Who knew the Gray Ghost was an Arlingtonian?
The legendary Confederate raider John S. Mosby has been on my mind during the current Civil War commemorations, and a recent drive through Mosby Heritage Country resurrected my hazy memory of his Arlington connection.
Warrenton, Va., is where you must start if you wish to grasp the meaning of Mosby, the southern states’ champion of Swamp Fox-inspired guerilla warfare who, with ultimately only 1,900 raiders, was able to pin down as many as 14,000 Union troops across the Shenandoah Valley.
Mosby was a colorful figure who spooked the enemy, once hiding high in a tree for eight hours while Yankees searched a safe house just a few feet away. In one famous episode in March 1863, he and 29 followers near Fairfax Court House barged into a home on Little River Turnpike where Union Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton lay asleep. Mosby smacked the general’s naked behind as he rustled him out of bed to arrest him. He asked the northerner whether he knew the name Mosby. Then he smilingly identified himself.
A visit to the Warrenton visitors center allows you to see the home Col. Mosby occupied after war and visit his grave. You get oriented for the various driving tours that spoke out along the stretch of Route 50 called the John Singleton Mosby Highway and on to such storied Virginia haunts as Millwood, Upperville, Middleburg and Aldie.
But I found no acknowledgment of Arlington, not from the tourism official or the local librarian, nor the Mosby memoirs and biographies I consulted.
For that I had to rely on the Arlington historian Kathryn Holt Springston, who weaves Mosby into her Smithsonian bus tours of Civil War history in Arlington.
The trick, she explained, is to remember that Arlington was part of Alexandria County during Mosby’s life (1833-1916). Also, Mosby’s time as an Arlington resident came during the post-Civil War decades in which the celebrity held federal jobs but depended financially on the hospitality of his fellow retired cavalrymen.
“Mosby was always one of my favorite characters, an incredibly complex man who has been varnished by many so-called historians with too broad a brush,” she says. To the chagrin of Confederate sympathizers, Mosby after the war befriended onetime foe Ulysses S. Grant, who, by then president, appointed Mosby, an attorney, consul to Hong Kong. Later, during the McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt administrations, Mosby held jobs in the Interior and Justice departments, living with relatives downtown on K Street and at various Alexandria County addresses.
In Arlington, from about 1897-1902, “Mosby lived in a large old house where Fillmore Gardens apartments now stand — it was the home of one of his men,” Springston says. During the 1910s, he wrote his memoirs at a house on Columbia Pike owned by ex-ranger Sanford Bradbury.
The names of former rangers such as Stuart Thomson and Fountain Beattie were his connections to the area, and he shows up in one Arlington census, Springston says. We know this through Mosby’s letters, many of them at the National Archives.
There’s a cottage industry of Mosby enthusiasts, Springston notes, among them Walton Owen of Fort Ward Park, Kim Holien of the U.S. Army at Henderson Hall and others in Fairfax.
The gray one will always be among the historical ghosts that linger in Arlington.
Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at [email protected]