“I Am Now No Longer Your Commander”, The Disbandment of the 43rd VA

Reminiscing about his time with Mosby’s Partisan Rangers, John Munson recalled that after March 1863’s successful kidnapping of Gen. Edwin Stoughton, “To get his men out of the trouble into which it had been so easy to get, was now Mosby’s care, for he always looked after that part of his exploits.” In two years of operation, including 1 year, 9 months, and eleven days as the official commander of the 43rd Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, John Singleton Mosby got his men into and out of plenty of trouble. On April 21, 1865 he performed his last duty to lead the men in his command from harm, which was to disband the unit and give Mosby’s Rangers a free choice to surrender to the United States.

The decision to disband did not come lightly. On the same day that General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, a newly-formed company of Rangers was on its first raid against Union supply lines. Mosby himself first learned of the surrender through a copy of the Baltimore American, and his first correspondent about surrender was from United States Major General Winfield Hancock, stationed in Winchester. On April 11th he relayed a message from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that cavalrymen of the 43rd were to be offered the same generous terms of surrender as the men in the Army of Northern Virginia, with one caveat: “The guerrilla chief Mosby will not be paroled.”

John Singleton Mosby, photographed shortly after his promotion to Colonel, 1865

John Mosby stalled for time, agreeing to an armistice but no surrender until he had clearer instructions from General Lee, via scout Channing Smith. Lee’s weary advice to Smith and the 43rd was to “go home . . and help build up the shattered fortunes of our old state.” A dutiful (if irregular) soldier, Mosby prepared to do just that when he rode into Millwood on April 20th. Tensions were high in Clarke’s Hotel, where nearly forty men, both Union and Confederate, crammed into the parlor. Before Mosby could make a decision to sign the terms, a young and uninvited ranger burst into the room, declaring that the Yankees had a thousand cavalrymen stashed in the woods ready to capture them. Mosby stood, ready for any action but with his characteristic steely nerve, and led his men out of the Hotel and eastward back over the Blue Ridge. The phantom Yankees never appeared.

Clarke’s Hotel, Millwood, VA

The Colonel knew his time was up. He had been given a chance to surrender his command and the offer wasn’t likely to come again unless forced on the end of a bayonet. Thinking again of the men in his command and not his own status as an outlaw, he penned a final farewell to those who had fought with him in numerous hair raising adventures. About 200 riders of the 43rd Virginia gathered just outside of Salem Virginia on April 21, 1865. Mosby did not recite his farewell aloud, instead company officers read the letter to the men assembled. Many, including the Colonel, wept openly at his words:

Soldiers! I have summoned you together for the last time. The vision we have cherished of a free and independent country, has vanished, and that country, is now in the spoil of a conqueror. I disband your organization in preference to surrendering it to our enemies. I am now no longer your commander. After association of more than two eventful years, I part from you with a just pride, in the fame of your achievements, and grateful recollections of your generous kindness to myself. And now at this moment of bidding you a final adieu accept the assurance of my unchanging confidence and regard. Farewell.

Jno. S. Mosby, Colonel
Glen Welby, the Confederate safehouse where Mosby penned his farewell message to the 43rd battalion.

While most of his Rangers surrendered and paroled, Mosby first intended to join General Johnston before learning of his surrender to Sherman. After that point he lived with relatives, living under the radar of the $5,000 bounty on his head. On June 13, with assurances from his brother William, he tried to surrender in Lynchburg, Virginia, but was denied parole there. Finally, with the help of a personal plea from his wife Pauline Mosby, the Colonel was granted parole from Ulysses S. Grant. The Gray Ghost never regretted his actions in the Civil War, nor did he regret the tortuous decision to disband the 43rd VA. He went on to serve his state and country as a consul in Hong Kong, an agent in the General Land Office, and as an assistant attorney in the Department of Justice.

Want to learn more about John Mosby at the end of the Civil War? Want to see the sites for yourself? Enjoy this Driving Tour, or visit the Mosby Heritage Area Association website for more!

Reading Questions: In your own words, please answer the following questions.

  1. Why did John Mosby stall for more time when General Hancock asked for his surrender?
  2. In what ways did John Mosby demonstrate leadership? Give at least two examples.
  3. Who is a leader that you respect? What makes him or her a good leader?

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