H. Beam Piper.

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Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from "True: The Man's Magazine," December
1950. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.


Rebel Raider


by H. Beam Piper

* * * * *


It was almost midnight, on January 2, 1863, and the impromptu party at
the Ratcliffe home was breaking up. The guest of honor, General J. E.
B. Stuart, felt that he was overstaying his welcome - not at the
Ratcliffe home, where everybody was soundly Confederate, but in
Fairfax County, then occupied by the Union Army.

About a week before, he had come raiding up from Culpepper with a
strong force of cavalry, to spend a merry Christmas in northern
Virginia and give the enemy a busy if somewhat less than happy New
Year's. He had shot up outposts, run off horses from remount stations,
plundered supply depots, burned stores of forage; now, before
returning to the main Confederate Army, he had paused to visit his
friend Laura Ratcliffe. And, of course, there had been a party. There
was always a party when Jeb Stuart was in any one place long enough to
organize one.

They were all crowding into the hallway - the officers of Stuart's
staff, receiving their hats and cloaks from the servants and buckling
on their weapons; the young ladies, their gay dresses showing only the
first traces of wartime shabbiness; the matrons who chaperoned them;
Stuart himself, the center of attention, with his hostess on his arm.

"It's a shame you can't stay longer, General," Laura Ratcliffe was
saying. "It's hard on us, living in conquered territory, under enemy
rule."

"Well, I won't desert you entirely, Miss Ratcliffe," Stuart told her.
"I'm returning to Culpepper in the morning, as you know, but I mean to
leave Captain Mosby behind with a few men, to look after the loyal
Confederate people here until we can return in force and in victory."

Hearing his name, one of the men in gray turned, his hands raised to
hook the fastening at the throat of his cloak. Just four days short of
his thirtieth birthday, he looked even more youthful; he was
considerably below average height, and so slender as to give the
impression of frailness. His hair and the beard he was wearing at the
time were very light brown. He wore an officer's uniform without
insignia of rank, and instead of a saber he carried a pair of
1860-model Colt .44's on his belt, with the butts to the front so that
either revolver could be drawn with either hand, backhand or
crossbody.

There was more than a touch of the dandy about him. The cloak he was
fastening was lined with scarlet silk and the gray cock-brimmed hat
the slave was holding for him was plumed with a squirrel tail. At
first glance he seemed no more than one of the many young gentlemen of
the planter class serving in the Confederate cavalry. But then one
looked into his eyes and got the illusion of being covered by a pair
of blued pistol muzzles. He had an aura of combined ruthlessness, self
confidence, good humor and impudent audacity.

For an instant he stood looking inquiringly at the general. Then he
realized what Stuart had said, and the blue eyes sparkled. This was
the thing he had almost given up hoping for - an independent command
and a chance to operate in the enemy's rear.

* * * * *

In 1855, John Singleton Mosby, newly graduated from the University of
Virginia, had opened a law office at Bristol, Washington County,
Virginia, and a year later he had married.

The son of a well-to-do farmer and slave-owner, his boyhood had been
devoted to outdoor sports, especially hunting, and he was accounted an
expert horseman and a dead shot, even in a society in which skill with
guns and horses was taken for granted. Otherwise, the outbreak of the
war had found him without military qualifications and completely
uninterested in military matters. Moreover, he had been a rabid
anti-secessionist.

It must be remembered, however, that, like most Southerners, he
regarded secession as an entirely local issue, to be settled by the
people of each state for themselves. He took no exception to the
position that a state had the constitutional right to sever its
connection with the Union if its people so desired. His objection to
secession was based upon what he considered to be political logic. He
realized that, once begun, secession was a process which could only
end in reducing America to a cluster of impotent petty sovereignties,
torn by hostilities, incapable of any concerted action, a fair prey to
any outside aggressor.

However, he was also a believer in the paramount sovereignty of the
states. He was first of all a Virginian. So, when Virginia voted in
favor of secession, Mosby, while he deplored the choice, felt that he
had no alternative but to accept it. He promptly enlisted in a locally
organized cavalry company, the Washington Mounted Rifles, under a
former U. S. officer and West Point graduate, William E. Jones.

