Confederate John S. Mosby’s Great Berryville Wagon Train Raid

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On this day 150 years ago, John S. Mosby’s Rangers attacked a wagon train delivering supplies to Union General Phil Sheridan.  I will write more about Mosby next month pegged to the 150th anniversary of Union General George S. Custer’s hanging of six of Mosby’s men in my hometown, Front Royal Virginia. I will also write more about how General Sheridan ravaged the Shenandoah Valley – since numerous commentators have disputed the facts in my Wall Street Journal piece last month.

Here is how the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Mosby’s August 13, 1864 raid:

About the only aggressive enemy in the Military Division is MOSBY, and the only dangerous place appears to be the rear of our army on its communication with this point . . . . The Valley of the Shenandoah has been almost completely stripped of its wheat crop, and as cattle, sheep and hogs have disappeared long ago, it is now more difficult to advance through it with an army than ever before. As it is impossible to glean any subsistence from the country, the supply question has already become the great vexation.  Our losses by the attack on our wagon train at Berryville were seventy-two wagons, over two hundred mules, and one hundred and fifty prisoners . . . .

Just after dawn on 13 Aug. 1864, Col. John Singleton Mosby and 300 of his 43d Battalion Partisan Rangers attacked the rear section of Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s 600-vehicle wagon train . . . . Mosby surprised and routed the Federals as they rested, cooked breakfast, and hitched their horses. Mosby’s men, losing only one killed and one mortally wounded, captured 200 beef cattle, 500-600 horses, 100 wagons, and 200 soldiers. The raid ended by 6:30 a.m.

During the Wagon Train Raid, a detachment from the 144th Ohio took a position behind a stone wall at the Buck Marsh Church . . . . However, they were shattered by a strong Rebel charge . . . .The 144th Ohio’s loss in this disastrous affair was 5 killed, 10 wounded, and 76 captured . . . .

Sheridan’s supplies were profoundly disrupted.  But, in a message a few days later to Gen. U.S. Grant, the supreme Union commander, Sheridan brazenly lied: “Mosby has annoyed me and captured a few wagons.”   Sheridan could have been a great White House Press Secretary.

The top illustration is an 1868 painting representing the raid by French artist Charles Edouard Armand-Dumaresq. The second painting is from John Paul Strain; his excellent artwork is available for purchase here.

The historical marker below is far better written than most such roadside décor. I especially like the last line: “Berryville’s citizens, including many small boys, helped  burn the wagons after liberating their contents.”

Here is an :berryville marker for Mosby raid


17 Responses to Confederate John S. Mosby’s Great Berryville Wagon Train Raid

  1. Tom Blanton August 13, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

    When is the movie coming out?

    • Jim August 13, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

      Funniest line I’ve heard all day, Tom.

      Hollywood could do a great movie on how the Shenandoah Valley was burnt down and the people led utterly destitute with winter coming on. But that would not fit the moral storyline Hollywood likes to foist on viewers.

      If memory serves, “Gone with the Wind” did quite well in 1939 thanks in part to its honest portrayal of Sherman’s rampages.

    • The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit August 14, 2014 at 2:14 pm #

      Reading Tom’s comment about “when does the movie come out,” it occurred to me that it’s incredibly ironic how audiences will cheer for Luke Skywalker battling the Evil Empire … and then go out of the theater and cheer for their own Empire crushing various Luke Skywalkers around the world. And never give their hypocrisy a second thought.

      Looking at one of the big gun blogs, caught some libertarian bashing going on and wanted to point out that the reason libertarians often lose elections is because the majority of voters *want* the State depriving other people of liberty and rights. They only disagree on which groups should be suffering the abuse.

      • Jim August 14, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

        !!!! But the New York Times Magazine said that libertarianism is hip – at least for the next 15 minutes.

        • The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit August 14, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

          I would refer the NYTM, and many other magazines and papers and celebrities, to this quote:

          Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

          Or, in the alternative, from George Hamilton as Zorro:

          What is a name but a word, a brand, a fashion label?

