Mosby's Memoirs (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

Mosby's Memoirs (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview

Of all the images associated with the Civil War era, there is none more captivating than that of the swashbuckling Confederate cavalry officer. Daring, fearless, and often reckless to a fault, cavalry commanders were icons in the South both during the conflict and afterwards. A master horse soldier, Mosby was the scourge of Union forces in Northern Virginia or, as the region came to be know, "Mosby's Confederacy." First published posthumously in 1917, The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby provides an extraordinary record of the war in Virginia as well as the studied, first-hand insights of one of the Confederacy's most formidable soldiers.

John Singleton Mosby was born in 1833 at the home of his grandfather, a Revolutionary War veteran, in Powhatan County, Virginia. He was dismissed from the University of Virginia after he shot and wounded another student. Ordered to serve a short jail sentence, Mosby read law with his defense counsel and eventually established his own practice. In 1915, as Mosby was nearing the end of his life, the University of Virginia presented him with a heavy bronze medal on which was inscribed a flowery tribute from his "alma mater."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780760773727
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 01/19/2006
Series: Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 322,428
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

Introduction

Of all the images associated with the Civil War era, there is none more captivating than that of the swashbuckling Confederate cavalry officer. Daring, fearless, and often reckless to a fault, cavalry commanders were icons in the South both during the conflict and afterwards. They seemed to embody a certain spirit and vitality that even the bravest infantryman could never quite match. Some of these men, such as Nathan Bedford Forrest or J. E. B. Stuart, became larger-than-life characters, the embodiment of the Lost Cause ideal, but perhaps the most enigmatic cavalry officer on either side during the war was the venerable rebel Colonel John Singleton Mosby. A master horse soldier, Mosby was the scourge of Union forces in Northern Virginia or, as the region came to be know, "Mosby's Confederacy." Luckily for those interested in the Civil War, Mosby lived a long life after Appomattox and left behind one of the great Civil War memoirs of his generation. First published posthumously in 1917, The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby provides an extraordinary record of the war in Virginia as well as the studied, first-hand insights of one of the Confederacy's most formidable soldiers.

Mosby's story is unique. While the rise of the Lost Cause ensured the deification of Confederate military heroes in the South, Mosby's status as a legend in the region was qualified and, to an extent, denied to him for decades after the conflict. Although he was unquestionably one of the most fearless and cunning commanders that the Confederacy produced, he committed post-war heresy by openly supporting his friend Ulysses S. Grant for president and by urging his fellow Confederates to do the same. His support for the General was due in part to the fair treatment that Grant had afforded him immediately following the close of hostilities, and the fact that the southern cavalryman apparently felt a certain kinship with the man who led the Northern armies. During the war, Mosby was often charged with offering "no quarter" to his enemy while some disparaged Grant for his brutality. "General Grant was as much misunderstood in the South as I was in the North," Mosby wrote, "If the Southern people wanted reconciliation, as they said they did, the logical thing to do was to vote for Grant." On the surface it was certainly an odd political coupling, but it was also the product of both men's acute ability to ignore the whims of public opinion and trust their own instincts, for better or worse.

John Singleton Mosby was born in 1833 at the home of his grandfather, a Revolutionary War veteran, in Powhatan County, Virginia. The future cavalry leader's father was a slaveholding Episcopal minister who greatly admired Thomas Jefferson and often spoke with reverence of the former president's role in the founding of the United States. Mosby attended local schools and for a time the University of Virginia, where he studied law. Perhaps in an omen of things to come, he was dismissed from the university after a dispute with another student during which he shot and wounded the young man. Ordered to pay a fine and serve a short jail sentence, Mosby read law with his defense counsel and eventually established his own practice at Bristol, Virginia, in 1855. Mosby did not include in his memoirs an account of the incident that led to his expulsion, but undoubtedly took great pleasure many years later when the university granted him a major award. In 1915, as Mosby was nearing the end of his life, the University of Virginia publicly lauded the old soldier as a member of their academic family, presenting him with a heavy bronze medal on which was inscribed a flowery tribute from his "alma mater."

