The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby: Electronic Edition.
Mosby, John Singleton, 1833-1916
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Library of Congress Subject Headings, 19th
LC Subject Headings:
Mosby, John Singleton, 1833-1916.
Guerrillas -- Confederate States of America -- Biography.
Soldiers -- Confederate States of America -- Biography.
Confederate States of America. Army. Virginia Cavalry Battalion,
Virginia -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Regimental
Virginia -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Military
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 --
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Underground
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Regimental
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal
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THE MEMOIRS OF
COLONEL JOHN S. MOSBY
CHARLES WELLS RUSSELL
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.
All rights reserved
Published, September, 1917
Set up and electrotyped by J. S. Cushing Co., Norwood. Mass., U.S.A.
THE chronicles of history record that in most
wars some figure, through intrepidity, originality,
and brilliancy of action, has raised himself above
his fellows and achieved a picturesqueness which
is commonly associated only with characters of
fiction. In the American Civil War, or the War
Between the States, three dashing cavalry leaders
- Stuart, Forrest, and Mosby - so captured the
public imagination that their exploits took on a
glamour, which we associate - as did the writers
of the time - with the deeds of the Waverley
characters and the heroes of Chivalry. Of the
three leaders Colonel John S. Mosby (1833-1916)
was, perhaps, the most romantic figure. In the
South his dashing exploits made him one of the
great heroes of the "Lost Cause." In the North
he was painted as the blackest of redoubtable
scoundrels, a fact only to be explained as due to
the exasperation caused by a successful enemy
against whom all measures were worthless and
ineffective. So great became the fame of Mosby's
partisan exploits that soldiers of fortune came even
from Europe to share his adventures.
Colonel Mosby was a "Virginian of the
Virginians", educated at the State's University, and
seemed destined to pass his life as an obscure
Virginia attorney, when war brought him his
opportunity for fame. The following pages contain
the story of his life as private in the cavalry,
as a scout, and as a leader of partisans.
But Mosby was the type of man who is not
content with the routine performance of duties,
and this was illustrated early in his career as a
soldier. He was ever on the watch to aid the cause
in which he was engaged. Stuart's famous ride
around McClellan and Lee's attack on Pope, before
he could be reinforced, were deeds for which
Mosby fairly earned some share of credit. These
enterprises, together with his prevention of Sheridan's
use of the Manassas Gap Railroad, had a distinct
bearing upon the successful maintenance of
the Southern Confederacy for four long years. But
his great work was his distinctive warfare near
Washington against the troops guarding the Potomac.
Behind the Northern forces aiming at Richmond,
for two years of almost incredible activity -
Mosby himself said, "I rarely rested more than a
day at a time" - he maintained his warfare,
neutralizing at times some fifty thousand troops
by compelling them to guard the rear of the enemy
and his capital. The four counties of Virginia
nearest Washington became known as "Mosby's
Confederacy." Here his blows were almost
incessant, followed always by the dispersing of his
band or bands among the farmhouses of the
sympathetic inhabitants. Seldom or never was an
attack made with more than two hundred and fifty
men. Usually from thirty to sixty would be
collected at a rendezvous, such as Rectortown, Aldie,
or Upperville, and after discharging, as it were,
a lightning flash, be swallowed up in impenetrable
darkness, leaving behind only a threat of some
future raid, to fall no one could foresee where.
The execution of this bold plan was successful -
long successful; its damage to the enemy enormous,
and it exhibited a military genius of the highest
order. By reason of his originality and intellectual
boldness, as well as his intrepidity and success
of execution, Mosby is clearly entitled to occupy a
preëminence among the partisan leaders of history.
And this is to be said for him, that he created
and kept up to the end of the great war "Mosby's
Confederacy", while preserving the full confidence
and regard of the knightly Lee.
Confederate General Marcus Wright, who assisted
in editing the records of the war, wrote to
Colonel Mosby as follows:
Dear Colonel Mosby:
It may and I know will
be interesting to you that I
have carefully read all of General R. E. Lee's dispatches,
correspondence, etc., during the war of 1861-1865;
and while he was not in the habit of paying compliments,
yet these papers of his will show that you received
from him more compliments and commendations
than any other officer in the Confederate army.
