John S. Mosby

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Now while I think as badly of slavery as Horace Greeley did I am not ashamed that my family were slaveholders. It was our inheritance. Neither am I ashamed that my ancestors were pirates and cattle thieves.
People must be judged by the standard of their own age. If it was right to own slaves as property it was right to fight for it.
South Carolina went to war, as she said in her secession proclamation, because slavery would not be secure under Lincoln. South Carolina ought to know what was the cause for her seceding.
The South went to war on account of slavery.
The truth is the modern Virginians departed from the teachings of the Father's.
I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery – a soldier fights for his country – right or wrong – he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in.

John Singleton Mosby (6 December 183330 May 1916) was an officer in the Confederate army during the American Civil War and the leader of the "Mosby's Rangers".



  • Soldiers! I have summoned you together for the last time. The vision we have cherished of a free and independent country, has vanished, and that country is now the spoil of a conqueror. I disband your organization in preference to surrendering it to our enemies. I am no longer your commander. After association of more than two eventful years, I part from you with a just pride, in the fame of your achievements, and grateful recollections of your generous kindness to myself. And now at this moment of bidding you a final adieu accept the assurance of my unchanging confidence and regard. Farewell. John S. Mosby, Col.


  • War loses a great deal of its romance after a soldier has seen his first battle. I have a more vivid recollection of the first than the last one I was in. It is a classical maxim that it is sweet and becoming to die for one's country; but whoever has seen the horrors of a battlefield feels that it is far sweeter to live for it.
    • War Loses Its Romance (1887), as quoted at the Veterans Memorial at the Lackawanna County Courthouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania.


  • I've always understood that we went to war on account of the thing we quarreled with the north about. I've never heard of any other cause than slavery.
    • Letter (1894), as quoted in The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (2006), by John M. Coski.


Letter to Samuel "Sam" Chapman (May 1907)[edit]

Full text of the letter (9 May 1907), Washington, D.C.
  • There was more vindictiveness shown to me by the Virginia people for my voting for Grant than the North showed to me for fighting four years against him.
  • Referring to George Christian's eulogy of slavery because it was a patriarchal institution, I reminded you that polygamy and circumcision were patriarchal institutions. I forgot to say that eunuchs were also a patriarchal institution. Ask Hugh if I am not right.

Letter to Samuel "Sam" Chapman (June 1907)[edit]

Full text of the letter (4 June 1907), Washington, D.C.
  • In February 1860 Jeff Davis offered a bill in the Senate wh. passed, making all the territories slave territory. See Davis' book. He was opposed to letting the people decide whether or not they would have slavery – Wm. A. Smith, President of Randolph Macon quit his duties as a teacher and in 1857-8-9-60 traveled all over Virginia preaching slavery and proving it was right by the bible.
  • I suppose you are now back in Staunton. I wrote you about my disgust at reading the Reunion speeches. It has since been increased by reading Christian's report. I am certainly glad I wasn't there. According to Christian, the Virginia people were the abolitionists and the Northern people were pro-slavery. He says slavery was 'a patriarchal' institution. So were polygamy and circumcision. Ask Hugh if he has been circumcised.
  • Christian quotes what the Old Virginians said against slavery. True; but why didn't he quote what the modern Virginians said in favor of it? Mason, Hunter, Wise, etc. Why didn't he state that a Virginia senator, Mason, was the author of the Fugitive Slave Law, and why didn't he quote The Virginia Code that made it a crime to speak against slavery?
  • Now while I think as badly of slavery as Horace Greeley did I am not ashamed that my family were slaveholders. It was our inheritance. Neither am I ashamed that my ancestors were pirates and cattle thieves. People must be judged by the standard of their own age. If it was right to own slaves as property it was right to fight for it.
  • John C. Calhoun's last speech had a bitter attack on Mr. Jefferson for his amendment to the Ordinance of '87 prohibiting slavery in the Northwest Territory. Calhoun was in a dying condition – was too weak to read it. So James M. Mason, a Virginia Senator, read it in the Senate about two weeks before Calhoun's death, March 1850.
  • Mason and Hunter not only voted against the admission of California (1850) as a free state but offered a protest against it which the Senate refused to record on its Journal, nor in the Convention which General Taylor had called to from a Constitution for California, there were 52 northern and 50 southern men, but it was unanimous against slavery. But, the Virginia senator, with Ron Tucker & Co. were opposed to giving local self-government to California. Ask Sam Yost to give Christian a skinning. I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery, a soldier fights for his country, right or wrong, he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in. The South was my country.