Of course most of Mosby's memoir concerns his wartime experiences, and herein lies its value. Before the hostilities, Mosby was a Union man, supporting Stephen Douglas during the 1860 presidential election, but he accompanied his home state of Virginia out of the Union the following year. He began his military career as a private in William "Grumble" Jones' volunteer company that became part of the 1st Virginia Cavalry. Mosby participated in the First Battle of Bull Run and later received a commission as a lieutenant and then a captain. He served as a scout for J. E. B. Stuart, with whom he formed a strong bond, and accompanied Stuart on his famous ride around General George B. McClellan's army in June of 1862. Soon afterwards Mosby was captured and held for a short time as a prisoner of war. After being exchanged he returned to Confederate service where Stuart and Robert E. Lee gave him permission to form his own cavalry unit under the Partisan Ranger Act. Never totaling more than eight hundred men at any given time, the 43rd Virginia Cavalry Battalion, or "Mosby's Rangers" as they came to be known, waged relentless guerilla warfare in the Virginia countryside, disrupting Federal supply lines, capturing couriers and scattering isolated outposts for the remainder of the war. The Rangers usually operated in bands of less than one hundred soldiers who would sweep down on the enemy with lightning speed, burn wagon trains, seize as many supplies and prisoners as possible, and then vanish as suddenly as they had appeared. In one of Mosby's most notable raids he and his men rode into Fairfax Court House under cover of darkness and captured Federal General Edwin H. Stoughton. Mosby himself went to Stoughton's headquarters and roused the startled, bleary-eyed general from a sound sleep with a firm slap on the rear end.

Mosby's legend grew with each raid. Operating initially in Loudoun, Fauquier, Prince William, and Fairfax Counties, the Rangers eventually extended "Mosby's Confederacy" to other parts of Virginia. At one point they almost captured a troop train on which U. S. Grant was a passenger, and Mosby more than once told his men-only half in jest-that he planned to one day ride into Washington and capture Abraham Lincoln. The Rangers were certainly a nuisance to the Federal officials, and some give Mosby credit for extending the war by periodically keeping many of Grant's troops in Virginia occupied so that they could not be used against Lee. Defiant to the end, Mosby never officially surrendered his command, but instead simply disbanded the Rangers on April 20, 1865. By the end of the war he had risen to the rank of colonel.

The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby is divided into twenty short chapters, all but the first of which deal with some aspect of the war. He gives a brief account of his early life in the first few pages but moves on quickly to secession politics and the war itself. He recounts the conflict chronologically, offering not only a detailed description of events but also his opinions on strategy and tactics, placing specific military occurrences into a broader context. Many of the memoirs' most fascinating pages include first-hand accounts of Mosby's interaction with some of the war's leading personalities. Mosby writes freely of his experiences with a host of his famous Confederate contemporaries, and some Federal officers as well. Friction between Mosby and Fitzhugh Lee is apparent, and the Ranger colonel also relates a grisly incident involving George Armstrong Custer. In September of 1864 the Federals captured several of Mosby's men, and Custer ordered their execution. In retaliation, Mosby had a like number of Federal prisoners executed, and then sent word back to Union General Philip Sheridan of what had taken place. "Hereafter, any prisoners falling into my hands will be treated with kindness," Mosby wrote in a letter quoted in his memoir, "unless some new act of barbarity shall compel me, reluctantly, to adopt a line of policy repugnant to humanity." Mosby's writings also pay homage to two men whom he obviously admired a great deal-J. E. B. Stuart and U. S. Grant. He devoted an entire chapter to defending Stuart's much maligned conduct at Gettysburg and, in so doing, brought into question Robert E. Lee's and James Longstreet's later accounts of the Confederate debacle. Those pages dealing with Grant are crowded with praise for the Federal commander. Mosby made clear his belief that had Grant commanded the Confederate Army, the outcome of the war would have changed dramatically. Of Grant's death, Mosby wrote simply, "I felt that I had lost my best friend."

