“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?

“My Own Darling Magee”, A Leesburg Love Story

Mary “Mollie” Lack was just 15 years old when she met Tommy Magee. Born in Loudoun County, VA, “Mollie” was the only child of British-born William and Mary Lack. The small family lived a comfortable life in a house on North King St. in downtown Leesburg. Mr. Lack was a wealthy gardener, and the family were active in the St. James Episcopal Church community. When war came to Northern Virginia, lives of Leesburg residents were turned upside down. Along with war came thousands of young men from far-off places. Young men like Thomas Magee.

Magee enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861, signing up with Company E, 18th Mississippi, in Corinth., Mississippi. Company E was mostly composed of students from Mississippi College, and they became known as the ‘Mississippi College Rifles’. In Fall of 1861 three Mississippi regiments fought alongside local battalions in the October 21 Battle of Balls Bluff, only a couple of miles from Leesburg. Magee and the others stayed near town over the winter, encamped at Oatlands and Morven Park.

Winter at Morven Park. Image from VisitLoudoun.org

Many soldiers came into town to socialize and go to church services. Truth be told, many church visits were made in order to flirt with the locals. In return, Leesburg belles ventured to camp to watch the young men drill and parade. By the close of 1861, Mollie and Tommy Magee were pen pals and visited as often as they were able. It wasn’t long before they declared their love for one another. On February 14, 1862, Mollie wrote in her diary that she and her “beloved Magee” sent each other Valentines. She went on to write,

“He was here [last] Wednesday evening. When he was going, he put his arm around my neck and kssed me, and said “I love you Mollie, you need not be uneasy.”. . I hope I may never be unworthy of his love.  He is so dear to me, my darling.”

From Harper’s Weekly, 1864

The two lovers were soon parted by the war. In March the 18th Miss. marched out of Leesburg towards Richmond, but not before Tommy and Mollie shared a tearful goodbye. “He cried fit to break my heart” Mollie declared. Almost exactly six months later Magee came back, as the Mississippi College Rifles with the Southern Army marched to Antietam. On Thursday, September 4, Magee came to call, and Mollie wrote,

“I knew his voice the minute I heard it. He has not changed one particle. . . He came out to where I was and put his arm around me and pressed a kiss on my lips . . . Next day he came and staid all day and all night and Saturday morning he left me for Maryland and O! how I love him. I love him ten times better than I did before. God protect him!”

Sadly, Mollie Lack and Tommy Magee were parted again. We don’t know if they met afterwards, no known correspondence survives. Mollie died, likely of consumption, on July 27, 1864, only a few weeks shy of her 18th birthday. Magee later deserted the Confederate Army and faded into obscurity. The only recorded words of Tommy Magee were his pledges of love to his sweetheart, Virginia’s Mollie Lack.

Class Activity: In your own words, please answer the following questions

  1. How do historians know what Molly was thinking and feeling?
  2. Examine the above image from Harper’s Weekly, “Valentine’s Day 1864.” Using examples from the picture, describe how people celebrated Valentine’s Day during the Civil War.
  3. Why don’t we know more about Tommy Magee?

The Long Reach of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff

Within the larger scope of the American Civil War, October 21 1861’s battle at Ball’s Bluff near Leesburg, Virginia, is hardly a footnote. Often summed up as a scouting mission gone awry, the dramatic fight along the banks of the Potomac nevertheless loomed large in United States culture and politics.

Ball’s Bluff Battlefield today (from NoveParks.com)

One of the clearest effects of the battle was the formation of the Joint Committee of the Conduct of the War, formed on December 9, 1861. In the intervening weeks since the battle, Northern newspapers and politicians clamored that the decided defeat at Ball’s Bluff must be the fault of someone, rather than a sum of problems including lack of information, too few resources to move troops across the Potomac, and poor communication. Radical Republican Senators Benjamin Wade and Zachariah Chandler formed the Joint Committee to investigate the defeat at Ball’s Bluff, but the ‘investigation’ quickly determined that Brigadier General Charles Pomeroy Stone would be the battle’s scapegoat. Stone was an ideal target. His aristocratic manners made him distant from otherwise loyal soldiers and he was a West Pointer with relatively few political friends. Even better, accusing Stone of gross disloyalty would also absolve the rash decisions and poor leadership of Col. Edward Baker, a well-liked politician and the only sitting U.S. Senator to die in combat.

Brigadier General Charles Pomeroy Stone

Stone was arrested shortly after midnight on February 9, 1862, though he was not told of the charges against him. The Brigadier General was imprisoned for seven months without trial or court marshal, and though he was eventually released and restored to the Army, his reputation was never the same. Charles Stone was the Committee on the Conduct of War’s first casualty, he was by no means its last.

During the weeks and months after the Battle of Balls Bluff, the encounter was discussed publicly in art and literature. It seems odd that a minor engagement would capture the Northern zeitgeist, but its occurrence right at the end of the campaign season (and the lack of subsequent action) gave the public little else to chew on through the winter. There is also something hauntingly compelling about the scene of cornered United States troops being forced off the high ground and into the cold dark waters of the Potomac. Dozens of soldiers drowned that night, and their bodies were pulled from the river days and weeks later at places like Great Falls and in Washington D.C. itself.

