The "Gray Ghost" of Military Legend
A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet
Sitting atop my computer monitor are two small portraits of a man I much admire. He was small in size but his bravery, military skill, and ability to stay one step ahead of the armed forces of an invading foreign power, made him a giant.
He was known by his contemporaries as "The Gray Ghost"
His name was John Singleton Mosby and his Mosby's Rangers/Marauders/Raiders were admired by his Confederate commanders and utterly feared and hated by the commanders of the United States military.
Call them what you want, but they were, in fact, the 43rd Battalion, 1st Virginia Cavalry. Their Battalion Commander was Col. John S. Mosby.
Mosby was not easy to get along with. In fact, it is said a number of his superior officers, with whom he had many run-ins and disagreements, conspired to find some way to get him out of their commands. They finally hit upon the idea of Mosby forming a group of what would be known today as "Special Forces" or even "Guerrilla forces." They were known then as "Partisans."
Although the primary reason was to get Mosby out of the "regular" forces and away from those he regularly quarreled with, creating Mosby's Rangers turned out to be a stroke of pure genius!
Men flocked to Mosby's command. His continuous hit and run strikes at federal troops, often far behind the federal lines, aggravated the Union Generals and caused them to commit a number of troops to hunt down and capture or kill the Gray Ghost. They never did. His Rangers struck on horseback, often at night, and then melted away into the darkness and amongst the civilian population. The important thing was ... those Union troops searching for Mosby's Rangers were Union troops that would not be on the battlefield fighting the Confederate Army.
Mosby virtually owned the north central part of Virginia where he nearly drove Union commanders crazy. It was quickly dubbed: "Mosby's Confederacy."
The Confederate officer most aggravated with Mosby was J.E.B. Stuart. Stuart was General Robert E. Lee's foremost cavalry commander.
Mosby had been an Intelligence officer under Stuart with the rank of 1st Lieutenant. Even though he admired Stuart, it is said that he clashed constantly with him.
Mosby was captured by Union forces while under Stuart's command. But, when released, Mosby walked back to Richmond, and reported directly to Robert E. Lee, the Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, rather than report to his immediate superior, J.E.B. Stuart.
That did it. Stuart wanted nothing more than to be rid of the man.
Stuart consulted with Lee and in January 1863, Lee ordered Mosby to organize and take command of a battalion sized group of partisans in Northern Virginia. It was to be the 43rd Battalion, 1st Virginia Cavalry. It soon became a regiment as southern men poured in to join Mosby's command.
Talk about rising in the ranks! Having previously been promoted to captain, on March 15, 1863, and major, on 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.
Stories of Mosby's exploits are many and colorful One of the most oft repeated story is Mosby's daring raid deep inside Union lines at the Fairfax County courthouse in March 1863, where his men captured three Union officers, including Brig. Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton.
Mosby wrote in his memoirs that he found Stoughton in bed and roused him with a "spank on his bare back." Upon being so rudely awakened the general indignantly asked what this meant. Mosby quickly asked if he had ever heard of "Mosby". The general replied, "Yes, have you caught him?" "I am Mosby," the Confederate ranger said. "Stuart's cavalry has possession of the Court House; be quick and dress."
Mosby and his 29 men had captured a Union general, two captains, 30 enlisted men, and 58 horses without firing a shot!
Mosby's successful disruption of supply lines, attrition of Union couriers, and disappearance in the disguise of civilians caused Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to tell Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan:
"The families of most of Mosby's men are know[n] and can be collected. I think they should be taken and kept at Fort McHenry or some secure place as hostages for good conduct of Mosby and his men. When any of them are caught with nothing to designate what they are -- hang them without trial."
Several of Mosby's men were caught and executed by Sheridan. Mosby then captured several of Sheridan's men and executed them. The Gray Ghost then sent a letter to Sheridan explaining that maybe "now" was a good time to begin treating prisoners, on both sides, humanely. The executions stopped.
The Gray Ghost was wounded several times. Each wound was serious, yet he returned to command his troops in what today would be considered "record time."
Mosby's exploits after the war are very nearly as colorful and certainly just as interesting.
It is of more than passing interest to note that Mosby actually influenced the outcome of the Second World War. How?
"During General George S. Patton's childhood, one of the best friends of the Patton family was none-other-than Colonel John S. Mosby, the fabled 'Gray Ghost' of J.E.B. Stuart's legendary cavalry. Patton grew up hearing tales of daring raids and stunning cavalry attacks from the Gray Ghost himself. During visits to the Patton Ranch in Southern California, Colonel Mosby would re-enact the Civil War with George; playing himself, he let George play the part of General Lee as they would recount the battles of the war, astride their horses."
One can only wonder if Patton's exploits with his "motorized" cavalry were inspired, if not learned, from the Gray Ghost himself.
Learn more about the Gray Ghost at the link below:
The Gray Ghost was a singular southern soldier, a southern patriot of both the Confederacy and of the United States, and -- he became a republican after the war. He held a number of US government posts and became fast friends with President U.S. Grant.
In America today, we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of The War Between the States -- or -- as I prefer to call it: "The War for Southern Independence."
As an active and long-time member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, I urge you to study the reasons for that war. You will quickly learn that slavery BECAME an issue but -- it was NOT the issue that ignited the war. Too, you will learn that the United States today is dealing with may of the very same problems that led to it's breakup in the 1860's. For example, the federal government meddling in rights left to the states in the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution.
I submit to you, dear reader, that we Americans can avoid a similar split today if we study and learn from our history. If we do not, rest assured -- we are doomed to repeat it.
J. D. Longstreet
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