I’m here “behind the lines”, so to speak, in Northern Virginia. Down in my neck of the woods in Southside Virginia, we tend to think of NOVA as “Occupied Virginia”. Depending on what part of Virginia (and what part of the South) you are from, there tends to be an endless debate on what places are, what place were, and what places no longer are “the South”. Generally speaking I consider my native state to be very much “the South” but just not as “South” as my adopted state of Mississippi. But within my home state certain areas do seem to be culturally lost to “Sherman’s Suburban March”.
I blame Washington, DC. But then again it’s always safe to blame DC.
In Virginia, a good rule of thumb is that you’re in the South in any county or town where you can easily find sweet tea at a restaurant. So pretty much any place Fredericksburg south is pretty safe. Yet even above this line there remain some Southern enclaves that capture the spirit of old Northern Virginia: Old Town Alexandria, nearly all of Fauquier County, Manassas Battlefield, and the horse and wine country around Middleburg (where I’m standing in my cartoon).
I lived and worked in the history field in Northern Virginia for a few years, so I know some of these places and the still very-much-Virginian folks who live there. Nevertheless, there were times when I felt like a foreigner in my own native state. At times like this, I always remembered the local Civil War hero John Mosby…the “Gray Ghost”.
Who’s that you ask?…
John Singleton Mosby was not your typical Confederate hero. He didn’t believe in secession, reluctantly joined the cause (yet fought furiously when he did), was branded an outlaw, and later served the very enemy that once ordered him hanged. He was both hated and beloved by Northerners and Southerners at different points of his life. He was one of a kind.
Mosby was born in Powhatan County, VA about thirty miles west of Richmond. He was from a well-to-do family and had the connections to enter the University of Virginia. Mosby was short and scrawny and was the constant target of bullies. He never backed down from a fight even though he probably lost 99% of them. When one bully insulted his honor, the future Gray Ghost entered the South Will Blog Again hall of fame by challenging his tormentor to a duel. The bully showed up and decided to pummel the little man instead. Mosby did what anyone who’s read Andrew Jackson’s guest posts would do and shot his attacker with a pistol.
Mosby was arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed. He was also expelled from the University. He could have quit right there and ended up a vagrant or career criminal. Yet Mosby had an iron will and gift of charm, two traits that would serve him well as a partisan leader. He befriended the prosecutor that put him away and even borrowed his law books to study. Mosby’s sentence was commuted and he ended up passing the bar…a true “jailhouse lawyer”.
Mosby’s legal career was soon interrupted by war clouds. Unlike many gentlemen’s sons, Mosby vehemently opposed slavery and secession. He had an independent political streak that made him seem contrarian and even “pro-Yankee”. Nevertheless when Virginia seceded from the Union Mosby joined the army. He enlisted as a private.
He soon found his way as a junior officer and currier in the Confederate cavalry. Mosby’s pluck and initiative caught the attention of J.E.B. Stuart. While under Stuart’s command Mosby participated in the famed ride around George McClellan’s Army. Their mission was officially reconnaissance, but their real purpose was to have fun, embarrass Yankees, and get to wear cool capes and feathers in their hats. Mosby would thus learn a lot from Stuart.
Eventually Mosby ended up on detached duty and it was here where he began his partisan career. Much of Northern Virginia was occupied by Federal forces. Mosby’s job was to create a partisan ranger force to distract the Union Army, destroy their supplies, capture food, ammunition, and weapons for the Confederacy, and provide intelligence to the main army. Essentially Mosby’s job was to be a gigantic pain in the britches to the blue coats. And Mosby had plenty of practice at being a problem.
Mosby recruited his men from the local counties and from sympathizers in Maryland. The bulk of his men came from what even today is known as “horse country”. These Rangers could ride fast, shoot straight, strike quickly, and then disappear back into the countryside. They lived off the land and with the protection of the local populace. They were good at their job and quickly became a huge problem to the Union command. Various colonels and generals were sent into “Mosby’s Confederacy” to seek out and destroy the guerillas, and capture their leader. Some of them failed miserably.
