Documenting the American South Logo
Collections >> First-Person Narratives >> Document Menu >> Summary

John Singleton Mosby, 1833-1916
The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby
Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1917.


John Singleton Mosby was born to Alfred D. Mosby and Virginia McLaurine Mosby on December 6, 1833. After growing up on his parents' farm in Albermarle County, Virginia, Mosby enrolled in the University of Virginia in 1850. Three years later, he was imprisoned for shooting a man "unlawfully" in defense of a woman's good name, and spent seven months in jail. Following his release, Mosby studied law under William J. Robertson, his former prosecutor, before opening a practice of his own in Howardsville, Virginia. In 1858 he married Pauline Clark with whom he had eight children. At the onset of the Civil War, Mosby joined the First Virginia Cavalry as a private. Although promoted to lieutenant a year later, he resigned his commission when an officer he disapproved of took command of the regiment. However, Mosby remained involved in the war effort, unofficially joining J.E.B. Stuart's staff to serve as scout and spy. In 1862, Stuart gave Mosby permission to organize what would become the 43rd Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, a guerrilla operations corps that performed covert raids inside Union territory. Known throughout several Virginia counties as "Mosby's Confederacy," the Battalion provided General Lee with valuable reconnaissance leading to the Confederate army's capture of thousands of Union soldiers and Union supplies worth several hundred thousand dollars. Mosby never formally surrendered with the South, disbanding his troops twelve days after Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Despite his vigilant service for the Confederacy, he later befriended President Ulysses S. Grant and became a Republican. Mosby wrote Stuart's Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign (1908) and his autobiography entitled The Memoirs of John S. Mosby (1917), which was published posthumously.

The Memoirs of John S. Mosby (1917) begins with an introduction by its editor, Charles Wells Russell, who describes John Mosby as one of the most celebrated officers in the Confederate army. Working alongside J.E.B. Stuart, Mosby was a legendary figure who sparked the imaginations of both the North and the South with his daring conquests. Providing commentary from both Confederate and Union officers, Russell conveys Mosby's martial genius and cunning, which earned him an honored place in military history. The narrative that follows further supports these assertions, with Mosby recounting his impressions of the Civil War from an analytical perspective. His narrative serves not simply to describe his own actions, but to reconsider battle strategy and critical decisions made by Confederate generals.

Mosby opens with an account of his boyhood spent on his parents' farm and in school, portraying himself as a frail individual who initially seemed unfit for war. Yet he records his early war experiences with a tone of impatience. He clearly preferred guarding the outposts to encampment and was an early critic of General Johnston's movements in northern Virginia. Although only a private, Mosby explains how he eventually gained the admiration of Generals J.E.B. Stuart and Robert E. Lee by offering his services for daring reconnaissance missions. Time and again he describes outwitting the Union army, earning letters of praise and recommendations for promotion from both Stuart and Lee, which he reprints in the narrative. Mosby also offers detailed portraits of Lee, Grant, and Stuart, for whom Mosby felt great affection and admiration. Mosby had served loyally beside Stuart for years, and out of this devotion he dedicates a section of his narrative to clearing Stuart's name by defending his actions at the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee and others had accused Stuart of joyriding rather than scouting the Union army's movements, but Mosby suggests that the fault remained Lee's. Mosby concludes his narrative with poignant descriptions of Generals Lee and Grant, and recalls Lee's last words to Mosby: "Colonel, I hope we shall have no more wars." His reconstruction of experiences and impressions during the war are strengthened by the incorporation of letters to his wife, Pauline, official correspondence from both Confederate and Union officials, and references made by notable military historians.

Work Consulted: Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, eds. American National Biography, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Armistead Lemon
Harris Henderson

Document menu