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Saturday, August 23, 2014


The American Civil War has always been one of my favorite subjects of study; so much so, it was my emphasis during undergrad school and during the first half of grad school until I switched focuses.  I’ll admit that while I agree with the political agenda of the North, it was the dashing officers and men of the South who kept me turning pages during those long nights of study. And one held my interest longer and managed to spirit his way into one of my romance manuscripts…The Gray Ghost…John Singleton Mosby. 

In April 1862, the Confederate Congress authorized the official formation of partisan ranger companies. These companies would be enrolled as units of the Confederate Army. Mosby’s rangers would become the most famous of these companies.  Mosby’s exploits became legendary and he received high praise from J.E.B. Stuart and Robert E. Lee. 

But it wasn’t always obvious John Singleton Mosby would earn the title legend. Born in Powhatan County, Virginia he was a sickly child often picked on by other children. This bullying continued through Mosby’s years at the University of Virginia. However, young Mosby never cow-towed to these bullies, but learned to fight back at a young age.  During one confrontation, Mosby pulled a pistol and shot his adversary in the neck. He was arrested, served one year in jail, and was expelled from the university. 

Mosby was released early, due to poor health. While incarcerated, Mosby befriended the prosecuting attorney, William Robertson. After his release, Robertson allowed him to use his law library and he continued to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1854.

John S. Mosby before the War (courtesy of the National Archives)

Mosby settled into life as a Virginia lawyer, a husband, and father, but as for most the clouds of war were gathering over his home.  Mosby spoke out against secession, but a Virginian to his core, when war broke out he joined the Confederate army as a private in the “Virginia Volunteers.”  It didn’t take long before J.E.B. Stuart singled Mosby out for his exceptional skill at gathering intelligence, and Mosby was promoted to First Lieutenant and assigned to Stuart’s cavalry scouts. 

After being captured and being imprisoned for a year in Old Capitol Prison, Mosby was paroled and Stuart placed Mosby in command of the 43rd Virginia Cavalry. The 43rd would operate as a partisan unit, and Mosby was promoted to the rank of Major. 

Mosby and his Rangers wasted no time conducting a campaign of lightening raids on Union supply lines and harassment of Union couriers. The fame of the unit grew with each success, and Major Mosby’s legend as “The Gray Ghost” was cemented with his ability to appear and disappear at will.
Mosby’s most famous raid occurred in March of 1863 inside Union lines at Fairfax County Courthouse with the capture of Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton. Mosby found Stoughton asleep in bed. Awakening the General with a slap to the backside, Mosby asked “Do you know Mosby, General?”  The General replied “Yes! Have you got the rascal?”  “No,” said Mosby. “He’s got you!”
Mosby during the Civil War (courtesy of Library of Congress)

Mosby’s men usually wore Confederate uniforms, though they frequently concealed them under captured Union overcoats that enabled them to get through Yankee lines at will. 

By 1864, the Union was questioning how these guerrillas should be treated if captured. When Philip Sheridan took command of Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley in August of that year, General Grant told him. “Where any of Mosby’s men are caught hang them without trial.” One of Sheridan’s cavalry commanders, George A. Custer, executed six of Mosby’s rangers. In retaliation, Mosby had six captured troops from Custer’s brigade draw lots and go before a firing squad. These eye- for- an- eye executions continued for months until Mosby wrote Sheridan requesting a mutual end to the brutality and Sheridan agreed. 

It is estimated no more than 10,000 men functioned as guerrillas in the Confederacy. It can be argued that they did more damage to the Union war effort than an equal number of front-line soldiers. They tied down several times their number of regular soldiers in guard duty and search and destroy missions.

Mosby was so celebrated it was recorded about Robert E. Lee that “while he was not in the habit of paying compliments, yet these papers will show that you [Mosby] received from him more compliments and commendations than any other officer in the Confederate army.” 

Mosby’s Rangers continued their operations for weeks after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox.  Mosby (now a colonel) refused to formally surrender. After several weeks, Mosby disbanded his men and they all went their separate ways. Mosby, due to the large price on his head, was forced to hide in Lynchburg.  Pauline Mosby secured an official parole for her husband, from General Ulysses S. Grant personally in February of 1866.

