No name in the annals of the Civil War conjures up a more gallant, romantic and awe-inspiring image than that of Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby of Virginia. The epitome of the Southern cavalier, Colonel Mosby was a charismatic officer whose small band of partisans outwitted and outfought the Union army on the fields and farmlands of northern Virginia.
As many of you know, Mosby is the inspiration for my main character, Colonel Alexander Hunter. The tales of his exploits captured my attention when I lived in northern Virginia and never let go.
During the Civil War, the area stretching from the Potomac River to the Shenandoah Valley became known as Mosby’s Confederacy — and today, as a tribute to that brave Virginian and his loyal band of followers, the region is known as the Mosby Heritage Area.
Mosby was a lawyer in Bristol, Va. when the war broke out, and actually opposed secession. However, once Virginia left the Union, he wished to defend his homeland and joined the military as a private in the infantry. As fate would have it, he was transferred to cavalry and soon became a scout for General J.E.B. Stuart.
Stuart was so impressed by his new scout that he approved a plan for Mosby to operate an independent command. Giving him a few men in the spring of 1863 to harass the enemy in northern Virginia, Mosby impressed Stuart even more when he returned from one of his first expeditions with the following prisoners: one Union general, two captains, 30 privates and 58 horses. Mosby accomplished this feat with only 29 men, riding into a well-fortified, Federally-occupied town (Fairfax) and taking the prisoners without losing a man.
Mosby and his Rangers were later incorporated into the Confederate army, but he retained his independent status. The primary objective of Mosby’s Rangers consisted of destroying railroad supply lines, intercepting dispatches and horses, and basically harassing any Federal troops that dared stray into their territory.
Mosby’s numbers rose from a few dozen to a few hundred by the end of the war (some say close to one thousand). His rank likewise rose steadily, as he became a major in 1863 and a colonel in 1865. Gen. Robert E. Lee cited Mosby for meritorious service more often than any other Confederate officer during the course of the war.
Signs depicting a silhouetted horseman with a flag now mark the roads of northern Virginia where Mosby once reigned. This scenic region, unlike so many other sections of the state, retains more than three centuries of its original historic landscape and elegant landmarks.
Driving down the still-dirt roads and country highways, one cannot help but be awed by the beautiful scenery in this 1,800-square-mile region. A mixture of farms and rural communities is accentuated by centuries-old mills, stone walls, churches and majestic homes that seem untouched by the development that sprawls across the eastern portion of the state.
Tomorrow marks John Mosby’s birthday. Born December 6, 1833, he not only survived the war, but served as U.S. Consul to Hong Kong for seven years, from 1878-85. He later accepted a job with the Southern Pacific Railway, during which time he met a boy of about 10 years named George S. Patton, Jr. The story is often repeated that the old veteran shared some of the secrets of guerrilla warfare with the boy who would one day lead the 3rd U.S. Army into combat in Europe during World War II.
Mosby died in 1916 at the age of 82 and is buried in the Warrenon, Va. cemetery.
One of my favorite books about Mosby is written by John Munson, one of his youngest recruits. Munson says:
“… Mosby’s correct estimate of men, his absolute freedom from jealousy and selfishness, his unerring judgment at critical moments, his devotion to his men, his eternal vigilance, his unobtrusive bravery and his exalted sense of personal honor, all combined to create in the mind and hearts of those who served him a sort of hero worship. Long before I ever set eyes on him I looked forward to the day when I would be able to take my hat off in his presence, and offer to follow him.”
Ranger John W. Munson
Reminiscences of a Mosby Guerrilla, 1906
Happy Birthday Colonel John Mosby!
(Reposted from 2010)