“I hope my visit to Boston will do good…” Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby and American Revolution

A version of this post appeared in the Emerging Civil War blog on August 17, 2018.

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John S. Mosby, photographed here as a Federal civil servant

Those who know me know of my “interest” in famous Confederate partisan, John S. Mosby. Ok, some would say “love affair,” but either way, I grew up reading about Mosby and his exploits during the Civil War. It was not until later in my life that I started to read about the most interesting part of Mosby’s life—not his time in the war, but his time AFTER the war.

 

Mosby had a deep interest and passion in American history and you can see that on a trip that Mosby took north in April 1906 to one of the sacred sites of America’s founding: Boston, Massachusetts. In a 1906 letter to his friend Sam Chapman (a former member of Mosby’s Rangers), Mosby describes his visit and the many ironies (as a southerner) he experienced.

Mosby was 72 at the time and two former prisoners of his during the Civil War greeted him and acted as his tour guides to Lexington and Concord. In the letter—which I’ve transcribed below—you will see Mosby’s reverence and respect for the places he visited. You can also see his love of Ralph Emerson and Daniel Webster evident in his writing.

Even though Mosby spent four years fighting men from New England, he never lost respect for them or the history the region held. His letter reads like a modern day tourist blog or Facebook timeline, updating all the historic sites he was visiting. One can hear the excitement and enjoyment he has for standing (and sitting) in important places in American history. The connections of the American Revolution and Civil War are apparent in many places, but this instance may be shocking to some who only know Mosby’s war time career.

The original letter is in the collection of the Fauquier Historical Society in Warrenton, VA. Any mistakes in the transcription are mine alone. Enjoy this unique connection of the Civil War to the American Revolution. I will let the letter stand for itself.

Dear Sam

As I write the date of this letter I am reminded that about this time 43 years ago you were surrounding the 1st West. Va. Cavalry regiment at Warrenton Junction.

I returned on Tuesday from Boston. I had a perfect ovation there. Two Union soldiers who we captured came to Providence to meet me. They took me all over Massachusetts to historic spots, Bunker Hill, Faneuil Hall, Lexington, Concord, Cambridge, Plymouth Rock and Marshfield, Daniel Webster’s home. You know how I have always been not only ad admirer but an idolater of Webster. At the Grant banquet, I sat between my two former prisoners. They came to the train to see me off. Each brought a token of friendship with them. The first day I was in Boston I felt sorry that I had ever captured these two men. They showed so much kindness to me. After that I felt sorry they did not capture me. At the train when parting I said that I never could forget their kindness. One, Captain Barton replied “We have not half paid the debt owed you for your kindness to us.” I sent you a paper with the short speech I made at the banquet. If you have had heard the applause when I concluded you wd. have thought there was an earthquake in Boston (there were just reports of one in San Francisco). I do not think I said a word about Grant or Lee that any Southern or Northern fair minded wd. not endorse.

Judge Bruce, who lives at Walden, 6 miles from Boston took me home with him to dinner and I spent the night there, the Governor and Secretary of State came out to dinner on an automobile. The next morning, Captain Barton, my former prisoner, drove me back to Boston. We stopped at Harvard to see Mrs. Webster, the daughter of Major Forbes who we captured. She and her husband were all kindness. I supposed I mentioned that I was going to Concord and Lexington as I recd. from her that evening a nice letter enclosing a note of introduction to her Aunt, Miss Emerson, the daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lives at their old home in Concord.

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North Bridge, Concord MA

 

Sunday we drove to Lexington and Concord along the same road on wch. Paul Revere took his midnight ride to warn the farmers that the British were coming. We spent several hours at Lexington, recd. a great deal of attention and dined with an old Union soldier.