The most humorous of these failures was a Vermonter named Edwin Stoughton. Stoughton was a young twenty-something West Point grad who had the reputation of being rather pompous and disliked. West Point grads being rather sparse in the large army, Stoughton was breveted up to a rank he normally wouldn’t have held for a couple of decades. According to later Union testimony his promotion was never officially approved. Some folks thought Stoughton underqualified apparently. (Don’t worry, he’ll prove why)
The young general swore to get Mosby and send retribution against the local populace. And he did so in that preening arrogant know-it-all way that folks in Vermont tend to swear such things. Rather than wait to be captured and hanged Mosby decided to bring the war to his enemy’s camp. In a scene right out of ACT II of Braveheart, Mosby and a few men road behind the Union lines to Fairfax Courthouse. They found the general’s headquarters and marched to his bedroom.
According to one account Mosby smacked the general on his backside rather rudely waking him up. The astonished general was asked if he knew Mosby. The general replied that he was looking for Mosby and asked “if you found the rascal”. Mosby replied that “it is I that have found you”. The general was hauled off a prisoner in his nightgown. It was quite and embarrassment and done in the theatrical way that made each and every Mosby attack spectacular.
Lincoln to his credit remarked that he was more distraught over the loss of a good horse than such a pompous fool like Stoughton. After a brief stint in prison, Stoughton returned home and left the army, no doubt a little humbler.
Mosby’s men raided, and pillaged with great aplomb. Even though their attacks led to reprisals against the local population, most of the civilians loved and respected Mosby. He became a Robin Hood figure to the community. Unlike the partisan fighters in Missouri, Mosby stuck to military targets and generally treated his prisoners well. He even used his law degree to settle local disputes. A mere lieutenant colonel, Mosby was the highest ranking Confederate authority in the region. No other man with such a rank had so great a responsibility.
US Grant once ordered him hanged if captured. Yet Mosby was never captured despite a few close calls. He was even wounded a few times and had some narrow escaped from death. In the end he disbanded his men rather than surrender melting away in the same countryside that they first appeared out of. In the end his military achievements were a mere footnote to the bloody war. Yet his dash that became legendary.
After the war Mosby became a controversial figure. He accepted Reconstruction and worked with the restored Federal government and the Republican party. He even served under the Grant Administration as an ambassador and became good friends with the man who once outlawed him.
Thus Mosby lost some of the hero-worship he achieved during the war. His legacy was considered “tarnished” and he did not receive the same degree of acclaim (such as statues and biographies) others of his generation received until much later into the twentieth century. Yet Mosby’s exploits on the battlefield would live on. While living in California later in life, Mosby was a frequent visitor to the Patton family. The Pattons were Virginia ex-pats who had served in the Confederate Army with distinction. Mosby doted on their young boy and bounced him on his knee telling the young man stories about his days as a daring partisan leader. The boy, George S. Patton would grow up and lead his own men into daring attacks against the German Army in World War II. George Patton was known for having a bit of theatrics himself.
Mosby’s spirit lives on in others ways. There are historic and land conservation groups that use “Mosby’s Confederacy” as a boundary to preserve the scenic landscape and history that remains in Northern Virginia. His name and image appear on roadside markers, museums, antique stores, driving tours, and even a winery.
In rural Northern Virginia there still remains some wonderful small tight-knit rural communities. Many of the townspeople are descendents of the men the road with Mosby while others from the men who were sent to capture him. Today they live side by side in peace, “old guard” and “new guard” Virginian. Meanwhile the new “occupier” looms in the distance…the occupation of “progress”. As any Civil War buff can tell you, it’s disheartening to see historical landmarks bulldozed, battlefields paved, small towns become “McMansioned”, and little by little the landscape, culture, and population being subverted to generic suburbia.
Yet every so often as I drove past the stone walls, hills, and farmsteads that served as Mosby hideouts I could catch a glimpse of the legend. For whenever a true Virginian, whether he or she be 10th generation or 1st generation is under siege, the spirit of Mosby will be there. Save your state.
