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Mosby's raid into Fairfax.


Among the daring partisans of the war, few have rendered such valuable services to the cause as Captain John S. Mosby.

His exploits would furnish material for a volume which would resemble rather a romance than a true statement of actual occurrences. He has been the chief actor in so many raids, encounters, and adventures, that his memoirs, if he committed them to paper, would be regarded as the efforts of fancy. Fortunately, there is very little fancy about “official reports,” which deal with naked facts and figures, and those reports of these occurrences are on record.

It is only necessary to glance at the Captain to understand that he was cut out for a partisan leader. His figure is slight, muscular, supple, and vigorous; his eye is keen, penetrating, ever on the alert; he wears his sabre and pistol with the air of a man who sleeps with them buckled around his waist; and handles them habitually, almost unconsciously. The Captain is a determined man in a charge, dangerous on a scout, hard to outwit, and prone to “turn up” suddenly where he is least expected, and bang away with pistol and carbine.

His knowledge of the enemy's character is extensive and profound; his devices to deceive them are rarely unsuccessful. Take in proof of this a trifling occurrence some time since, in the neighbourhood of Warrenton. The enemy's cavalry, in strong [335] force, occupied a position in front of the command which Captain Mosby accompanied. Neither side had advanced, and, in the lull which took place, the Captain performed the following amusing little comedy: taking eight or ten men, he deployed them as skirmishers in front of an entire brigade of the enemy, and at a given signal from him, they advanced steadily, firing their carbines as they did so, without further intermission than the time necessarily spent in reloading. This manoeuvre was executed with such spirit and apparent design to attack in force that the enemy were completely taken in. As the sharpshooters advanced, led on gallantly by the Captain, who galloped about cheering his imaginary squadrons, the enemy were seized with a sudden panic, wavered, and gave way, thus presenting the comic spectacle of an entire brigade retiring before a party of eight or ten sharpshooters.

This is only one of a thousand affairs in which Captain Mosby has figured, proving himself possessed of the genius of a true partisan. If I could here relate these adventurous occurrences, the reader would soon comprehend how steady the Captain's nerve is, how ready his resources in an emergency, and how daring his conception and execution. For the present, I must content myself with one recent adventure, prefacing it with a statement which will probably throw some light upon the motives of the chief actor, and the feelings which impelled him to undertake the expedition.

In the summer of 1862, Captain Mosby was sent from Hanover Court-House on a mission to General Jackson, who was then on the Upper Rapidan. He was the bearer of an oral communication, and as the route was dangerous, had no papers about him except a brief note to serve as a voucher for his identity and reliability. With this note, the Captain proceeded on his journey, and stopping at Beaver Dam Station on the Virginia Central Railroad, to rest and feed his horse, was, while quietly sitting on the platform at the depot, surprised and bagged by a detachment of the enemy's cavalry.

Now, to be caught thus napping, in an unguarded moment, was gall and wormwood to the brave Captain. He had deceived [336] and outwitted the enemy so often, and had escaped from their clutches so regularly up to that time, that to find himself surprised thus filled him with internal rage. From that moment his sentiments toward them increased in intensity. They had been all along decidedly unfriendly — they were now bitter. They took him away with them, searched him, appropriated his credentials, published them as an item of interest in the Northern papers, and immured the partisan in the Old Capitol.

In due course of time he was exchanged. He returned with a handsome new satchel and an increased affection for his friends across the way. He laughed at his misfortunes, but set down the account to the credit of the enemy, to be settled at a more convenient opportunity.

Since that time the Captain has been regularly engaged in squaring his account. He has gone to work with a thorough air of business. Under an energy and perseverance so systematic and undeviating the account has been gradually reduced, item by item.

On the night of Sunday, the eighth of March, 1863, it may fairly be considered that the account was discharged. To come to the narrative of the event alluded to, and which it is the design of this paper to describe:

Previous to the eighth of March Captain Mosby had put himself to much trouble to discover, the strength and positions of the enemy in Fairfax county, with the design of making a raid in that direction, if circumstances permitted. The information brought to him was as follows: On the Little River turnpike at Germantown, a mile or two distant from Fairfax, were three regiments of the enemy's cavalry, commanded by Colonel Wyndham, Acting Brigadier-General, with his headquarters at the Court-House. Within a few hundred yards of the town were two infantry regiments. In the vicinity of Fairfax Station, about two miles off, an infantry brigade was encamped. And at Centreville there was another infantry brigade, with cavalry and artillery.

