A Thousand Points of Truth: The History and Humanity of Col. John Singleton Mosby in Newsprint

A Thousand Points of Truth: The History and Humanity of Col. John Singleton Mosby in Newsprint

by V. P. Hughes

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A Thousand Points of Truth: The History and Humanity of Col. John Singleton Mosby in Newsprint by V. P. Hughes

My interest in Colonel John Singleton Mosby began in 1950. However, it wasnt until 2002 that it led to extensive research on the subject, centered upon newspaper reports on the man begun during the Civil War and continued throughoutand even afterhis life. And while I rejected Virgil Carrington Joness observation on Mosby, contained in the preface of this work, I did not contemplate writing this book until an even more disparaging observation came to my attention during my research. The comment was contained in an article in the Ponchatoula Times of May 26, 1963, as part of a six-article series written by Bernard Vincent McMahon, entitled The Gray Ghost of the Confederacy. Mr. McMahon, in turn, based his comment upon General Omar Bradleys judgment of what might have been the postwar life of General George Patton: Now substitute Mosby for General Patton in the book A Generals Life, by Omar Bradley . . . I believe it was better for General Patton [Mosby] and his professional reputation that he died when he did . . . He would have gone into retirement hungering for the old limelight, beyond doubt indiscreetly sounding off on any subject anytime, any place. In time he would have become a boring parody of himselfa decrepit, bitter, pitiful figure, unwittingly debasing the legend (emphasis mine). McMahon, however, only proffered in his writings the widely accepted view of John Mosby held by many, if not most. However, like General Ulysses S. Grant, I have come to know Colonel Mosby rather more intimately through the testimony of countless witnesses over a span of 150 years, and I believe that it is time for those who deeply respect John Mosby the soldier to now also respect John Mosby the man. A century ago, the book of John Singleton Mosbys life closed. It is my hope that this book will validate the claim he made during that life that he would be vindicated by time. V. P. Hughes

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524527174
Publisher: Xlibris US
Publication date: 08/18/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 792
Sales rank: 1,047,152
File size: 8 MB

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The Fourth Estate

Inter caecos regnat strabo.~ Among the blind, the squinting one rules.

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries." ~ William Shakespeare

Few alive today remember a time when all news and information was distributed in print through newspapers, periodicals, journals, and books. There was no radio or television, much less the ubiquitous internet and if people wanted to know what was happening, they had to obtain a printed record or be restricted, like the ancients, to word of mouth.

Also, as with today's news sources, publications "shared" stories even when they did not share the same editorial viewpoint. But when there was a wide divergence between the two, the newspaper publishing the other's piece would provide some comment to keep the reader from straying too far from the desired interpretation. An excellent example of this journalistic "correction" is seen below. The Daily National Republican of January 16, 1866, provided a story from the Richmond Examiner and printed its own conclusion in the closing paragraph:

Daily National Republican - January 16, 1866 Arrest of Colonel Mosby.

We learn that Col. John S. Mosby was arrested, at his home in Fauquier, a few days since, by military authority, and taken to Washington and imprisoned. He is charged, we understand, with having hanged two Federal soldiers in the Valley, during the war, in retaliation for the murder of some of his men.

When we remember that Colonel Mosby, though of that class known as partisan rangers, was a regularly commissioned officer in the service of the Confederate States, and, as such, received the parole awarded the other officers of General Lee's army, his arrest seems most extraordinary, and flatly in violation of the terms of parole.

For some months Colonel Mosby has been quietly practicing law in Warrenton, demeaning himself as a good and loyal citizen of his section. -Richmond Examiner.

And when we remember that whether "commissioned" or not Mosby was the very worst of the gang of banditti who have desolated Virginia these four years past, we are astonished that he has been permitted to practice law otherwise than as his own counsel; and we are rejoiced to learn — and every loyal citizen will be rejoiced to learn--that at last there is a prospect of his being whipped of justice, and the blows we trust will be well laid on that he may get a punishment something like the measure of his desserts [emphasis mine].

