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A bit of partisan service.

by John S. Mosby, Colonel, C. S. A.
Before the first battle of Bull Run I had enlisted as a private in a company of Confederate cavalry of which William E. Jones, a West Point officer, was the captain, and that had been assigned to the 1st Virginia regiment of cavalry, commanded by Colonel J. E. B. Stuart. We joined Stuart at Bunker Hill, a small village on the pike leading from Winchester, where General Johnston had his headquarters, to Martinsburg, where Patterson with his army was lying. Stuart was watching Patterson. In a few days Patterson advanced and took possession of our camp, and our regiment retired toward Winchester. Here I took my first lessons in war. Patterson had no cavalry except a battalion of regulars, and we had no artillery; so he contented himself with throwing an occasional shell at us, and we got out of the way of them as fast as we could. One day we were lying down in a large open field holding our horses when a battery suddenly appeared upon a hill about a mile off and opened on us. I saw a shell burst within a few yards of Captain Jones, who coolly ordered us to mount and fall into line. I do not think I was so much frightened at any time after that. Stuart sent one company of cavalry down toward Charlestown to observe Patterson, and with the remainder of his regiment started for Manassas and took part in that battle. I served also with Stuart on the Peninsula and in the Antietam campaign.

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 thence as far west as Harper's 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. They would be repeated the next, and often during the same night at a different point, and this created a vastly exaggerated idea of my force. Some conception may be formed of the alarm it produced from a fact stated by General Hooker, that in the spring of 1863 the planks on Chain Bridge were taken up every night to keep me out of Washington. At that time I could not muster over twenty men. A small force moving with celerity and threatening many points on a line can neutralize a hundred times its own number. The line must be stronger at every point than the attacking force, else it is broken. At that time Hooker asked that the cavalry division belonging to the defenses of Washington [149] be sent to the front to reinforce Pleasonton when he crossed the Rappahannock to engage Stuart in the great cavalry combat of June 9th.1 It was refused on the ground that it was necessary to keep it where it was, in order to protect the communication between the army and Washington. Afew days before that fight we struck the railroad within two miles of this cavalry camp, and captured and burned a train of supplies going up to Pleasonton. The 3000 men who came after me could not run any faster than the twenty with me. We vanished like the children of the mist, and the major-general who pursued reported that we had been annihilated. But within less than a week I pul led myself together again, crossed the Potomac about twelve miles above Washington, and captured the cavalry camp near Seneca.

I recur now to the time when I first arrived in the country which became the theater of the partisan war which I carried on until the surrender at Appomattox. As I have said, the line of outposts belonging to the defenses of Washington formed the arc of a circle extending from the upper to the lower Potomac. The troops had been having an easy; lazy life, which was described in the stereotyped message sent every night to the Northern press, “All quiet along the Potomac.” I saw that here was a bountiful harvest to be gathered, and that the reapers were few. I gave constant employment to the Union troops, and they no longer led a life of drowsy indolence. I procured some guides who knew every path of the country, and with the aid of friendly citizens found out where every picket was posted. A certain major-general came after me with a division of cavalry and a battery of artillery. After shelling the woods in every direction so as to be sure of my extermination, and destroying many bats and owls, he took off as prisoners all the old men he could find. He had the idea that I was a myth and that these old farmers were the raiders. One old man appealed to his crutch to show the physical impossibility of his being a guerrilla. But the major-general was inexorable. He returned with his prizes to camp, but I was there almost as soon as he was.

In the month of February, 1863, Brigadier-General E. H. Stoughton was in command of the troops in front of Washington, with his headquarters at Fairfax Court House. There was a considerable body also at Centreville, and a cavalry brigade was encamped on the pike leading from that place to Fairfax Court House, under command of Colonel Percy Wyndham. Stoughton was a West Point officer, and had served with distinction under McClellan on the Peninsula. Wyndham was an Englishman serving as Colonel of the 1st New Jersey Cavalry. The year before he had started up the Shenandoah Valley to bag Ashby, but the performance did not come up to the manifesto; in their first encounter Ashby bagged him. He was now given a chance to redeem his reputation. My attacks on his lines had been incessant and very annoying. He struck blindly around like the Cyclops in his cave, but nobody was hurt. The methodical tactics he had learned in European wars were of no more use to him than a suit of armor of the Middle Ages. My men would dart down on his outposts like a hawk on its prey; but when Wyndham came up in solid column the partisans had gone. In his vexation he sent me word that I was a horse-thief; to which I replied that all the horses I had stolen had had riders, and the riders had had sabers and pistols.

