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Historical fiction author Jessica James visits Belle Grove
Belle Grove, home of Amanda Edmonds during the Civil War.

I had a spectacular time in Virginia last Sunday, touring homes that were known as Mosby Safe Houses during the Civil War. As many of you know, Confederate officer John S. Mosby was the inspiration for the main character in my historical fiction novels Shades of Gray and Noble Cause.

Known as Mosby’s Rangers, his men did not pitch tents and stay in a camp, but rather resided in the homes of citizens in the area. (Soldiers in the regular army would often lament the fact that Mosby’s men slept in feather beds and ate like kings, but in reality they did not have it quite so easy, as you will see).

View from Belle Grove to “The Pike” where they could
watch the Yankees coming. I bet that tree was there too!

The journal entry below was written by Amanda Edmonds, who was in her 20s during the Civil War. Belle Grove (her home) hosted eight or nine Rangers at any given time. Most of the men were also in their 20s, so there was a lot of flirting and broken hearts along the way as recorded in her diary.

The house had a trap door in the kitchen that went down to a dirt floor cellar/crawl space. From there, the men could escape from a door to the outside that was usually hidden behind a stack of firewood. You can barely see the stack of firewood in the picture of the house above, and the escape door is visible to the left of the wood.

The escape door to the outside, which
would be hidden by a stack of firewood.

It was marvelous to be able to walk through the house and imagine the rooms full of Mosby Rangers. The Mosby Heritage Area Association sponsored the event, and had living historians at each house to add even more authenticity to the experience. On Saturday, they also had a reunion of Mosby Ranger descendants that I was unable to attend, but I ran into many of them on the tour.

Here is an excerpt from Amanda’s diary that should provide some idea of what the Rangers went through–as well as what the families of those who hosted them had to endure.

From the Journal of Amanda Virginia Edmonds of Belle Grove
Feb. 18, 1864

Much to our surprise, mortification and sorrow the slumbers of the household were aroused by the rattling of swords and the clatter of horses, which fortunately made known to our dear soldiers that something was wrong. Bud [her brother, a Mosby Ranger] jumped from his bed and there to his utter surprise were Yankees dashing up. Bud with Mr. Alexander and George dashed down the stairs where Ma and I met them nearly frightened to death. They dashed to their secret hiding place followed by overcoats, pistol and everything I could grab up—for time was short. The Yankees were all around the house and every moment we expected them to bolt into the house.

The next move Ma and I made was for our room. We had just entered, still in night robes, when six of the horrid wretches entered with a “good morning.” I guess they received no response from us more than a rebellious stare. They opened the other door and there met Clem. They clamped him and Ches, as though at the beginning they had had a prize in Rebel soldiers. Clem, the Devil Captain ordered under arrest and left one of his imps to guard him. [Clem and Ches were older boys but not Rangers.]

I hurriedly dressed and followed the rest upstairs. I joined the wretches as they were searching the boys’ room; where they had gathered an armful of clothes together with some of Mr. Alexander’s and George’s, which unfortunately they left in hurried retreat.

I thought Ma would go frantic, all of us thinking Misters Triplett and Hunt and Jack [all Mosby Rangers staying at this safe house] were in their hands, and certain Syd was taken for he had no more than a minute left the house. Rumor form our servants quieted our fears for awhile, telling us they were all safe. Syd was tending his horse and mounted the loft above him, just as a Yankee opened the door. Still we were completely surrounded and could not but tremble for their safety.

There in our presence the rogues search[ed] the jacket pockets they brought down with them. Oh! How I longed to snatch them from their hands for I felt as though they were contaminated, even after their eyes rested on them, much less their hands.

I then gratified them with a search of the cellar, appearing indifferent as possible and pretended I was anxious they should gratify themselves. For my life, had a pistol been held to my head, I could not have kept my tongue.  I knew that I was doing wrong to sauce and give vent to my indignant feelings, but I could not help it… The wretches certainly were lenient for Yankees.

Ma during this time was in perfect agony and never left her room, having things there too that demanded her presence for their safety.
I stood in the kitchen porch nearly frantic with joy to see them mount and ride off, having satisfied themselves searching the premises, when I saw a stir among them and they rode around the house and into the yard again. I imagined they were going to search again, when lo, I heard one of them yell, “Bring him out, bring him out.” Great heaven, who had they found…? A moment more, and I heard one of Mr. Hunt’s familiar laughs. I still was confident Mr. Triplett was safe until a moment later both the dear Rebels stepped from their retreat. [Both were Mosby Rangers lodging at Belle Grove who had hidden.]

… I went down to them. Mr. Hunt bid me goodbye remarking, “turn about is fair play,” taking it all in his usual good nature… I felt as though my heart were turned to stone when he bid me “goodbye” so kindly but without a smile. I watched them as long as I could discern two gray coats from the mass of blue…

 
 

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