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Gray Ghost

Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby

James A. Ramage
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 432
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jcfn7
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  • Book Info
    Gray Ghost
    Book Description:

    Confederate John Singleton Mosby forged his reputation on the most exhilarating of military activities: the overnight raid. Mosby possessed a genius for guerrilla and psychological warfare, taking control of the dark to make himself the "Gray Ghost" of Union nightmares. Gray Ghost, the first full biography of Confederate raider John Mosby, reveals new information on every aspect of Mosby's life, providing the first analysis of his impact on the Civil War from the Union viewpoint.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2945-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[v])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vi]-[viii])
  3. 1 Mosby’s Weapon of Fear
    (pp. 1-10)

    Union cavalry charging with whirling sabers against Mosby’s men suddenly realized that nothing in their drills or training had prepared them for this, for Mosby threw away the rules and never fought fairly. Here was no gentlemanly thrust and parry, but revolver bullets, noise, and smoke; men falling to the ground wounded and dead; and riderless horses jumping around out of control. The Union commander was usually one of the first down, and in shock and confusion his men had the urge to drop their reins and allow their horses to behave naturally and run away. “We considered that to...

  4. 2 The Weakling and the Bullies
    (pp. 11-27)

    Mosby was weak, frail, and sickly in childhood and youth, and he heard family doctors telling his parents that he had a predisposition to consumption, the nineteenth-century term for tuberculosis. “In my youth I was very delicate and often heard that I would never live to be a grown man,” he wrote.¹ His persistent cough and weakened condition brought relief from farm chores and unusual pampering from his mother and other family members. But in antebellum Southern society, people measured worth by appearance, and at school he became a victim of bullies. He could have withdrawn into shyness and lost...

  5. 3 “Virginia is my mother.”
    (pp. 28-35)

    Mosby’s conviction and incarceration had shattered the serenity of life at Tudor Grove; soon after his release from jail, the family moved to a farm in Fluvanna County. He continued reading law and on September 4, 1855, passed the bar under the examination of Judge Field and two other judges. Leaving home at the age of twenty-two, he opened a law practice in Howardsville on the James River in Albemarle County. There were few clients, and he was half-starved and homesick; but then an attractive nineteen-year-old woman from Kentucky came visiting relatives, and his mood brightened.¹

    When he first met...

  6. 4 Scouting behind Enemy Lines
    (pp. 36-57)

    Mosby distinctly remembered the first time he saw Jeb Stuart; he had never before seen such a gallant man. He thought Stuart looked like a Greek god or a hero from a romantic novel come to life. It was at Bunker Hill in the Shenandoah Valley at sunset on July 9, 1861, and Jones’s company was arriving from Richmond to join Stuart’s 1st Virginia Cavalry regiment screening the army of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. The column topped a rise, and Mosby looked down on Stuart’s camp in a little canyon between two slight ridges. He noticed that, instead of the...

  7. 5 Capturing a Yankee General in Bed
    (pp. 58-76)

    Lincoln and the War Department were extremely sensitive about the defense of Washington, D.C. The army had enclosed the city in thirty-seven miles of forts and connecting earthworks mounting the most powerful cannon made. For a field of fire the trees and brush were cleared, leaving a one-mile strip of bare ground, tree stumps, and brush piles separating the capital and Alexandria from the no-man’s-land beyond. Corps commanders of the Army of the Potomac, meeting as a board of defense, recommended, in addition to artillery, twenty-five thousand infantry for the forts and three thousand cavalry for the early warning line...

  8. 6 Miskel’s Farm
    (pp. 77-95)

    There was a Union signal station on a hill on the left bank of the Potomac River in southern Maryland, and the men had a clear view of the farm across the river in Virginia. A few minutes after sunrise on April 1, 1863, they began cheering at the top of their voices, for they saw a detachment of 150 Union cavalrymen surround Mosby’s 69 men inside the high plank fence around the barn. The Union horsemen were mounted and in ranks, and all was steady and in order, while in the barnyard everything was commotion and confusion—the Rebels...

  9. 7 Featherbed Guerrillas
    (pp. 96-104)

    Mosby fixed his mind on the goal of success as a partisan raider and determined to remain independent. With almost incredible stamina and self-confidence he rejected traditional procedures and used several unconventional keys to success. He carefully followed the advice of Stuart and Lee “to be extremely watchful as to the character of the men” he enlisted. Except in the fall of 1864 when the battalion increased to nearly four hundred men, he insisted on meeting and interviewing each recruit. He would stare into a man’s face, watch his eyes, and instinctively judge his worth. Disregarding regulations, he accepted many...

  10. 8 Unguarded Sutler Wagons
    (pp. 105-119)

    Mosby’s plans to mind the rear of Pope’s army were realized one year later against Meade. After the battle of Gettysburg, Meade positioned the Army of the Potomac about where Pope’s army had been when Mosby had attempted to go partisan the first time. He carefully guarded his main supply line on the O&A Railroad but, for a few weeks, provided no escorts for sutlers coming from Washington on the Warrenton Turnpike. Less than seven miles into Virginia the merchants would come to a cavalryman standing in the road beckoning them to turn into a by-path; it was Mosby in...

