Harper's Weekly 01/21/1865


TWO DAYS WITH MOSBY.

I was up at reveillé. Orders to inspect the camp
of dismounted cavalry near Harper's Ferry had been
in my pocket two days, awaiting an escort through
the fifty miles of guerrilla infested country which
lay between me and that distant post. This was
the day for the regular train, and a thousand wag-
ons were expected to leave Sheridan's head-quar-
ters, on Cedar Creek, at daylight, with a brigade of
infantry as guard, and a troop of cavalry as out-
riders.


An hour's ride of eight miles along a picketed
line across the valley brought me to the famous
“Valley Pike,” and near the head-quarters of the
army. Torbert was there, and I awaited his de-
tailed instructions. Unavoidable delay ensued.
Dispatches were to be sent, and they were not yet
ready. An hour passed, and, meantime, the indus-
trious wagon-train was lightly and rapidly rolling
away down the pike. The last wagon passed out
of sight, and the rear-guard closed up behind it be-
fore I was ready to start. No other train was to
go for four days. I must overtake this one or give
up my journey. At length, accompanied by a sin-
gle orderly, and my colored servant, George Wash-
ington, a contraband, commonly called “Wash,” I
started in pursuit of the train.


As I had nearly passed Newtown I overtook a
small party apparently of the rear-guard of the train,
who were lighting their pipes and buying cakes and
apples at a small grocery on the right of the pike,
and who seemed to be in charge of a non-commis-
sioned officer.


“Good-morning, Sergeant. You had better close
up at once. The train is getting well ahead, and
this is the favorite beat of Mosby.”


“All right, Sir,” he replied with a smile, and
nodding to his men, they mounted at once and
closed in behind me, while quite to my surprise I
noticed three more of the party whom I had not be-
fore seen in front of me.


An instinct of danger at once possessed me. I
saw nothing to justify it, but I felt a presence of
evil which I could not shake off. The men were
in Union blue complete, and wore on their caps the
well-known Greek cross which distinguishes the
gallant Sixth Corp. They were young, intelligent,
cleanly, and good-looking soldiers, armed with re-
volvers and Spencer's repeating carbine. I noticed
the absence of sabres, but the presence of the Spen-
cer, which is a comparatively new arm in our serv-
ice, reassured me, and I thought it impossible that
the enemy could as yet be possessed of them.


We galloped on merrily, and just as I was ready
to laugh at my own fears, “Wash,” who had been
riding behind me and had heard some remark made
by the soldiers, brushed up to my side, and whis-
pered through his teeth chattering with fear,


“Massa, secesh sure! Run like de debbel!”

I turned to look back at these words, and saw six
carbines leveled at me at twenty paces distant, and
the Sergeant, who had watched every motion of the
negro, came riding toward me with revolver drawn
and the sharp command, “Halt. Surrender!”


We had reached a low place where the Opequan
Creek crosses the pike, a mile from Newtown. The
train was not a quarter of a mile ahead, but out of
sight for the moment over the west ridge.


High stone-walls lined the pike on either side,
and a narrow bridge across the stream was in front
of me and already occupied by the three rascals who
had acted as advance-guard, who now coolly turned
round and presented carbines also from their point
of view.


I remembered the military maxim, a mounted
man should never surrender until his horse is dis-
abled, and hesitated an instant considering what to
do, and quite in doubt whether I was myself or some
other fellow whom I had read of as captured and
hung by guerrillas; but at the repetition of the sharp
command, aided by the somewhat disagreeable pres-
ence of the revolver immediately in my face, I con-
cluded I was undoubtedly the other fellow, and sur-
rendered accordingly.


My sword and revolver were taken at once by
the Sergeant, who proved to be a rebel lieutenant in
disguise, and who remarked, laughing as he took
them,


“We closed up, Captain, as you directed; as
this is a favorite beat of Mosby's, I hope our drill
was satisfactory.”


“All right, Sergeant. Every dog has his day,
and yours happens to come now. Possibly my turn
may come to-morrow.”


“Your turn to be hung,” he replied.

It was not long before I was ushered into the
presence of the great modern highwayman, John s.
Mosby, Lieutenant-Colonel, C.S.A.


