Mosby practiced law in Albemarle County from 1855 until 1858. On December 30, 1856, he married Pauline Clarke, the daughter of a prominent Kentucky lawyer and a woman as spirited and intelligent as her husband. By the time of the presidential election of 1860 Mosby and his young family were living in Bristol, Virginia. Mosby disliked the idea of secession and voted for the Unionist Democratic candidate, Stephen A. Douglas. Months earlier, Mosby had joined the Washington Mounted Rifles with the Union in mind. With the secession of Virginia in April 1861, however, the Rifles were called into Confederate service. Private Mosby looked to his company commander, West Pointer William E. "Grumble" Jones, for leadership and military insight. Once the Rifles were in Richmond and incorporated into the 1st Virginia Cavalry, Mosby found his new, permanent hero: J. E. B. Stuart.
Mosby argued that guerrilla warfare could contribute to the defensive efforts of the Confederate army, but Stuart and Lee felt that partisan ranger units (authorized by the Confederate Congress in 1862) had, by their own actions, fallen into disrepute. What Mosby envisioned was a unit free to come and go, a unit based on knowledge of its territory, and a generous spoils system. Confederate secretary of war James Seddon agreed with Mosby, and on June 10, 1863, approved a new command under Major Mosby: Company A, 43rd Battalion Partisan Rangers.
Mosby and his men boarded in homes of local residents throughout Loudoun and Fauquier counties. "Mosby's Confederacy," as the area and citizenry were known, made it possible for Mosby to wage successful guerrilla warfare. Ranger Alexander Hunter later observed that Mosby was not beloved by his men, but was instead feared and revered as "a force of nature."
Shortly after the formation of the unit, the rangers proved their worth as scouts and couriers. On June 17, 1863, Robert E. Lee began to move his army north into Pennsylvania, using Stuart's cavalry to screen his right flank. Upon discovering that Union general Joseph Hooker's army was headed to Fairfax and Loudoun counties, Mosby infiltrated the Union camp near Aldie, capturing two of Hooker's staff officers. Also captured was a crucial letter, indicating that Hooker had no notion of Lee's plans and no intention of crossing the Potomac River. Thus far, Stuart's screen was working.
Lee had not been specific about which route he wished Stuart to take to Gettysburg, and after scouting from June 16 to June 24, Mosby recommended that Stuart pass between Hooker's corps and head to the still-passable Seneca Ford. When, on June 25, Mosby heard artillery fire as Hooker headed toward the Potomac River, he assumed that Stuart would simply turn around to avoid any unnecessary action or delay. Unknown to Mosby, Stuart forged on, resulting in his delayed arrival at Gettysburg. (After the war Mosby was incensed by criticism of Stuart's judgment and, by implication, his own advice.) Mosby dispersed his own men, and did not gather them again until June 28, when he led a successful raid on Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and returned to Virginia.
Mosby was convinced that Custer was behind the act. With the death of his mentor J. E. B. Stuart after the Battle of Yellow Tavern in May 1864, Mosby was left to make the case for his actions directly with Robert E. Lee, and asked permission to deal likewise with the enemy. Lee gave his permission, and in November Mosby had seven prisoners-of-war executed. On December 21, 1864, Mosby was ambushed near Rectortown by Union cavalry, who had no idea of his identity. Though Mosby was seriously wounded in the stomach, the injury was incorrectly reported as fatal in the New York Herald, much to Sheridan's delight.
The war's end left Mosby bereft of purpose. Yet, at thirty-two, his health was
good, despite his seven wounds and the rigors of partisan campaigning. His zeal
for justice was undiminished. While deploring Reconstruction rule, Mosby took a typically
practical view of the need for the South to reconcile with the North. In May 1872
he visited President Grant at the White House, urging him to restore rights to
former Confederates. Mosby agreed to personally endorse Grant, although not the
Republican Party. Both men honored the terms of the visit.
From 1878 until 1885 Mosby served as U.S. consul in Hong Kong. There he found the sort of rampant corruption that was commonplace in the foreign service. Mosby's attempts at reform proved a headache to successive Republican administrations. Returning to the states in 1885, Mosby lived in San Francisco and worked as a lawyer for Southern Pacific Railroad; one of Grant's last acts before his death was to secure this position for his old friend. Mosby took to lecturing in New England, and wrote Mosby's War Reminiscences and Stuart's Cavalry Campaigns (1887). He attended only one reunion of his Rangers, in Alexandria, Virginia, in January 1895, preferring to look forward not back—unless he could right the wrongs of history.
Predictably, Mosby rejected the prevailing sentiments of his fellow veterans and their Lost Cause arguments. He railed against those who blamed Stuart or James Longstreet for the failures of Gettysburg, thus pitting himself against the likes of Charles Marshall and Jubal Early. Mosby also devised his own tortured theory that the battle was doomed by the actions of generals Henry Heth and A. P. Hill, a theory dismissed by historians. In the end, the contents of Lee's letterbook appear to vindicate Mosby's belief that Lee had adequate information prior to Stuart's arrival at Gettysburg; the results were the consequence of Lee's judgments.
Although he himself had kept a slave
throughout the conflict, Mosby was adamant that slavery was not incidental to the
war. In a letter of 1894 he insisted, "I always understood that we went to War on
account of the thing we quarreled with the North about. I never heard of any other
cause of quarrel than slavery."