This book will present many such stories written about, and sometimes by, John Singleton Mosby. Mosby was a man who received very wide attention from the press beginning early in the Civil War and continuing down to the present. One of the most interesting things about Mosby's press coverage is the widely differing assessments of the man presented by the fourth estate. Not only did he go from hero to villain (and back again), but these appraisals were not limited to any particular side of the many issues in which Mosby was involved throughout his life. Even individual publications over time found their judgment careening from one side to the other, depending upon the issue and Mosby's position on it. Indeed, the journalistic depiction of John Mosby is incredibly varied and intricate. Also amazing were the thousands of determined conclusions about the man put forth during his life and even after his death. But most astonishing of all is the fact that none of this attention appeared to influence either Mosby's opinions or his behavior! He was an adamantine figure upon whom the oceans of acclaim and abuse beat endlessly while failing in any way to influence or affect their object. One of Mosby's biographers declared this to be the result of the man's personal indifference to the opinions of others. According to this author, such indifference resulted in a failure to respond to criticism, however virulent, or acclaim, however generous.

But John Mosby was anything but "indifferent" to public opinion, though he never permitted it to dissuade him from his determined course. But, in fact, all of his beliefs and actions were founded upon his own moral and intellectual compass and so both criticism and praise were simply irrelevant. However, Mosby was honest enough to admit that he was not averse to praise. After the capture of Edwin Stoughton, he had been dismissed out of hand by Col. Fitzhugh Lee while that Confederate officer embraced his old friend from West Point. Mosby was angered by this treatment and said so. However, he later declared that though he did not seek "official" praise, he was somewhat mollified by the praise he received from his friend General J.E.B. Stuart. He then made a very telling point regarding this issue: of those who did not seek or need the praise of their fellow man, John Mosby said that they were "either too good or too bad for the world." Mosby considered himself neither and as seen in these reports, he constantly made efforts to explain his actions when he believed them misunderstood and defend them when he was criticized anyway. But never did these reproaches or accolades result in a change of heart or course of action unless John Mosby became convinced that circumstances had changed or that he was in error. For unlike so many great men, John Mosby seemed willing enough to acknowledge when he was in the wrong. Indeed, early on in his political course after the war when he had been charged with and criticized for being "inconsistent" in his position on the adoption of the reconstruction constitution in Virginia, Mosby stated simply, "I'd rather be right than consistent."

As noted, while these articles are never one hundred percent accurate, when taken as a whole, they produce — as do the "dots" in the halftone process — a nuanced and sophisticated "image" of Mosby not to be found in simple recitations of the facts of his life or in "official records" and other historical documents. In these reports, one meets the man either in his own words or through the testimony of those around him, both friends and foes. And of course, as with the halftone process, the more "dots" (that is, the more information), the more detailed the image created. As it is my intention to prove that much of what is believed about John Mosby is erroneous, I cannot pretend complete disinterest in these matters; only machines are totally objective. However, when one ignores and/or falsifies the facts, empathy and support become dishonesty and fraud. John Mosby would have rejected any such actions even when taken in his defense.

At the same time, however, this will not be a hagiography. Mosby was no saint as that term is understood. It will be acknowledged when he was wrong or his actions did not meet his usual elevated ethical standards, or he was foolish and naïve — one of his very real failings! Yes, John Mosby had his faults but they tended, as he said of his friend Ulysses Grant, toward the virtues rather than the vices.


Preamble and 1862

Ab initio ~ From the beginning

"It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things." ~ Leonardo da Vinci

Romance: Love affair; fascination with something

In order to understand the relationship between the American press and John Mosby, it is necessary to realize that, first and foremost, it was a romance as that word is defined. Of course, one must not equate "romance" with "affection." After all, there are those whom we "love to hate." This "romance" began during the Civil War and continued throughout Mosby's life, persisting even after his death. The press response to Mosby during the war — positive and negative — remained the same in both method and intent after the war, a fact that led to a certain inevitability that can be recognized in the thousands of articles about him no matter how different the issues that appear therein.

When John Mosby began his career as a partisan (or guerrilla), newspaper coverage changed dramatically; and as his fame (or infamy, depending) escalated, the response of at least the Northern press was deeply affected by his continuing success. Indeed, the Northern press was very much conflicted regarding its coverage of the man. Most important, the newspapers needed to insist that his triumphs were "over-rated," lest they create a foe whose very name gave advantage to the enemy. To address these concerns, there was much reportage containing pronouncements that he was wounded or dead, or that his command had been "cut up" or that what he had captured had been recaptured or his attack (or attacks) had been repulsed or the Union cavalry was in pursuit and he could not long escape capture or destruction. Two examples of this type of coverage are seen here:

New York Tribune – April 20, 1863 Reported Cavalry Expedition Under Gen. Stahel.

