150 years ago: Lee recommends a promotion for Mosby

Always nice when the boss provides positive recommendations up the chain:

Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,
January 21, 1864.
Hon. James A. Seddon,
Secretary of War:
SIR: During the past year Major Mosby, of the Partisan Rangers, has been very- active in harassing the rear of the Federal army operating in Northern Virginia. He is zealous, bold, and skillful and with very small resources has accomplished a great deal. I beg leave therefore to recommend his promotion to be lieutenant-colonel under the act approved April 21, 1862, authorizing the President to commission such officers as he may deem proper, with authority to form bands of partisan rangers, in companies, battalions, or regiments. I do this in order to show him that his services have been appreciated, and to encourage him to still greater activity and zeal.

I inclose two reports of his operations since January 1. Besides these two attacks there have been two others, the reports of which have not reached me. You will see that he has commenced the new year with considerable zeal.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. Lee,  General.

No question that John S. Mosby was resourceful, imaginative, and bold – certainly deserving of the accolades put forward by Lee.  And I doubt many would say a promotion was not in order.   Heck, in time even the Little Mouse would take notice:

However, consider this recommendation came just a little more than a week after Mosby’s defeat at Loudoun Heights.  Mosby, while formidable, was not invincible.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, page 1113.)

150 Years Ago: Skirmishing with Mosby at Rector’s Cross Roads

Studying the Civil War in Northern Virginia, a theme emerges shortly after the Gettysburg campaign.  Hardly a week would pass without some action involving Lieutenant-Colonel John S. Mosby.  The activities of that partisan ranger only slackened in the last few months of the war.  But even then, as the oft spoken quip alludes to, Mosby tied up many more Federal troops than he fielded.  One of those units which frequently saw action against Mosby and partisans operating in Northern Virginia was Major Henry Cole’s 1st Maryland Cavalry Battalion.

In late September 1863, Cole received orders to scout from Harpers Ferry (at that time in the new state of West Virginia) up the Shenandoah Valley to Winchester, Virginia then across the Blue Ridge to Loudoun County.  Cole had around 250 men with him on this scouting.  On September 21st, the Maryland troopers camped at Charlestown.  The following day they moved to Winchester and then to Berryville.  Then on September 24rd, Cole marched his men into Loudoun:

At daylight on the subsequent morning, I proceeded to Snickersville, via Snicker’s Gap. In the vicinity of Snickersville I came in contact with a few scattering bodies of White’s command; from thence I proceeded to Waterford and encamped for the night. At daylight on the subsequent day, I proceeded to Leesburg, via Snickersville and Leesburg pike. My advance guards charged into Leesburg, capturing one of White’s men; encamped for the night within a few miles of the town.

Leesburg was much less “sprawl” at that time, so charging into town meant a gallop past the court square where so much Civil War activity took place.  The next day, Cole lead his men into Loudoun Valley in search of Mosby.  Very quickly he was a ware that Mosby was also keeping track of the Marylanders. Very soon a sharp skirmish ensued:

On the morning of the 25th, I proceeded to Upperville, with the expectation of coming in contact with Mosby’s guerrillas. I was not disappointed in my expectations, for within a few miles of the town I espied Lieutenant-Colonel Mosby with his command, consisting of about 150 men, drawn up in line of battle on an eligible position awaiting my arrival. His skirmishers were well advanced to the front. As soon as I perceived his disposition, I threw out skirmishers to the front and right flank, and advanced my column under their cover.

Cole states he was “proceeding to Upperville,” but others involved mentioned the site of this skirmish at Rector’s Cross Roads (modern day Atoka). That section of the Little River Turnpike is among the most often skirmished over in Virginia.  And it is the location where Mosby’s rangers were formed earlier in the year.  After building up the skirmish, Cole pressed the issue:

When within about 1,000 yards of the enemy’s line I ordered a charge, when they broke and scattered in wild dismay. The result of the skirmish w.as a loss on the part of the enemy, 1 man killed and 8 prisoners, without experiencing any loss on my part. I also recaptured a man of the Nineteenth U.S. Infantry, recently captured by Mosby at Bull Run. I then encamped for the night near Upperville.

For what it is worth, Mosby did not mention this action in his summary report covering operations of August and September 1862.  In his history of Cole’s Cavalry, C. Armour Newcomer would recall the engagement at Upperville:

We had met Mosby upon his own ground, and considering that the command of Major Cole numbered only two hundred and fifty men when they left camp and had fought fully four hundred of the enemy at Rector’s Cross Roads, and got safely back to camp with only the loss of three killed, six wounded and seven taken prisoners.  Our forces had captured fifteen prisoners with their horses and arms and killed and wounded a number of the enemy, the number we were unable to know, and destroyed a tannery.  We considered that we had not gotten the worst in the raid….

