John Singleton Mosby (December 6, 1833 - May 30, 1916), also known as the "Gray Ghost," was a Confederate partisan ranger (guerrilla fighter) in the American Civil War. He was noted for his lightning quick raids and his ability to successfully elude his Union Army pursuers and disappear (like a ghost) with his men, blending in with area farmers and townspeople.
Mosby was born at the McLaurrine place, (in Cumberland County, Virginia) and was baptized as a Methodist. His parents were Virginny McLaurine (the daughter of James McLaurrine) and Alfred Daniel Mosby, a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, from Nelson County, Virginia. Mosby started his education at a school called Murrell's Shop, but about 1840, his family moved to a new home in an area of the Blue Ridge Mountains, four miles from Charlottesville (in Albemarle County, Virginia). John attended school in Fry's Woods, but when he turned ten, he transferred to a Charlottesville school.
In 1849, Mosby entered the University of Virginia. On March 29, he shot George R. Turpin, a medical student at the university. He was fined 500 dollars (which was later rescinded) and sentenced to 12 months in prison. While in prison, Mosby passed his time by studying law. On December 23, 1853, the governor pardoned Mosby. After studying for months in William J. Robertson's law office, Mosby was admitted to the bar.
After setting up his own practice in nearby Howardsville, also in Albemarle County, Mosby met and courted a Catholic girl by the name of Pauline Clarke (daughter of Beverly J. Clarke), who was visiting from out of town. The couple moved to Bristol, Virginia, (close to her hometown in Kentucky), and were married in a Nashville hotel on December 30, 1857.
Mosby joined the Confederate army as a private at the outbreak of the Civil War and initially served in William "Grumble" Jones's Washington Mounted Rifles. (Jones became a major and was instructed to form a more collective "Virginia Volunteers", which he created with two mounted companies and eight companies of infantry and riflemen including the Washington Mounted Rifles.) Mosby was upset with the Virginia Volunteers' lack of congeniality and he again wrote to the governor requesting to be transferred, but his request was not granted. The Virginia Volunteers participated in the First Battle of Bull Run.
After impressing J.E.B. Stuart, Mosby was promoted to first lieutenant and joined Stuart's cavalry scouts, helping the general develop attack strategies. He was responsible for Stuart's "Ride around McClellan" during the Peninsula Campaign. Captured by Union cavalry, Mosby was imprisoned in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C., for ten days. In January 1863, Stuart granted Mosby's request to form a guerilla unit, which Mosby called his Partisan Rangers.
Initially, Mosby's group consisted of Fount Beatie, Charles Buchanan, Christopher Gaul, William L. Hunter, Edward S. Hurst, Jasper and William Jones, William Keys, Benjamin Morgan, George Seibert, George M. Slater, Daniel L. Thomas, William Thomas Turner, Charles Wheatley, and John Wild. He and his men carried out the Greenback Raid and attacked General Philip Sheridan's wagon train at Berryville. Mosby is famous for carrying out a daring raid far inside Union lines at the Fairfax County courthouse, where his men captured three high ranking Union officers, including Brig. Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton, whom Mosby allegedly found in bed, rousing him with a slap to his rear.
The disruption of supply lines and the constant disappearance of couriers frustrated Union commanders to such a degree that some ordered the summary execution of partisan rangers. Union General George A. Custer executed six of Mosby's men in 1864 in Front Royal, Virginia, and Mosby retaliated by executing seven of Custer's. A note attached to one of the bodies announced that Mosby would treat all further captives as prisoners of war unless Custer committed some new act of cruelty. The killings stopped.
After Robert E. Lee's surrender, Mosby disbanded his guerillas, refusing to surrender formally. After the war, he worked in a series of government posts, including a position as a Republican campaign manager for President Ulysses S. Grant and as U.S. consul to Hong Kong. He died in Washington on May 30, 1916, and is buried in Warrenton Cemetery.
Some sources give Mosby credit for coining the term "the Solid South."
Virgil Carrington Jones published Ranger Mosby (1944) and Grey Ghosts and Rebel Raiders (1956). He also wrote the late-1950s television program, Ranger Mosby.
Mosby Woods Elementary School, an elementary school in Fairfax County Public Schools, is named after Mosby.