– Southern Blogger
We’re here in Jackson Square, New Orleans. In my opinion it’s the most beautiful part of one of America’s most beautiful cities. New Orleans was a city that changed hands between the French and Spanish several times before finally becoming a part of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase. Yet it was nearly lost to the British twelve years later. The story of how a grudge helped save the city of New Orleans for the United States is a quite a tale from history. And who better to tell that story, legend, or cartooned anachronism better than our old friend Andrew Jackson.
You may remember President Jackson from an earlier piece I did called “How to Defend Your Honor“. It was quite fascinating to hear the intricate details on how to properly, professionally, and purposely kill your enemies. It remains one of the most popular pieces ever in the (short) history of The South Will Blog Again! As I promised a few months ago, we’d have Andrew Jackson back. So without further ado I present my old friend Old Hickory…
Hello again gentle readers. It’s been a few months since I’ve last guest blogged for this site. Since then I’ve been told it’s grown quite a bit in popularity. No doubt I had a good deal to do with it. People are always looking for dueling advice on the World Wide Web, and what better place to get it than this site? In any case I’m glad to see that the increased site visitation has plumb improved the quality of the drawings. It used to be much cruder around here. Why I looked like a Tom Turkey trying to squeeze out golden Goose eggs in that there last post. Doubtless I am more properly drawn and attired for this piece.
And what a piece it is. I get to talk about my SECOND favorite topic (the first is smoking poltroons)…revenge. And not just revenge against one rascal but an entire nation of rascals…the British. Now Southern Blogger has told me that y’all and the British are friends now and have been for some time. I keep forgetting that’s the case now…partly because I forget lots of things besides my enemies list. Well, bygones be bygones let me tell you the story of why I hate them redcoats and then what I did about it…
I was born in the Waxhaws. Some folks think that’s in South Carolina and some folks say it’s in North Carolina. We were never really sure. If it was in South Carolina we weren’t like them pink Palmetto sissy britches on here last week. Nor like that rascal John C. Calhoun I nearly strung up for sassin’. No, we were pure backwoods. That might surprise you being that I’m quite proper and all. Or maybe not.
My people were from Ireland but were Scotch Presbyterians. You call them Scotch-Irish today…well and lots of other things. Folks never did like my people. Well, my daddy died before I was born and me and my siblings well we come up real hard and all. Mother did the best she could and we all helped around the homestead. I was apprenticed as a boy but never did take the the trades much. I wanted to see action. And we got plenty of it during the end of the Revolutionary War.
Things were rough in the Western Carolinas. We had lots of in-fighting and feuding between the true Patriot side and them knock kneed Tories. I could give you the details but you might as well watch Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” for the real story. He’s real good at telling history just the way it was.
Back in 1781 we had a bunch of massacring going on. Killed of a bunch of my kin. Made me a real angry lad. To top it all off one of them finely dressed British officers came to our place. He was knocking things around and causing a scene. Maybe his powdered wig was on too tight. His soldiers were stealing our chickens and messing up the garden. Believe me when I say I told them what I thought. Then that officer got real smart and ordered me to shine his boots. He didn’t think much of me or knew I was already helping out the Patriot Cause. Well that being said I wasn’t no boot shiner. I didn’t take kindly to it at all. He took his sword and rose to strike me. I blocked him but he cut my left arm and face. He left a scar…and a very angry boy.
After that day I vowed revenge against the British Empire. Not just that one officer, or his regiment, nor even his king. No I swore revenge against the entire British Empire. I might be a loose cannon but I like to aim high. And I don’t need to remind y’all that I shoot straight…and to kill.
In the meantime I got a lot of fighting experience in my time. I was an Indian fighter on the frontier as you might know but did my best fighting in politics. No, I’m not talking in a metaphor right now, I mean I actually did some great fighting. I got myself a law degree, made it into public office and one by one worked my way up the ladder into the new state of Tennessee.
Tennessee was my kind of place. You couldn’t get elected hog catcher in Tennessee unless you proved your manhood with a test of combat. Could be in war, could be the other kind. I had plenty of both under my belt so I rose kinda far. And well there were plenty of sniveling poltroons in my way I left dead behind me. I ain’t gonna apologize.
