THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
The Civil War...or "War of Rebellion"...found a total of 428 units officially and unofficially designated as Rangers during the conflict with the majority being Ranger-style units in name only. With few exceptions, nearly all of these organizations were Confederate. Given the nature of the war in the South and the type of operations it was forced to conduct, it can be readily seen why they were forced to attempt such an unconventional and partisan style of warfare. Unfortunately for them, most of the Ranger units proved to be ineffective and their contributions to the war effort relatively obscure.
The only long-term major exception to this fact was Mosby's Rangers of the Confederate army. Officially designated the 43rd Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, Mosby's partisan Rangers were lead by John Singleton Mosby, who believed that by resorting to aggressive action, he could compel his enemies to guard a hundred points and thus expend valuable troops and resources needed elsewhere. These Rangers were particularly active in Virginia and Maryland for a twenty-eight month period from 1863 to 1865 and maintained an excellent reputation within the Confederate army. This type of reputation was the exception rather than the norm when it came to Confederate Ranger units, for their own officers usually described them as being no better than robbers and plunderers.
Within the South, a real debate about the legitimacy and effectiveness of partisan- or guerrilla-style forces had arisen. Early attempts to establish such units met with official disapproval from many including Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee. It was believed that guerrilla warfare not only drained the strength of Regular forces, but the units organized would prove to be undisciplined mobs that roamed the countryside terrorizing and victimizing civilians and inviting reprisals from Federal forces. Brigadier General Henry Heth characterized such organizations as composed of nothing more than "notorious thiefs [sic] and murderers, more ready to plunder friends than foes."
Military necessity and the overwhelming onslaught of Union armies, resulted in such units being assembled throughout the South as a form of self-defense. To many Southerners looking for inspiration and someone to emulate, they did not have to look very far to cite as a renowned historical example Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox of South Carolina.
As the war progressed and the number of partisan commands grew with it, the Confederate government, in the end, sanctioned the formation of such commands as an attempt to provide them legitimacy. In April 1862, the regulation was codified by the Confederate Congress and signed into law on the 21st by Davis, to authorize the creation of partisan Ranger commands. This law authorized Davis to "commission such officers as he may deem proper with authority to form bands of partisan rangers, in companies, battalions, or regiments, either as infantry or cavalry." As a further inducement to enroll, and to assuage, somewhat, the hardships of joining such a unit, the Confederate Congress, in essence, authorized such units to plunder and to pilfer and to receive payment for the "full value" of any arms and munitions seized as a result of their operations.
Six regiments, nine battalions, and a number of independent companies of partisan Rangers had been formed in eight states by September 1862. Unfortunately, much of what had been argued against their formation began to take place as numerous protests about the partisan units inundated the Confederate government. Reluctant to disband the units, the War Department, in June 1863, ordered commanders to combine partisan Ranger units into battalions or regiments. In addition, they were to be placed "under the same regulations as other soldiers in reference to their discipline, position, and movements."
Despite the success of some of the partisan units, such as Mosby's Rangers, complaints from military authorities and civilians still continued to flood the Confederate Congress in regard to the "irregulars" thievery and undisciplined ways. Lacking the support of most of his senior commanders, to include Lee and cavalry commander Brigadier General Jeb Stuart, in regard to this issue, the Secretary of War ultimately conceded that the experiment had been a failure and drafted a bill to repeal the authority for the formation of the partisan units and to consolidate them into the organizations of regular battalions and regiments.
On 17 February 1864, the bill was enacted into law. Only two partisan commands were exempted from the reorganization and allowed to retain their identity as an independent command. These two exceptions were the commands of John McNeill and John Singleton Mosby. On 1 April, Lee informed the adjutant and inspector general of the Confederacy, Samuel Cooper:
I am making an effort to have Col Mosby's battalion mustered into the regular service. If this cannot be done, I recommend that this battalion be retained as partisans for the present. Lt Col Mosby had done excellent service, & from the reports of citizens & others I am inclined to believe that he is strict in discipline & adds protection to the county in which he operates.
Mosby first voiced the concept of a Ranger-style cavalry unit in December 1862. Following a raid against Burnside's Army of the Potomac, Brigadier General Jeb Stuart and his cavalry withdrew to Loudoun County in northern Virginia for a few days of rest and rehabilitation...R&R. As they rested, Mosby...an enlisted member of his command...approached Stuart to discuss with him an idea that he'd been considering for quite some time.
During the winter months, armies usually limited their maneuvers and bivouacked in winter quarters. Mosby, on the other hand, wanted to continue operations and conduct guerrilla forays in Loudoun County during those months of "hibernation," until the cavalry returned in the spring from the vicinity of Fredericksburg. With nothing but "unlimited confidence" in his junior enlisted subordinate, Stuart approved his request.
Later that day, Stuart and his command departed, leaving Mosby behind with a nine-man detachment. Years later, Mosby was to state that Stuart "made me all that I was in the war, but for his friendship I would never have been heard of." He was "the best friend I ever had."
Mosby's original intent had never been to organize as an independent partisan command but, unknown to him, Stuart's withdrawal to Fredericksburg would be the start of twenty-eight months of attacks, ambushes, and raids against the Northern forces within the region. The area in which Mosby would operate was a 100-mile stretch of territory that ran between the Federal capital of Washington, D.C., and the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. The region in which Mosby and his Rangers would ultimately operate would encompass the counties south and west of Washington, south of the Potomac River, and those in the northern portion of the Shenandoah Valley at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Much of this area was hills and wooded mountains interspersed with fertile farmlands, which would prove to be very conducive to guerrilla warfare.
Based in southern Loudoun County and in the northern and western portion of Fauquier County, Mosby and his men would eventually strike eastward into Culpeper, Fairfax, or Prince William Counties. Operations would also take him westward into Warren, Clarke, Jefferson, and Frederick Counties. Much of this region would become known as "Mosby's Confederacy," for many of his men would be quartered with their parents while others would reside with family or friends. By Mosby's definition, his Confederacy encompassed the roughly 125 square miles that was bordered by a line that ran south along the Blue Ridge Mountains from Snickersville to Linden at the Manassas Gap, east through Upper Fauquier to The Plains, north along the Bull Run Mountains to Aldie, and west back to Snickersville. Mosby's philosophy was simple. "If you are going to fight, then be the attacker." He was never one who could stand still to receive a charge. Most of his men also adhered to this philosophy of warfare. On one occasion, Mosby had ordered one of his newly promoted lieutenants, Harry Hatcher, to make a demonstration with some men against a force of Federal soldiers. Hatcher proceeded to ride forth with his men in an attack that dislodged the Union force from behind a fence. When questioned by Mosby as to why he had disobeyed his orders, Hatcher reminded Mosby that "[y]ou told me to make a demonstration to get them from behind the fence, and if that didn't mean charge 'em, I don't know what it did mean." For most his Rangers, the commander's intent was clear. Even Mosby, apparently, needed to be reminded of that once in a while.
Union operations between the two capitals, or down the Shenandoah Valley, exposed their communications and supply lines to the type of guerrilla operations Mosby had planned. He believed that the Federals' rear would be the most vulnerable section of their lines. Mosby was certain that "[a] small force moving with celerity and threatening many points on a line can neutralize a hundred times its own number." As for the benefit of such insurgent groups, Mosby would later write, "The military value of a partisan's work is not measured by the amount of property destroyed, or the number of men killed or captured, but by the number he keeps watching."
All Ranger history content © JD Lock. Used with permission.