Mosby’s Confederacy

by Sarah Webb. 0 Comments

John Trout was drafted into the Civil War with his older brother William H.H. Trout in August 1863. He was 22 and William was 23. As luck would have it (wouldn’t you know), the record was burned or damaged in some way where it details their occupations. John’s occupation appears to start with a “Post” but the second word is not quite readable. Given that their father was a fence post maker it appears to be along those lines.

It was about this time that confederate John Singleton Mosby [ ] was heating up his raids with his partisan ranger unit in Northern Virginia and parts of Maryland.

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John Singleton Mosby, C.S.A.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

At first I didn’t understand what “partisan” meant. I have since come to understand that partisan fighters were those who were allowed to keep the spoils of their raids. They didn’t have to maintain the same schedule or discipline as a regular infantry unit and generally stayed in the area where they fought. They slept and ate with civilian sympathizers, met up at various houses or taverns, communicated through an extensive spy network that included civilians, and rode together in small groups of usually no more than 25-50 riders at a time. They were known as “soldiers by night, farmers by day.”

Southerners were not in consensus about using partisan units. Many felt that it led to lawlessness and discouraged army discipline because many regular infantry soldiers wanted to defect to a partisan unit. Despite confederate disagreement on the issue, John Singleton Mosby emerged as a leading commander of a partisan ranger unit in Northern Virginia. His base of operations was in Loudon and Fauquier County although he traversed roughly 1800 square miles in Virginia and parts of Maryland. He often struck in the dead of night and disappeared before Union cavalry could respond. He was so effective he became known as the “Gray Ghost” and, the areas he traversed became known as “Mosby’s Confederacy.” [] He attacked supply trains, mail trains, and pickets protecting Washington DC. He effectively harassed Union communication efforts in the Northern Virginia and southern Maryland area.

He became known to Union generals as a “wily foe” in March 1863 by capturing Union Brigadier General Edwin Stoughton in the dead of night without firing a shot. Mosby’s raids did not go unanswered by the Union Cavalry and the citizens of Loudon and Fauquier Counties suffered. Some Virginians didn’t like Mosby because they knew his actions brought Union retaliation. Most, however, adored him, and his civilian spy network helped him accomplish many raids. Although the Confederacy eventually disbanded most other partisan units, because Mosby maintained discipline and upheld standards of soldier behavior, his unit never disbanded throughout the entire war.

He did not have a viable Union cavalry opponent until Cole’s Cavalry turned up the heat in the winter of 1863. Cole’s Cavalry was tasked with the job of thwarting Mosby’s efforts to disrupt Union supply and communication lines. They often raided “Mosby’s Confederacy” to capture elusive Rangers and were moderately successful.  photo HarpersWeeklyMosbysGuerrillasSept51863_zps3abb5dbf.jpg

Mosby’s Guerrillas attacking a Union supply train. Sept 5 1863.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The winter of 1863-1864 was harsh. Weeks of bitter cold brought most other fighting to a halt, but Cole’s Cavalry was on duty resisting Mosby’s incursions. In January, Mosby had reliable information from his spy network that Cole’s Loudon Heights [] camp was vulnerable to attack. He decided to go on the offensive in spite of several inches of snow on the ground. He gathered up 100 Rangers, and trudged through the night on January 9 without stopping. At 4:30am on Sunday, January 10, the Rangers flew into Cole’s camp with a mighty Confederate war whoop and attacked. Despite being in a deep sleep, Cole’s men had learned to sleep with their guns because of Mosby’s continual surprise attacks at night. On this night, the tactic saved them.

Because it was so dark, confusion enveloped the Rangers, initially firing on each other. This gave Cole’s men precious time and they were able to rally, albeit scrambling from their tents and fighting in their underwear. Cole’s men realized if they shot anyone on a horse they would be shooting at the enemy.

Failure stung the Rangers as Cole’s men prevailed and repulsed the attack. Although it was a small skirmish as reported by The Valley Register, [] it was a major victory for the Union cavalry. Because Mosby’s attack reigned in confusion he became more reluctant thereafter to attack at night. Union Brigadier General Jeremiah Sullivan from Harper’s Ferry was so pleased with the performance of Cole’s Cavalry he awarded them 20 gallons of whiskey to celebrate.

Word traveled quickly around Frederick County and Cole’s Cavalry became heroes. Because of their perseverance during this battle their units boldly searched “Mosby’s Confederacy” for partisan rangers throughout the rest of January and into February.

John Trout enlisted with Cole’s Cavalry on February 29, 1864. [] Because of the draft in 1863, maybe he thought he would have to serve soon anyway. Perhaps it was the $600 bounty that drew him to enlist. Or, perhaps it was because he felt the same pride towards Cole’s Cavalry as other Frederick County Union sympathizers. Either way, the tide of the war had drawn in John Trout. He was now to become part of that prestigious and heroic Frederick County regiment, but…. not for long.

Information for this blog was derived from Mosby’s Rangers by Jeffry D. Wert []; Never the Like Again by Paul and Rita Gorden [ ] ; America’s Civil War January 2011.[]

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