Tuesday, October 13, 2009


On 13 October 1864, Confederate partisan cavalry leader John Mosby raided Harpers Ferry. This action was a part of the 1864 Shenandoah campaign; a series of brutal clashes between Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer and Confederate Partisan Ranger John Singleton Mosby. This second Shenandoah Campaign featured numerous incidents that can only be described as atrocities and war crimes, even by Civil War standards.

Colonel Mosby and his Confederate Rangers adopted an irregular form of warfare; after a skirmish, Mosby’s men returned to their own homes rather than to camp, agreeing to meet again at a future date and place. Each man acquired his own horse, arms and uniforms, but was entitled to share in whatever public or personal property was captured. Mosby was soon the only organized military force in northern Virginia, and so firmly ruled the area that it became known as ‘Mosby’s Confederacy.’

Mosby's Rangers are considered a part of the shared lineage of modern U.S. Army Rangers and U.S. Army Special Forces.

Mosby initially spoke out against secession, but joined the Confederate army nonetheless. Many years after the war, Mosby explained why, although he disapproved of slavery, he fought on the Confederate side. While he believed the South had seceded to protect slavery, he said, in a 1907 letter, that he had felt it was his patriotic duty to Virginia. "I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery —a soldier fights for his country — right or wrong — he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in . . . The South was my country."

After impressing J.E.B. Stuart with his ability to gather intelligence, Mosby was promoted to First Lieutenant and assigned to Stuart's cavalry scouts. He helped the general develop attack strategies. He was responsible for Stuart's "Ride around McClellan" during the Peninsula Campaign.

Captured by Union cavalry, Mosby was imprisoned in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C., for ten days before being exchanged. Even as a prisoner, Mosby spied on his enemy. During a brief stopover at Fort Monroe, he detected an unusual buildup of shipping in Hampton Roads. He found they were carrying thousands of troops under Ambrose Burnside from North Carolina on their way to reinforce John Pope in the Northern Virginia Campaign. When he was released, Mosby walked to army headquarters outside Richmond and personally related his findings to Robert E. Lee.

In January 1863, Stuart, with Lee's concurrence, authorized Mosby to form and take command of the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry, Partisan Rangers. This was later expanded into Mosby's Command, a regimental-sized unit of partisan rangers operating in Northern Virginia. The Confederate government certified special rules to govern the conduct of partisan rangers. These included sharing in the disposition of spoils of war. Mosby was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on January 21, 1864 and to Colonel, December 7, 1864.

Mosby's Rangers

Mosby is famous for carrying out a daring raid far inside Union lines at the Fairfax County courthouse in March 1863, where his men captured three high-ranking Union officers, including Brig. Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton. The story is told that Mosby found Stoughton in bed and roused him with a slap to his rear. Upon being so rudely awakened, the general shouted, "Do you know who I am?" Mosby quickly replied, "Do you know Mosby, general?" "Yes! Have you got the rascal?" "No, but he has got you!" His group also captured 30 or more sentries without firing a shot.

Several weeks after General Robert E. Lee's surrender in April 1865, Mosby simply disbanded his Rangers, as he refused to surrender formally. Mosbys' Rangers however were the carriers of the surrender orders and documents to Appomattox Court House.

The Gray Ghost never surrendered his colors.

After the war, Mosby served as U.S. consul to Hong Kong (1878–1885), served as a lawyer in San Francisco, worked for the Department of the Interior, and as assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice (1904–10). He knew a young George S. Patton III and enjoyed making "Battle plans" with Patton in the sand.

Mosby died in Washington, D.C. May 30, 1916

“War loses a great deal of it’s romance after a soldier has seen his first battle. I have a more vivid recollection of the first than the last one I was in. It is a classical maxim that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country: but whoever has seen the horrors of a battlefield feels that it is far sweeter to live for it." - John Singleton Mosby, Colonel, CSA


  1. Thank you for bringing this fascinating man to the attention of others. His influence spread far beyond the CSA or even his years. His audacity and skill in violent attack were a major inspiration for another great commander, George S. Patton.

    BTW, Mosby's autobiography can be downloaded for free at scribd.com

  2. I'd love to know how someone who fought against the United States of America in a treasonous rebellion can be considered as being a "shared lineage" to any United States Armed Forces?!