Mosby's wartime memoir was actually late in making its appearance. By 1917, as the United States was poised to enter the First World War, most of the Confederate players in the national drama had already published their versions of events. Some accounts were ego driven, with officers and politicians fighting the "battle of the books" to make sure that their versions of the war took precedence over those of their contemporaries, some of whom were also their rivals. Other memoirs were quaint reminiscences, the product of constant prodding from relatives and associates, that were long on tributes to friends and foes alike but short on detailed analysis. Still others were strictly propaganda. As the myth of the Lost Cause emerged in the South during the last years of the nineteenth century, firsthand reminiscences of the war from a strictly southern perspective were vital to the process. As the South struggle to rationalize the war's outcome and justify its actions, the aging participants in the Confederate experience spoke out in their own defense, usually in the flowery language of chivalry, honor, and duty.

Mosby's circumstance was different, in part because he did not rush his account into publication as part of a personal agenda. In fact, with regard to compiling his war record in book form, it was probably one of the few times in his life that the old soldier procrastinated over a major project-not that Mosby had an aversion to telling and retelling his story. On the lecture circuit after Reconstruction he regaled many crowds with tales of his wartime exploits, but oddly enough he spoke mostly to New England audiences, with the South not yet ready to forgive him for supporting Grant and the Republican Party. During the 1880s, some of Mosby's speeches were compiled and published under the title Mosby's War Reminiscences, and Stuart's Cavalry Campaigns. Only toward the end of his life did the old soldier attempt to produce his official wartime biography, and then it was a task undertaken out of necessity. Like his friend Grant, Mosby experienced financial difficulties in his later years, though he had a successful postwar career. Grant's memoirs, published shortly before the General's death, recouped his family's fortune and Mosby likely hoped that his version of events might generate some much-needed income. Still, the former Confederate guerilla's book was far from the simple reminiscences of an old man designed to generate sales. Mosby used a lifetime of letters, lecture notes, and other correspondence to help his manuscript come alive. Readers could accompany Mosby's Raiders as they swept down on Federal columns, they could hear Confederate officers barking orders, and even listen to the squabbles among members of the high command. In addition, the memoir provided a valuable record of the watershed event of American history, and an honest attempt to reconstruct events and relay the facts in readable prose.

Mosby's brother-in-law, Charles Wells Russell, assisted him with the book, which was well received in its first printing. By 1917, most of the South had forgiven Mosby for his support of Grant. Indeed, a new generation of Southerners, without firsthand knowledge of the war itself or the personalities involved, would ultimately embrace Mosby, and particularly the image that The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby projected. Twentieth-century Southern audiences tended to overlook Mosby's association with Grant in favor of elevating yet another "Gray Ghost" into the sparkling constellations of Confederate heroes. A particularly appealing part of the Mosby legend was the fact that he never officially surrendered his command, simply disbanding the unit once hostilities ceased. In the decades after the war, this "never surrender" attitude pervaded the states of the Old Confederacy-as it still does in certain circles-with an intensity that could only be found in a region that, ironically, had been forced to surrender everything in 1865. Mosby passed away at the age of eighty-three, a year before the publication of his memoirs, and thus did not have the chance to gauge the public reaction to his book. Like other prominent participants in the Civil War, however, Mosby achieved a measure of immortality with the publication of his recollections, and The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby would only help his legend grow.

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Mosby's Memoirs (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
dswaddell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating insight into the fighting in the Upper Shenadoah Valley during the Civil War. Has good commentary on Gettysburg as well.
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A great written account on Mosby and his men. Most of the book is written by Mosby and does not include extreme detail of all the conflicts about the partisan calvary unit that he commanded, but worth the read.
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HeyzeeThrillz More than 1 year ago
Did not know too much of the Confederate Special Forces at the time, but it is enlightening.