Mosby's Rangers in the Shenandoah Valley

A dozen army officers sit for a group studio portrait photo.
Col. John Singleton Mosby and some members of Mosby's Rangers, ca. 1861-1865; Mosby stands in the middle, hatless and smooth-shaven

Library of Congress

“Only three men in the Confederate army knew what I was doing or intended to do; they were Lee and Stuart and myself…”

Col. John Singleton Mosby

Known as the “Gray Ghost,” Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby, along with his partisan rangers, terrorized Federal units in northern Virginia from late 1862 until the end of the Civil War in 1865. By the summer of 1864, Mosby and his men were disrupting the advance of the United States Army of the Shenandoah into Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Mosby the Scout

Not a particularly enthusiastic soldier when he enlisted as a private in 1861, John Singleton Mosby disliked routine army life. After seeing limited action at First Manassas, however, Mosby was promoted to first lieutenant in the 1st Virginia Cavalry regiment. Enjoying the cavalry, but bored with his job as regimental adjutant, Mosby resigned and became attached to the staff of Brig. Gen. J.E.B. (Jeb) Stuart, then the cavalry commander of the Confederate army that soon became the Army of Northern Virginia. Mosby later wrote that Stuart, “made me all that I was in the war…the best friend I ever had.”

Mosby proved his worth as a scout and intelligence collector during the Peninsula campaign in June 1862. Riding with Stuart and about 1,200 Confederate horsemen, Mosby scouted ahead and along the column’s flanks in the infamous four-day circuit around the entire United States Army of the Potomac. He later scouted for Stuart during the Second Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg campaigns.

Proposing the idea of leading a band of riders to conduct guerrilla warfare in northern Virginia, Mosby convinced Stuart and Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee to authorize a company of rangers in January 1863. As the unit grew and gained notoriety, it eventually became Company A, 43rd Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, or Mosby’s Rangers, in June 1863. Although guerrillas, or partisan rangers, Mosby’s men were subject to the Articles of War and Army Regulations within General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

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