Wednesday, July 30, 2008
From the Shelves of the Paco Library
I’m not exactly a Civil War buff, but I do have a fairly large collection of books on the subject, and since a passel of Paco’s died in that war, fighting for the side that “came in second”, there’s a certain family interest, as well (the Paco in my direct line was captured at Gettysburg, and died in a federal prison camp).
The thing that has always fascinated me most is the personalities of some of the figures associated with that struggle, and there were few more fascinating than the Gray Ghost of the Confederacy, John Singleton Mosby.
No doubt, modern scholarship has added to our knowledge of the military operations of this famous Confederate officer, but the book for me has always been Virgil Carrington Jones’ Ranger Mosby, first published in 1944. John Singleton Mosby was commander of a force of Confederate partisans that conducted numerous successful raids in Northern Virginia, turning Loudon, Fauquier and Fairfax counties into an area that came quickly to be known as “Mosby’s Confederacy.” Mosby was mentioned more frequently in Lee’s dispatches than any other Confederate officer, and his efforts at disrupting Union supply lines were so successful that Grant eventually ordered that his men be hanged without trial, whenever captured (in retaliation, Mosby executed several Union soldiers, and subsequently proposed to Grant that their respective prisoners be treated humanely; Grant acceded to this request). One of Mosby’s most celebrated exploits was his capture of General Edwin Stoughton. Here is Jones’ description of the incident:
“At the brick home of Dr. Gunnell [Stoughton’s headquarters], sitting back a hundred yards or so from the main road past the courthouse, they stopped. Mosby gave a loud knock, and in a few seconds an upper window was raised and someone called down sleepily, ‘Who’s there?’
‘Fifth New York Cavalry with a dispatch for General Stoughton,’ replied Mosby.
The window was closed, a light flickered and footsteps could be heard coming down the stairs. The door was thrown back by Lieutenant Prentiss of Stoughton’s staff, dressed in shirt and long drawers, looking more like a farmer roused from his couch by chicken thieves than an officer in the United States Army facing a group of desperate Partisan raiders.
Mosby grabbed him by the shirt and poked a gun in his ribs. ‘Lead me to the general’s room,’ he said coldly…
Stoughton lay in a sound sleep, heavy covers accenting his figure in a sloping mound. Near at hand stood several empty champagne bottles, mute evidence of revelry the night before. Mosby walked to the bed and pulled down the quilts. Stoughton was on his side, snoring. Lack of covering caused him only to double his knees more closely against his stomach. But he kicked and raised on one elbow in sputtering confusion when the Partisan lifted his nightshirt and spanked him on the behind.
‘General, did you ever hear of Mosby?’ the figure bending over him asked.
‘Yes, have you caught him?’
‘He has caught you.’”
* * *
After the war, Mosby became that thing of anathema in the south, a Republican, and was a supporter of Grant’s election bid. He had a varied career after the war, working as a lawyer, in both private and government practice, and was U.S. consul in Hong Kong.
But it is his dash, courage and effectiveness as a cavalry officer that interest us most, and Ranger Mosby is a must for students of the “little wars” within the big war.