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John S. Mosby
[[Image:File:JohnSMosby.jpg|center|200px|border]]"The Gray Ghost"
Personal Information
Born: December 6, 1833 (1833-12-06)
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Died: Template:Death-date and age
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
Nickname: Gray Ghost
Birth Name: {{{birth name}}}
Other Information
Allegiance: Confederate States of America
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: Confederate States Army
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: Colonel

Brevet Brigadier General

Service number : {{{servicenumber}}}
Battles: American Civil War
Other work: {{{otherwork}}}

John Singleton Mosby (December 6, 1833 – May 30, 1916), also known as the "Gray Ghost," was a Confederate cavalry battalion commander in the American Civil War. His command, the 43rd Battalion, 1st Virginia Cavalry, known as Mosby's Raiders, was noted for its lightning quick raids, partisan or ranger-like tactics and his ability to successfully elude his Union Army pursuers and disappear with his men, blending in with local farmers and townspeople.

Early life and education[]

Mosby was born in Powhatan County, Virginia, to Virginny McLaurine and Alfred Daniel Mosby, a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College and a member of an old Virginia family of English origin whose ancestor, Richard Mosby, was born in England in 1600,[1] settled in Charles City, Virginia in the early 17th century. Mosby was named after his paternal grandfather, John Singleton.

Mosby began his education at a school called Murrell's Shop. When his family moved to Albemarle County, Virginia (near Charlottesville) in about 1840, John attended school in Fry's Woods before transferring to a Charlottesville school at the age of ten. Because of his small stature and frail health, Mosby was the victim of bullies throughout his school career. Instead of becoming withdrawn and lacking in self-confidence, the boy responded by fighting back, although he revealed in his memoirs that he never won any fight in which he was engaged. Actually, the only fight he did not lose was because an adult stepped in and separated the combatants. The boy became, and remained, his friend.

In 1849, Mosby entered the University of Virginia, taking Classical Studies and joining the Washington Literary Society and Debating Union. He was far above average in Latin, Greek, and literature (all of which he enjoyed), but mathematics was a problem for him. In his third year, a quarrel erupted between Mosby and a notorious bully, George R. Turpin, a tavern keeper's son who was robust and physically impressive. In one case, Turpin took a knife to a small student, and in another, he almost killed a much smaller youth with a rock. When Mosby heard that Turpin had insulted him from a friend, Mosby sent Turpin a letter asking for an explanation — one of the rituals in the code of honor to which Southern gentlemen adhered. Turpin became enraged and declared that on their next meeting, he would "eat him [Mosby] up raw!" Mosby decided he had to meet Turpin despite the risk; to run away would be dishonorable.

On March 29 the two met, Mosby having brought with him a small pepper-box pistol in the hope of dissuading Turpin from an attack. When the two met and Mosby said, "I hear you have been making assertions ... ," Turpin put his head down and charged. At that point, Mosby pulled out the pistol and shot his adversary in the neck. The distraught 19-year-old Mosby went home to await his fate. He was arrested and arraigned on two charges: unlawful shooting (a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $500 fine) and malicious shooting (a felony with a maximum sentence of 10 years in the penitentiary). After a trial that almost resulted in a hung jury, Mosby was convicted of the lesser offense, but received the maximum sentence — a year in the Charlottesville jail and a fine of five hundred dollars. Mosby later discovered that he had been expelled from the university before he was brought to trial.[2] There is nothing to suggest that Turpin, for all of his former violence, was likewise expelled for his notorious past.

While serving time, Mosby won the friendship of his prosecutor, attorney William J. Robertson. When Mosby expressed his desire to study law, Robertson offered the use of his law library. Mosby studied law for the rest of his incarceration. Immediately after the sentence had been handed down, nine of the twelve jurors began a petition for his pardon. Two of the jurors were against the young man; one hated students of the university and found Mosby's trial an opportunity to make a statement to that effect.[citation needed] The other juror hated Mosby's father Alfred.[citation needed] In addition to this petition and others from the university, Mosby's parents submitted sworn statements by several physicians noting that given the frail state of Mosby's health, the twelve-month sentence might risk his life. Mosby was beginning to sicken as the weather grew cold, and he suffered in the small, unhealthful jail. On December 23, 1853, the governor pardoned Mosby, and in early 1854, his fine was rescinded.