Quotes about Mosby[edit]

  • Mosby, Rhett, Davis, Stephens, and other Confederates had no difficulty conceding what their descendants go to enormous lengths to deny, that the raison d'être of the Confederacy was the defense of slavery. It follows that, as the paramount symbol of the Confederate nation and as the flag of the armies that kept the nation alive, the St. Andrew's cross is inherently associated with slavery. This conclusion is valid whether or not secession was constitutional. It is valid whether or not most southern soldiers consciously fought to preserve slavery. It is valid even though racism and segregation prevailed among nineteenth-century white northerners.
  • John S. Mosby, lately of the Southern Army, will, here-after, be exempt from arrest by Military Authorities, except for violation of his parole, unless directed by the President of the United States, Secretary of War, or from these Headquarters. His parole will authorize him to travel freely within the State of Virginia, and as no obstacle has been thrown in the way of paroled officers and men from pursuing their civil pursuits, or travelling out of their states, the same privilege will be extended to J.S. Mosby, unless otherwise directed by competent authority.
  • How can a soldier be proud of the country he defends while at the same time opposed to the cause he is fighting for? John S. Mosby, the renowned Confederate partisan leader, dealt with this moral dilemma years after the Civil War ended. Mosby despised slavery and believed the South had seceded to protect it. Yet he fought to defend the Confederacy, as he felt his patriotic duty to his nation outweighed all other factors. After the war, Mosby befriended General Ulysses S. Grant and joined the Republican Party.
  • In the wake of Reconstruction a growing number of southerners began to argue that protecting slavery had not been the real cause of the war, and some even claimed that slavery was in fact a just institution. These ideas spread and grew into the 'Lost Cause' movement, a romantic vision of the South that would eventually gain exposure from the popularity of films including Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. In this letter written in 1907, when he was an attorney at the Justice Department, Mosby furiously attacked the men who supported this mindset. Mosby expressed a complex and fascinating set of beliefs about the Civil War at a time when its history was just beginning to be written.
  • Since the close of the war I have come to know Colonel Mosby personally, and somewhat intimately. He is a different man entirely from what I had supposed. He is slender, not tall, wiry, and looks as if he could endure any amount of physical exercise. He is able, and thoroughly honest and truthful. There were probably but few men in the South who could have commanded successfully a separate detachment in the rear of an opposing army, and so near the border of hostilities, as long as he did without losing his entire command.
  • Declining invitations to memorial ceremonies wherein wrong-headed speakers claimed slavery had nothing to do with the conflict, Mosby offered in response he was not ashamed to say he fought for the Confederacy, and did he ever!
  • The indomitable and irrepressible Mosby is again in the saddle carrying destruction and consternation in his path. One day in Richmond wounded and eliciting the sympathy of every one capable of appreciating the daring deeds of the boldest and most successful partisan leader the war has produced—three days afterwards surprising and scattering a Yankee force at Salem as if they were frightened sheep fleeing before a hungry wolf—and then before the great mass of the people are made aware of the particulars of this dashing achievement, he has swooped around and cut the Baltimore and Ohio road—the great artery of communication between East and West, capturing a mail train and contents, and constituting himself, by virtue of the strength of his own right arm, and the keen blade it wields, a receiver of army funds for the United States. If he goes on as he has commenced since the slight bleeding the Yankees gave him, who can say that in time we will not be able to stop Mr. Trenholm's machine, and pay our army off in greenbacks. If he has not yet won a Brigadier's wreath upon his collar, the people have placed upon his brow one far more enduring.
    • As quoted in the Richmond Whig (18 October 1864).
  • Captain John S. Mosby has for a long time attracted the attention of his Generals by his boldness, skill and success, so signally displayed in his numerous forays upon the invaders of his native State. None know his daring enterprise and dashing heroism and dashing heroism, better than those foul invaders, though strangers themselves to such noble traits. His late brilliant exploit– the capture of Gen. Stoughton, U.S.A., two Captains, thirty other prisoners, together with their arms, equipments and fifty-eight horses– justifies this recognition in General Orders. This feat, unparalleled in the war, was performed in the midst of the enemy’s troops, at Fairfax C.H., without loss or injury. The gallant band of Capt. Mosby share the glory, as they did the danger of this enterprise, and are worthy of such a letter.

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