Thus the way to Fairfax Court-House, the point which the Captain desired to reach, seemed completely blocked up with [337] troops of all arms-infantry, artillery, and cavalry. If he attempted to approach by the Little River turnpike, Colonel Wyndham's troopers would meet him full in front. If he tried the route by the Warrenton turnpike, a brigade of infantry, with cavalry to pursue and artillery to thunder at him, was first to be defeated. If he glided in along the railroad, the brigade at Fairfax Station was in his track.

The “situation” would have appeared desperate to almost any one, however adventurous, but danger and adventure had attractions for Captain Mosby. If the peril was great and the probability of success slender, all the greater would be the glory if he succeeded. And the temptation was great. At Fairfax Court-House, the general headquarters of that portion of the army, Brigadier-General Stoughton and other officers of high rank were then known to be, and if these could be captured, great would be his triumph.

In spite of the enormous obstacles which presented themselves in his path, Captain Mosby determined to undertake no less an enterprise than entering the town, seizing the officers in their beds, destroying the huge quantities of public stores, and bearing off his prisoners in triumph.


The night of Sunday, March 8th, was chosen as favorable to the expedition. The weather was terrible — the night as dark as pitch-and it was raining steadily. With a detachment of twentynine men Captain Mosby set out on his raid.

He made his approach from the direction of Aldie. Proceeding down the Little River turnpike, the main route from the Court-House to the mountains, he reached a point within about three miles of Chantilly. Here, turning to the right, he crossed the Frying Pan road about half-way between Centreville and the turnpike, keeping in the woods, and leaving Centreville well to the right. He was now advancing in the triangle which is made by the Little River and Warrenton turnpikes and the Frying Pan road. Those who are familiar with the country there [338] will easily understand the object of this proceeding. By thus cutting through the triangle, Captain Mosby avoided all pickets, scouting parties, and the enemy generally, who would only keep a lookout for intruders on the main roads.

Advancing in this manner through the woods, pierced with devious and uncertain paths only, which the dense darkness scarcely enabled them to follow, the partisan and his little band finally struck into the Warrenton road, between Centreville and Fairfax, at a point about midway between the two places. One danger had thus been successfully avoided — a challenge from parties of cavalry on the Little River road, or discovery by the force posted at Centreville. That place was now in their rearthey had “snaked” around it and its warders; but the perils of the enterprise had scarcely commenced. Fairfax Court-House was still about four miles distant, and it was girdled with cavalry and infantry. Every approach was guarded, and the attempt to enter the place seemed desperate, but the Captain determined to essay it.

Advancing resolutely, he came within a mile and a half of the place, when he found the way barred by a heavy force. Directly in his path were the infantry camps of which he had been notified, and all advance was checked in that direction. The Captain did not waver in his purpose, however. Making a detour to the right, and leaving the enemy's camp far to his left, he struck into the road leading from Fairfax southward to the railroad.

This avenue was guarded like the rest, but by a picket only; and the Captain knew thoroughly how to deal with these. Before the sleepy and unsuspicious pickets were aware of their danger, they found pistols presented at their heads, with the option of surrender or death presented to them. They surrendered immediately, were taken in charge, and without further ceremony Captain Mosby and his band entered the town.

From that moment the utmost silence, energy, and rapidity of action were requisite. The Captain had designed reaching the Court-House at midnight, but had been delayed two hours by mistaking his road in the pitch darkness. It was now two o'clock [339] in the morning; and an hour and a half, at the very utmost, was left him to finish his business and escape before daylight. If morning found him anywhere in that vicinity he knew that his retreat would be cut off, and the whole party killed or captured-and this would have spoiled the whole affair. He accordingly made his dispositions rapidly, enjoined complete silence, and set to work in earnest. The small band was divided into detachments, with special duties assigned to each. Two or three of these detachments were sent to the public stables which the fine horses of the General and his staff officers occupied, with instructions to carry them off without noise. Another party was sent to Colonel Wyndham's headquarters to take him prisoner. Another to Colonel Johnson's, with similar orders.