But an even more effective testimonial of
Mosby's success comes from the records of his
enemy. For a time the Northern belief was that
"Mosby" was a myth, the "Wandering Jew" of
the struggle. Later, he was termed the "Modern
Rob Roy." Such epithets as "land pirate",
"horse thief", "murderer", and "guerrilla" bear
witness of the feeling of exasperation against
the man. "Guerrilla", however, was the favorite
epithet, and Mosby did not resent its use, for he
believed that his success had made the term an
The effectiveness of Mosby's work is illustrated
by the following comment of the Comte de Paris
in his "History of the Civil War in America":
In Washington itself, General Heintzelman was in
command, who, besides the depots . . . had under his
control several thousand infantry ready to take the
field, and Stahel's division of cavalry numbering 6,000
horses, whose only task was to pursue Mosby and the
few hundred partisans led by this daring chief.
General Joseph E. Hooker, in his testimony
on the conduct of the war, said:
I may here state that while at Fairfax Court House
my cavalry was reinforced by that of Major-General
Stahel. The latter numbered 6,100 sabres. . . . The
force opposed to them was Mosby's guerrillas, numbering
about 200, and, if the reports of the newspapers
were to be believed, this whole party was killed two
or three times during the winter. From the time
I took command of the army of the Potomac, there
was no evidence that any force of the enemy, other
than the above-named, was within 100 miles of
Washington City; and yet the planks on the chain bridge
were taken up at night the greater part of the winter
and spring. It was this cavalry force, it will be remembered,
I had occasion to ask for, that my cavalry might
be strengthened when it was numerically too weak to
cope with the superior numbers of the enemy.
How redoubtable Mosby was considered by the
Northern authorities may be seen from the following:
In holding an interview
with Mosby, it may be needless
to caution an old soldier like you to guard against
surprise or danger to yourself; but the recent murders
show such astounding wickedness that too much
precaution cannot be taken. If Mosby is sincere, he
might do much toward detecting and apprehending the
murderers of the President.
Edwin M. Stanton,
Secretary of War.
Secretary Stanton had previously telegraphed
to Hancock, "There is evidence that Mosby knew
of Booth's plan" - concerning the assassination
of Lincoln - "and was here in the city with him."
No one knew better than Hancock that Mosby,
at the time of the assassination, was in Virginia.
The notion that he had anything to do with
this crime was a part of the reputation he had
acquired in the North and which he was doubtless
quite willing to acquire in order to give worse
dreams to those of the enemy who were in the
neighborhood of his operations. This reputation
was fostered by soldiers, who, during the war and
long afterwards, entertained their firesides with
tales of hairbreadth escapes from the dreadful
guerrillas. But some of Mosby's best friends in
his later life were men who had been his prisoners.
So far did the hostility and feeling against
Mosby carry that as late as May 4, 1865, almost
a month after Lee's surrender, General Grant
telegraphed to General Halleck, "I would advise
offering a reward of $5,000 for Mosby." This was
done, but nobody captured him.
The turning point in his career after the war
was his endorsement of and voting for Grant in
1872. The Civil War was then but seven years
past, and the Southern people were not prepared
to follow his lead. They turned against him
bitterly - against one of their chief heroes, whom
they had delighted to honor - who had struggled
so manfully and for so long against the storm
raging against them. Young and of little experience
in politics he may have thought it inconceivable
that they would treat his voting for
the magnanimous soldier as the unforgivable sin.
His motive was rather gratitude than political, -
rather a response to Grant's behavior toward the
Southern army, General Lee, and himself, than any
design to change the attitude of the South toward
the Federal Government. Certainly the Colonel,
in spite of abuse and recrimination heaped upon
him, never repented of this act.
During his last illness Colonel Mosby did say,
no doubt to hear himself contradicted, "I pitched
my politics in too high a key when I voted for
Grant. I ought to have accepted office under
him. My family would now be comfortably
supplied with money." But this was far from
being his serious opinion, as his own statements show.
