Christ,
10 East Broad Way, Lovettsville
On Sunday, September 10, the Lovettsville Historical Society will present noted Civil War author Robert O’Neill discussing “A Tale of Two Raids,” drawn from his book Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby. Mr. O’Neill will discuss Jeb Stuart’s Christmas Raid of 1862, and a phantom raid of 1863.
Stuart’s earlier raids in June and October 1862 had humiliated Maj. Gen. George McClellan and his Army of the Potomac, while his Catlett Station Raid in August 1862 had embarrassed Maj. Gen. John Pope and his Army of Virginia. Leaving his camps in Culpeper County on December 26, Stuart sought to embarrass the enemy again by cutting Union supply lines in Prince William County. Compared to his previous efforts, however, the Christmas Raid proved a failure. The raid received little press coverage at the time, and Stuart did not write his report of the affair until February 1864. Historians have largely followed suit and ignored the raid. To do so is a mistake.
The Christmas Raid is notable for two reasons: the raid marked the beginning of John Mosby’s career as a partisan ranger, and Stuart’s audacity left a lasting mark on the Union psyche. O’Neill will discuss the Christmas Raid in some detail, including the purpose of the raid, the attacks on Union outposts at the towns of Dumfries and Occoquan, Virginia, the very successful Union response, and the brief skirmish near Fairfax Court House. He will then explain the forgotten result of the raid – the fear of another raid on the Capital.
Stuart had, in his two rides around McClellan, avoided, to the extent possible, engaging Union troops. In his Christmas Raid he challenged the Union troops defending the Capital, choosing to go right through their lines, rather than around them. In doing so, he came within sight of the inner fortifications ringing the city. Union commanders never forgot Stuart’s challenge.
Thus, when a report reached the Union high command in May 1863, that Confederate cavalry planned to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln and members of his Cabinet, the threat could not be ignored. This ‘phantom raid’ to kidnap Lincoln consumed the War Department, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, and Maj. Gen. Samuel Heintzelman, commanding the Department of Washington, from mid-May until after the opening shots were fired at Gettysburg.
O’Neill will dust off this forgotten “phantom raid” and place the Union response within the context of the Gettysburg Campaign.
Bob O’Neill grew up in Detroit, Michigan, before moving to Northern Virginia in 1977. He worked as a patrol officer and detective for the Fairfax County Police Department for 26 years, retiring in 2002. He and his wife now reside in Virginia, near Fredericksburg.
Bob has published three books – Small But Important Riots, The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville in 1993, and Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby, The Union Cavalry in Northern Virginia from Second Manassas to Gettysburg, in 2012. His latest book, a completely new version of Small But Important Riots was published in January 2023.
He has published articles for Virginia Country’s Civil War, Blue & Gray, North & South, Gettysburg Magazine, and Little Big Horn Associates Research Review.
He has guided numerous tours of the cavalry battlefields in the Loudoun Valley, as well as several Custer related tours in Montana, Wyoming, and Kansas.
Bob runs a Civil War Cavalry Blog at smallbutimportantriots.com
O’Neill’s presentation will be held at St. James United Church of Christ at 10 East Broad Way in Lovettsville. The program will be followed, as is customary, by questions and discussion.
The program will not be live-streamed, but a video recording of the event will be posted on the Lovettsville Historical Society website.
Admission is free, but donations and are welcome to defray expenses of the program and to support the activities of the Lovettsville Historical Society.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.