Growing up in the region called “Mosby’s Confederacy,” the memory of John S. Mosby was never far. The main road I traveled as a kid was called “John S Mosby Highway.” Historic markers line the road with references to Mosby and his band of Rangers or Raiders. My high school (Loudoun County High School) mascot “Raiders” is based off of Mosby’s command. When people ask me “how did you become interested in history?” I usually reference John S. Mosby. His tales were legendary, and even the true stories were pretty amazing too. How could anyone grow up in this region, touching history every day, and not be impacted?
For me it was easy. Before my recollections, history—Civil War history—was a passion. I read about the Gray Ghost, his capture of a Union General, protecting the local population from the “Yankees.” No, the politics of the war and slavery were not in the mind of a 9 year old—just the daring and dashing “Robin Hood” of Loudoun County. I can clearly remember the day I learned that I had an ancestor that rode with Mosby.
So, it was always on April 21st that my mind would drift to a place called Marshall (war-time Salem). A small town off of Interstate 66 in northern Fauquier County. Here, nearly two weeks after Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Mosby called his men together like he had done so many times before. Messages were sent out to the area; men rendezvoused for one more mission. Much like the Minutemen of 1775, these were citizen soldiers who responded to frequent calls to meet threats and to answer their commander’s call.
The men sat on horseback in a field just north of the main road leading through Salem. Out rode Mosby and rode along the line of 200 rangers who were assembled. Most guessed why they were here, but still none were prepared for the words that Mosby’s younger brother, William, read aloud: “Soldiers! I have summed you together for the last time. The vision we have cherished of a free and independent country, has vanished, and that country, is not the spoil of a conqueror. I disband your organization in preference to surrendering it to our enemies. I am now 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. Jno S. Mosby Colonel.”
With those simple words, the Gray Ghost was no more. Mosby shook the hand of every Ranger who rode up to him. There was not a dry eye among his men. Many years later, Mosby described that day as “the sad, sorrowful and pathetic scene at Salem.”
On this, the 150th anniversary of Mosby’s disbandment, I will again drive to that place where the legend of the Gray Ghost was born. Not to dive into the causes of the fight, not to debate the morality of the men who fought with Mosby. But to remember them and to step where “history happened.” And though now much older and wiser on the deep meanings and impacts of the war, I will probably think back to that 9-year-old kid who dreamed of riding with Mosby.