Intellectually the Colonel showed as great a
constitutional impatience of restraint and as
great individuality as he exhibited in his operations
during the war. Perhaps his lifelong fondness
for Byron's poetry resulted from a feeling
that there was a resemblance between the
experiences of Byron, as represented in his poems, and
his own - the "war of the many with one." But
the resemblance was a superficial one. Mosby's
impatience of restraint was a so strongly marked
characteristic that he always seemed unwilling
to follow a plan of his own, after having disclosed
it to another. Probably the reason the "Yankees"
trying to trap him could never find out where he
was going to be next was because he never knew himself.
The following from an interview with him, which
appeared in the Philadelphia Post in 1867 or 1868,
illustrates his tendency to think independently:
"Whom do you consider the ablest General on the
"McClellan, by all odds. I think he is the only
man on the Federal side who could have organized the
army as it was. Grant had, of course, more successes
in the field in the latter part of the war, but Grant only
came in to reap the benefits of McClellan's previous
efforts. At the same time, I do not wish to disparage
General Grant, for he has many abilities, but if Grant
had commanded during the first years of the war, we
would have gained our independence. Grant's policy
of attacking would have been a blessing to us, for we
lost more by inaction than we would have lost in battle.
After the first Manassas the army took a sort of 'dry
rot', and we lost more men by camp diseases than we
would have by fighting."
"What is your individual opinion of Jeff Davis?"
"I think history will record him as one of the greatest
men of the time. Every lost cause, you know, must
have a scapegoat, and Mr. Davis has been chosen as
such; he must take all the blame without any of the
credit. I do not know any man in the Confederate
States that could have conducted the war with the
same success that he did."
"Are there any bitter feelings cherished?"
"No, not now, except those engendered since the war
by the manner in which we have been treated. . . .
The whole administration of affairs in Virginia is in
the hands of a lot of bounty jumpers and jailbirds,
and their only qualification is that they can take the
iron-clad oath!" "But," he added, "they generally
take anything else they can lay their hands on."
General Grant and Colonel Mosby came to be
far more than political friends. In fact it was
through General Grant that Mosby secured his
position with the Southern Pacific Railroad which
he held from 1885 to 1901. The two men were
well suited to each other. Grant was a silent
man - a good listener. Mosby, abrupt and even
rude toward those who wished to speak to him
irrelevantly, dearly loved to talk to an intelligent
person. The silent and slow commander of "all
the armies", guided by luminous common sense,
and the nervous, impetuous raider - a raider
by temperament, a raider in every way - in practice
of law, taking part in politics, writing "Memoirs",
had much in common that was fundamental.
They were but children in taking care of their
business affairs; they were shy, and full of feeling,
sentiment, and romance.
The Colonel was an assistant attorney in the
Department of Justice at Washington from 1904
to 1910 and continued to reside in the Capital
until his death, May 30, 1916. He was not often
inclined to talk about his own exploits in the Civil
War, though going at some length into explanations
of the movements of the great armies and engaging
in various controversies about them, as well as
about other matters of public interest, past and
present. Colonel Mosby realized that the account
of the military operations at the Battle of
Manassas included in the present volume is markedly
at variance with the usual version. His
efforts to unravel the story of Stuart's cavalry
in the Gettysburg campaign extended over many
years and resulted in a book 1 and numerous
articles. The account which he prepared for
these "Memoirs" he considered the best answer
to Stuart's critics, and spoke of it as "the final
The Colonel was little interested in anything
which did not concern man in his social relations
except, perhaps, logic and polemics. What
could not be affirmed positively with a geometric
Q. E. D. appealed to him only as it concerned war,
politics, sentiment, or the like. New inventions
left him cold, if not a little resentful, at their
disturbing or rendering out of date the historical
setting of the Civil War. But in political and
social matters he was an advanced thinker,
although this was rather a liberal attitude of mind -
in which he took pride - than any interest in the
views themselves. His horizon in general was
limited by American history and politics. He
was full of the anecdotal history of Virginia and
conspicuous Virginians of past generations, as
well as information about family relationships -
information such as is printed in books in New
England, but in Virginia has been commonly left
to oral tradition.
