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Interpreting the History of John S. Mosby


By John Shafer, Assistant Manager, Hidden Oaks Nature Center

When I came to Hidden Oaks in 1993, I inherited an interpretive program about the life and adventures of John S. Mosby. To travel to locations that were significant in Mosby’s adult life, we used a van, a kind of mobile platform that provided a great way to interpret the movements of a Confederate cavalry commander. So spring of 1994 found me riding along with my predeces-sor to observe how he interpreted the life of this soldier and lawyer. Little did I realize where this simple event would lead me.

A little background first. John Single-ton Mosby was a 125-pound lawyer in southern Virginia in 1860 who found him-self having to choose sides on the issue of secession. Although he had spoken out publicly against withdrawing from the Union, he followed his native state’s lead-ership on the issue once Virginia adopted the articles of secession. Speaking to the Bristol News editor about his turn of politi-cal loyalties, Mosby said, "When I talked in such a manner, Virginia had not seceded. She is out of the Union now. Virginia is my mother, God bless her. I can’t fight against my mother, can I?"

Mosby would serve with the Confeder-ate Army throughout the entire Civil War, first under “Grumble” Jones, then as a scout for J.E.B. Stuart. In December of 1863 Stuart gave Mosby his own command of Cavalry, the 43rd Battalion. Mosby’s com-mand gathered intelligence for Stuart and Lee while disrupting Union supply and com-munication lines. He defined a tactic of warfare that has been used in all wars since.

The more I learn about Mosby’s life and personality, the more intriguing a charac-ter he becomes for me. Whether he was legally representing former slaves or break-ing up government corruption, he continu-ously followed what he thought was the fair and just course, even if it meant public ridicule and personal attacks.

Mosby had eyes that with a glance could equally strike fear in the heart of armed opponents of greater strength or stop a grandchild from misbehaving on the front porch. He taught his war-learned cavalry techniques to a young pony-riding George S. Patton, Jr., hero of World War II. Mosby personally served six presidents in varied government positions, including acting as U.S. Consul to Hong Kong. And as an old man, he would get up and leave a dinner party in the middle of the meal if he felt the conversation was not stimulat-ing enough.

These are just a few of the characteris-tics and quirks of this remarkable historic figure. To my delight I continue to discover new facets to his story. Each new piece of research becomes another wipe across a steamed-up windshield, allowing the actual events to come into clearer focus. These insights are the extra ingredients that so improve the stew. The story of Mosby that I can interpret to the public deepens in flavor with each new revelation. My most recent find is, to my surprise, one that took place within a stone’s throw of my own park.

On August 25, 1864, Mosby tried to take control of a Federal fort at what is now the intersection of Hummer Road and Little River Turnpike, within the sound of a gun-shot from Hidden Oaks Nature Center. While a head-on conflict such as this was not Mosby’s style of warfare, he attacked the fort by firing 30 to 40 artillery and cannon shots. Despite the onslaught, the fort’s defenders would not surrender.


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