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It was "the darkest night I ever knew," admitted Major General J.E.B. Stuart. Followed by 1,500 horse soldiers, Stuart rode through the darkness in pelting rain. His mission was to disrupt the Federal supply line servicing Major General John Pope's army in northern Virginia as part of General Robert E. Lee's Second Manassas Campaign. Stuart planned to destroy the Orange & Alexandria Railroad bridge crossing Cedar Run near Catlett's Station, while simultaneously striking Pope's headquarters.
Revenge was another objective. Days earlier, the flamboyant Stuart and his staff officers were surprised by a force of Federal cavalry. Stuart, who commanded Lee's cavalry corps, managed to escape capture - but his cape and a favorite plumed hat became Yankee souvenirs. Now Stuart hoped to return the favor. "I'm going after my hat," he declared.
As they neared their target, the gray-clad horsemen were pummeled by a violent thunderstorm that illuminated their route with frequent bolts of lightning. They splashed through unguarded fords, captured the Federal pickets and surprised Pope's encampment. The nearby railroad bridge was too wet to fire, but Stuart captured more than 300 Federal prisoners, Pope's orders and dispatches, a huge store of Federal supplies, and an army money box stuffed with more than $350,000. Equally satisfying to Stuart, his men captured General Pope's hat, cloak and frock coat - which were sent back to Richmond for public display as Stuart's war trophy. Ahead lay one of Lee's greatest victories -the Battle of Second Manassas - but for Stuart and his hard-fighting cavalry, victory had already occurred. Their reputation was intact -and their beloved commander was again in fine spirits.