|Date(s):||March 8, 1863 to March 9, 1863|
|Tag(s):||Confederate, Cavalry, Raid, Union, John Mosby, Fairfax, Courthouse|
|Course:||“The Civil War and Reconstruction,” Juniata College|
|Rating:||5 (1 votes)|
On March 8, 1863, Colonel John S. Mosby and twenty-nine of his confederate cavalry troops snuck past thousands of Union soldiers and conducted a secret and successful raid upon a Union encampment near the Fairfax Courthouse and captured Union Brigadier General Edwin H. Soughton along with many other soldiers and resources. In order to conduct the raid under secrecy, Mosby and his men first needed to bypass thousands of Union defenders stationed around the Fairfax Courthouse, a maneuver that swung them deep behind enemy lines. Unsure of how to navigate through the defects of the Union line of defense, Mosby acquired important information regarding possible routes of entry from a Union deserter named Ames. The Union defector had recently joined Mosby and his men after abandoning the 5th New York Cavalry. “Ames knew where there was a break in the picket lines between Chantilly and Centreville,” stated Mosby, “and he led us through this without a vidette seeing us.” With his cavalry-men successfully behind enemy lines, Mosby set his sights upon the town surrounding the Fairfax Courthouse.
Upon entering the town, Mosby tasked his men with searching for Sir Percy Wyndham, a Union Cavalry Commander who was their desired target, along with seizing Union horses. To the Confederate Mosby’s disappointment, Wyndham had not been in the town the night of the raid because he had recently left for Washington. Instead of the Union commander himself, Mosby acquired “two staff officers, his horses, and his uniform.” Among the Union soldiers captured by Mosby’s men was an individual who served as a guard for a Union Brigadier General named Edwin H. Stoughton and knew of his place of residence. Following the information provided by that Union soldier, Mosby and several of his men traveled to the Gunnel House where Stoughton was staying. Knocking on the door of the home, Mosby was asked by Union soldiers to identify himself, of which he stated; “Fifth New York Cavalry with dispatches for General Stoughton.”
Under the ruse de guerre of Union soldiers, Mosby and his men entered the Gunnel House and found Stoughton asleep in his room. Unaware of his evident capture, Stoughton continued to sleep until he was awoken and further questioned by Mosby. Mosby specifically recalled asking Stoughton “if he had ever heard of Mosby,” further identifying himself and capturing the Union Brigadier General. Escaping into the darkness, out of the Union lines, and into Confederate territory, Colonel Mosby and his men returned from their successful raid. According to historian Jeffry Wert, Mosby’s raid spread quickly throughout the Union, leading to the assumption that President Lincoln would be the Confederate cavalrymen’s next target. In order to ensure the safety of President Lincoln, deliberate sabotage of the Chain Bridge connecting the Confederate held Virginia with the Union held Maryland was conducted by Union soldiers in hopes of inhibiting Mosby and his subsequent raids further into Union territory. Mosby’s dramatic raid undoubtedly contributed to his reputation as he was subsequently awarded the position of captain, furthering his involvement in the notorious Confederate cavalry.