His letters to his wife told of his early military experiences - his
pleasure at receiving one of the fine new Sharps carbines which
Captain Jones had wangled for his company, and, later, a Colt .44
revolver: his first taste of fire in the Shenandoah Valley, where the
company, now incorporated into Colonel Stuart's First Virginia
Cavalry, were covering Johnston's march to re-enforce Beauregard: his
rather passive participation in the big battle at Manassas. He was
keenly disappointed at being held in reserve throughout the fighting.
Long afterward, it was to be his expressed opinion that the
Confederacy had lost the war by failing to follow the initial victory
and exploit the rout of McDowell's army.

The remainder of 1861 saw him doing picket duty in Fairfax County.
When Stuart was promoted to brigadier general, and Captain Jones took
his place as colonel of the First Virginia, Mosby became the latter's
adjutant. There should have been a commission along with this post,
but this seems to have been snarled in red tape at Richmond and never
came through. It was about this time that Mosby first came to Stuart's
personal attention. Mosby spent a night at headquarters after
escorting a couple of young ladies who had been living outside the
Confederate lines and were anxious to reach relatives living farther
south.

Stuart had been quite favorably impressed with Mosby, and when, some
time later, the latter lost his place as adjutant of the First by
reason of Jones' promotion to brigadier general and Fitzhugh Lee's
taking over the regiment, Mosby became one of Stuart's headquarters
scouts.

Scouting for Jeb Stuart was not the easiest work in the world, nor the
safest, but Mosby appears to have enjoyed it, and certainly made good
at it. It was he who scouted the route for Stuart's celebrated "Ride
Around MacClellan" in June, 1862, an exploit which brought his name to
the favorable attention of General Lee. By this time, still without
commission, he was accepted at Stuart's headquarters as a sort of
courtesy officer, and generally addressed as "Captain" Mosby. Stuart
made several efforts to get him commissioned, but War Department red
tape seems to have blocked all of them. By this time, too, Mosby had
become convinced of the utter worthlessness of the saber as a
cavalryman's weapon, and for his own armament adopted a pair of Colts.

The revolver of the Civil War was, of course, a percussion-cap weapon.
Even with the powder and bullet contained in a combustible paper
cartridge, loading such an arm was a slow process: each bullet had to
be forced in the front of the chamber on top of its propellant charge
by means of a hinged rammer under the barrel, and a tiny copper cap
had to be placed on each nipple. It was nothing to attempt on a
prancing horse. The Union cavalryman was armed with a single-shot
carbine - the seven-shot Spencer repeater was not to make its
battlefield appearance until late in 1863 - and one revolver, giving
him a total of seven shots without reloading. With a pair of
six-shooters, Mosby had a five-shot advantage over any opponent he was
likely to encounter. As he saw it, tactical strength lay in the number
of shots which could be delivered without reloading, rather than in
the number of men firing them. Once he reached a position of
independent command, he was to adhere consistently to this principle.

On July 14, 1862, General John Pope, who had taken over a newly
created Union Army made up of the commands of McDowell, Banks and
Fremont, issued a bombastic and tactless order to his new command,
making invidious comparisons between the armies in the west and those
in the east. He said, "I hear constantly of 'taking strong positions
and holding them,' of 'lines of retreat,' and of 'bases of supplies.'
Let us discard all such ideas. Let us study the probable lines of
retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of
themselves."

That intrigued Mosby. If General Pope wasn't going to take care of his
own rear, somebody ought to do it for him, and who better than John
Mosby? He went promptly to Stuart, pointing out Pope's disinterest in
his own lines of supply and communication, and asked that he be given
about twenty men and detailed to get into Pope's rear and see what
sort of disturbance he could create.

Stuart doubted the propriety of sending men into what was then
Stonewall Jackson's territory, but he gave Mosby a letter to Jackson,
recommending the bearer highly and outlining what he proposed doing,
with the request that he be given some men to try it. With this
letter, Mosby set out for Jackson's headquarters.

