Who Was Mosby?
John S. Mosby, a lawyer, husband and father, Civil War guerilla and scout, and United Statesman is one of the best known personages of the five county Heritage Area that is his namesake. Mosby, though once a Confederate officer, campaigned for Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, became Consul to Hong Kong in 1878 at the appointment of President Hayes, served in the Department of the Interior upon a 1901 appointment from President McKinley fighting railroad corruption in California and cattle barons in the Midwest for President Roosevelt, and finally for the Department of Justice in 1904 as an assistant attorney.
In 1906, Mosby said of his friend Ulysses S. Grant, “No man ever had a better friend than he was to me.” Reconciliation, service to country, a career spent fighting corruption in government, these attributes make Mosby the complicated, fascinating, enigma he is today.
Born in Powhatan County, Virginia and raised within view of Jefferson’s Monticello, Mosby was a citizen soldier. University of Virginia-trained, he was a small-town lawyer opposed to secession when the war broke out in 1861. When Virginia did secede in April of that year he enlisted, joining the 1st Virginia Cavalry.
He showed extraordinary ability as a cavalry scout. At the end of 1862 Mosby was detached from General J.E.B. Stuart’s headquarters to operate behind enemy lines. His attacks on the Union outposts, guard stations, railroad junctions, depots, trains, and supply wagon trains in Northern Virginia weakened the morale of Union troops and tied up thousands of much needed men.
Leading his now famous Rangers, Mosby perfected the art of guerilla warfare. Operating from numerous safe houses in the area he and his men would strike and disappear seemingly at will, earning him the nickname the "Gray Ghost."
After the war Mosby sought to move on, and he soon befriended his former adversary, Ulysses S. Grant. Mosby returned to practicing law, but his connections to Grant and the Republican Party would lead to his attempted assassination at the hands of a fellow Virginian. This event, coupled with the death of his wife, drove Mosby to leave his native state. His friendship with Grant and other Republicans helped him secure the position of US Consul to Hong Kong, a post that he occupied from 1878-1885.
When he returned to the United States Grant again helped Mosby secure a job. Despite being on his deathbed Grant found his friend a position as a lawyer for the Southern Pacific Railroad in California. After 16 years on the west coast Mosby returned east to work for the Federal government - first as an investigator for the Department of the Interior and later with the Department of Justice. He investigated numerous issues ranging from illegal ranching and timbering to fraud against Native Americans.
In his later life Mosby preferred to look forwards, rather than backwards. He only ever attended one veteran's reunion in 1895 and he rejected the "Lost Cause" narrative of the war - stances that initially made him extremely unpopular in the post-war south. At times beloved and reviled by both north and south,his fascinatingly complex legacy remains a much studied topic to this day.