Then we drove on, six miles, to Concord – stopped at the Emerson home on the outskirts of town and presented my letter of introduction. Miss Emerson had recd. a note from her niece telling her I was coming and she was expecting me. She recd. me cordially and took me to her father’s studio. Of course it was interesting to me. I am familiar with Emerson’s writings and I have read his life by Dr. Holmes. My memory seemed to recall all I had read connected with him. I told her that I had all my life been reading and repeating her father’s ode on the unveiling of the Concord monument and that I wanted to read it in the room where it was written. So she handed me the volume that had the poem. I opened it, a gentleman asked me to read it aloud wch. I did – it begins “By the rude bridge that arched the flood, Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled, tis here the embattled farmers stood, And fired the shot heard round the world.” I read it with deep feeling for I felt it. I had just finished reading it when Mrs. Webster and her husband came in. They though I wd. be there and had driven ten miles to see me. Then we drove on to Concord bridge where the fight began and the monument stands. To me Lexington and Concord are the two most interesting places I ever was at. They made a deep impression on me. When a child I read about them in Peter Parley, but never expected to see them and then I was overwhelmed with kindness.

On Saturday we went down to Marshfield, Daniel Webster’s home and also to Plymouth

Daniel Webster

Daniel Webster

 

Rock. Of course any place associated with Daniel Webster is interesting to me. The lady at the house showed me his powder horn and a pair of pants in the old style of flaps wch. he wore about the farm. I sat in the chair in wch. he meditated his great orations. We then went to the family burying ground. Only the Webster family is buried there. There is a turfed oval mound about 4 feet high and a marble slab of the same height over Webster. Its simplicity is beftting the great man who sleeps under it. As I stood by Webster’s tomb I involuntarily repeated Milton’s lines of Shakespeare’s “what needest my Shakespeare to be laid beneath a star pointing pyramid? And so sepulchered in such pomp doth lie, that kings for such a tomb might die…”

 

We also went to Plymouth, not far from Marshfield and I stood on the Rock where the Pilgrims landed from the Mayflower. I do not believe in their theology and long prayers – Their hell fire and damnation, yet they are noble bunch of heroes inspired by lofty motives and are worthy of praise of Mrs. Hemans’ hymn. I forgot to mention that one of the most interesting characters I met was an old fisherman who told me that he had often gone out in a boat with Daniel Webster fishing. I wished I was that fisherman. I hope my visit to Boston will do goo. You can let Major Yost and Hugh McIlhany read this letter

                                                Yours truly,

                                                Jno. S. Mosby

I forgot to mention that I had been only a few minutes in Faneuil Hall before the champagne bottles began to pop. I wonder what the Pilgrims wd. have thought of that?

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The Battle of Groton Heights, September 6, 1781: The Fort Griswold Massacre

Part Three
Click here for parts one and two.

With British soldiers pouring into the fort, Colonel Ledyard ordered a ceasefire, and prepared to surrender Fort Griswold to the victorious British. However, the British disregarded the ceasefire and continuing pouring fire into the American garrison, killing or wounding nearly all of the fort’s defenders. “I believe there was not less than five or six hundred men of the enemy on the parade in the fort,” claimed American soldier Rufus Avery. “They killed and wounded nearly every man in the fort as quick as they could.”

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Maj. Stephen Bromfield, the ranking British officer after Montgomery fell, called out, “Who commands this fort?” Ledyard stepped forward and responded, “I did, sir, but you do now.” Another American, Jonathan Rathbun, watched Bromfield run Ledyard through the heart and lungs with Ledyard’s own sword:

     “…the wretch who murdered him [Ledyard], exclaimed, as he came near, “Who
    commands this fort?” Ledyard handsomely replied, “I did, but you do now,” at the same
moment handing him his sword, which the unfeeling villain buried in his breast! Oh, the
hellish spite and madness of a man that will murder a reasonable and noble-hearted
    officer, in the act of submitting and surrendering!”

Continue reading

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Preserve Washington’s Legacy

If you follow Campaign 1776, the initiative by our friends at Civil War Trust, you are familiar with the saga over the Princeton Battlefield. Now you have a chance to help as well.