He stood a little apart from his men, by the side
of a splendid gray horse, with his right hand grasp-
ing the bridle-rein, and resting on the pommel of
his saddle—a slight, medium-sized man, sharp of
feature, quick of sight, lithe of limb, with a bronzed
face of the color and tension of whip-cord. His
hair is a yellow brown, with full but light beard
and mustache of the same; a straight Grecian nose,
firm set expressive mouth, large ears, deep gray
eyes, high forehead, large well-shaped head, and his
whole expression denoting energy, hard service,
and love of whisky. He wore top-boots, and a
civilian's over-coat, black, lined with red, and be-
neath it the complete gray uniform of a Confederate
Lieutenant-Colonel, with its two stars on the side
of the standing collar, and the whole surmounted
by the inevitable slouched hat of the whole South-
ern race. His men were about half in blue and
half in butternut.


Mosby, after taking my horse and quietly ex-
amining my papers, presently looked up with a pe-
culiar gleam of satisfaction on his face.


“Ah, Captain B—! Inspector-General of—'s
Cavalry! Good-morning, Captain! Glad to see
you, Sir! Indeed there is but one man I would
prefer to see this morning to yourself, and that is
your commander. Were you present, Sir, the oth-
er day at the hanging of eight of my men as guer-
rillas at Front Royal?”


I answered him firmly, “I was present, Sir;
and, like you, have only to regret that it was not
the commander instead of his unfortunate men.”


This answer seemed to please Mosby, for he ap-
parently expected a denial. He assumed a grim
smile, and directed Lieutenant Whiting to search
me.


My gold hunting-watch and chain, several rings,
a set of shirt-studs and sleeve-buttons, a Masonic
pin, some coins, and about three hundred dollars in
greenbacks, with some letters and pictures of the
dear ones at home, and a small pocket Bible, were
taken. My cavalry-boots, worth about fifteen dol-
lars, were apprised at six hundred and fifty in Con-
federate money; my watch at three thousand dol-
lars, and the other articles in about the same pro-
portion, including my poor servant “Wash,” who
was put in and raffled for at two thousand dollars,
so that my entire outfit made quite a respectable
prize.


“Wash” was very indignant that he should be
thought worth only two thousand dollars Confeder-
ate, and informed them that he considered himself
unappreciated, and that, among other accomplish-
ments, he could make the best milk punch of any
man in the Confederacy.


When all this was concluded Mosby took me a
little one side, and returned to me the pocket Bible,
the letters and pictures, and the masonic pin, say-
ing quietly as he did so, alluding to the latter with
a significant sign:


“You may as well keep this. It may be of use
to you somewhere.”


I thanked him warmly for his kindness as I took
his offered hand, and really began to think Mosby
almost a gentleman and a soldier, although he had
just robbed me in the most approved manner of
modern highwaymen.


Immediate preparations were made for the long
road to Richmond and the Libey. A guard of fif-
teen men, in command of Lieutenant Whiting, was
detailed as our escort, and, accompanied by Mosby
himself, we started directly across the country, re-
gardless of roads, in an easterly direction toward
the Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge.


We were now in company of nine more of our
men, who had been taken at different times, mak-
ing eleven of our party in all, besides the indignant
contraband “Wash,” whom it was also thought
prudent to send to the rear for safe-keeping.


I had determined to escape if even half an oppor-
tunity should present itself, and the boys were quick
in understanding my purpose, and intimating their
readiness to risk their lives in the attempt. One
of them in particular, George W. M`Cauley, com-
monly known as Mack, and another one named
Brown, afterward proved themselves heroes.


At Howettsville on the Shenandoah, nine miles
below Front Royal, we bivouacked for the night in
an old school-house.


Our party of eleven were assigned to one side of
the lower floor of the school-house, where we lay
down side by side with our heads to the wall and
our feet nearly meeting the feet of the guard, who
lay in the same manner opposite us, with their heads
to the other wall, except three, who formed a re-
lief guard for the sentry's post at the door.


Above the head of the guard along the wall ran
a low desk, on which each man of them stood his
carbine and laid his revolver before disposing him-
self to sleep.


A fire before the door dimly lighted the room;
and thè scene as they dropped gradually to sleep
was warlike in the extreme, and made a Rembrandt
picture on my memory which will never be effaced.