But the events described in these "Memoirs"
were his greatest interest and the days when he was
a commander of partisans were the golden days
of his over fourscore years. As he said at the
reunion of his battalion in 1895:
"Life cannot afford a more bitter cup than the one
I drained at Salem, nor any higher reward of ambition
than that I received as Commander of the Forty-third
Virginia Battalion of Cavalry."
I WAS born December 6, 1833, at the home of
my grandfather, James McLaurine, in Powhatan
County, Virginia. He was a son of Robert
McLaurine, an Episcopal minister, who came from
Scotland before the Revolution. Great-grandfather
McLaurine lived at the glebe and is buried
at Peterville Church in Powhatan. After the
church was disestablished, the State appropriated
the glebe, and Peterville was sold to the Baptists.
My grandfather McLaurine lived to be very old.
He was a soldier of the Revolution, and I well
remember his cough, which it was said he
contracted from exposure in the war when he had
smallpox. My grandfather Mosby was also a
native of Powhatan. He lived at Gibraltar, but
moved to Nelson County, where my father, Alfred
D. Mosby, was born. When I was a child my
father bought a farm near Charlottesville, in
Albemarle, on which I was raised. I recollect that one
day I went with my father to our peach orchard
on a high ridge, and he pointed out Monticello,
the home of Thomas Jefferson, on a mountain a
few miles away, and told me some of the history of
the great man who wrote the Declaration of Independence.
At that time there were no public and few private
schools in Virginia, but a widow opened a school in
Fry's Woods, adjoining my father's farm. My
sister Victoria and I went as her pupils. I was
seven years old when I learned to read, although
I had gone a month or so to a country school in
Nelson, near a post office called Murrell's Shop,
where I had learned to spell. As I was so young
my mother always sent a negro boy with me to the
schoolhouse, and he came for me in the evening.
But once I begged him to stay all day with me, and
I shared my dinner with him. When playtime
came, some of the larger boys put him up on a
block for sale and he was knocked down to the
highest bidder. I thought it was a bona fide sale
and was greatly distressed at losing such a dutiful
playmate. We went home together, but he never
spent another day with me at the schoolhouse.
The first drunken man I ever saw was my
schoolmaster. He went home at playtime to get his
dinner, but took an overdose of whiskey. On the
way back he fell on the roadside and went to sleep.
The big boys picked him up and carried him into
the schoolhouse, and he heard our lessons. The
school closed soon after; I don't know why.
It was a common thing in the old days of negro
slavery for a Virginia gentleman, who had
inherited a fortune, to live in luxury with plenty of
the comforts of life and die insolvent; while his
overseer retired to live on what he had saved.
Mr. Jefferson was one example of this. I often
heard that Jefferson had held in his arms Betsy
Wheat, a pupil at the school where I learned to
read. She was the daughter of the overseer and,
being the senior of all the other scholars, was the
second in command. She exercised as much
authority as the schoolmistress.
As I have said, the log schoolhouse was in
Fry's Woods, which adjoined my father's farm.
To this rude hut I walked daily for three sessions,
with my eldest sister - later with two - often
through a deep snow, to get the rudiments of an
education. I remember that the schoolmistress,
a most excellent woman, whipped her son and
me for fighting. That was the only blow I ever
received during the time I went to school.
with Bartlett Bolling, who was with me in the war.
There was nothing left but a pile of rocks - the
remains of the chimney. The associations of
the place raised up phantoms of the past. I am
the only survivor of the children who went to
school there. I went to the spring along the
same path where I had often walked when a
barefooted schoolboy and got a drink of cool
water from a gourd. There I first realized the
pathos of the once popular air, "Ben Bolt"; the
spring was still there and the running brook,
but all of my schoolmates had gone.
The "Peter Parley" were the standard schoolbooks
of my day. In my books were two pictures
that made a lasting impression on me. One
was of Wolfe dying on the field in the arms of a
soldier; the other was of Putnam riding down
the stone steps with the British close behind him.
About that time I borrowed a copy of the "Life
of Marion", which was the first book I read,
except as a task at school. I remember how I
shouted when I read aloud in the nursery of the
way the great partisan hid in the swamp and
outwitted the British. I did not then expect that the
time would ever come when I would have escapes
as narrow as that of Putnam and take part in
adventures that have been compared with Marion's.