Early career and marriage[]

After studying for months in Robertson's law office, Mosby was admitted to the bar and established his own practice in nearby Howardsville.

About this time, Mosby met Pauline Clarke, who was visiting from out of town. He was Methodist and she was Catholic, but their courtship ensued. Her father was an active attorney and well-connected politician. They were married in a Nashville hotel on December 30, 1857 and after living for a year with Mosby's parents, the couple settled in Bristol, Virginia which was close to Clarke's hometown in Kentucky. They had two children before the Civil War and another was born during it.

Civil War[]

File:John S. Mosby - Brady-Handy.jpg

Mosby during the American Civil War

Mosby spoke out against secession, but joined the Confederate army as a private at the outbreak of the war. He first served in William "Grumble" Jones's Washington Mounted Rifles. (Jones became a major and was instructed to form a more collective "Virginia Volunteers," which he created with two mounted companies and eight companies of infantry and riflemen, including the Washington Mounted Rifles.) Mosby was upset with the Virginia Volunteers' lack of congeniality, and he wrote to the governor requesting to be transferred. However, his request was not granted. The Virginia Volunteers participated in the First Battle of Manassas.


File:John s mosby.jpg

John Singleton Mosby

After impressing J.E.B. Stuart with his ability to gather intelligence, Mosby was promoted to First Lieutenant and assigned to Stuart's cavalry scouts. He helped the general develop attack strategies. He was responsible for Stuart's "Ride around McClellan" during the Peninsula Campaign. Captured by Union cavalry, Mosby was imprisoned in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C., for ten days before being exchanged. Even as a prisoner, Mosby spied on his enemy. During a brief stopover at Fort Monroe, he detected an unusual buildup of shipping in Hampton Roads. He found they were carrying thousands of troops under Ambrose Burnside from North Carolina on their way to reinforce John Pope in the Northern Virginia Campaign. When he was released, Mosby walked to army headquarters outside Richmond and personally related his findings to Robert E. Lee.[3]



Mosby's Rangers

In January 1863, Stuart, with Lee's concurrence, authorized Mosby to form and take command of the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry, Partisan Rangers. This was later expanded into Mosby's Command, a regimental-sized unit of partisan rangers operating in Northern Virginia. The Confederate government certified special rules to govern the conduct of partisan rangers. These included sharing in the disposition of spoils of war. Having previously been promoted to Captain (March 15, 1863) and Major (March 26, 1863) in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States, Mosby was soon promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on January 21, 1864 and to Colonel, December 7, 1864.

Mosby's group consisted of Fount Beatie, Charles Buchanan, Christopher Gaul, William and Jacob Hemphill, William L. Hunter, Edward S. Hurst, Jasper and William Jones, William Keys, Benjamin Morgan, George Seibert, George M. Slater, Daniel L. Thomas, William Thomas Turner, Charles Wheatley, and John Wild. He and his men carried out the Greenback Raid and attacked Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan's wagon train at Berryville.

Mosby is famous for carrying out a daring raid far inside Union lines at the Fairfax County courthouse in March 1863, where his men captured three high-ranking Union officers, including Brig. Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton. The story is told that Mosby found Stoughton in bed and roused him with a slap to his rear. Upon being so rudely awakened, the general shouted, "Do you know who I am?" Mosby quickly replied, "Do you know Mosby, general?" "Yes! Have you got the rascal?" "No, but he has got you!" His group also captured 30 or more sentries without firing a shot.[citation needed]