Vigorous and opinionated, Mosby kept up a stream of private correspondence, as well as letters and articles to newspapers. In April 1897 a carriage accident cost him his left eye, but slowed him not a bit. In April 1898, at sixty-four, Mosby offered to raise a battalion or regiment for the war in Cuba, but was turned down. When Mosby lost his California job in 1901, President William McKinley made him special agent in the General Land Office in the U.S. Interior Department, where he actively enforced federal fencing laws in the Midwest. President Theodore Roosevelt sent him to Alabama to watch for trespassers on government land. Finally at seventy, via his friend, the publisher Joseph Bryan, and his brother-in-law, Charlie Russell, Mosby found work as assistant attorney general in the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. While there Mosby finished his Stuart's Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign (1908). Deaths of students resulting from football injuries at the University of Virginia prompted him in 1909 to write authorities at his old school, protesting that football was "murder." He offered his services in World War I (1914–1918) to King George V of England, and took a dim view of President Woodrow Wilson.
- Mosby's War Reminiscences and Stuart's Cavalry Campaigns (1887)
- Stuart's Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign (1908)
- The Memoirs of John Singleton Mosby (incomplete; published posthumously, 1917)
December 6, 1833 - John Singleton Mosby is born at his grandfather's house in Powhatan County, Virginia, the second of eleven children of Virginia and Alfred Mosby.
1850 - John Singleton Mosby enrolls at the University of Virginia at age sixteen.
1852 - John Singleton Mosby shoots a medical student, George Turpin, after an argument. Although he claims self-defense, Mosby is expelled from the University of Virginia and sentenced to one year in the local jail for unlawful shooting.
December 23, 1853 - Virginia governor Joseph Johnson pardons John Singleton Mosby, who has served a year in jail for shooting a man. Mosby is later reimbursed for his court-imposed fine.
1855-1858 - After reading the law while in jail, under the tutelage of his prosecutor, John Singleton Mosby practices law in Albemarle County.
December 30, 1856 - John Singleton Mosby marries Pauline Clarke, the daughter of a prominent Kentucky lawyer.
1861 - After signing up to serve in the state militia, John Singleton Mosby is persuaded by friends to join the Washington Mounted Rifles, commanded by William E. "Grumble" Jones. The unit reports to Richmond in June and is assigned to the 1st Virginia Cavalry under J. E. B. Stuart.
April 1862 - Confederate general J. E. B. Stuart appoints John Singleton Mosby, now ranked as private, as a staff courier and scout.
June 10, 1863 - Confederate secretary of war James Seddon permits John Singleton Mosby to form and recruit for Company A, 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry (Partisan Rangers). This permission comes despite the preference of J. E. B. Stuart and Robert E. Lee that Mosby's new command stay within the regular cavalry.
December 21, 1864 - John Singleton Mosby is critically wounded in a Union cavalry ambush near Rectortown after returning from a Ranger wedding. Mosby is whisked away to a doctor and safety before Union troopers discover his identity. He is reported dead by the Union and Confederate press, to the glee of Union general Philip H. Sheridan.
September 1865 - John Singleton Mosby resumes his law practice in Warrenton.
May 10, 1876 - Pauline Clarke Mosby, wife of John Singleton Mosby, dies at age thirty-nine.
1878–1885 - Appointed U.S. consul to Hong Kong by president Rutherford B. Hayes, John Singleton Mosby serves until July 1885, when president Grover Cleveland replaces him with another appointee.
1885–1901 - John Singleton Mosby works in San Francisco as an attorney for the Southern Pacific Railroad.
1887 - John Singleton Mosby's War Reminiscences and Stuart's Cavalry Campaigns is published.
January 16, 1895 - John Singleton Mosby attends his first and last Ranger reunion in Alexandria.
April 23, 1897 - John Singleton Mosby loses his left eye and fractures his skull in a carriage accident in Charlottesville.
1901 - President William McKinley appoints John Singleton Mosby to work in the Department of the Interior's General Land Office, where he is charged with enforcing federal fencing laws in the Midwest.
April 1903 - President Theodore Roosevelt assigns John Singleton Mosby to the Land Office in Montgomery, Alabama, where he is assigned to guard government land from trespassers and poachers.
1904–1910 - John Singleton Mosby serves as an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice, in Washington, D.C. He retires at age seventy-six.
1908 - John Singleton Mosby completes Stuart's Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign.
January 1915 - The University of Virginia honors John Singleton Mosby with a written tribute and a medal.
June 1, 1916 - John Singleton Mosby is buried in Warrenton Cemetery in Warrenton.
1957–1958 - John Singleton Mosby is the subject of a CBS television series, The Gray Ghost. Protests against the series’ insensitive subject matter (in the wake of the controversial school enrollment of the so-called Little Rock Nine and other Civil Rights issues) resulted in its cancellation.
1992 - John Singleton Mosby is among the first inductees into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Coski, R. A. John Singleton Mosby (1833–1916). (2014, March 1). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Mosby_John_Singleton_1833-1916.
- MLA Citation:
Coski, Ruth Ann. "John Singleton Mosby (1833–1916)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 1 Mar. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: October 24, 2011 | Last modified: March 1, 2014
Contributed by Ruth Ann Coski, a special correspondent for publications at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.