Well…it still took a lot of work to rise pretty far and we had lots of wars and raids along the frontier. Then the War of 1812 came along. Them British were taking our sailors and pressing them into their service, insulting our flag, and harassing us along the border. They were clearly behind all the frontier raids. I know. I could just smell it. Every time the hen starts to howl you know the red rooster is stealing the eggs. That’s a metaphor by the way.
I can’t say I was sorry to see the war come. I always liked a good fight. Especially against them British. I was sent to the West Florida region and you can say I picked a few scraps down there. I fought anywhere and everywhere I could and I didn’t mind who wanted to fight for me whether they be red men, white men or black men. Just as long as they weren’t red coats!
But I have no qualms in saying I was an ambitious man. Overall the war was going bad because of them snivelers and stockjobbers back in Washington and I needed to prove myself and single-handedly save the nation. Quite a task for a humble man like me.
Then came New Orleans.
The British were sending some crack troops toward the Gulf of Mexico. They were fresh from whooping up on Bonaparte and no doubt they thought they were going to chase us like a pack of hounds going for a wounded duck hanging on a rabbit’s legs. They were aiming for New Orleans and with that the whole of the Mississippi River. America would then be cut in twain. Well I wasn’t going to let that happen. So I took my men and went to New Orleans to defend the city. I needed extra recruits. I didn’t care where they came for and I didn’t ask any persnickety questions. Questions as you know are for poltroons.
Now obviously some folks didn’t like the kind of people I had in my army. They also didn’t like the idea of how I was going to defend their city to the last. You got to keep in mind that a lot of French people were still in charge of New Orleans. I’m not saying they are a bunch of cheese eating surrender monkeys, but they were fond of cheese, had big ears, and well were fixin’ to surrender. A least I suspected some of them of it.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not some kind ignorant backwoods ogre. I cut quite a dashing figure in polite society. The ladies did love to dance a turn with me, but I was always partial to my Rachel. Well nevertheless the poltroonish behavior of some of the leading “men” did tweek my nerves. I’m not a man who likes being tweeked. I declared martial law. Some of them protested. One said he was a mayor, or a lawyer, or a judge or something. You’ll have to look it up in the history books. I paid him no mind. Any gentleman who had trouble sleeping at night because of my battle plans…well I found them more suitable lodgings.
The British landed in mid December. I had employed our navy and a local sailor of…let’s just say ‘fortune” to disrupt their plans. I also sent my men to attack and provoke the British just below the city. It was a gamble to attack a superior force. For all I knew they had some 25,000 men. I could only round up a few thousand. We slowed their attack and began to dig in. They could no longer take the city quickly and now had to run through us to get their prize. Well I wasn’t in the mood for gift giving…
So I lined up my men along a canal. We dug the canal ditch deeper and placed cotton bales, earth, planks and any kind of barrier we could up for protection. Like my men, it was a rag tag looking bunch…but quite fierce. The terrain in front of the ditch was swampy and descended on down to the river. Only a foolish blockhead would attack our force head on. And I knew them redcoats to have lots of blockheads as officers.
Well around the 8th of January they attacked us. They sent some of their best soldiers our way I have to say. Shame some their good soldiers had such cud peddlers to lead them. They hit us again and again, but my men and our breastworks held. Them redcoats poured what they could into us, but they got stuck in the swamps and couldn’t push past us. So they turned and skedaddled it back to their ships and away from New Orleans. Sounds like it’d make for a great song.
New Orleans was saved. By me. Folks later told me that the peace treaty had already been signed. They claimed our battle didn’t really matter. Well you can believe that if you believe that the British Empire, or any empire or country in that situation would have ever given back New Orleans and with it the Mississippi River. Nope, we turned the polecats against the hounds and sent them dogs barking back across the Atlantic.
As for me? Well my enemies on THIS side of the ocean were downtrodden. Ole Andy here became the toast of the nation and it got me all the way to the White House. There I fought the Sally Britches-Bankers, the Tom Fool Eastern lawyers, the Poltoony Politicians, and every one of them backstabbing curs that ever said a bad word about me, my family, my men, my home of Tennessee, and my beloved Rachel. I beat them all down…
And I never did shine them boots.