150 years ago, Colonel John Mosby rode his way into the history books with a daring raid on Union-held Fairfax Court House, about a dozen miles west of Washington. Under the cover of darkness, the “Gray Ghost” and his band of rebel raiders captured General Edwin H. Stoughton, two officers, 30 soldiers and dozens of horses.
“Within a single month, and not yet thirty years old, Mosby had become immortal.”
Mosby’s mythical story, however, goes beyond that one glorious night. Historical markers all across Northern Virginia tell the stories of his guerilla leadership.
Connery’s book, his second in the “Civil War Sesquicentennial Series,” contains 35 illustrations and details the daring adventures of this Confederate hero. And then there’s Mosby’s post-war career, which could not have been more ironic. In a move that would cost him dearly in his beloved Virginia, Mosby supported President Grant. He served as a diplomat in China, and as an attorney in the Department of Justice. Mosby lived in a house near Logan Circle and died there.
We sat down with Connery and asked him these questions.
What prompted you to write about Mosby?
Because of the success of my first book for The History Press, Civil War Northern Virginia 1861, for which I was awarded the Jefferson Davis Historical Gold Medal, my editor contacted me about doing a second book. We discussed several topics and settled on Mosby.
How did Mosby get his nickname – the Gray Ghost?
One day President Lincoln heard his generals speaking about what do to with the Confederate Ranger Mosby. Always one with a quick retort, Lincoln said: "What are you men talking about? You speak about this Mosby like he is a ghost - a gray ghost!"
This month marks the 150th Anniversary of Mosby’s daring raid into Fairfax County Courthouse. Capturing a one-star general must have been his finest hour.
It certainly made him famous; as a villain in the North and a hero in the South! He told his men beforehand that he was about to do something that would shoot his name into the heavens or send him to the depths.
In September, 1863, he was able to get a few of his men into Alexandria to capture the Yankee Governor of occupied Virginia, Francis Pierpont. The governor had gone to Washington City, so Mosby and his men went out Telegraph Road to Rose Hill, where they captured the lieutenant governor, Union Colonel Dulany. One of Mosby's men was Private Dulany, the colonel's son! So the Civil War was not just Brother against Brother, it was Father against Son.
Richmond paid Mosby for his raids. Did he make a lot of money that way?
Not a whole lot. For example, Mosby's Rangers captured a B&O train just west of Harpers Ferry in October 1864 and 'liberated' $173,000 in Union Greenbacks, meant as pay for General Sheridan's Union Army. Mosby divided up the money equally, so each of his men got $2,000! Mosby did not take a penny!
In 1878, Grant appointed Mosby as U.S. Consul to Honk Kong. How did his time there go?
Actually, Mosby refused to take any favors from President Grant. It was Grant's successor, President Hayes, who sent Mosby as U.S. consul to Hong Kong in 1879. Mosby immediately went to work cleaning up the patronage evils there and when Mosby came back to America in 1885, he was given a silver loving cup by the Chinese merchants for his honesty and hard work.
There’s a house in Washington near Logan’s Circle, associated with Mosby. He also passed away in Washington. Can you elaborate on this DC connection?
The house he died in is still there, at 1212 12th Street NW. He originally moved into DC after his wife died in 1876. Once he supported Grant, and then became a Republican, Mosby had to move out of Warrenton, especially after an 'admirere' took a shot at him at the railroad station!
So he lived in DC until going to Hong Kong (early 1879). When he moved back to the States in 1885, he lived in California until 1901. For about three years he lived in South Dakota. Finally in 1904, friends convinced President Teddy Roosevelt to give him a job in the Department of Justice. So he lived in DC until his death in 1916. So except for visits back to Virginia, he never lived in his native state after 1876.
The Historical Marker Data Base shows over 50 markers associated with Mosby. Do you have any favorites, or any favorite Mosby stories?
That is the great thing about Mosby! One historical marker is just a mile from my home, commemorating the Rose Hill Raid. My favorite is probably the Fairfax Court House Raid, where he and his 29 Rangers captured Union General Stoughton, about 4 or 5 other officers, about 30 men and over 50 horses. Supposedly when President Lincoln was told of the raid, he remarked, "I can make another General with my signature - it is a lot harder to make a horse!"
I would think writing about a hero of the Confederacy comes with a certain amount of baggage, in that some see you in the same room with others sympathetic to some form of holding on to “The Lost Cause.” Do you ever think about that?
You all make decisions in this life. Mosby, like his commanding officer Robert E. Lee, was a strong Unionist before the War. But once Virginia had seceded, Mosby threw in his lot with his native state.
Mosby had a personal servant, or slave, with him throughout the War, Aaron Burton. When he was interviewed many years after the War, Mr. Burton said: "I raised Colonel Mosby. I loved him and was with him in all his battles. When the war was over Colonel John told me that I was free and could go and do as I pleased. He is a good man, and was a great fighter."
When Mosby became a Republican after the War, he believed in equal rights, which got him into trouble with his fellow whites in Virginia!
Congrats on your book. Where can folks buy it? When and where are you speaking in the area?
If people want an autographed copy, they can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Otherwise, it is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and The History Press site. My next speaking engagement is at the Archaeology Museum in the Torpedo Factory on the Waterfront in Alexandria. I will be there at the Java Jolt on Saturday April 13 at 10:00 am.