Civil War Photo Contest
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- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
While searching for photographs of Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby, possibly better known as The Gray Ghost, for a series of recent threads, I was reminded of the very many photographic (and other) images of the man. While nowhere as much-photographed as his contemporary and nemesis George Armstrong Custer, I think it safe to say Mosby may well have been one of the - and possibly the - most photographed of Confederate leaders. Above, Mosby is seen in all his glory in an often reproduced but nevertheless misleading image taken near the war's end. In this studio portrait he is posing with a saber he never carried in the field, famously preferring a brace of Colt revolvers. He is also still somewhat gaunt, recovering from his most serious wound of the war.
The photos above are of a pre-war young man at various stages of his youth. The first from the left is one I have never seen before, though it's identified as Mosby; the one in the center is one I'm more familiar with and is unquestionably Mosby around the time he was a student at the University of Virginia at Charlottsville, Virginia. While there, Mosby became involved with another student who may well have been a bully and was one day looking for Mosby; rather than wait for a beating from the larger man, Mosby prudently pulled out a pistol and shot him! Although his foe didn't die, the act nevertheless drew a jail term of a year for the impetuous student; while incarcerated, Mosby put the time to good use, borrowing law books from the judge who sentenced him. Upon his release, with the judge acting as his mentor and sponsor, Mosby passed the bar examination and afterward entered the legal profession. The last photo is another I'd never seen before and appears to show Mosby as he probably appeared ca. 1860 when the fad for CDV's like this was becoming popular.
Although Mosby was no secessionist, he supported his native state and at the age of twenty-seven he entered Confederate service in the First Virginia Cavalry, in which he participated in the First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas. Later, likely due to his being older than most recruits and belonging a professional trade, Mosby was selected by his commander, Col. William "Grumble" Jones, to be regimental adjutant, a job he had little interest in despite the officer's rank it carried with it. Mosby quickly used his scouting ability to ingratiate himself with the commanding officer of the cavalry, James E. B. Stuart, who became Mosby's military mentor and best friend in the army. Stuart agreed to the proposal made at the end of 1862 by Mosby to organize a company of scouts to operate behind enemy lines in Northern Virginia.
In the first photo from the left above, according to the handwritten note beneath it, then-First Lieutenant Mosby is seen wearing the frock coat with captain's insignia he wore on his first ambitious raid that captured a Union general in his bed! The next two photos show Mosby later in 1863 with the rank of major, to which he was promoted in recognition of his services and the official formation of his band as the 43rd Virginia Cavalry Battalion. Instead of his frock coat, he is now wearing a loose-fitting and no doubt more comfortable officer's sack coat.
Early in 1864 Mosby was again promoted, this time to lieutenant colonel, but I found relatively few images of him during the zenith of his career. The engraving at left above is both confusing and confused because it supposedly depicts Major Mosby in 1863, though he's wearing the two stars of a lieutenant colonel which he didn't become until the following year, as well as the beard he adopted in 1865. The middle photo was also likely made in early 1865 while Mosby was recovering from his most serious wound; note his emaciated appearance and especially his slumped posture and how loose his collar fits! One evening in December, 1864, while visiting at a "safe house" Federal cavalry approached silently and fired a shot through an open window that struck Mosby in the abdomen, a usually fatal wound; the Federals left the wounded man to die and rode away. Although it failed to kill him, this wound incapacitated Mosby well into 1865. The last photo is another I'm not familiar with, but appears to show Mosby either before his wounding, or possibly even after the war - since his collar insignia isn't clear, and the photo is of relatively poor quality, in the absence of certain identification it's difficult to determine.
The woodcut engravings above show Mosby as he appeared to his Federal opponents; obviously the two at center and right are based on the bearded photo taken at the same time as the full-length on of him at the top of this thread.
Several of Mosby's uniforms he wore in his wartime photos still survive in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he lived the last few years of his life. Above, left-to-right, his frock coat, presumably the one he wore when he captured Union General Edwin Stoughton; a Cadet Gray cape or cloak known as a Talma, lined and trimmed dramatically in red; the short shell jacket he seems to have preferred later in the war, along with a broad-brimmed tan hat.
Once again in recognition of his services and while recovering from his wound, Mosby received his final promotion to full colonel. In these photos and the one at the top of this thread he is shown with the full beard he grew while recuperating and the three stars of his new rank.
Mosby also appears in several studio photos with members of his command, the 43rd Virginia Cavalry, originally created as a battalion but raised to the status of a regiment at the time of his promotion to colonel. Since Mosby is clean-shaven in both this and the companion photo below, this was either in 1864 before his wounding (I think unlikely, due to the demands on Mosby and the Rangers at that point in the war) or after Lee's surrender at Appomattox and Mosby's subsequent disbanding of his command.
After the fighting ended, Mosby like many other Confederates continued to pose for photographs wearing his uniform, no doubt to preserve his image for posterity as a Confederate warrior; the heroic portrait in the center was likely produced after the war as well. It is flanked by an undated one at left, the uncropped original of which included one of his men, and another at right showing him in 1866 after he relocated to Warrenton and reentered the profession of the law.
Mosby also has many post-war photos showing him in civilian attire; the one at right was supposedly made in 1865 at war's end, while the other two are undated but obviously date from the 1870's or 1880's. Following the death of his wife Pauline and his estrangement by many of his former friends, companions, and associates because of his Republican leanings, Mosby left Warrenton and began a life as a civil servant, serving for a time as U. S. Consul to Hong Kong.
As an elder statesman, Mosby returned to Washington , D.C., where he continued to work for Republican administrations until President William Howard Taft finally retired him in 1910. The photos above show Mosby during this unhappy period in his life, having outlived most of his contemporaries. He died during an operation at Garfield Memorial Hospital in Washington on Memorial Day, 1916, and his body was returned to Warrenton for burial. Above, center, shows Mosby in 1915, the year before his death, and at right and below at age eighty-two - he had survived his supposedly fatal abdominal wound for another half-century!