While operating against the outposts it had been my custom to examine my prisoners separately, and in this way I learned all the interior arrangements of their camps. I was then meditating a bolder enterprise than I had ever undertaken, but had communicated it to no one. This was to penetrate the outer lines, and go right up to their headquarters and carry off the general commanding and Colonel Wyndham. It looked extremely hazardous to attempt it; but as nothing of the sort ever had been done, I calculated there would be no precaution to prevent it. I was right. While I was maturing my plan I received aid from an unexpected source. One day a deserter, named Ames, wearing the stripes of a sergeant, came to me from a New York cavalry regiment of Wyndham's brigade. The Emancipation Proclamation which had been put in operation was the reason he gave for deserting the cause of the Union, but I always suspected that it was some personal wrong he had suffered. He seemed to be animated. by the most vindictive hatred for his former comrades. I felt an instinctive confidence in his sincerity which he never betrayed. After I had thoroughly tested his fidelity I made him a lieutenant. He served with me until he was killed in October, :1864.

I questioned Ames closely about the location of the camps and outposts, and he confirmed the knowledge I had previously obtained. I determined first to take him on a trial-trip down into Fairfax County. There was a cavalry post at a certain school-house, and I started with Ames one afternoon to attack it. A deep snow was on the ground, and it was raining and sleeting. About two weeks before, I had captured the same post, but I thought they would not expect me back so soon. To satisfy my men I did not let Ames carry any arms, for they all were certain that he had been sent to decoy me into a trap. The soldiers in the Union camps slept soundly that night, for they felt sure that nothing but a wild animal would be abroad in such weather. I stopped when I got near the place I intended to attack, to make an inquiry of a farmer who lived near there as to the number of men on the post. I called him out of bed. He came to the door in his night-dress, and the first thing he asked was, “How many men have you?” I said, “Seventeen.” “How many,” I asked, “are at the picket-post?” “One hundred,” he answered. “I have been down there this evening. You are certainly not going to attack them with so few men?” “Yes,” I replied; “it is so dark they can't see us, and will think I have got a hundred too.” Contrary to my usual practice, I went straight along the road. We got close on the [150] vedette, who challenged us, fired, and started into camp at full speed. We dashed on as close to his heels as the witches were on Tam O'Shanter's. The men were asleep in the school-house and their horses were tied with halters to the trees. If they had staid inside they could easily have driven us

Colonel John S. Mosby, C. S. A. From a photograph.

off with their carbines. But every man ran for his horse, and we were just in time to scatter them. We got all the horses, but most of the men escaped in the darkness. In the charge, Ames rode by my side. We. got off safe with our booty and prisoners. After daybreak, Colonel Wyndham followed at full speed for twenty miles on our track. All that he did was to go back to camp with a lot of broken down horses. Ames, like the saints, had been tried by fire; he was never doubted afterward. The time had now come for me to take a bolder flight and execute my plan of making a raid on headquarters.

It was on the afternoon of March 7th, 1863, that I started from Aldie with 29 men on this expedition. Ames was the only one who knew its object. It was pitch-dark before we got near the cavalry pickets at Chantilly. We passed in between them and Centreville. Here a good point in the game was won, for once inside the Union lines we would be mistaken for their own men. By an accident one-half of my command got separated in the dark from the other, and it was nearly an hour before I could find them. We passed along close by the camp-fires, but the sentinels took us for a scouting party of their cavalry. I had felt very cold in the early part of the night, but my blood grew warmer as I got farther in the lines, and the chill passed away. I had no reputation to lose by failure but much to gain by success. I remembered, too, the motto that Ixion in heaven wrote in Minerva's album--“Adventures are to the adventurous.” We struck the road leading from Fairfax Court House to the railroad station and then went on to the village. There were a few guards about, but they did not suspect us until they saw a pistol pointed at them. Of course they surrendered. Some refused to believe we were Confederates after we told them who we were. A few sentinels hailed us with the formula, “Who comes there?” and were answered, “5th New York Cavalry.” It was past midnight, and it was necessary to do our work quickly if it was to be done at all. The first thing I did was to detail squads of men to gather prisoners and horses. I was more anxious to catch Wyndham than any one else; so I sent Ames, with a detachment, after him. But for once fortune had been propitious to him. He had gone down to Washington that evening. Ames got two of his staff and his uniform, and brought them to me. One of these officers was Captain Barker, of the 5th New York Cavalry, who had been Ames's captain. Ames brought him to me as a trophy, and seemed to feel a malicious pride in introducing him. I had sent another party to the house where Lieut.-Col. Robert Johnstone, commanding the cavalry brigade, was sleeping. In some manner he had heard the alarm and had slipped out through the back way into the garden in his night-clothes. His wife met my men like a lioness at the door. I was greatly disappointed in not getting Wyndham. The capture of his staff-officers and fine horses was not an equivalent for the loss of the chief. The other details did their work rapidly, and soon collected at our rendezvous in the court-yard a large number of prisoners and fine steeds. The prisoners seemed to be utterly dumfounded. About this time Joe Nelson rode up to me with a prisoner who said he belonged to the guard at General Stoughton's headquarters, and with a party of five or six I immediately went there. We dismounted, and with a loud rap on the front door awoke the inmates. An upper window was raised and some one called out, “Who is there?” [151] The answer was, “We have a dispatch for General Stoughton.” An officer (Lieutenant Prentiss) came to the front door to get it. I caught hold of his shirt and whispered my name in his ear, and told him to lead me to the general's room. Resistance was useless, and he did so. A light was struck, and before us lay the sleeping general. He quickly raised up in bed and asked what this meant. I said, “General, get up — dress quick — you are a prisoner.” “What!” exclaimed the indignant general. “My name is Mosby; Stuart's cavalry are in possession of this place, and General Jackson holds Centreville.” “Is Fitz Lee here?” “Yes.” “Then take me to him; we were classmates.” “Very well; but dress quick.” Two of my men assisted him to put on his clothes. My motive in deceiving him in regard to the amount of my force was to deprive him of all hope of rescue. I was in a most critical situation, for in addition to several thousand troops in the surrounding camps, a considerable number were quartered in the houses in the village. If there had been the le ast concert among them they could easily have driven us out; but, although we remained there an hour, not a shot was fired; as soon as our presence became known each man tried to save himself. Stoughton did not delay a moment, for he had no idea how few of us there were. A couple of men had been left to hold our horses while we were in the house. One of these, George Whitescarver, surrounded and captured a guard of six men sleeping in a tent. Stoughton's horses all stood at the door as we came out, with saddles and bridles on. Lieutenant Prentiss started, but soon parted company with us. We could not see where he went. When I got to the court-yard I found all my different squads collected there with their prisoners and spoils. No sign of resistance had been shown. The prisoners outnumbered us three or four to one, and each was mounted and leading a horse. The cavalcade started in an opposite direction from where we intended to go, in order to deceive our pursuers. After going a few hundred yards we turned and flanked the cavalry camp, and struck the pike to Centreville.