Taking six men with him, Captain Mosby, who proceeded upon sure information, went straight to the headquarters of Brigadier-General Stoughton.

The Captain entered his chamber without much ceremony, and found him asleep in bed.

Making his way toward the bed, in the dark, the partisan shook him suddenly by the shoulder.

“What is that?” growled the General.

“Get up quick, I want you,” responded the Captain.

“Do you know who I am?” cried the Brigadier, sitting up in bed, with a scowl. “I will have you arrested, sir!”

“Do you know who I am?” retorted the Captain, shortly.

“Who are you?”

“Did you ever hear of Mosby?”

“Yes! Tell me, have you caught the-- rascal!”

“No, but he has caught you!”

And the Captain chuckled.

“What does all this mean, sir!” cried the furious officer.

“It means, sir,” the Captain replied, “that Stuart's cavalry are in possession of this place, and you are my prisoner. Get up and come along, or you are a dead man!”

Bitter as was this order, the General was compelled to obey, and the partisan mounted him, and placed him under guard. His staff and escort were captured without difficulty, but two [340] of the former, owing to the darkness and confusion, subsequently made their escape.

Meanwhile the other detachments were at work. They entered the stables, and led out fifty-eight very fine horses, with their accoutrements, all belonging to officers, and took a number of prisoners. Hundreds of horses were left, for fear of encumbering the retreat.

The other parties were less successful. Colonel Wyndham had gone down to Washington on the preceding day; but his A. A. General and Aide-de-camp were made prisoners. Colonel Johnson having received notice of the presence of the party, succeeded in making his escape.

It was now about half-past 3 in the morning, and it behoved Captain Mosby, unless he relished being killed or captured, to effect his retreat. Time was barely left him to get out of the lines of the enemy before daylight, and none was to be lost.

He had intended to destroy the valuable quartermaster, commissary, and sutler's stores in the place, but these were found to be in the houses, which it would have been necessary to burn; and even had the proceeding been advisable, time was wanting. The band was encumbered by three times as many horses and prisoners as it numered men, and day was approaching. The captain accordingly made his dispositions rapidly for retiring.

The prisoners, thirty-five in number, were as follows:

Brig.-Gen. E. H. Stoughton.

Baron R. Wordener, an Austrian, and Aide-de-camp to Col. Wyndham.

Capt. A. Barker, 5th New York Cavalry.

Col. Wyndham's A. A. General.

Thirty prisoners, chiefly of the 18th Pennsylvania and Ist Ohio Cavalry, and the telegraph operator at the place.

These were placed upon the captured horses, and the band set out in silence on their return.

Captain Mosby took the same road which had conducted him into the Court-House: that which led to Fairfax Station. But [341] this was only to deceive the enemy as to his line of retreat, if they attempted pursuit. He soon turned off, and pursued the same road which he had followed in advancing, coming out on the Warrenton turnpike, about a mile and a half from the town. This time, finding no guards on the main road, he continued to follow the turnpike until he came to the belt of woods which crosses the road about half a mile from Centreville. At this point of the march, one of the prisoners, Captain Barker, no doubt counting on aid from the garrison, made a desperate effort to effect his escape. He broke from his guards, dashed out of the ranks, and tried hard to reach the fort. He was stopped, however, by a shot from one of the party, and returned again, yielding himself a prisoner.

Again turning to the right, the Captain proceeded on his way, passing directly beneath the frowning fortifications. He passed so near them that he distinctly saw the bristling muzzles of the cannon in the embrasures, and was challenged by the sentinel on the redoubt. Making no reply he pushed on rapidly, for the day was dawning, and no time was to be lost; passed within a hundred yards of the infantry pickets without molestation, swam Cub Run, and again came out on the Warrenton turnpike at Groveton.

He had passed through all his enemies, flanked Centreville, was on the open road to the South: he was safe!

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