  11. 9 Masquerading as the Enemy
    (pp. 120-130)

    The best opportunities to masquerade as the enemy came in the immediate rear of main armies where soldiers felt secure and moved alone or in small detachments. When Meade’s army withdrew to Centreville to counter Lee’s advance during the Bristoe Station campaign in October 1863, Stuart sent Mosby to scout in Meade’s rear between Centreville and Washington, and the Rangers used the opportunity to masquerade as Union cavalry. The battalion had increased to two companies on October 1 but still had only about fifty men. On about October 17 Mosby concealed them in a woodland near Frying Pan and after...

  12. 10 Seddon’s Partisans
    (pp. 131-146)

    Secretary of War Seddon was in frail health and looked much older than forty-eight. The doctors said he had chronic neuralgia, and some people said that he would never survive the workload of a cabinet position. His wife Sally stayed at home on the plantation in Goochland County, and he lived quietly in the Spottswood Hotel. He wore a skullcap, had a prominent nose and straggling hair, and was so thin it was said that one could hear his bones rattle when he descended the hotel stairs. John B. Jones, the war clerk who saw him every day, wrote in...

  13. 11 Mosby’s Clones in the Valley
    (pp. 147-164)

    General Lee finally conceded that Mosby’s vision of his command, with separate small raiding forces attacking at different places simultaneously and commanded by Mosby clones, was effective. He congratulated Mosby for successfully multiplying himself many times. After the loss of Smith and Turner, he had William Chapman; and by April 29, 1864, when Sigel’s offensive began in the Valley, he had three additional replicas serving as officers in the battalion, now increased to four companies and over two hundred men. Like Chapman the new clones were young, handsome, intelligent, and proficient in masquerading as the enemy, organizing an ambush, and...

  14. 12 The Night Belonged to Mosby
    (pp. 165-183)

    By 1864 Mosby and his men were achieving his goal of producing fear in the minds of the enemy as a force multiplier. Clausewitz, in his bookOn War, wrote that local bands of guerrillas should surround the invading army with a feeling of uneasiness and dread. Che Guevera taught that invaders should be made to feel, day and night, that everything outside of camp is hostile, that they are “inside hostile jaws.” Mao Tse Tung identified the enemy’s mind as the target and proposed that it was more important to attack his will than his body. Guerrillas should, he...

  15. 13 Blue Hen’s Chickens and Custer’s Wolverines
    (pp. 184-200)

    Sheridan understood the psychology of guerrilla warfare and comprehended as well as anyone in the Union, except perhaps Lincoln, that public opinion in the North would not support extreme counterguerrilla measures that threatened to bathe the country in blood. Therefore when one of his reactions to Mosby’s first raid involved the hanging and shooting of prisoners of war assumed to be Mosby’s men, he kept it so quiet and secret that the victims remain still unidentified today. He welcomed Grant’s more moderate orders to arrest Southern males of draft age and burn the crops and outbuildings of civilians who supported...

  16. 14 The Lottery
    (pp. 201-215)

    Vehement rhetoric and inhumane acts continued in the Shenandoah Valley into November 1864, and eventually Mosby retaliated for the Front Royal killings; but in the meantime Union forces reopened the Manassas Gap Railroad through Mosby’s Confederacy. He interdicted the railroad, diverting cavalry from the picket line on the Potomac River and opening the way for a raid on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the B&O Railroad. Mosby’s attacks annoyed Sheridan, but as long as Early’s army threatened he focused on it, waiting to operate against Mosby’s civilian supporters.

    Mosby was recovering from his September 14 wound when he hobbled...

  17. 15 Sheridan’s Mosby Hunt
    (pp. 216-227)

    Sheridan and other commanders hunting Mosby were limited in that the Union had already used and shrank back from an extreme counterguerrilla policy. In attempting to stop the bloody border war in Kansas and Missouri, the army had gone to the heart of the matter and taken the war to the civilians in the most extreme counterinsurgency program of the war. Reacting to Confederate William C. Quantrill’s bloody raid on Lawrence, Kansas, Union general Thomas Ewing on August 25, 1863, issued Orders no. 11 removing about twenty thousand residents from four counties in Missouri and turning their homes into a...

  18. 16 Sheridan’s Burning Raid
    (pp. 228-242)

    Sheridan’s cavalry came through Ashby’s Gap on Monday afternoon, November 28, 1864, with four days’ rations and forage, ample ammunition, and plenty of matches. Descending the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains into Loudoun Valley, they divided into columns of two regiments each; and beginning at 3:00 P.M., for four days residents could trace their line of march by the great columns of black smoke rising in the sky and hovering over the country, almost shutting out the sun. A woman watched from her window in the mountains and counted over twenty barns burning at once. The flames crackled...