Federal soldiers driven into the river. Note the makeshift and capsizing rafts. (Library of Congress)

One unfortunate 2nd Lieutenant of the 15th Mass., John William “Willie” Grout, was shot while swimming to the Maryland shore. His body was pulled from the river two weeks later and was only identified by the name stitched into his clothing. Henry S. Washburn wrote a poem, “The Vacant Chair”, about Willie, and the words were set to music and quickly became a Civil War standard.

Colonel Baker’s death also became a point of fascination. The four shots to his heart and brain and the scramble to save his body from the grabbing Confederates inspired artists and poets. In fact, 10 year-old Willie Lincoln submitted a poem, “Lines on the Death of Colonel Baker” to the National Republican.

Death of Col. Baker at Ball’s Bluff (near Leesburg, Va.), Steel Engraving, c1862.
H. Wright Smith after drawing by F.O.C. Darley (Library of Congress)

The longest reach of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff can be found through the lives of its survivors. Many United States soldiers engaged in the fight were on the battlefield for the first time, including 20 year-old Lt. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. of the 20th Mass., the “Harvard Regiment”. During a fierce exchange with the Virginians and Mississippians, Holmes was shot almost completely through the chest. The bullet was removed and Holmes went on to fight in significant battles including Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Courthouse. Holmes and others felt that they had discovered their duty in war, and that their service was at once heroic, horrific, and vital for the preservation of the Union. Even years later the mindset held true. In an 1895 address at Harvard affirmed the nobility of the idea of war, “For high and dangerous action teaches us to believe as right beyond dispute things for which our doubting minds are slow to find words of proof.” Oliver Wendell Holmes would take this outlook and dedication to philosophy to the Supreme Court, where he sat as an Associate Justice from 1902 to 1932. (Learn more about Holmes on November 21 with author Stephen Budiansky)

For many years the battlefield at Ball’s Bluff was confined to 76 acres and the 3rd smallest National Cemetery in the nation. An expansion of the battlefield was approved in 2017, confirming over 3,000 acres in Loudoun County and across the Potomac as historically significant. As part of the Mosby Heritage Area, Ball’s Bluff occupies not just physical space in our beautiful landscape, but also serves as a reminder of the small battle that disproportionately captured the attention of a Nation.

Class Activity: In your own words, please answer the following questions

  1. After the United States lost the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, who became its scapegoat? Why?
  2. Examine the image above, “Federal soldiers driven into the river.” What made the battle of Ball’s Bluff so horrible for United States troops and their families?
  3. How do you think the Civil War affected young Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.?

“There was a want of vigilance”: Intelligence in the Bristoe Station Campaign

The Mosby Heritage Area is a wide landscape of historic rivers and turnpikes crisscrossed by rail lines. Our location in between the Potomac River and Richmond was crucial to United States and Confederate forces during the Civil War, even though relatively few large-scale battles were fought here. The Heritage Area did see a number of fast-moving campaigns as armies attempted to out-flank, out-smart, and out-maneuver each other along essential travel and supply lines. The Bristoe Campaign in October 1863 falls under this category. Much of this campaign was colored by scant information, leading to close shaves on both sides before A.P. Hill’s decisive action on October 14th.

Fall 1863 found Generals Meade and Lee apparently deadlocked in central Virginia on opposite sides of the Rapidan River between Orange Courthouse and Culpeper Courthouse. Both Union and Confederate commanders learned hard lessons on the road from Gettysburg, and both recently sent supporting corps to the western theater. By October, Meade and the Federal Army seemed prepared to make winter quarters. The United States position at the fork of the Rapidan and Rappahannock controlled not only the Rappahannock crossing, but also the crucial supply line of the Alexandria & Orange railroad.

Culpeper Courthouse (center building with cupola) during the Civil War

Plans for a peaceful fall were thwarted when the Federal signalmen on Pony Mountain intercepted a message on October 7. Lee was on the move. Not knowing the Confederate codes had been broken, Lee urged his commanders to be careful and quiet as they skirted the Federal line, attempting to cut off Meade’s rear route along the A&O. But since receiving the decoded message, Federal scouts were primed to notice graycoats moving on the right flank, and campfires missing from the Confederate main body by night. With the signal towers going silent as armies began to move, they would have to rely on traditional intelligence- namely their cavalry- for information during the rest of the campaign.

Meade’s first requirement was to find out where exactly the Confederates were headed. He sent John Buford’s cavalry division to scout the Federal right flank for more signs of Lee, but recalled him after not hearing for two days. Meanwhile, Stuart’s Confederate cavalry harassed Gregg’s and Kilpatrick’s Federal cavalrymen in the vicinity of Brandy Station, resulting in erroneous reports that the Confederate forces were concentrating in Culpeper. By the time the Federal forces caught wise, Ewell’s and Hill’s divisions were closing on Warrenton, having swung wide to catch Meade’s rear on the A&O. Meade acts swiftly to outmaneuver the rebels, benefiting from a direct route up the A&O towards the fortifications at Centreville. The race was on.