Mosby's successful disruption of supply lines and attrition of Union couriers caused General Ulysses S. Grant to tell General Philip Sheridan, "When any of Mosby's men are caught, hang them without trial."[4] On September 22, 1864, Union forces that Mosby believed (not necessarily correctly) to be commanded by, and acting with the knowledge of, Union general George A. Custer, executed six of Mosby's men in Front Royal, Virginia; a seventh (captured, according to Mosby's subsequent letter to Sheridan, "by a Colonel Powell on a plundering expedition into Rappahannock") was reported by Mosby to have suffered a similar fate.[5] William Thomas Overby was one of the men selected for execution on the hill in Front Royal. His captors offered to spare him if he would reveal Mosby's location, but he refused. According to reports at the time, his last words were, "My last moments are sweetened by the reflection that for every man you murder this day Mosby will take a tenfold vengeance."[6] After the executions, a Union soldier pinned a piece of paper to one of the bodies that read: "This shall be the fate of all Mosby's men."[7]


Captain Mountjoy, wood engraving 1867 [8]

After informing General Robert E. Lee and Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon of his intention to respond in kind, Mosby ordered seven Union prisoners, chosen by lot, to be executed in retaliation on November 6, 1864, at Rectortown, Virginia. Although seven men were chosen in the original "death lottery," three men were actually executed. One numbered lot fell to a drummer boy who was excused because of his age, and Mosby's men held a second drawing for a man to take his place. Then on the way to the place of execution a prisoner recognized Masonic regalia on the uniform of Captain Mountjoy, a recently inducted Freemason then returning from a raid. The condemned captive gave him a secret Masonic distress signal. Captain Mountjoy substituted one of his own prisoners for his fellow Mason[9] (though one source speaks of two Masons being substituted).[10] Mosby upbraided Mountjoy that his command "is not a Masonic lodge." The soldiers charged with carrying out the executions of the (revised) group of seven men successfully hanged three men. They shot two more in the head and left them for dead (remarkably, both survived). The other two condemned men managed (separately) to escape.[11] On November 11, 1864, Mosby wrote to Sheridan as the commander of Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley, requesting that both sides resume treating prisoners with humanity. He pointed out that he and his men had captured (and returned) far more of Sheridan's men than they had lost.[12] The Union side complied. With both camps treating prisoners as "prisoners of war" for the duration, there were no more executions.


Several weeks after General Robert E. Lee's surrender, Mosby simply disbanded his rangers, as he refused to surrender formally. Mosbys' Rangers however were the carriers of the surrender orders and documents to Appomattox Court House.

Postbellum life[]

File:Old mosby and russell.jpg

Mosby and his former lieutenant John S. Russell

After the war, Mosby became an active Republican, saying it was the best way to help the South. Mosby went on to become a campaign manager in Virginia for President Ulysses S. Grant. In his autobiography, Grant stated, "Since the close of the war, I have come to know Colonel Mosby personally and somewhat intimately. He is a different man entirely from what I supposed. He is able and thoroughly honest and truthful."[13]

File:1212 12th Street, NW.jpg

Mosby's former residence in Washington, D.C.

Mosby's friendship with Grant, and his work with those whom many Southerners considered the enemy, made Mosby a highly controversial figure in Virginia. He received death threats, his boyhood home was burned down, and at least one attempt was made to assassinate him. The danger contributed to the President's appointing him as U.S. consul to Hong Kong (1878–1885). Mosby then served as a lawyer in San Francisco with the Southern Pacific Railroad. Later he worked for the Department of the Interior, first enforcing federal fencing laws in Omaha, then evicting trespassers on government-owned land in Alabama. He also worked as assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice (1904–10). He knew a young George S. Patton III and enjoyed making "Battle plans" with Patton in the sand.[citation needed] He died in Washington, D.C., and was buried in Warrenton Cemetery.