  19. 17 Apache Ambuscades, Stockades, and Prisons
    (pp. 243-261)

    By the final months of the war, Union commanders in the lower Shenandoah Valley and on the Washington early-warning screen had lost so much sleep from Mosby’s raids and false alarms that they went on the defensive. Sheridan’s successor, General Hancock, attempted to seal the lower Valley and defend the B&O Railroad with a heavy line of infantry and cavalry pickets, and his counterguerrilla tactics harked back two years to Stahel’s methods. In Fairfax County the Union cavalry appeared to be defending the nation’s capital from hostile Indians. They had erected a line of stockades for defense; and when they...

  20. 18 “All that the proud can feel of pain”
    (pp. 262-270)

    Mosby’s men had seen him cry only once, standing by the deathbed of Tom Turner at Loudoun Heights. But when he read about Lee’s surrender in theBaltimore Americanand realized that the war was over, he broke down again, in “the very image of despair.” Sitting on a log outside the house where he had spent the night, he laid aside the paper and said, “I thought I had sounded the profoundest depth of human feeling, but this is the bitterest hour of my life.” He had never been physically healthy in peacetime, and he loved fighting so much...

  21. 19 Grant’s Partisan in Virginia
    (pp. 271-284)

    Early in the mornings from houses on Main Street in Warrenton, people saw Mosby walking along on his way to work. Slowly putting one foot in front of the other, with stooped shoulders, faded coat, vest with two buttons missing, and white slouch hat pushed low on his forehead, he was the picture of a man who had known adventure but was now bored and frustrated. One could scarcely imagine that this clean-shaven, quiet lawyer was a former guerrilla chief.¹ For seven years his gentle nature remained ascendant, but then in the spring of 1872 his need for conflict and...

  22. 20 Hayes’s Reformer in Hong Kong
    (pp. 285-299)

    Eventually Mosby accepted a Republican appointment, consul in Hong Kong, and went into exile in “far Cathay,” leaving his heart behind with his children in Virginia. Three were under twelve years of age; Ada, the youngest, was seven. They were beautiful, and he loved them dearly; but he would not see them for nearly seven years, except Beverly, who came to Hong Kong as his vice consul for the last two and one-half years. He left them in the care of his mother in Virginia and wrote to them frequently and sent gifts and money for their education and living...

  23. 21 Stuart and Gettysburg
    (pp. 300-317)

    One of the quickest paths to dishonor in the South in the late nineteenth century was to disparage the memory of Robert E. Lee, the idol of the Lost Cause. “You know Genl. Lee is worshiped as a divinity in Virginia,” Mosby said. Reconciling defeat, Lost Cause advocates postulated that, even though Confederate soldiers were overwhelmed by greater numbers and resources, the South had Lee as a symbol of the superiority of Southern civilization. He was a Christian gentleman and a military genius, and, since he never made a mistake, he could not have lost the battle of Gettysburg; someone...

  24. 22 Roosevelt’s Land Agent in the Sand Hills
    (pp. 318-332)

    When Mosby was laid off from the Southern Pacific Railroad on the death of President Huntington, he had no money saved, only a small life insurance policy. It was “gall & wormwood,” but he pleaded with McKinley one more time for an appointment and on August 3, 1901, at sixty-seven years of age, became special agent in the General Land Office in the Department of the Interior. At a salary of a hundred dollars per month, he had responsibility for investigating and reporting violations of federal land laws in three districts in Colorado and Nebraska. When he arrived at his headquarters...

  25. 23 The Gray Ghost of Television and Film
    (pp. 333-343)

    Mosby was famous beginning with the capture of Stoughton and, by the end of the Civil War, was easily among the ten most-popular Confederate heroes. He continued to attract attention wherever he appeared, but his popularity waned after he stumped for Grant in 1872 and did not recover until about 1900. Then Southerners began speaking positively of him again, and he became the subject of three silent films, one featuring Mosby playing himself. When he died in 1916 eulogies exalted him as the most famous Confederate raider, a guerrilla who defied death innumerable times, skillfully bedeviled the Union, and made...

  26. Conclusion
    (pp. 344-348)

    When Mosby’s Civil War career is evaluated from the view of his Union opponents and in perspective of the history of guerrilla warfare, he emerges as one of the most successful guerrilla leaders in history. He accomplished the limited goals of irregular warfare in support of the regular Confederate army. With fewer than 400 men at any one time and a total of 1,570 enrolled by the end of the war, he suffered about 640 casualties and killed, wounded, or captured at least 2,900 of the enemy, more than 4 times his losses. The Union army dispatched more than seventy...

  27. Notes
    (pp. 349-400)
  28. Bibliographic Essay
    (pp. 401-406)
  29. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 407-410)
  30. Index
    (pp. 411-430)
  31. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  32. Back Matter
    (pp. 431-431)