I had taken care to place myself between M`Cau-
ley and Brown, and the moment the rebels began
to snore and the sentry to nod over his pipe, we
were in earnest and deep conversation.


M`Cauley proposed to unite our party and make
a simultaneous rush for the carbines, and take our
chances of stampeding the guard and escaping; but
on passing the whisper quietly along our line, only
three men were found willing to assent to it. As
the odds were so largely against us, it was in vain
to urge the subject.


The march began at an early hour the next
morning, and the route ran directly up the Blue
Ridge. We had emerged from the forest and as-
cended about one-third of the height of the mount-
ain, when the full valley became visible, spread out
like a map before us, showing plainly the lines of
our army, its routes of supply, its foraging parties
out, and my own camp at Front Royal as distinct-
ly as if we stood in one of its streets.


We now struck a wood path running southward
and parallel with the ridge of the mountains, along
which we traveled for hours, with this wonderful
panorama of forest and river, mountain and plain
before us in all the gorgeous beauty of the early
autumn.


“This is a favorite promenade of mine,” said
Mosby. “I love to see your people sending out
their almost daily raids after me. There comes one
of them now almost toward us. If you please we
will step behind this point and see them pass. It
may be the last sight you will have of your old
friends for some time,” and, looking in the direc-
tion he pointed, I saw a squadron of my own regi-
ment coming directly toward us on a road running
under the foot of the mountain, and apparently on
some foraging expedition down the valley. They
passed within a half mile of us, under the mountain,
while Mosby stood with folded arms on a rock above
them.


Before noon we reached the road running through
Manassas Gap, which place was held by about one
hundred of Mosby's men, who signaled him as he
approached, and here, much to my regret, the great
guerrilla left us, bidding me a kindly good-by.


We were hurried through the gap and down the
eastern side of the Blue Ridge, and by three o'clock
reached Chester Gap, after passing which we de-
scend into the valley, and move rapidly toward
Sperryville on the direct line to Richmond.


Our guard was now reduced, as we are far within
the Confederate lines, to Lieutenant Whiting and
three men, and our party of eleven prisoners had
seven horses among them. There was also a pack-
horse carrying our forage, rations, and some blank-
ets. To the saddle of this pack-horse are strapped
two Spencer carbines, muzzle downward, with their
accoutrements complete, including two well-filled
cartridge-boxes.


I called Mack's attention to this fact as soon as
the guard was reduced, and he needed no second
hint to comprehend its full significance at once. He
soon after dismounted, and when it came his turn to
mount again, he selected, apparently by accident,
the poorest and most broken-down horse of the par-
ty, with which he appeared to find it very difficult
to keep up, and which he actually succeeded in
some mysterious way in laming.


He then dropped back to the Lieutenant in charge
and modestly asked to exchange his lame horse for
the pack-horse, and being particularly winning in
his address, his request was at once granted with-
out a suspicion of its object, or a thought of the
fatal carbines on the pack-saddle. I used some
little skill in diverting the attention of the Lieuten-
ant while the pack was readjusted; and as the rain
had begun to fall freely no one of the guard was par-
ticularly alert.


I was presently gratified with the sight of Mack
riding ahead on the pack-horse, with the two car-
bines still strapped to the saddle, but loosened, and
well concealed by his heavy poncho, which he had
spread as protection from the rain. These carbines
are seven-shooters, and load from the breech by sim-
ply drawing out from the hollow stock a spiral
spring, and dropping in the seven cartridges, one
after the other, and then inserting the spring again
behind them, which coils as it is pressed home, and
by its elasticity forces the cartridges forward, one at
a time, into the barrel at the successive movements
of the lock.


I could see the movements of Mack's right arm
by the shape into which it threw the poncho, and
while guiding his horse with his left, looking the
other way and chatting glibly with the other boys,
I saw him distinctly draw the springs from those
carbines with his right hand and hook them into
the upper button-hole of his coat to support them,
while he dropped in the cartridges one after another,
trotting his horse at the time to conceal the noise of
their click, and finally forcing down the springs,
and looking round at me with a look of the finest
heroism and triumph I have ever beheld.