In a 1907 letter, Mosby explained why he fought on the Confederate side, despite disapproving of slavery. While he believed the South had seceded to protect slavery, he had felt it was his patriotic duty to Virginia. "I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery—a soldier fights for his country — right or wrong—he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in ... The South was my country."[14]

Monuments and memorials[]

File:John S. Mosby inscription in Scranton, PA MG 1534.JPG

"War Loses Its Romance": Inscription of military quotation by John S. Mosby at Veterans Memorial at the Lackawanna County Courthouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania

  • The area around Middleburg, from where Mosby launched most of his behind-the-lines activities, was called "Mosby's Confederacy", even in the Northern press. Such was the fame of his unit that after the war, reunions of "Mosby's Rangers" always drew many times the number of men who actually served in the unit.[citation needed]
  • The John Singleton Mosby Museum is located in Warrenton, Virginia, at the historic Brentmoor estate where Mosby lived from 1875 to 1877.
  • There are 35 monuments and markers in Northern Virginia dedicated to actions and events related to Mosby's Rangers.
  • John Mosby Highway, a section of US Route 50 between Dulles Airport and Winchester, Virginia, is named for Colonel John Singleton Mosby.
  • Some sources give Mosby credit for coining the term "the Solid South." He used it in an 1876 letter to the New York Herald, supporting the candidacy of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes for president.[citation needed]
  • Herman Melville's poem "The Scout Toward Aldie" was about the terror a Union brigade felt upon facing Mosby and his men.
  • Virgil Carrington Jones published Ranger Mosby (1944), and Grey Ghosts and Rebel Raiders (1956). He also wrote the late-1950s television program, Ranger Mosby.
  • Mosby Woods Elementary School in the Fairfax County Public Schools system is named in his honor.[15]
  • Lee McGiffin wrote Iron Scouts of the Confederacy (1993), which told of two teenage boys who enlisted with Mosby's Rangers.
  • The post office branch for zip code 22042 (in Northern Virginia's Falls Church area) is referred to by the USPS as the Mosby branch.

In popular culture[]

  • 1913 film entitled The Pride of the South, starring actor Joseph King as John Mosby.
  • CBS Television aired The Grey Ghost (TV series) during the 1957-58 television season. It starred Tod Andrews as Mosby.[16]
  • The 1967 Disney television movie Willie and the Yank: The Mosby Raiders[17] starred Kurt Russell as a young Confederate serving under Mosby. Actor Jack Ging portrayed John Mosby.[16]
  • In the 1988 alternate history novel Gray Victory author Robert Skimin depicts Mosby as the head of military intelligence after the Confederacy wins the Civil War. He defends his friend, J.E.B. Stuart, from a court of inquiry investigating Stuart's actions in the battle of Gettysburg. In the novel, Skimin portrays Mosby as more pro-slavery than was the case historically.
  • There is a computer game based on Mosby's Civil war activities, by Tilted Mill, called "Mosby's Confederacy". (2008)

See also[]

  • Shenandoah River (Mosby's cave, above Harper's Ferry)


  2. Ramage, James J. (1999). Gray Ghost: the life of Col. John Singleton Mosby. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 20–24. ISBN 0813121353.,M1. 
  3. Longacre, p. 107.
  4. Barefoot, p. 212
  5. Boyle, p.161.
  6. Scott, Partisan Life with Col. John Mosby p. 320 (quoting Overby)
  7. Boyle, p. 155.
  8. Engraving reproduced from Major John Scott, Partisan Life with Col. John S. Mosby, 1867)
  9. Boyle.
  10. Scot, Partisan Life With Col. John Mosby, pp. 355-360
  11. Boyle contains details of sources on these events, which are also discussed in some detail by Wert.
  12. Boyle includes the text of Mosby's letter to Sheridan.
  13. Grant, Ulysses S., Personal memoirs of U.S. Grant ... Volume 2 of Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. C.L. Webster & Co., 1885. p. 142.
  14. Letter, Assistant Attorney General John S. Mosby to Captain Sam Chapman (June 4, 1907).
  15. School website. The website incorrectly refers to Mosby as a general.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Mosby's Rangers on DVD.
  17. IMDB.


Further reading[]

External links[]

bg:Джон Сингълтън Мосби fr:John Singleton Mosby ja:ジョン・モスビー pl:John Singleton Mosby fi:John Singleton Mosby