Peace found John Mosby continuing to live the life of rebel and danger.  He shocked his fellow Virginians by not only becoming a Republican, but campaigning for his great friend Sam Grant.  He faced ridicule and death threats. When in May 1876 his beloved Pauline died in childbirth, at the same time someone attempted to assassinate him, John Mosby left Virginia.

President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Mosby as American Consul to Hong Kong (a strong suggestion from former President Grant). Mosby served in this position from 1878-1885. He then worked as the attorney for the Southern Pacific Railroad in San Francisco, California. Here he would meet and befriend a young George S. Patton. Some speculate Patton got some of his ideas of using tanks as iron cavalry from The Gray Ghost.

Mosby in 1880 (courtesy of Dickenson University)
Mosby then returned to public service as the head of the Department of the Interior’s General Land Office under McKinley, and the Lands Office in Montgomery, Alabama under Theodore Roosevelt.  His last public office was as an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice. He retired from Federal service at the age of seventy-six, but he didn’t retire from being a soldier. In 1914, taking a dim view of President Wilson’s neutrality stance, Mosby offered his services to King George V of Great Britain.

In 1915, the very university that expelled Mosby honored the Gray Ghost with a medal and written tribute. John Singleton Mosby died at the age of eighty-two on Memorial Day in his daughter’s home in Washington, D.C.  He served both of his countries faithfully and before his death penned two memoirs about his service. Mosby only attended one reunion of Mosby’s Rangers, the first reunion in 1895. 

Mosby never regretted fighting for the Confederacy, despite his personal views against slavery.  In a letter he wrote, “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.”

The Gray Ghost continues his haunt in my upcoming release HOME FIRES. Cord Matthews served as one of Mosby’s most celebrated and feared rangers (depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon a person was on).   Just like his commanding officer, Cord leaves Virginia to escape memories of the woman he loves, but little does Cord realize he hasn’t left the woman or his former commander behind. 

HOME FIRES releases this week, August 28th! Hope you’ll come along on this wild ride that makes one of Mosby’s raids seem like running through a field of daisies.  :)

McPherson, James M.  Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. McGraw-Hill, Inc: New York, 1992.

Kirsten Lynn writes stories based on the people and history of the West, more specifically those who live and love in Wyoming and Montana. Using her MA in Naval History, Kirsten, weaves her love of the West and the military together in many of her stories, merging these two halves of her heart. When she's not roping, riding and rabble-rousing with the cowboys and cowgirls who reside in her endless imagination, Kirsten works as a professional historian.


  1. I love Civil War history also. I do admit it was Stonewall Jackson who captured my interest, maybe because my grandfather used to say my mother was stubborn like Stonewall. It also was a unique period that created some interesting events in the West.
    I couldn't wait for your book, now I am impatient. Best on this one and all the others I know will come from your imagination (based on fact ) Doris

    1. Stonewall is a favorite, too, Doris, and I've always found his death so tragic. I also enjoy his early history as a history teacher who bored his students to death. Who would have thought he would become a daring leader who stood there like a stone wall.

      I hope you enjoy HOME FIRES!

  2. I loved all these marvelous factoids, Kirsten. Just goes to show ya, bullies never really win. And who were the bullies? Well, I guess we may never know. What a remarkable life.

    1. Sarah,

      Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, "History is written by the victors."

      I agree with you that it depends upon one's perspective regarding who 'won' and who 'lost'.

    2. Thanks, Sarah, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, I think it depends on which side you fight on and who wins the war that creates villains and heroes. I find that fascinating about the Civil War is many of these Confederates, Stonewall, Lee, Mosby, Stuart, etc came out of the war as heroes in history textbooks. Honorable men fighting for the wrong cause.

  3. Kirsten,

    Count me in the ranks of those who are fascinated with American Civil War history. Back in the days of teaching history, I had a tendency to linger on this topic. ;-)

    A few years ago, I participated in a university-sponsored history 'excursion' with 29 other history teachers from around the state (Colorado). We spent three weeks of 'hands-on' exploration back east learning about the American Revolution, which was the purpose of the excursion. And, if that wasn't fabulous enough, our professors worked in a day at Gettysburg.

    I explored Little Round Top and imagined the bayonet charge. I walked around the peach orchard area of Pickett's Charge. I saw the wall that Armistead led his men over to his own fateful end... It was humbling, eerie, inspiring.

    As for the players in the Civil War drama, James Longstreet and Joshua Chamberlain are the two I've been most interested in.

