At the outbreak of the war, he received a commission as captain of a band of picked rangers, working in conjunction with the main operations of the Confederate armies, but unhampered by specific instructions from a superior.
He was rapidly promoted.
As colonel of a partisan band he was a continual menace to the Federal
trains, and moved with such rapidity as oftentimes to create the impression that several bodies of mounted troops were in the field instead of but one.
Falling upon an isolated column of army wagons at dawn, he would strike a Federal Camp thirty miles away by twilight of the same day. His men were picked by their leader with great care, and although there is reason to believe that Southern writers surrounded these troopers with a halo of romance, there is no disputing that they were brave, daring, and self-sacrificing.
himself was looked upon by many officers and men in the Union
armies as a purely mythical character.
It was said that no such man existed, and that the feats accredited to Ashby
's rangers were in reality the work of several separate forces.
Much of the mystery surrounding this officer was due to his beautiful white horse, strong, swift, and a splendid jumper.
He and his horse, standing alone on a hill or ridge, would draw the Union
troops on. When the latter had reached a point where capture seemed assured, Ashby
would slowly mount and canter leisurely out of sight.
When his pursuers reached the spot where he had last been seen, Ashby
and his white charger would again be observed on the crest of a still more distant hill.
Only once during his spectacular career in the Confederate army was Ashby
outwitted and captured, but even then he made his escape before being taken a mile by his captors — a detachment of the First Michigan Cavalry.
The Confederate leader was surrounded before he was aware of the presence of the Union
troops, and the latter were within fifty rods of him when he saw several of them pushing