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Gray Ghost

The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby

James Ramage

Publication Year: 1999

Confederate John Singleton Mosby forged his reputation on the most exhilarating of military activities: the overnight raid. Mosby possessed a genius for guerrilla and psychological warfare, taking control of the dark to make himself the "Gray Ghost" of Union nightmares. Gray Ghost, the first full biography of Confederate raider John Mosby, reveals new information on every aspect of Mosby’s life, providing the first analysis of his impact on the Civil War from the Union viewpoint.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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1 Mosby’s Weapon of Fear

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pp. 1-10

Union cavalry charging with whirling sabers against Mosby’s men suddenly realized that nothing in their drills or training had prepared them for this, for Mosby threw away the rules and never fought fairly. Here was no gentlemanly thrust and parry, but revolver bullets, noise, and smoke; men falling to the ground wounded and dead; and riderless...

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2 The Weakling and the Bullies

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pp. 11-27

Mosby was weak, frail, and sickly in childhood and youth, and he heard family doctors telling his parents that he had a predisposition to consumption, the nineteenth-century term for tuberculosis. “In my youth I was very delicate and often heard that I would never live to be a grown man,” he wrote.1 His persistent cough and weakened condition brought...

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3 “Virginia is my mother.”

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pp. 28-37

Mosby’s conviction and incarceration had shattered the serenity of life at Tudor Grove; soon after his release from jail, the family moved to a farm in Fluvanna County. He continued reading law and on September 4, 1855, passed the bar under the examination of Judge Field and two other judges.Leaving home at the age of twenty-two, he opened a law practice in...

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4 Scouting behind Enemy Lines

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pp. 36-57

Mosby distinctly remembered the first time he saw Jeb Stuart; he had never before seen such a gallant man. He thought Stuart looked like a Greek god or a hero from a romantic novel come to life. It was at Bunker Hill in the Shenandoah Valley at sunset on July 9, 1861, and Jones’s com-pany was arriving from Richmond to join Stuart’s 1st Virginia Cavalry...

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5 Capturing a Yankee General in Bed

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pp. 58-76

Lincoln and the War Department were extremely sensitive about the defense of Washington, D.C. The army had enclosed the city in thirty-seven miles of forts and connecting earthworks mounting the most powerful cannon made. For a field of fire the trees and brush were cleared, leaving a one-mile strip of bare ground, tree stumps, and brush piles separating...

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6 Miskel’s Farm

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pp. 77-95

There was a Union signal station on a hill on the left bank of the Potomac River in southern Maryland, and the men had a clear view of the farm across the river in Virginia. A few minutes after sunrise on April 1, 1863, they began cheering at the top of their voices, for they saw a detachment of 150 Union cavalrymen surround Mosby’s 69 men inside the high plank...

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7 Featherbed Guerrillas

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pp. 96-104

Mosby fixed his mind on the goal of success as a partisan raider and determined to remain independent. With almost incredible stamina and self-confidence he rejected traditional procedures and used several unconventional keys to success. He carefully followed the advice of Stuartand Lee “to be extremely watchful as to the character of the men” he...

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8 Unguarded Sutler Wagons

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pp. 105-119

Mosby’s plans to mind the rear of Pope’s army were realized one year later against Meade. After the battle of Gettysburg, Meade positioned the Army of the Potomac about where Pope’s army had been when Mosby had attempted to go partisan the first time. He carefully guarded his main supply line on the O&A Railroad but, for a few weeks, provided no es-...

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9 Masquerading as the Enemy

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pp. 120-130

The best opportunities to masquerade as the enemy came in the immediate rear of main armies where soldiers felt secure and moved alone orin small detachments. When Meade’s army withdrew to Centreville to counter Lee’s advance during the Bristoe Station campaign in October1863, Stuart sent Mosby to scout in Meade’s rear between Centreville...

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10 Seddon’s Partisans

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pp. 131-146

Secretary of War Seddon was in frail health and looked much older than forty-eight. The doctors said he had chronic neuralgia, and some people said that he would never survive the workload of a cabinet position. His wife Sally stayed at home on the plantation in Goochland County, and he lived quietly in the Spottswood Hotel. He wore a skullcap, had a promi-...

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11 Mosby’s Clones in the Valley

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pp. 147-164

General Lee finally conceded that Mosby’s vision of his command, with separate small raiding forces attacking at different places simultaneously and commanded by Mosby clones, was effective. He congratulated Mosby for successfully multiplying himself many times. After the loss of Smith and Turner, he had William Chapman; and by April 29, 1864, when Sigel’s...

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12 The Night Belonged to Mosby

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pp. 165-183

By 1864 Mosby and his men were achieving his goal of producing fear in the minds of the enemy as a force multiplier. Clausewitz, in his book On War, wrote that local bands of guerrillas should surround the invading army with a feeling of uneasiness and dread. Che Guevera taught that invaders should be made to feel, day and night, that everything outside...

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13 Blue Hen’s Chickens and Custer’s Wolverines

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pp. 184-200

Sheridan understood the psychology of guerrilla warfare and comprehended as well as anyone in the Union, except perhaps Lincoln, that public opinion in the North would not support extreme counterguerrilla measures that threatened to bathe the country in blood. Therefore when one of his reactions to Mosby’s first raid involved the hanging and shooting...

