Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mosby's Fairfax Raid in his own words

Historical Fiction author Jessica James visits Fairfax
The Gunnell House. General Stoughton was captured by
Mosby in the second story bedroom to the left.
As most of you know, I attended the 150th anniversary of the March 9, 1863, raid by John Mosby and his rangers, in which a Union general was captured in the Union-held town.

Without firing a single shot, Mosby and his men stealthily captured Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton while he slept in his headquarters in the home of William P. Gunnell.

Along with Stoughten, they rounded up two captains, 30 other prisoners, and 58 horses in the early hours of the morning prompting President Lincoln's famous quote, "I can make a General in five minutes but a good horse is hard to replace."

There are many accounts of the raid, but I decided to use Mosby's own words, which he wrote in a newspaper article in the Belford Magazine in 1892. I've taken the liberty of skipping his descriptions of routes, etc., to just give the main points of the raid.

The men thought we were simply going down to make an attack on the picket post. There was a melting snow on the ground with a drizzling rain. All this favored my plan. The darkness concealed us, and the horses treading on the soft snow made very  little noise.

Historical Fiction author Jessica James visits Gunnell House
Second story bedroom where
Stoughton was captured.
I found out where there was a gap in the picket line between the two turnpikes and determined to penetrate it. I knew that if we succeeded in passing the outer line without alarming the pickets we might reach the general's headquarters at the court house in comparative safety, as we would be mistaken for their own troops even if the enemy discovered us.

The headquarters was so thoroughly girdled with troops that no one dreamed of the possibility of an enemy approaching them.

I was riding by the side of one of my men named Hunter, and at this point told him where we were going. He realized, as I did, the difficulties and dangers that surrounded us. I told him our safety was in the audacity of the enterprise. We were then four miles inside the enemy's lines and within a mile or two of the cavalry companies.

[We] came into the town unmolested at two o'clock in the morning. It had been my intention to get there about midnight, but our column got broken in two at one time in the darkness; the rear portion remained standing still for some time, thinking the whole column had halted.We had gone a considerable distance before it was discovered, so I had to turn back in search of the missing.


Historical Fiction author Jessica James in Fairfax
Inside the Gunnell house.
With the exception of a few drowsy sentinels all of the troops in the town were asleep. Nothing of the kind had ever been attempted before during the war, and no preparations had been made to guard against it. It is only practicable to guard against what is probable, and in war, as everything else, a great deal must be left to chance.
Once inside the enemy's lines everything was discovered as easy as falling off a log. There was not the slightest show of resistance. As the night was pitch dark it was impossible to tell from our appearance to which side we belonged, although all of us were dressed in Confederate gray.

The names of all the cavalry regiments stationed there were familiar to us; so whenever a sentinel halted us the answer was: "5th New York Cavalry," and it was all right. All of my men, except Hunter and Ames were as much surprised as the enemies were when they found themselves in a town filled with Union troops and stores. As I had never led them into a place from which I was not able to take them out, there was not a faint heart among them. All seemed to have a blind confidence in my destiny.

I took five or six men with me to go after Stoughton. When we reached the house all dismounted and I gave a loud knock on the front door. A head bobbed out from an upper window and inquired who was there. My answer was "Fifth New York Cavalry with a dispatch for General Stoughton." Footsteps were soon heard tripping down the stairs and the door opened. A man stood before me with nothing on but his shirt and drawers. I immediately seized hold of his shirt-collar, and whispered in his ear who I was and ordered him to lead me to the general's room. We went straight upstairs where Stoughton was. When a light was struck, we saw lying on the bed before us the man of war.

There were signs in the rooms of having been revelry in the house that night. Some uncorked champagne bottles furnished an explanation of the general's deep sleep. He had been entertaining a number of ladies from Washington in a style becoming a commanding general.

As the general was not awakened by the noise we made in entering the room, I walked up to his bed and pulled off his covering. But even this did not arouse him. He was turned over on his side snoring like one of the seven sleepers. With such environments I could not afford to await his convenience or to stand on ceremony. So I just pulled up his shirt and gave him a spank. Its effect was electric. The brigadier rose from his pillow and in an authoritative tone inquired the meaning of this rude intrusion. He had not realized that we were not some of his staff.

I leaned over and said, "General, did you ever hear of Mosby?"

"Yes," he quickly answered, "have we caught him?"

"No," I said,."I am Mosby--HE has caught you."

In order to deprive him of all hope I told him that Stuart's Cavalry held the town and that General Jackson was in Centreville.

When we returned to the court-house square all of the squads had collected there and duly done their work. There were twenty-nine men with me and we had about one hundred prisoners and horses to guard. It was so dark that the prisoners did not know my men from their own.


Confederate Colonel John Mosby
Colonel Mosby by Michael Gnatek
This blog post was delayed so long because I started re-reading James Williamson's book Mosby's Rangers to refresh my memory about this raid and I couldn't stop! Due to space limitations, I didn't go into how Mosby got his men OUT of Fairfax with all of those prisoners and horses, but it is an interesting story as well.

I also didn't go into how two of his men walked 30 miles through the pouring down rain in order to acquire horses (from the 5th New York Cavalry) before this raid even began. They just walked into the Union camp, talked to the guards, and helped themselves to two of the best horses.

Now you know why Mosby is the inspiration for my main character in Noble Cause and Shades of Gray.

My next post will be on Antonia Ford and her relationship with Colonel Mosby. I had the opportunity to walk through her home before my book signing on Saturday too. The town of Fairfax did a great job of commemorating the 150th anniversary of Mosby's raid! So glad I was able to attend.

2 comments:

Lisa Aszklar said...

So sorry I was not able to see you last Saturday. Next time!

Jessica James said...

Hi Lisa - Thought I'd see you there (a fellow Mosby groupie) LOL.

And I quote...

"[L]et us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their valor, and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died."
--Ronald Reagan at Pointe du Hoc, 1984