I nodded approval, and fearing he would precipi-
tate matters, yet knowing that any instant might
lead to discovery and be too late, I rode carelessly
across the road to Brown, who was on foot, and, dis-
mounting, asked him to tighten my girth, during
which operation I told him the position of affairs as
quietly as possible, and requested him to get up
gradually by the side of Mack, communicate with
him, and, at a signal from me, to seize one of the
carbines and do his duty as a soldier if he valued
his liberty.


Brown was terribly frightened and trembled like
a leaf, but went immediately to his post, and I did
not doubt would do his duty well.


I rode up again to the side of Lieutenant Whiting,
and, like an echo from the past, came back to me
my words of yesterday, “Possibly my turn may
come to-morrow.”


I engaged him in conversation, and, among other
things, spoke of the prospect of sudden death as one
always present in our army life, and the tendency it
had to either harden or ameliorate the character ac-
cording to the quality of the individual.


He expressed the opinion which many hold that
a brutal man is made more brutal by it, and a re-
fined and cultivated man is softened and made more
refined by it.


We were on the immediate flank of Early's army.
His cavalry was all around us. The road was thick-
ly inhabited. It was almost night. We had passed
a rebel picket but a mile back, and knew not how
near another one or their camps might be.


The three rebel guards were riding in front of us
and on our flanks, our party of prisoners was in the
centre, and I was by the side of Lieutenant Whiting,
who acted as rear-guard, when we entered a small
copse of willow which for a moment covered the
road. The hour was propitious. I gave the fatal
signal and instantly threw myself from my saddle
upon the Lieutenant, grasping him around the arms
and dragging him from his horse, in the hope of se-
curing his revolver, capturing him, and compelling
him to pilot us outside of the rebel lines. At the
same instant Mack raised one of the loaded car-
bines, and, in less time than I can write it, shot two
of the guard in front of him, killing them instantly;
and then coolly turning in his saddle, and seeing me
struggling in the road with the Lieutenant, and the
chances of obtaining the revolver apparently against
me, he raised the carbine the third time; and as I
strained the now desperate rebel to my breast, with
his livid face over my left shoulder, he shot him as
directly between the eyes as he could have done if
firing at a target at ten paces distance.


His hold relaxed, and his ghastly corpse fell from
my arms.


“Golly, Cap,” said Mack, “I could have killed
five or six more of them as well as not.”


Brown had only wounded his man in the side,
and allowed him to escape.


Our position was now perilous. Not a man of
us knew the country, except its most general out-
lines. The rebel camps could not be far away; the
whole country would be alarmed in an hour; dark-
ness was intervening; and I doubted not that, be-
fore sundown, even blood-hounds would be on our
track. One half our party had already scattered,
panic-stricken, at the first alarm, and every man
for himself, scouring the country in every direc-
tion.


But five remained, including the faithful Wash,
who immediately showed his practical qualities by
searching the bodies of the slain, and recovering
therefrom, among other things, my gold hunting-
watch from the person of Lieutenant Whiting, and
over eleven hundred dollars in greenbacks, the pro-
ceeds, doubtless, of their various robberies of our
men.


“Not quite nuff,” said Wash, showing his ivories
from ear to ear. “Dey vally dis nigger at two
tousand dollars. I tink I ought to git de money.”


We instantly mounted the best horses, and, well
armed with carbine and revolver, struck directly
for the mountain on our right; but, knowing that
would be the first place we should be sought for,
soon changed our direction to the south, and rode
for hours directly toward the enemy as rapidly as
we could ride, and before complete darkness inter-
vened we had made thirty miles from the place of
our escape; and then turning sharp up the mount-
ain we rode as far as horses could climb, and, aban-
doning them, pushed on on foot through the whole
night to the very summit of the Blue Ridge, whence
we could see the rebel camp-fires, and view their
entire lines and position, just as daylight was break-
ing over the Valley.


The length of this weary day, and the terrible
pangs of hunger and thirst which we suffered on
this barren mountain, pertain to the more common
experience of a soldier's life, and I need not de-
scribe them here.


We had to go still further south to avoid the
scouts and pickets, and finally struck the Shenan-
doah twenty miles to the rear of Early's entire
army, and there built a raft, and floated by night
forty miles down that memorable stream, through
his crafty pickets, until the glorious old flag once
more hailed us a welcome.



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