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14 The Lottery

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pp. 201-215

Vehement rhetoric and inhumane acts continued in the Shenandoah Valley into November 1864, and eventually Mosby retaliated for the Front Royal killings; but in the meantime Union forces reopened the Manassas Gap Railroad through Mosby’s Confederacy. He interdicted the railroad, diverting cavalry from the picket line on the Potomac River and opening...

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15 Sheridan’s Mosby Hunt

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pp. 216-227

Sheridan and other commanders hunting Mosby were limited in that counter guerrilla policy. In attempting to stop the bloody border war in Kansas and Missouri, the army had gone to the heart of the matter and taken the war to the civilians in the most extreme counter insurgency program of the war. Reacting to Confederate William C. Quantrill’s...

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16 Sheridan’s Burning Raid

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pp. 228-242

Sheridan’s cavalry came through Ashby’s Gap on Monday afternoon, November 28, 1864, with four days’ rations and forage, ample ammunition, and plenty of matches. Descending the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains into Loudoun Valley, they divided into columns of two regiments each; and beginning at 3:00 P.M., for four days residents could...

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17 Apache Ambuscades, Stockades, and Prisons

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pp. 243-261

Shenandoah Valley and on the Washington early-warning screen had lost so much sleep from Mosby’s raids and false alarms that they went on the defensive. Sheridan’s successor, General Hancock, attempted to seal the lower Valley and defend the B&O Railroad with a heavy line of infantry and cavalry pickets, and his counterguerrilla tactics harked...

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18 “All that the proud can feel of pain”

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pp. 262-270

Mosby’s men had seen him cry only once, standing by the deathbed of Tom Turner at Loudoun Heights. But when he read about Lee’s surrender in the Baltimore American and realized that the war was over, he broke down again, in “the very image of despair.” Sitting on a log outside the house where he had spent the night, he laid aside the paper and said,...

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19 Grant’s Partisan in Virginia

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pp. 271-284

Early in the mornings from houses on Main Street in Warrenton, people saw Mosby walking along on his way to work. Slowly putting one foot in front of the other, with stooped shoulders, faded coat, vest with two buttons missing, and white slouch hat pushed low on his forehead, he was...

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20 Hayes’s Reformer in Hong Kong

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pp. 285-299

Eventually Mosby accepted a Republican appointment, consul in Hong Kong, and went into exile in “far Cathay,” leaving his heart behind with his children in Virginia. Three were under twelve years of age; Ada, the youngest, was seven. They were beautiful, and he loved them dearly; bu the would not see them for nearly seven years, except Beverly, who came...

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21 Stuart and Gettysburg

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pp. 300-317

One of the quickest paths to dishonor in the South in the late nineteenth century was to disparage the memory of Robert E. Lee, the idol of the Lost Cause. “You know Genl. Lee is worshiped as a divinity in Virginia,” Mosby said. Reconciling defeat, Lost Cause advocates postulated that, even though Confederate soldiers were overwhelmed by greater num-...

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22 Roosevelt’s Land Agent in the Sand Hills

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pp. 318-332

When Mosby was laid off from the Southern Pacific Railroad on the death of President Huntington, he had no money saved, only a small life insurance policy. It was “gall & wormwood,” but he pleaded with McKinley one more time for an appointment and on August 3, 1901, at sixty-seven years of age, became special agent in the General Land Office in the De-...

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23 The Gray Ghost of Television and Film

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pp. 333-343

Mosby was famous beginning with the capture of Stoughton and, by the end of the Civil War, was easily among the ten most-popular Confederate heroes. He continued to attract attention wherever he appeared, but his popularity waned after he stumped for Grant in 1872 and did not recover until about 1900. Then Southerners began speaking positively of...

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pp. 344-348

When Mosby’s Civil War career is evaluated from the view of his Union opponents and in perspective of the history of guerrilla warfare, he emerges as one of the most successful guerrilla leaders in history. He accomplished the limited goals of irregular warfare in support of the regular Confederate army. With fewer than 400 men at any one time and...


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pp. 349-400

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Bibliographic Essay

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pp. 401-406

During Mosby’s twenty-five-year exile from Virginia and for the remaining twelve years of his life, one of his favorite recreations was writing personal letters. Nearly every day he would arise before dawn, make coffee, and sit down to write. His memory remained accurate, and with vibrant nostalgia he relived the glorious times of the Civil War. His nu-...

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pp. 407-410

Many individuals and institutions encouraged and supported this ten-year research project. First and foremost, my wife and best friend, Ann,accompanied me on trips, proofread the manuscript, and shared my time with Mosby, always generously and with a cheerful, buoyant spirit. I am thankful to our daughter, Andrea, for sharing my enthusiasm for history,...


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pp. 411-428

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813129457
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813121352

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 1999

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Soldiers -- Confederate States of America -- Biography.
  • Mosby, John Singleton, 1833-1916.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Underground movements.
  • Guerrillas -- Confederate States of America -- Biography.
  • Diplomats -- United States -- Biography.
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