      • Tom Blanton August 16, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

        The American people in general seem to be becoming more and more authoritarian.

        The latest indication I’ve had of this is the case of Michael Brown.

        First, because some protesters looted some stores it somehow justified the shooting of Brown in the minds of some. Then, once the convenience store video of Brown was released establishing him as a bad guy, his execution became totally justified among a wide range of angry authoritarians.

        So, in America today merely being suspected of being a bad guy is sufficient for the state to execute you on the street and have a large number of citizens cheer.

        Scumbags don’t need no stinkin’ due process! And if anyone protests about it, send out the troops in armored cars to sweep the streets clean.

        The crazy thing is that a lot of these people claim to want limited government and they hate bureaucrats. But give a bureaucrat an automatic weapon, a Kevlar vest, and a license to kill and suddenly they become heroes keeping real Americans free. They can’t even comprehend the irony in that, so it isn’t surprising that they can easily hate a fictitious evil empire while embracing a real one.

        As Pogo might say, “We have met the evil empire and the evil empire is us.”

        • Tom Blanton August 16, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

          I’m vexed by it all.

        • Jim August 17, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

          It is peculiar how some smart people lose their skepticism when they see a badge… and a gun.

      • Jim August 17, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

        That “evil empire” line is great – I hope you can use it far & wide.

  2. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit August 14, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    “…since numerous commentators have disputed the facts in my Wall Street Journal piece last month.”

    Oh oh.

    It’s on, now.

    I like how the sign seems to be a quote from the Philadelphia Inquirer. I’m also trying to imagine the Philadelphia Inquirer of today using a word like “vexation,” or that any significant portion of its readers would understand what that passage meant.

  3. Jim August 14, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    Sad how vexing has gone out of fashion…. the word, that is.

  4. Doug August 17, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

    This story was about a raid in 1864. Why do people decide to jump on the political bandwagon? I would like to just see folks commenting on the raid itself not current politics. I am as much conservative as possible but this is one time I don’t think politics is right. Let’s put the history in context the raid was a smashing success while the Confederate army wasn’t able to do anything to get directly at Sheridan, Mosby did! It made Sheridan look like a fool and caused him to put in for more soldiers. In turn Grant sent two more infantry to him along with 2 cavalry divisions. It set up Sheridan to be a great success in the valley but also caused him to keep more men guarding the wagons.

    • Jim August 17, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

      If the Confederates had chosen folks like Mosby as generals – then…. history mighta turned out differently. Or at least Confederate generals would have been a lot more colorful (and thoughtful).

      • The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit August 18, 2014 at 10:40 am #

        That depends on whether Mosby’s skills would have translated to larger battlefields. Though, admittedly, if you had enough Mosbys (Mosbies?) running the war, you probably wouldn’t HAVE many battlefields, you’d just have an endless series of small actions wearing down the Union forces and the Union’s will to fight.

        Kinda like, oh, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Vietnam. Fourth Generation Warfare, a more than a century before it became fashionable to discuss – if not understand and implement – in the US.

        • Doug August 18, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

          There is a Col Jeff McCausland pretty sure he is a decendent of General John McCausland. Mosby was the hero of the Valley for the Confederacy. It is no wonder they called the are he was in “Mosby’s Confederacy”. Union troops were scared to death be on picket in that area. The Union army reinforced it’s garrisions at Winchester, Harper’s Ferry, and even as far away as Fredricksburg because of him. That would be somewhere in the neigborhood of 50,000 men trying to deal with less then 600. A good bit of the time his raids invovled 50-150 men and they were handpicked. I would say modern day special forces have learned a lot from his hit and run tactics.

          • Jim August 18, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

            Doug, Mosby succeeded in part because his troops were superbly disciplined. They did not commit atrocities against local civilians – and thus enjoyed vast support even when the war was going badly for the South.

        • Jim August 18, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

          Mosby could not have done any worse than Jubal Early against Sheridan. Early preferred fighting to thinking, and that cost the Confederacy several potential victories (as well as a torchlit parade through downtown DC).