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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: July 2014

4 - Confederates and Indians


Unarmed none cared to stir abroad

For berries beyond their forest-fence:

As glides in seas the shark,

Rides Mosby through green dark . . .

And five gigantic horsemen carved

Clear-cut against the sky withdrawn;

Are more behind? an open snare?

Or Mosby’s men but watchmen there?. . .

Mosby speaks from the undergrowth –

Speaks in a volley! Out jets the flame!

Men fall from their saddles like plums from trees;

Horses take fright, reins tangle and bind;

“Steady – dismount – form – and into the wood!”

– Herman Melville, “The Scout toward Aldie”

The “Gray Ghost”

During the Civil War, Confederate insurgent bands used classic guerrilla tactics to enervate the massive Union armies. Northern Virginia, in particular, was a “hotbed” of rebel insurgent activity. Local Confederate guerrillas harassed Union flanks and scouting parties, cut telegraph lines, burned railroad cars, intimidated civilian populations, and otherwise made life miserable for the northern armies. These Virginia guerrilla units often acted independently, usually without official sanction from the Confederate command in Richmond. The most famous of these Confederate guerrillas was John S. Mosby, nicknamed the “Gray Ghost” for his stealthy operations behind Union lines. Mosby joined the Confederacy in 1861. Two years later, after accompanying Jeb Stuart on a cavalry raid in northern Virginia, his request was granted for a group of six men and permission to conduct clandestine and destabilizing operations behind enemy lines.

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