When I was ten years old I began going to school
in Charlottesville; sometimes I went on horseback,
and sometimes I walked. Two of my teachers, -
James White, who taught Latin and Greek, and
Aleck Nelson, who taught mathematics - were
afterwards professors at Washington and Lee,
while General Robert E. Lee was its president.
When I was sixteen years old I went as a student
to the University of Virginia - some evidence of
the progress I had made in getting an education.
In my youth I was very delicate and often heard
that I would never live to be a grown man. But
the prophets were wrong, for I have outlived nearly
all the contemporaries of my youth. I was
devoted to hunting, and a servant always had coffee
ready for me at daylight on a Saturday morning,
so that I was out shooting when nearly all were
sleeping. My father was a slaveholder, and I still
cherish a strong affection for the slaves who nursed
me and played with me in my childhood. That
was the prevailing sentiment in the South - not
one peculiar to myself - but one prevailing in all
the South toward an institution
1 which we now
thank Abraham Lincoln for abolishing. I had
no taste for athletics and have never seen a ball
game. My habits of study were never regular,
but I always had a literary taste. While I fairly
recited Tacitus and Thucydides as a task, I read
with delight Irving's stories of the Moors in
[Colonel Mosby's career at the University of
Virginia, where he graduated in Greek and mathematics,
was not so serene throughout as that of
the ordinary student. One incident made a lasting
impression upon his mind and affected his
future course. He was convicted of unlawfully
shooting a fellow student and was sentenced to a
fine and imprisonment in the jail at Charlottesville.
It was the case of defending the good name of a
young lady and, while the law was doubtless violated,
public sentiment was indicated by the legislature's
remitting the fine and the governor's
granting a pardon.
The Baltimore Sun published an account of
this incident, by Mr. John S. Patton, who said
that Mosby had been fined ten dollars for
assaulting the town sergeant. The young Mosby
had been known as one not given to lawless hilarity,
but as a "fighter." "And the Colonel himself
admits," continues Patton, "that he got the
worst of these boyish engagements, except once,
when the fight was on between him and Charles
Price, of Meachem's, - and in that case they
were separated before victory could perch. They
also go so far as to say that he was a spirited lad,
although far from 'talkative' and not far from
quiet, introspective moods. . . . His antagonist
this time was George Turpin, a student of medicine
in the University. . . . Turpin had carved
Frank Morrison to his taste with a pocket knife
and added to his reputation by nearly killing
Fred M. Wills with a rock. . . .
"When Jack Mosby, spare and delicate - Turpin
was large and athletic - received the latter's threat that
he would eat him 'blood raw' on sight, he proceeded
to get ready. The cause of the impending hostilities
was an incident at a party at the Spooner residence in
Montebello, which Turpin construed as humiliating to
him, and with the aid of some friends who dearly loved
a fisticuff, he reached the conclusion that John Mosby
was to blame and that it was his duty to chastise him.
Mosby was due at Mathematics lecture room and
thither he went and met Professor Courtnay and did
his problems first of all. That over, he thrust a pepper-box
pistol into his jacket and went forth to find his
enemy. He had not far to go; for by this time the
Turpins were keeping a boarding house in the building
then, as now, known as the Cabell House, about the
distance of four Baltimore blocks from the University.
Thither went the future partisan leader, and, with a
friend, was standing on the back porch when Turpin
approached. He advanced on Mosby at once - but
not far; the latter brought his pepper-box into action
with instant effect. Turpin went down with a bullet
in his throat, and was taken up as good as dead. . . .
The trial is still referred to as the cause célèbre in our
local court. Four great lawyers were engaged in it:
the names of Robertson, Rives, Watson, and Leach
adorn the legal annals of Virginia."
The prosecutor in this case was Judge William
J. Robertson, of Charlottesville, who made a
vigorous arraignment of the young student. On
visiting the jail one day after the conviction,
much to his surprise Robertson was greeted by
Mosby in a friendly manner. This was followed
by the loan of a copy of Blackstone's "Commentaries"
to the prisoner and a lifelong friendship
between the two. Thus it was that young
Mosby entered upon the study of law, which he
made his profession.