“Castle Murray”, Auburn, VA, 1863

With both armies moving quickly, reconnaissance was done on the fly, leading to fighting at Auburn on October 13th when Stuart tried poking around the Union supply train and found himself surrounded by the Federal Second and Third Corps. He his own men, supplies, and artillery in a ravine during the night, a mere 300 yards from his foes. The following morning Stuart surprised a regiment of breakfasting Yankees with a volley from his artillery. His bluff succeeded in unseating Gouvenor Warren’s Second Corps, which marched quickly along the A&O and by early afternoon had reached Bristoe Station.

Historical markers near the site of Coffee Hill

The afternoon of October 14th found A.P. Hill scouting for an attack. From his position the Confederate Second Corps could just make out the Federal Third and Fifth Corps moving from eastward over Broad Run. If the rebels moved quickly (without reconnaissance), they just might catch them. Instead Hill’s North Carolinians under Cooke and Kirkland were caught by Warren’s Second Corps, which had been recuperating from the morning fighting at Auburn, taking shelter on the southern side of the high railroad embankment. Unseen until the last moment, Federals sprang up and fired, cutting down waves of gray-clad rebels. Over the next couple of hours about 2,000 men fell, effectively putting an end to Lee’s devices on Meade’s supply route.

The Union Second Corps position under Gouvenor Warren fired on Confederates from behind this embankment. Photo by Douglas Ullman, Jr.

While Gouvenor Warren earned some praise for his action at Bristoe Station, the United States press was reluctant to call the battle a Union victory. There was even talk of Meade’s replacement. In the Confederacy, there was little doubt that Bristoe was a blunder and a loss. Hill was lambasted as a fool for making an attack with so little information. Confederate President Jefferson Davis critically pointed out, “There was a want of vigilance”.

Though much of the area surrounding Bristoe Station has been developed, preservation efforts have ensured that large sections of the battlefield are open to learn and explore. For more information about the battle and ongoing preservation, visit our friends at the Bristoe Station Battlefield Park!

Class Activity: In your own words, answer the following questions

  1. What are different ways Civil War officers gained intelligence or communicated with each other? Describe at least two.
  2. Examine the image above, “The Union second corps position.” United States troops sheltered behind this railroad embankment during the battle. What made it such a good position?
  3. Why do you think we should preserve historic landscapes like the battlefield near Bristoe Station?

A (Cool) Spring afternoon in the Heritage Area

Last week staff went to survey one of the tour sites MHAA will highlight during the Civil War Conference this fall. Cool Spring Battlefield is a newly preserved historic site, until 2013 it operated as a golf course along the Eastern bank of the Shenandoah near Bluemont, Virginia. Now it is the River Campus of Shenandoah University, a landscape dedicated to environmental and historical stewardship.

Native shrubs are quickly reclaiming the area

Paved golf cart trails make the park an easy and fun walk for history buffs, cyclists, and nature lovers. Although most of the fighting on July 18, 1864 happened on the opposite bank (now privately owned by Holy Cross Abbey), the paths are dotted with interpretive signposts describing the crossing made by Union forces under Crook and Thoburn. Attempting to chase down Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley after probing the defenses of Washington D.C. at Fort Stevens, the Federals began crossing the Shenandoah River just north of Castleman’s Ferry.

The southernmost crossing point, forded by Thoburn’s Federals

By skirting around the ferry, Federal troops were able to cross without heavy opposition and form a battle line along a stone wall bordering the river’s edge and Cool Spring Farm. When Confederate General Breckenridge heard of the advance, he sent Wharton’s and Gordon’s divisions to push them back down towards the river, while Rodes’ division punched through the Union right flank. The Federals retreated back across the river, allowing Early’s rear guard to continue up the Valley unimpeded.
Want to know more about Jubal Early’s 1864 Maryland Campaign? Come to our 22nd Annual Conference on the Art of Command in the Civil War!

Today’s visitors will enjoy following the battlefield with on-site guides (Photo 1), exploring the heights near the 1st Rhode Island artillery position (Photo 2), admiring the river and crossing sites to Parker Island (Photo 3), and learning about The Retreat, home to Judge Richard Parker (Photo 4).

Did you know?

  • Union forces knew to cross north of Castleman’s Ferry thanks to Confederate deserter John Carrigan
  • The Retreat was first built and inhabited by a Revolutionary War veteran Thomas Parker, who was also called to service as an officer in the War of 1812.
  • John Singleton Mosby’s 43rd VA used Snickers Gap and Castleman’s Ferry for frequent access to the Shenandoah Valley, including on October 14, 1864’s “Greenback Raid“.

 

The battlefield at Cool Spring is a great day time experience without the crowds of larger Civil War sites. If you’re looking for a bite or beverage afterwords, nearby Dirt Farm Brewing offers spectacular views of the Heritage Area looking east across the Loudoun Valley. Once you See it, be sure to Save it and Pass it on!

On a clear day like this, you may be able to see up to 20 miles of the eastern Heritage Area from Dirt Farm in Bluemont, Virginia.