Stoughton soon discovered how few of us there were. I did not allow him to hold his bridle-reins, but gave them to one of my men (Hunter), who rode beside him. Stoughton remarked, “This is a bold thing you have done; but you will certainly be caught; our cavalry will soon be after you.” “Perhaps so,” I said. It was so dark that the blue could not be distinguished from the gray. Hence the prisoners all thought there were at least one hundred of us. We lost many of them before we got beyond the lines. They were all formed in a column of fours, and after we got on the pike I rode some distance in the rear while Hunter, with Stoughton, was leading in front. We went at a trot and the chances of our escape were improving. No one seemed to be on our track, as our winding about had baffled pursuit. It never entered the head of any one that I would march up the pike in the face of two or three thousand troops at Centreville. When within a mile of that place, and just about the break of day, we came upon a camp-fire which had evidently just been deserted. A picket had been posted there on the evening before to stay during the night. The officer, thinking it unnecessary to remain longer, had gone into camp. As we had taken the precaution to cut the telegraph wires, no news had yet reached Centreville of our work at the Court House. When I saw the picket-fire on the pike I halted the column and galloped forward to reconnoiter. Seeing that no one was there, I called to Hunter to come on. It was necessary to make a circuit around Centreville, and to pass between encampments of Union troops on both sides of it. I was certain to be lost if I went either too far to the left or the right. Just as we turned off from the pike Captain Barker made a desperate attempt to escape. He darted from the line, but my Hungarian Jake was at his heels, and sent a harmless shot after him just as his horse fell in a ditch. I rode up to him and inquired if he was hurt. He said “No,” and Jake assis ted him to mount. No one else cared to repeat the experiment. We passed within a few hundred yards of the forts, and could see the guns pointing through the embrasures and hear the challenge of the sentinels as they walked on the parapets. My heart began to beat with joy. The odds were now rapidly getting in my favor. We were soon on the other side of Centreville. Although we could be plainly seen from there, it was probably supposed that we were a scouting party of Federal cavalry. When we got to Cub Run, it was so swollen by the melting snows that it could not be forded. We were still within easy cannon-shot of the guns on the heights, and there was no time to be lost. I acted on the maxim of plucking the flower safety from the nettle danger, and plunging into the brimming stream swam over. The rest followed, Stoughton being next to me. The first thing he said as he shivered with cold was, “This is the first rough treatment I have received.” I knew that no cavalry would ever swim after me. Leaving Hunter to come on with my men and prisoners, I galloped on ahead with George Slater and once more got on the pike at Groveton. This was the very spot where, the year before, Fitz John Porter had made his disastrous assault on Jackson. From this hill I had a view of the pike seven miles back to Centreville. No enemy was in pursuit. I was safe. Just then Hunter appeared and the sun rose. It seemed to me that it never shone with such splendor before. I turned over my prisoners to Stuart at Culpeper Court House. He was as much delighted by what I had done as I was, and published a general order announcing it to the cavalry, in which he said that it was “a feat unparalleled in the war.”

1 At Brandy Station.--editors.

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