The first volume in a collection of accounts of Mosby and his Confederate Raiders
The American Civil War brought to the fore a number of outstanding military figures on both sides of the conflict. Given its culture and chivalric spirit, perhaps it is fair to say that the South provided more that its share of extraordinary and flamboyant soldiers in each of it’s services. There is something undeniably alluring about the romantic, daredevil raider, who appears from nowhere behind enemy lines and wreaks havoc, and then, wraith-like, disappears before he can be brought to account. Such men were the material of legend, and foremost among them in the Confederate Army was the ‘Gray Ghost,’ Virginian cavalryman John Singleton Mosby. Here was a soldier who, like his predecessor Robert Rogers of the Rangers, was possessed of innate courage, intellect, daring and martial fortitude ready-made for the perilous form of war he chose to fight. Fortunately, several of Mosby’s men left fine first hand accounts of their time serving under this famous commander, and Leonaur is republishing all of them—in value for money omnibus editions—to provide American Civil War enthusiasts with a comprehensive library of the subject. This first volume includes Mosby’s own riveting and entertainingly written account, combined with an excellent account written by the unit’s surgeon.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
With my head on my saddle as a pillow, I was soon in a deep sleep. We were within a few hundred yards of the river, and there were Union camps on the other side; but I had no fear of them that night. About sunrise the next morning, I had just risen and put on my boots when one of the men came in and said that the enemy on the hill over the river was making signals. I immediately went out into the back yard to look at them. I had hardly done so, when I saw Dick Moran coming at full speed across the field, waving his hat, and calling out, “The Yankees are coming!”
He had stopped about two miles below, near the pike, and spent the night with a friend; and just as he woke up, about daylight, he had seen the column of Union cavalry going up the pike on our trail. By taking a short cut across the fields, he managed to get to us ahead of them. The barnyard was not a hundred yards from the house; and we all rushed to it. But not more than one-third of our horses were then bridled and saddled. I had buckled on my arms as I came out of the house. By the time we got to the enclosure where our horses were, I saw the enemy coming through a gate just on the edge of a clump of woods about two hundred yards off. The first thing I said to the men was that they must fight. The enemy was upon us so quick that I had no time to bridle or saddle my horse, as I was busy giving orders. I directed the men not to fire, but to saddle and mount quickly. The Union cavalry were so sure of their prey that they shut the gates after passing through, in order to prevent any of us from escaping.
As Capt. Flint dashed forward at the head of his squadron, their sabres flashing in the rays of the morning sun, I felt like my final hour had come. Another squadron, after getting into the open field, was at the same time moving around to our rear. In every sense, things looked rather blue for us. We were in the angle of two impassable streams and surrounded by at least four times our number, with more than half of my men unprepared for a fight. But I did not despair. I had great faith in the efficacy of a charge; and in the affair at Chantilly had learned the superiority of the revolver over the sabre. I was confident that we could at least cut our way through them.
The Potomac resounded with the cheers of the troops on the northern bank, who were anxious spectators, but could not participate in the conflict. When I saw Capt. Flint divide his command, I knew that my chances had improved at least fifty per cent. When he got to within fifty yards of the gate of the barnyard, I opened the gate and advanced, pistol in hand, on foot to meet him, and at the same time called to the men that had already got mounted to follow me. They responded with one of those demoniac yells which those who once heard never forgot, and dashed forward to the conflict “as reapers descend to the harvest of death.”
Just as I passed through the gate, at the head of the men, one of them, Harry Hatcher, the bravest of the brave, seeing me on foot, dismounted, and gave me his horse. Our assailants were confounded by the tactics adopted, and were now in turn as much surprised as we had been. They had thought that we would remain on the defensive, and were not prepared to receive an attack. I mounted Harry Hatcher’s horse, and led the charge. In a few seconds Harry was mounted on a captured one whose rider had been killed. When the enemy saw us coming to meet them they halted, and were lost.
The powerful moral effect of our assuming the offensive, when nothing but surrender had been expected, seemed to bewilder them. Before they could recover from the shock of their surprise Captain Flint, the leader, had fallen dead in their sight. Before the impetuous onset of my men they now broke and fled. No time was given them to re-form and rally. The remorseless revolver was doing its work of death in their ranks, while their swords were as harmless as the wooden sword of harlequin. Unlike my adversaries, I was trammelled with no tradition that required me to use an obsolete weapon. The combat was short, sharp and decisive. In the first moment of collision, they wheeled and made for the gate which they had already closed against themselves.
The other squadron that had gone around us, when they saw their companions turn and fly, were panic-stricken and forgot what they had been sent to do. Their thoughts were now how to save themselves. Our capture was now out of the question. They now started pell-mell for the gate in order to reach it ahead of us. But by this time our men had all mounted, and like so many furies were riding and shooting among their scattered ranks. The gate was at last broken through by the pressure, but they became so packed and jammed in the narrow passage that they could only offer a feeble resistance, and at this point many fell under the deadly fire that was poured in from behind.
Everywhere above the storm of battle could be heard the voices and seen the forms of the Dioscuri—“Major” Hibbs and Dick Moran—cheering on the men as they rode headlong in the fight. Dick Moran got into a hand-to-hand conflict in the woods with a party, and the issue was doubtful, when Harry Hatcher came up and decided it. There was with me that day a young artillery officer—Samuel F. Chapman—who at the first call of his State to arms had quit the study of divinity and become, like Stonewall Jackson, a sort of military Calvin, singing the psalms of David as he marched into battle.
I must confess that his character as a soldier was more on the model of the Hebrew prophets than the Evangelist or the Baptist in whom he was so devout a believer. Before he got to the gate Sam had already exhausted every barrel of his two pistols and drawn his sabre. As the fiery Covenanter rode on his predestined course the enemy’s ranks withered wherever he went. He was just in front of me—he was generally in front of everybody in a fight—at the gate. It was no fault of the Union cavalry that they did not get through faster than they did, but Sam seemed to think that it was. Even at that supreme moment in my life, when I had just stood on the brink of ruin and had barely escaped, I could not restrain a propensity to laugh.