    1. What a great excursion, Kaye!

      I had the honor of filling in for Dr. James I Robertson at Virginia Tech and teach one of his Civil War classes while he was out on lecture and book tours. It was a crazy experience as his class usually ran about 200 students. Then living in the DC area allowed me to visit many Civil War sites (some off the beaten path) and indulge my passion. There's something about visiting a place firsthand that really brings it life. I agree Gettysburg is a humbling, inspiring and eerie experience.

      On the Northern side, I would agree Joshua Chamberlain is an inspiring figure. I visited his home town in Maine and the statue they have of him. Another amazing experience.

    2. I envy you that trip, Kaye! Did you visit Devil's Den while you were at Gettysburg? That's the part of the battlefield that did in a whole bunch of Hood's Texans (who no longer were Hood's Texans by then, because Hood had been killed quite a bit earlier -- but why quibble ;-) ).

  4. Hello Kirsten. I too am fascinated by facts of the Civil War. I love these little tidbits of history that were not included in our course of American History in school. Its too bad these little facts were excluded because as for me, it is what makes history come alive. It offers a glimpse of the real life men who fought in the war. At times I wish we could go back to a time in our history where a man could be what ever he wanted. Imagine in our world today that a person who did time in prison would ever hold a position in public office.

    1. Barb,

      I really feel sorry for people who were cheated in their history classes in High School and before. I was blessed with amazing history teachers from sixth grade through senior year who delved into the subjects and I never thought of these people and events as tidbits because they were a part of the course. I think, along with a family who lived and breathed history, these teachers fostered my love for history which led me to degrees in the subject.

      I agree, it would be nice to go back to a time where a man could set his sights on something and in most cases see it through. I don't think these times are so far in the past. My parents were amazed when I graduated and didn't get a history position right away. When they graduated college they wanted to be teachers and teachers they became. :)

  5. I can't wait to read HOME FIRES! It's exactly the kind of story I love!

    1. Thanks so much, Lorrie!! I have everything crossed that people will love Cord and Olivia as much as I do! I can't wait for Thursday!

  6. Rustler, for some reason I keep typing "Home Fries" instead of Home Fires. Freudian slip? ;-)

    Thanks for the refresher on Mosby. He was a fascinating character, wasn't he? I've always been intrigued by the dichotomies of human nature brought out by war. Mosby's was one of the more extreme cases, IMO: sickly kid who grew up to be a well-educated and reportedly well-behaved attorney and statesman, yet he remains more famous as a brilliant tactician and sometimes vicious guerrilla leader called the Gray Ghost. (Not anywhere near as vicious as Bloody Bill Anderson, thank goodness. The South didn't need more than one of that monster. Maybe I'll write about Anderson on Friday for comparison's sake. :-) )

    I'm also always struck by the number of Rebs who fought for the Confederacy out of loyalty to their states. Even among those who had no investment in or flat-out opposed the South's "peculiar institution," very few crossed the line to serve in the Union Army. Evidently, politicians haven't changed -- they're still whipping the polity into murderous frenzies to serve their own agendas. :-|

    1. You should post about Anderson, Tex! I think that's one of the things about Mosby to be admired, he never crossed the line to insane killer as so many raider leaders did.

      I think the reason so many Southerners chose to fight for their State rather than cross to the Union is due to the youth of the Nation. Really when you look at that time period loyalty was to your State not the United States. I don't believe we became a country of individual states united until after the Civil War. Those who fought, fought for Virginia, Texas, South Carolina, etc., which caused no end of troubles for those trying to build a Confederacy. This is what led to a Civil War is when we lost the ability to compromise, and that's where we find our government and the illustrious "leaders" today.

    2. Rustler, we have got to stop agreeing. People will talk. ;-)

    3. I'd say I agree, but then we'd be agreeing...again!!! Gah! It's a vicious circle! :)

  7. Replies
    1. Thanks, Kristy! As long as you get here that's the important thing. :)

  8. Sorry, Kirsten, I am just now reading your post. I found it very informative and interesting. I also love reading about the Civil War and all the factors involved with what led up to it, how it progressed and the aftermath. Even though I am currently writing western romance set within the decade following the CW, I find that a bit of CW history tends to weave its way into my writings. I look forward to reading your book. Robyn Echols writing history as Zina Abbott.

  9. Great post Kirsten. I look forward to your book. Love the cover.