Review: Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby

Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby
(Paperback) by James A. Ramage

Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: The University Press of Kentucky (January 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813192536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813192536

John Singleton Mosby is not a major player in the American Civil War.  He is not a major player in the Eastern Theater of the war either.  However, Mosby has captured our imagination as few historical figures can.  Within a defined area, Mosby was a major problem.  Using a combination of good intelligence, detailed planning, some good luck and daring his men pulled off one spectacular raid after another.  His mission was never to stand and fight, he avoided fights whenever possible.  However, when it came to fighting, he did not hold back creating a reputation as a fighter that created fear in his opponents.  He was the personification of what the Confederacy had in mind when they authorized partisan rangers.  There is no denying the amount of problems he caused in “Mosby’s Confederacy” and the impact he could have on operations in the Shenandoah Valley.  A search in books on for “John Mosby” returns over 200 entries.

This book is in the “best of the lot” category.  This is a well-researched work, fully footnoted with a “Bibliographic Essay” making it a serious history.  However, the author has a good lively writing style producing a fun and easy to read text.  This converts Mosby’s exploits into both an exciting read that is a history lesson.  The book spends little time on Mosby’s childhood, covers his war experiences in detail and spends a good deal of time on his post war life.  In presenting a good balanced picture of the man, we get a real look at his times with a good deal of politics and personalities.  Mosby managed to make firm friends and bitter enemies with equal ease.  His “conversion” to the Republican Party is done without upsetting the “Lost Cause” group allowing him to stay in both camps.  The post-war 100 pages is one of the strengths of the book providing an absorbing look at Reconstruction and American politics.  The last chapter is a look at Mosby in film and television.  In addition to how legends are built, this chapter talks about the end of his life and his children and grandchildren.

The author tends to overstate his case at some points.  In addition, he has a small amount of psychoanalysis that is misplaced.  Neither of these are serious flaws or a reason to not consider this book.  The author assumes a basic understanding of the war that most buyers book will have.  If you are interested in Mosby or the development of guerrilla warfare, this is an excellent book.


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