John Singleton Mosby started with nine cavalrymen from the Confederate Cavalry command of J.E.B. Stuart on detached duty in Loudoun and Fauquier counties in early January 1863. Stuart supplied several more men two weeks later. Mosby had immediate success with surprise attacks against the Union cavalry screen and its many small outposts on the Loudoun-Fairfax county line. This led men home on leave, boys ages 16 and 17, infantry convalescent’s, and a limited number of transfers from Stuart’s command to join the Rangers. The force grew in size until some 1,911 men had served under Mosby.
Like land privateers, these “partisan” Rangers were allowed to keep what they took from Yankees. Mostly they took pistols, carbines (short repeating cavalry rifles), and horses. Most of the Rangers possessed four pistols and four horses to be always ready and well armed for a raid with a fresh horse. Other materiel was sold to the Confederate Army or given to homeowners who took the risk of boarding rangers locally. Coffee was welcome!
Mosby’s unit was formalized as the 43rd Battalion (later it was a Regiment) of Virginia Cavalry on June 10, 1863, in the parlor of the Rector House at Rector’s Crossroads (today’s Atoka). While one of only two units allowed to remain partisans in the Confederate Army, they took orders directly from President Davis, General Robert E. Lee, and Stuart. Raids were coordinated with other Confederate military activity. Usually, their goals were to demoralize the Union cavalry screen west of Washington and to attack supply trains, wagon trains, and outposts. In 1864-65, many of the Rangers’ raids focused on the northern Shenandoah Valley, aimed at Sheridan’s invading Union army.