It is reported in the City today that the Rebel cavalry force which has been hovering around the Bull Run Mountains and Culpepper has been surrounded by an expedition sent out by Gen. Stahel and is or will be captured.

Daily National Republican – May 5, 1863 Moseby, the Rebel Captain, Certainly Wounded.

Moseby is certainly wounded in the shoulder. Moseby and the rebels all agree that their command is completely cut up.

Only when the matter was so serious that it could not be explained away did the reporting become more honest. Such coverage was more likely to occur when the publications involved were local to the Federal command that had suffered at Mosby's hands. For instance, there was a great deal of fairly accurate coverage from Vermont newspapers after the Miskel Farm skirmish in which the Vermont cavalry was severely manhandled by a force a quarter of its size:

Lamoille Newsdealer – April 9, 1863 Burlington Free Press – April 10, 1863 New York, April 3.

The Tribune's Washington dispatch says a skirmish occurred Wednesday morning near Drainsville between 150 of the 1st Vt. Cavalry under Capt. Flint and about an equal number of rebels under Capt. Mosby. Our side got the worst of it, Flint was killed and several prisoners taken. The rebel Capt. was seriously wounded ... Mosby was in the house upon the plantation when he was surprised; but we learn that he rallied his men with lighting light celerity, and when our squadron broke he pursued and hack[ed] them severely. The guerrilla chief received a sabre cut on the forehead.

One of the charges most often made against Mosby was that he did not "fight fair." Mosby himself admitted as much, stating that his view of war was infinitely practical. He fought to win and took whatever advantage was available. The Yankee complaint regarding Mosby's refusal to "fight fair" simply meant that he didn't ride out and stand in serried ranks and either charge into or wait for a charge from a much larger force that was prepared for the fight. Now Mosby did fight in the field. He fought that way at Miskel Farm and Mt. Zion Church and a host of other skirmishes and operations. He also lured the Yankees into ambuscades and hit them in the rear as they were moving away. He hit them whenever and wherever he believed that he could prevail — and he made no apology for doing so. He did not feel obligated to stand and be slaughtered. Indeed, he stated flatly that he never stood to receive a charge; but instead, he charged the enemy, a maneuver that often led to them retreating despite their superior numbers. In fact, Mosby's military creed was that it was better to make a good run than a bad stand.

The problem with Mosby's tactics was not that they were "unfair," but that they were successful! Had he lost more than he won, there would have been no outcry from the Federal military. His most efficient operations frequently involved quick strikes in many places followed by the rousing of the whole Yankee camp and a long, hard ride after the miscreants generally ending in frustration and failure. It got to the point at which the very mention of Mosby's name and the belief that he was lurking somewhere in the dark outside the lights of Federal campfires destroyed the morale of the enemy. In fact, Mosby often said that he thought he was hated by Yankee soldiers more because of the sleep he made them lose than the number he captured and killed. The comment was made "tongue-in-cheek," but that did not make it wrong. The ordinary soldier hated Mosby because he filled his life with terror, foreboding, and uncertainty while officers hated him because he made them look impotent and foolish. Both situations, together with his victories, produced such a powerful hatred that it was still manifested in an interview with a Union general almost twenty years after the war:

Daily National Republican – March 12, 1883 (Edited)

A contributor to the Critic of Saturday ... took issue with that portion of The Republican's interview with Gen. Whitaker, in which that gentleman stated he had captured Mosby at Beaver Dam station in 1862.

"'Ex-Rebel' is wrong. ... The reason that I did not wish Gilmor to be exchanged was on account of the havoc Mosby played after he was exchanged."

"If you had caught him in 1865 he would not have been exchanged, would he?" inquired the reporter. [of General Whitaker].

"He would never have been taken to Fredericksburg alive," answered the general [emphasis mine].