He never reached his destination. On the way, he was taken prisoner by
a raiding force of New York cavalry, and arrived, instead, at Old
Capitol jail in Washington. Stuart requested his exchange at once, and
Mosby spent only about ten days in Old Capitol, and then was sent down
the Potomac on an exchange boat, along with a number of other
prisoners of war, for Hampton Roads.

The boat-load of prisoners, about to be exchanged and returned to
their own army, were allowed to pass through a busy port of military
embarkation and debarkation, with every opportunity to observe
everything that was going on, and, to make a bad matter worse, the
steamboat captain was himself a Confederate sympathizer. So when
Mosby, from the exchange boat, observed a number of transports lying
at anchor, he had no trouble at all in learning that they carried
Burnside's men, newly brought north from the Carolinas. With the help
of the steamboat captain, Mosby was able to learn that the transports
were bound for Acquia Creek, on the Potomac; that meant that the
re-enforcements were for Pope.

* * * * *

As soon as he was exchanged, Mosby made all haste for Lee's
headquarters to report what he had discovered. Lee, remembering Mosby
as the man who had scouted ahead of Stuart's Ride Around MacClellan,
knew that he had a hot bit of information from a credible source. A
dispatch rider was started off at once for Jackson, and Jackson struck
Pope at Cedar Mountain before he could be re-enforced. Mosby returned
to Stuart's headquarters, losing no time in promoting a pair of .44's
to replace the ones lost when captured, and found his stock with
Stuart at an all-time high as a result of his recent feat of espionage
while in the hands of the enemy.

So he was with Stuart when Stuart stopped at Laura Ratcliffe's home,
and was on hand when Stuart wanted to make one of his characteristic
gestures of gallantry. And so he finally got his independent
command - all of six men - and orders to operate in the enemy's rear.

Whatever Stuart might have had in mind in leaving him behind "to look
after the loyal Confederate people," John Mosby had no intention of
posting himself in Laura Ratcliffe's front yard as a guard of honor.
He had a theory of guerrilla warfare which he wanted to test. In part,
it derived from his experiences in the Shenandoah Valley and in
Fairfax County, but in larger part, it was based upon his own
understanding of the fundamental nature of war.

The majority of guerrilla leaders have always been severely tactical
in their thinking. That is to say, they have been concerned almost
exclusively with immediate results. A troop column is ambushed, a
picket post attacked, or a supply dump destroyed for the sake of the
immediate loss of personnel or materiel so inflicted upon the enemy.
Mosby, however, had a well-conceived strategic theory. He knew, in
view of the magnitude of the war, that the tactical effects of his
operations would simply be lost in the over-all picture. But, if he
could create enough uproar in the Union rear, he believed that he
could force the withdrawal from the front of a regiment or even a
brigade to guard against his attacks and, in some future battle, the
absence of that regiment or brigade might tip the scale of battle or,
at least, make some future Confederate victory more complete or some
defeat less crushing.

As soon as Stuart's column started southward, Mosby took his six men
across Bull Run Mountain to Middleburg, where he ordered them to
scatter out, billet themselves at outlying farms, and meet him at the
Middleburg hotel on the night of January 10. Meanwhile he returned
alone to Fairfax County, spending the next week making contacts with
the people and gathering information.

On the night of Saturday, January 10, he took his men through the gap
at Aldie and into Fairfax County. His first stop was at a farmhouse
near Herndon Station, where he had friends, and there he met a
woodsman, trapper and market hunter named John Underwood, who, with
his two brothers, had been carrying on a private resistance movement
against the Union occupation ever since the Confederate Army had moved
out of the region. Overjoyed at the presence of regular Confederate
troops, even as few as a half-dozen, Underwood offered to guide Mosby
to a nearby Union picket post.

Capturing this post was no particularly spectacular feat of arms.
Mosby's party dismounted about 200 yards away from it and crept up on
it, to find seven members of the Fifth New York squatting around a
fire, smoking, drinking coffee and trying to keep warm. Their first
intimation of the presence of any enemy nearer than the Rappahannock
River came when Mosby and his men sprang to their feet, leveled
revolvers and demanded their surrender. One cavalryman made a grab for
his carbine and Mosby shot him; the others put up their hands. The
wounded man was given first aid, wrapped in a blanket and placed
beside the fire to wait until the post would be relieved. The others
were mounted on their own horses and taken to Middleburg, where they
were paroled i.e., released after they gave their word not to take up
arms again against the Confederacy. This not entirely satisfactory
handling of prisoners was the only means left open to Mosby with his
small force, behind enemy lines.

