Sheridan fights a Gray Ghost Mosby: In the Shenandoah Valley, a nearly legendary warrior contested the way against an army.

Cedar Creek

October 15, 1998|By Andrew D. Faith | Andrew D. Faith,SUN STAFF

Of the many threads of history woven into the battle of Cedar Creek, one of the most unusual and least susceptible to re-enactment is the role of Confederate Col. John Singleton Mosby's Partisan Rangers.

Mosby's Rangers, formally the 43rd Virginia Cavalry Battalion, do not appear as combatants at Cedar Creek or in the Shenandoah Valley battles leading up to that engagement - Lynchburg, Kernstown, Opequon or Fishers Hill - for although they were active in the valley, they were not part of Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early's command.

Mosby entered the war as a private in the 1st Virginia Cavalry, commanded by J.E.B. Stuart, then a colonel, in 1861. He fought at Bull Run and was commissioned a lieutenant in February 1862 and began scouting for Stuart soon afterward.

'He is bold, daring ...'

According to Henry Kyd Douglas, a Marylander then serving on the staff of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson as a captain, Stuart sent Mosby to Jackson on July 19, 1862, with this note: "The bearer, John S. Mosby, late first lieutenant, 1st Virginia Cavalry, is en route, to scout beyond the enemy's lines toward Manassas and Fairfax. He is bold, daring, intelligent and discreet. The information he may obtain and transmit to you may be relied upon and I have no doubt he will give additional proofs of his value."

Douglas described Mosby as "a young gentleman, with smooth face, clear-cut, handsome features, bright steady eye, slender body, fairly tall and well carried, firm mouth and quiet manner."

Mosby served with Stuart in the Peninsular and Antietam campaigns, and in January 1863 he was given permission to form an independent command and engage in guerrilla warfare behind Union lines in the Loudoun Valley of Northern Virginia.

Mosby later described the beginning of his Ranger career: "When the year 1863 arrived Fredericksburg had been fought, and the two armies, in winter quarters, were confronting each other on the Rappahannock. Both sides sought rest; the pickets on the opposite banks of the river had ceased firing and gone to swapping coffee and tobacco. The cavalry had been sent to the rear to forage.

"But quiet to quick bosoms is a hell. I did not want to rust away my life in camp, so I asked Stuart to give me a detail of men to go over to Loudoun County, where I thought I could make things lively during the winter months. Always full of enterprise, Stuart readily assented, and I started off on my career as a partisan. At the time I had no idea of organizing an independent command, but expected to return to Stuart when the campaign opened in the spring. I was indifferent to rank, and would have been as contented to be a lieutenant as a colonel.

"I was somewhat familiar with the country where I began operations, having picketed there the year before. The lines of the troops attached to the defenses of Washington extended from about Occoquan, on the lower Potomac, through Centreville, in Fairfax County, to the falls of the upper Potomac, and then as far west as Harpers Ferry. This was a long line to defend, and before I went there had not been closely guarded. I began on the picket-lines; my attacks were generally in the night-time, and usually the surprise compensated for the disparity in numbers."

Toward the end of the war, the Partisan Rangers were a feared force in their area of operations, which became known as Mosby's Confederacy.

Mosby was promoted to major in April 1863, to lieutenant colonel in February 1864, and to colonel in December 1864. His command, numbering about 200 men by the end of the war, was mustered into the Army of Northern Virginia as the 43rd Battalion of Virginia Cavalry on June 10, 1863. By 1864, Mosby's men were active in the Shenandoah Valley, attacking the Union army's outposts and supply lines.

Fighting Mosby

Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan was intent on doing something about Mosby. On Aug. 20, 1864, he formed Blazers Scouts, "100 men who will take the contract to clean out Mosby's gang. I want 100 Spencer rifles for them," he wrote to Maj. Gen. Christopher C. Augur, commander of the Department of Washington.

Capt. Richard Blazer, originally of the 91st Ohio Infantry, commanded the Independent Scouts, and his efforts drew the respect of Mosby's men. "He appeared to be ever in the saddle, and was constantly turning up where he was least expected and least desired. ... Mosby and Blazer could not long inhabit opposite sides of the Blue Ridge Mountain," wrote Maj. John Scott, an officer in Mosby's battalion and his early biographer.

On Nov. 18, 1864, soon after the battle of Cedar Creek, Maj. Adolphus Richards of Mosby's command, attacked Blazer and 61 of his men near Kabletown, W.Va., in a fight that soon faded into the uncertainty of time. Blazer's casualties included between 16 and 24 killed, six and 12 wounded, and the remainder captured. Blazer was captured and imprisoned in Richmond, Va., with the survivors of his command.

The Custer incident

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