This was not the first scrap between these two cavalry formations.  Nor would it be the last.  And of note here, Cole’s men confronted both Mosby’s Rangers and brushed Lieutenant-Colonel Elijah V. White’s 35th Virginia Cavalry earlier in the march. The “home-front” in northern Virginia was hardly a quiet sector of the war.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part II, Serial 48, pages 144-5; C. Armour Newcomer, Cole’s Cavalry, or, Three years in the Saddle in the Shenandoah Valley, Baltimore: Cushing & Company: 1895, pages 61-2.)

Marching Through Loudoun: June 22, 1863

After all the fighting on June 21, 1863, and with no marching orders, would the Army of the Potomac have a relaxing, uneventful day?  Not with this fellow around.

Raiding supply lines and disrupting communication was Major John S. Mosby business.  By June 1863 he was already the most prominent Confederate partisan ranger.  And the Federals would sleep much better if he were put out of business.  Major-General George Meade, commanding the Fifth Corps, attempted just that on this day (June 22) in 1863.  From correspondence from Meade to General Oliver O. Howard, commanding the nearby Eleventh Corps:

I came near catching our friend Mosby this morning. I had reliable intelligence of his expected passing a place about 4 miles from here at sunrise. I sent 40 mounted men (all I have) and 100 infantry, who succeeded in posting themselves in ambush at the designated spot. Sure enough, Mr. Mosby, together with 30 of his followers, made their appearance about sunrise, but, I regret to say, their exit also, from what I can learn, through the fault both of foot and horse. It appears Mosby saw the cavalry, and immediately charged them. They ran (that is, my horses) toward the infantry, posted behind a fence. The infantry, instead of rising and deliberately delivering their fire, fired lying on the ground; did not hit a rebel, who immediately scattered and dispersed, and thus the prettiest chance in the world to dispose of Mr. Mosby was lost.

The troops Meade used were from the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry and 14th U.S. Infantry.  The location was Ewell’s Chapel, as Meade indicated, about four miles south of Aldie.  One man killed in the action, Sergeant Martin Aumiller, may still remain at the chapel site, in an umarked grave.

EwellsChapel_June23 002
Site of Ewell’s Chapel

This sensitivity to the operations of Mosby underscores another issue facing the Army of the Potomac while operating in Loudoun and surrounding counties.  The only rail line remaining in the area, the Orange & Alexandria, ran to the southwest.  So the army needed clear, secure roads for supply routes.  In the operational area I’m considering for these posts, there were three turnpikes the army could draw upon – The Warrenton Turnpike, The Little River Turnpike (which became the Ashby’s Gap Turnpike past Aldie), and the Leesburg & Alexandria Turnpike.  I’ve added them in gold for today’s map, along with the general location of Ewell’s Chapell for reference.


I’ve also included the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal for good measure, as that was Major-General Henry Slocum’s preferred supply line.  As you can tell from the map, just looking at eastern Loudoun County, there were a lot of side roads to patrol and many potential ambush sites to clear.

The wide area the Army of the Potomac occupied also strained communication.  On the letter to Howard, Meade added “- I don’t know what we are going to do.  I have had no communications from headquarters for three days.”  Consider Meade commanded an infantry corps on the front line at a critical sector. Some of his troops fought in Loudoun Valley.  And he had received no communications.  (Although I’d point out Meade had received instructions to support the Cavalry a few days earlier, though indirectly.)

However, the army headquarters was communicating instructions to the engineers at Edwards Ferry.  Chief of Staff Major-General Daniel Butterfield asked if Captain Charles Turnbull could put a bridge over Goose Creek near its mouth.  Butterfield also inquired about blazing a road from the pontoon bridge to the camps of Howard’s Eleventh Corps.  The bridge and road were logical additions to allow Howard, at a rather remote location, to draw supplies from across the Potomac.  The additions would also allow for rapid movement of that corps should Hooker decide to move across the Potomac, which was a growing possibility on June 22.  Butterfield also noted that “General Wadsworth is bridging Goose Creek near the pike,” but was not specific to the location or construction.  I’ve placed a small blue line on the map with my guess Wadsworth’s bridge was at the site of the turnpike bridge.

For June 22, the Itinerary of the Army of the Potomac was short: The Cavalry Corps and Barnes’ (First) division, of the Fifth Corps, returned from Upperville to Aldie.  Stahel’s cavalry division moved from Buckland Mills, via New Baltimore, to Warrenton.  The Army of the Potomac was like a coiled spring.  Waiting.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part I, Serial 43, page 142; Part III, Serial 45, pages 255-6.)