The next night, Mosby stayed out of Fairfax County to allow the
excitement to die down a little, but the night after, he and his men,
accompanied by Underwood, raided a post where the Little River
Turnpike crossed Cub Run. Then, after picking up a two-man road patrol
en route, they raided another post near Fryingpan Church. This time
they brought back fourteen prisoners and horses.

In all, he and his sextet had captured nineteen prisoners and twenty
horses. But Mosby still wasn't satisfied. What he wanted was a few
more men and orders to operate behind the Union army on a permanent
basis. So, after paroling the catch of the night before, he told John
Underwood to get busy gathering information and establishing contacts,
and he took his six men back to Culpepper, reporting his activities to
Stuart and claiming that under his existing orders he had not felt
justified in staying away from the army longer. At the same time, he
asked for a larger detail and orders to continue operating in northern
Virginia.

In doing so, he knew he was taking a chance that Stuart would keep him
at Culpepper, but as both armies had gone into winter quarters after
Fredericksburg with only a minimum of outpost activity, he reasoned
that Stuart would be willing to send him back. As it happened, Stuart
was so delighted with the success of Mosby's brief activity that he
gave him fifteen men, all from the First Virginia Cavalry, and orders
to operate until recalled. On January 18, Mosby was back at
Middleburg, ready to go to work in earnest.

As before, he scattered his men over the countryside, quartering them
on the people. This time, before scattering them, he told them to meet
him at Zion Church, just beyond the gap at Aldie, on the night of the
28th. During the intervening ten days, he was not only busy gathering
information but also in an intensive recruiting campaign among the
people of upper Fauquier and lower Loudoun Counties.

* * * * *

In this last, his best selling-point was a recent act of the
Confederate States Congress called the Scott Partisan Ranger Law. This
piece of legislation was, in effect, an extension of the principles of
prize law and privateering to land warfare. It authorized the
formation of independent cavalry companies, to be considered part of
the armed forces of the Confederacy, their members to serve without
pay and mount themselves, in return for which they were to be entitled
to keep any spoil of war captured from the enemy. The terms "enemy"
and "spoil of war" were defined so liberally as to cover almost
anything not the property of the government or citizens of the
Confederacy. There were provisions, also, entitling partisan companies
to draw on the Confederate government for arms and ammunition and
permitting them to turn in and receive payment for any spoil which
they did not wish to keep for themselves.

The law had met with considerable opposition from the Confederate
military authorities, who claimed that it would attract men and horses
away from the regular service and into ineffective freebooting. There
is no doubt that a number of independent companies organized under the
Scott Law accomplished nothing of military value. Some degenerated
into mere bandit gangs, full of deserters from both sides, and
terrible only to the unfortunate Confederate citizens living within
their range of operations. On the other hand, as Mosby was to
demonstrate, a properly employed partisan company could be of
considerable use.

It was the provision about booty, however, which appealed to Mosby. As
he intended operating in the Union rear, where the richest plunder
could be found, he hoped that the prospect would attract numerous
recruits. The countryside contained many men capable of bearing arms
who had remained at home to look after their farms but who would be
more than willing to ride with him now and then in hope of securing a
new horse for farm work, or some needed harness, or food and blankets
for their families. The regular Mosby Men called them the
"Conglomerates," and Mosby himself once said that they resembled the
Democrat party, being "held together only by the cohesive power of
public plunder."

Mosby's first operation with his new force was in the pattern of the
other two - the stealthy dismounted approach and sudden surprise of an
isolated picket post. He brought back eleven prisoners and twelve
horses and sets of small arms, and, as on the night of the 10th, left
one wounded enemy behind. As on the previous occasions, the prisoners
were taken as far as Middleburg before being released on parole.

