Birthday of a Confederate cavalryman

by Jessica James on December 6, 2008 · 0 comments

Even those of you who are Civil War buffs may not be aware that today (Dec. 6) is the 175thanniversary of the birth of Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby (1833-1916).

I know this because the inspiration for the main character in my Civil War novel came from Mosby – a charismatic officer who was the leader of the most successful guerrilla command during the War Between the States.

To those sympathetic to the Southern cause, no name in the annals of the war conjures up a more gallant, romantic and awe-inspiring image than that of Mosby. The epitome of the Southern cavalier, Colonel Mosby was an enterprising officer whose small band of partisans often outwitted and outfought the Union army on the fields and farmlands of northern Virginia. As a result, the area stretching from the Potomac River to the Shenandoah Valley became known as Mosby’s Confederacy during the War Between the States. And today, as a tribute to that brave Virginian and his loyal band of followers, the region is known as the Mosby Heritage Area.

But while those in geographic regions south of the Mason-Dixon line see the wartime image of Mosby as everything that is valiant, virtuous and noble, those to the north are more likely to label the Confederate cavalryman a bushwhacker and horse thief.

Mosby’s courage under fire, however, is indisputable, as is the remarkable feat he pulled off in 1863. With only 29 men, he captured union General Edwin Stoughton at his headquarters in Fairfax Court House, along with 33 other Union officers and men, and a large number of horses. This daring enterprise was Mosby’s first attempt at command, and the success of it was just the beginning of a valiant career that lasted throughout the war.

True to his rebellious character, at the end of the war Mosby disbanded his men with the following address rather than surrender his troops to the enemy:

Fauquier, April 21, 1865,
SOLDIERS: I have summoned you together for the last time. The vision
we have cherished of a free and independent country has vanished, and
that country is now the spoil of a conqueror. I disband your
organization in preference to surrendering to our enemies. I am no
longer your commander. After an association of more than two eventful
years, I part from you with a just pride in the fame of your
achievements and grateful recollections of your generous kindness to
myself; and now at this moment of bidding you a final adieu, accept
the assurance of my unchanging confidence and regard. Farewell.
J. S. Mosby,
Colonel Commanding Battalion

When traveling in Loudoun and Fauquier counties today, look for the signs depicting a silhouetted horseman with a flag that now mark the roads and byways where Mosby once reigned. The scenic region west of Leesburg retains much of the charm of its original historic landscape and landmarks.

Anyone who would like further information on John Singleton Mosby can visit:

The Mosby Museum

Mosby Heritage Area

Stuart-Mosby Historical Society


Jessica James is the author of Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War in Virginia.


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