Battle of Princeton - Death of Mercer by Trumbull (Yale)

Battle of Princeton, Death of Mercer by Trumbull (courtesy of Yale University)

Continue reading

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America’s Dunkirk

In 1940, during World War II, the British and French armies were completely surrounded by the Nazis at Dunkirk.  The Allies made a successful evacuation, lived on to fight another day, and gained a newfound resolve to resist the Nazi war machine.  The uncertainty and suspense of the evacuation at Dunkirk has recently been brought to life on the big screen with Christopher Nolan’s movie, “Dunkirk.”  As people pack the theaters this summer to see the film, it’s good to remember that America had its own desperate, nation-saving evacuation during the Revolutionary War.

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In one of the most daring maneuvers of the Revolutionary War, Washington led his men on a daring night time retreat across the East River. (Library of Congress)

In the summer of 1776, Great Britain dispatched the largest expeditionary force it had had ever sent anywhere in the world up to that point in history.  The British soldiers and sailors made their way into New York harbor to subdue the American rebels. Continue reading

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Review: Unshackling America How the War of 1812 Truly Ended the American Revolution by Willard Sterne Randall

ERW Book Reviews (1)The post-colonial era conflict between the United States and Great Britain, known in America as the War of 1812, has often been described as America’s second war for independence.  In UNSHACKLING AMERICA: HOW THE WAR OF 1812 TRULY ENDED THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, published by St. Martin’s Press 2017, author Willard Sterne Randall promotes the idea that this war, largely unremembered today in Great Britain, was actually a continuation of the earlier American Revolution. Cover Unshackling America

The book begins by chronicling the relationship between America and Britain from the years of the French and Indian War or Seven Years War to the end of the American Revolution and beyond. While the Treaty of Paris in 1783 basically ended the overt military conflict between the former colonies and the mother country, Randall maintains that, in the years that followed, Britain continued to deny economic independence to the United States through regulations on trade, thereby denying full independence to the young nation. Continue reading

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Reporting Success on a Monday!

With the start of the work week, some folks loath logging onto the computer to check work email, news, and updates. If you are one of those folks, keep reading, as the news we are about to share is positive and exciting.

campaign-1776-logo-220This past Thursday, July 27, 2017, Campaign 1776, the initiative of the Civil War Trust, announced the preservation of 184 acres at two sites in New York state. One tract of land was pivotal to the United States success in the Saratoga Campaign in 1777 and where a U.S. fleet was saved during the War of 1812.

The Battle of Fort Ann, fought on July 8, 1777 was a four-hour affair and was influential in the course of the larger Saratoga Campaign as it affected the British’s attempt to secure the strategically important Hudson River Valley. The delay around Fort Ann and every delay on the route of General John Burgoyne’s push south aided the Patriot cause tremendously.

Fast-forward to the War of 1812 and Sackets Harbor, New York provided as safe-haven for the United States fleet operating on the Great Lakes. Horse Island and the harbor that gained prominence during the May 29, 1813 offensive by the British, is where 24 acres were saved by Campaign 1776. The battlefield, which was one of 19 sites that benefited from $7.2 million in grants announced earlier in July and the first War of 1812 site anywhere in the country to be awarded money since the National Park Service expanded the grant opportunities in 2014.

Not just one success, but two for this Monday morning! For the full report, courtesy of our friends at Civil War Trust, click here.

 

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Part Two: The Battle of Groton Heights, September 6, 1781: The Fort Griswold Massacre

For Part One, click here.

Lt. Col. Edmund Eyre’s battalion of 800 Regulars and Loyalists landed on the east bank of the Thames River, facing tangled woodlands and swamps. The New Jersey Loyalists, in fact, had so much difficulty moving the artillery that they did not participate in the assault on Fort Griswold.

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Model of Fort Griswold (author collection)

Eyre sent a Captain Beckwith to the fort under a flag of truce to demand its surrender. Ledyard called a council of war and consulted with his officers. The Americans believed that a large force of militiamen would answer the call, and that this augmented force could defend the fort. Ledyard responded by sending an American flag to meet the British flag bearer. The American told Beckwith, “Colonel Ledyard will maintain the fort to its last extremity.” Displeased by the response, Eyre sent a second flag, threatening no quarter if the militia did not surrender. Ledyard gave the same response even though some of the Americans suggested that they should leave the fort and fight outside instead.  Continue reading

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