For this reason, Mosby was sure that Colonel Sir Percy Wyndham,
commander of the brigade which included the Fifth New York, Eighteenth
Pennsylvania and the First Vermont, would assume that this village was
the raiders' headquarters. Colonel Wyndham, a European-trained
soldier, would scarcely conceive of any military force, however small,
without a regular headquarters and a fixed camp. Therefore, Wyndham
would come looking for him at Middleburg. So, with a companion named
Fountain Beattie, Mosby put up for what remained of the night at the
home of a Mr. Lorman Chancellor, on the road from Aldie a few miles
east of Middleburg. The rest of the company were ordered to stay
outside Middleburg.

Mosby's estimate of his opponent was uncannily accurate. The next
morning, about daybreak, he and Beattie were wakened by one of the
Chancellor servants and warned that a large body of Union cavalry was
approaching up the road from Aldie. Peering through the window
shutters, they watched about 200 men of the Fifth New York ride by,
with Colonel Wyndham himself in the lead. As soon as they were out of
sight up the road, Mosby and Beattie, who had hastily dressed, dashed
downstairs for their horses.

"I'm going to keep an eye on these people," Mosby told Beattie.
"Gather up as many men as you can, and meet me in about half an hour
on the hill above Middleburg. But hurry! I'd rather have five men now
than a hundred by noon."

When Beattie with six men rejoined Mosby, he found the latter sitting
on a stump, munching an apple and watching the enemy through his field
glasses. Wyndham, who had been searching Middleburg for "Mosby's
headquarters," was just forming his men for a push on to Upperville,
where he had been assured by the canny Middleburgers that Mosby had
his camp.

Mosby and his men cantered down the hillside to the road as Wyndham's
force moved out of the village and then broke into a mad gallop to
overtake them.

* * * * *

It was always hard to be sure whether jackets were dirty gray or faded
blue. As the Union soldier had a not unfounded belief that the
Virginia woods were swarming with bushwhackers (Confederate
guerillas), the haste of a few men left behind to rejoin the column
was quite understandable. The rearguard pulled up and waited for them.
Then, at about twenty yards' range, one of the New Yorkers, a
sergeant, realized what was happening and shouted a warning:

"They're Rebs!"

Instantly one of Mosby's men, Ned Hurst, shot him dead. Other
revolvers, ready drawn, banged, and several Union cavalrymen were
wounded. Mosby and his followers hastily snatched the bridles of three
others, disarmed them and turned, galloping away with them.

By this time, the main column, which had not halted with the
rearguard, was four or five hundred yards away. There was a brief
uproar, a shouting of contradictory orders, and then the whole column
turned and came back at a gallop. Mosby, four of his men, and the
three prisoners, got away, but Beattie and two others were captured
when their horses fell on a sheet of ice treacherously hidden under
the snow. There was no possibility of rescuing them. After the capture
of Beattie and his companions, the pursuit stopped. Halting at a
distance, Mosby saw Wyndham form his force into a compact body and
move off toward Aldie at a brisk trot. He sent off the prisoners under
guard of two of his men and followed Wyndham's retreat almost to Aldie
without opportunity to inflict any more damage.

During his stop at Middleburg, Wyndham had heaped coals on a growing
opposition to Mosby, fostered by pro-Unionists in the neighborhood.
Wyndham informed the townspeople that he would burn the town and
imprison the citizens if Mosby continued the attacks on his outposts.
A group of citizens, taking the threat to heart, petitioned Stuart to
recall Mosby, but the general sent a stinging rebuke, telling the
Middleburgers that Mosby and his men were risking their lives which
were worth considerably more than a few houses and barns.

Mosby was also worried about the antipathy to the Scott Law and the
partisan ranger system which was growing among some of the general
officers of the Confederacy. To counteract such opposition, he needed
to achieve some spectacular feat of arms which would capture the
popular imagination, make a public hero of himself, and place him
above criticism.

* * * * *

And all the while, his force was growing. The booty from his raids
excited the cupidity of the more venturesome farmers, and they were
exchanging the hoe for the revolver and joining him. A number of the
convalescents and furloughed soldiers were arranging transfers to his
command. Others, with no permanent military attachment, were drifting


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