John S. Mosby was a Virginia lawyer when the Civil War broke out in 1861. He was a member of a Virginia militia company at the time, and went off to war. His militia company became Company D of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, and Mosby saw some minor action at the First Battle of Bull Run in July of 1861. Mosby eventually was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and regimental adjutant. He disliked the administrative duties of adjutant, and resigned the post in 1862. He then joined the staff of General J.E.B. Stuart, who commanded the Confederate Cavalry for the Army of Northern Virginia. In January of 1863, Mosby received permission from Stuart to organize a guerilla unit to operate in northern Virginia. This was the beginning of what would be officially known as the 43rd Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, but would be better known as Mosby’s Rangers.
At 2:00am on March 9, 1863, Mosby and 29 men suddenly appeared in the town of Fairfax Court House, VA., 10 miles behind the Union lines. There were thousands of Union troops in the surrounding camps and many in the town. The night being dark and rainy, Mosby and his men had been able to slip past the numerous outposts and pickets as they approached, cutting telegraph wires to prevent knowledge of their activities from escaping the town. As his men quietly captured the guards, Mosby knocked on the door of Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton’s headquarters. The lieutenant answering the door had no choice but to conduct Mosby to the general’s bedroom, where Stoughton lay asleep in bed. Mosby awakened Stoughton with a slap on his behind and informed him that was now a prisoner. When Stoughton was dressed, Mosby escorted him out to the street, where the rangers had gathered 32 other surprised prisoners and 58 horses.
One and one-half hours after arriving at Fairfax Court House, the rangers, never having fired a shot, rode out of town with their prisoners and horses. Using a roundabout route to confuse any pursuers, Mosby and his men made it safely back to Confederate territory. Reporting to Gen. Jeb Stuart, Mosby wrote: “The fruits of this expedition are 1 brigadier general, 2 captains, and 30 men prisoners. We also brought off 58 horses, most of them very fine… I had 29 men with me; sustained no loss. They all behaved admirably.” “Hurrah for Mosby! I wish I had a hundred like him!” said Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.when he heard the story of the raid.
President Abraham Lincoln, hearing of the raid, expressed more concern for the loss of the horses than of his general. He said, “I can make brigadier generals, but I can’t make horses.”
- Mosby, John S. “A Bit of Partisan Service” in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel, editors. Vol. III, 1887-88. Reprint: Secaucus, New Jersey: Castle
- Mosby John S. Gray Ghost: The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby. Originally published as The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby, Boston: Little, Brown, and Company 1917; Reprint with new introduction. New York: Bantam, 1992.U.S. War Department.