|Prominent Commanders||     ||John Singleton Mosby|
"They had for us all the glamour of Robin Hood and his merry men, all the courage and bravery of the ancient crusaders, the unexpectedness of benevolent pirates and the stealth of Indians." So wrote Sam Moore, a young man from Berryville, Virginia. Such extravagant admiration for Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby and his Partisan Rangers continues today, more than 130 years after the end of the Civil War.
"I preferred being on the outposts," said Mosby, who found garrison duty boring. The 5-foot-7-inch, 128-pound Mosby was an ordinary-looking man who seemed an unlikely candidate for the dashing, romantic figure his admirers envision. Like Robert E. Lee, Mosby opposed secession, yet joined the Confederate forces when Virginia left the Union.
Mosby's lack of enthusiasm for the military was evident from the beginning, and no one expected such an indifferent soldier to achieve military fame. Long after Mosby's participation in the Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, a member of his regiment commented, "There was nothing about him then to indicate what he was to be."
Others disagreed. Brigadier General James Ewell Brown Stuart, Mosby's mentor, saw a young man of intelligence and courage, and sent him on several scouting expeditions behind Union lines. Mosby's intelligence reports on Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Union army may have been the reason Stuart allowed Mosby and nine men to remain in Loudoun County when he set up winter quarters near Fredericksburg.
Lee opposed partisan units, as did many old-line military officers. Too often men of questionable character with dubious motives filled the ranks of such units. When discipline broke down, the partisans often victimized the very citizens they had pledged to defend. Despite the military's reservations, the Confederate Congress enacted a law in April 1862 that created partisan ranger units. Within a few months, partisan units ranging in size from regiments to companies were organized in eight states.
Almost 2,000 men would serve with Mosby over the next two years. Many were too young to join the regular army, yet Mosby favored these young troopers. "They haven't sense enough to know danger when they see it, and will fight anything I tell them to," he once noted.
"Mosby's Confederacy" encompassed almost 125 square miles in the Piedmont region of Fauquier and Loudoun counties with secluded country lanes, past open farmland and rolling pastures. It was obvious that the terrain favored guerrilla warfare. A lone sentry could sit astride his horse on a hilltop and see for miles. Forests provided natural cover, and the ubiquitous stone walls gave temporary refuge.
The people of Virginia may have been Mosby's greatest asset. Jeffry D. Wert, author of Mosby's Rangers, wrote, "When Mosby came to Virginia, he made his mission theirs and gave shape to people's lives for over two years." The rangers could not have operated without the cooperation and assistance of local citizens. "Jeb" Stuart once cautioned Mosby to "not have any established headquarters anywhere but in the saddle." Accordingly, Mosby and his rangers lived in "safe houses" throughout the region. Many had hiding places--trapdoors and secret wall panels that enabled them to go undetected when houses were searched by Union soldiers.
Hathaway House, the former home of James and Elizabeth Hathaway, was one of these places. Mosby's wife, Pauline, and their children had joined him at the three-story brick house northeast of Salem in March 1863. Their presence did not go unnoticed by an informant. On the night of June 11, a detail of men from the 1st New York Cavalry was sent to Hathaway House to look for Mosby. Each room was searched, but all the soldiers found was a pair of spurs in Pauline's bedroom. Rather than leave empty-handed, the New Yorkers arrested Hathaway and left with their prisoner. Mosby had crawled out the bedroom window and hung from a limb of a large black walnut tree next to the house. Had any of the soldiers below bothered to look up, Mosby would have been discovered. The tree is still standing, but the limb is gone.
Over 80 percent of Mosby's Rangers were Virginians, and that may explain the overwhelming support he received from local citizens. A Massachusetts cavalryman summarized the situation this way: "Every farmhouse in this section was a refuge for guerrillas, and every farmer was an ally of Mosby, and every farmer's son was with him, or in the Confederate Army."
Quarters were easier to secure than horses--the rangers' lifeline. Most of the men had two horses, and Mosby reportedly kept six. To evade capture and effectively employ the element of surprise, the rangers moved constantly. Demolishing bridges, destroying railroad tracks and robbing trains took their toll on horseflesh. Local farmers supplied some mounts, but most were taken from Union soldiers. When Mosby's Rangers raided the Fairfax Court House on March 9, 1863, they captured 30 soldiers, two captains, Brig. Gen. Edwin Stoughton and 58 horses. Upon hearing the news, Abraham Lincoln remarked, "I can make brigadier generals but I can't make horses."
Mosby's successes so irritated Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant that after the Berryville wagon train raid on August 19,1864, in which 29 of 30 Union soldiers were killed, the North's top military leader told Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan to hang any rangers he captured without benefit of a trial. Sheridan's main objective was to defeat Maj. Gen. Jubal Early, not Mosby, in the Shenandoah Valley, and he delayed committing any men to the new task. Three weeks after Sheridan's defeat of Early at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, Grant again instructed Sheridan to "clear out the country so that it will not support Mosby's gang." Brigadier General Wesley Merritt was given four days to destroy all barns and mills in Snickersville before moving on to other areas. A Middleburg resident reported, "The whole heavens are illuminated by the fires." Mosby was a hunted man, his days clearly numbered.
Mosby's military career nearly ended two months later at Lakeland, a two-story ashlar stone house near Rectortown. On the miserably cold, wet night of December 21, Mosby sought refuge at Lakeland because of the owner's reputation for "setting a good table." As Mosby was about to sit down to dinner, a Union soldier shot through a nearby window and wounded him in the abdomen. When questioned by a Union officer, the grievously wounded Mosby said he was a lieutenant with the 6th Virginia Cavalry. The Yankees figured he would die of his wounds and left without him, but took his hat. By the time they realized whose hat they had, it was too late. Mosby had been taken by oxcart to another farm. He was continually moved from one safe house to another to avoid capture until he recovered.
Mosby did not known of Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, until he read about it in the Baltimore American newspaper. Soon afterward, Union Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sent a message to Confederate stragglers: "Those who do not surrender will be brought in as prisoners of war. The guerrilla chief Mosby will not be paroled." Mosby chose to disband the 43rd Battalionrather than surrender. On Friday, April 21, 1865, almost 200 men gathered for a farewell address read by Mosby's younger brother, William. In part, Mosby had written: "The vision we have cherished of a free and independent country, has vanished, and the country is now the spoil of a conqueror. I disband your organization in preference to surrendering it to our enemies."
Mosby opened a law practice in Warrenton after the war and for nine years lived in the large white house at 173 Main Street. When he decided to support President Grant and the Republican Party, many of his men labeled him a political turncoat and accused him of deserting the South. People turned their backs on him when he walked down Main Street. One night someone shot at Mosby after he disembarked from a train at the depot. Grant became so concerned for Mosby's safety that he appointed him consul to Hong Kong. Other Republican presidents awarded him positions in the General Land Office and Department of Justice. It would be a long time before he returned to Warrenton.
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