Although the Northern press did what it could to minimize the effect Mosby was having on the Federal forces in their reports, they also recognized that he was, in fact, larger than life and of great interest to their readers. As a result, they provided him with coverage that the average military figure on either side — however exalted in rank — seldom received. He was a fabulous, almost mythical being. More important, he provided fascinating copy when the major armies were inactive. Indeed, the time arrived — not long after Mosby himself! — at which the press reported on him almost constantly because John Mosby operated almost constantly.

But this too was problematic. On the one hand, they wanted to relegate him to a mere nuisance so that the public believed his victories were as the bite of a mosquito — which, indeed, he was called at one point. On the other hand, he was far better copy as a bestial villain! Therefore, to create the more interesting figure (that is, Mosby the Monster), the Northern press had to portray him as a fiend incarnate who perpetrated the most foul and inhuman crimes against Federal prisoners, the wounded, and innocent "loyal" civilians.

As might be imagined, such an extreme dichotomy was not easily maintained. Yet the Northern press did its best to move the public perception of Mosby and his men alternately from Mosby the ubiquitous, ruinous, almost-mythical monster to Mosby the sneak thief, an irksome pest hanging impotently on the rear of the glorious Federal army.

Below is a sample of the sort of report on Mosby as monster that appeared frequently in the Federal press, especially the Daily National Republican:

Daily National Republican – November 1, 1864 (Edited)

REBEL BARBARITY. — We have just learned of a fresh instance of rebel barbarism, which comes near home. Mr. W. L. Babbitt, a brother of A. S. Babbitt of this place, enlisted last winter into the 4th New York cavalry ... He was captured by Mosby's guerrillas, and a few days after was found bayoneted, with arms and legs cut off. We can only say we trust the time for showing quarter to these miscreants has gone by. — E — z County (Vt.) Republican.


Excerpted from "A Thousand Points of Truth"
by .
Copyright © 2016 V. P Hughes.
Excerpted by permission of Xlibris.
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Table of Contents

Dedication, vii,
Preface, ix,
Introduction, xi,
Chapter 1: The Fourth Estate, 1,
Chapter 2: Preamble and 1862, 4,
Chapter 3: 1863, 10,
Chapter 4: 1864, 17,
Chapter 5: 1865, 39,
Chapter 6: 1866, 54,
Chapter 7: 1867, 62,
Chapter 8: 1868, 70,
Chapter 9: 1869, 81,
Chapter 10: 1870 and 1871, 99,
Chapter 11: 1872, 103,
Chapter 12: 1873, 123,
Chapter 13: 1874, 134,
Chapter 14: 1875, 158,
Chapter 15: 1876, 161,
Chapter 16: 1877, 187,
Chapter 17: 1878, 196,
Chapter 18: 1879, 206,
Chapter 19: 1880, 236,
Chapter 20: 1881, 258,
Chapter 21: 1882, 262,
Chapter 22: 1883, 266,
Chapter 23: 1884, 275,
Chapter 24: 1885, 280,
Chapter 25: 1886, 300,
Chapter 26: 1887, 316,
Chapter 27: 1888, 328,
Chapter 28: 1889, 349,
Chapter 29: 1890, 365,
Chapter 30: 1891, 387,
Chapter 31: 1892, 397,
Chapter 32: 1893, 403,
Chapter 33: 1894, 410,
Chapter 34: 1895, 421,
Chapter 35: 1896, 435,
Chapter 36: 1897, 447,
Chapter 37: 1898, 486,
Chapter 38: 1899, 507,
Chapter 39: 1900, 516,
Chapter 40: 1901, 525,
Chapter 41: 1902, 543,
Chapter 42: 1903, 584,
Chapter 43: 1904, 601,
Chapter 44: 1905, 621,
Chapter 45: 1906, 640,
Chapter 46: 1907, 647,
Chapter 47: 1908, 659,
Chapter 48: 1909, 665,
Chapter 49: 1910, 671,
Chapter 50: 1911, 700,
Chapter 51: 1912, 708,
Chapter 52: 1913, 715,
Chapter 53: 1914, 719,
Chapter 54: 1915, 730,
Chapter 55: 1916, 737,
Chapter 56: John S. Mosby the Man: Fact vs. Fiction, 757,
Chapter 57: Conclusion, 770,

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