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Raid on Fairfax Court House

"Hurrah for Mosby! I wish I had a hundred like him!" said Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Lee was exuberant about Capt. John S. Mosby and his disciplined band of partisan rangers, who had recently completed a spectacular and daring raid behind the federal lines in northern Virginia. The rangers, first formed in January 1863, had bedeviled the Union commanders of the forces defending Washington for two months with night raids and surprise attacks against federal outposts and communications.

At 2:00 A.M. on March 9, 1863, Mosby and 29 men suddenly appeared in the town of Fairfax Court House, Va., 10 miles behind the Union lines. There were thousands of Union troops in the surrounding camps and many in the town. The night being dark and rainy, Mosby and his men had been able to slip past the numerous outposts and pickets as they approached, cutting the telegraph wires to prevent knowledge of their activities from escaping the town. As his men quietly captured the guards, Mosby knocked on the door of Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton's headquarters. The lieutenant answering the door had no choice but to conduct Mosby to the general's bedroom, where Stoughton lay asleep in bed. Mosby awakened Stoughton with a slap on his behind and informed him that he was now a prisoner. When Stoughton was dressed, Mosby escorted him out to the street, where the rangers had gathered 32 other surprised prisoners and 58 horses.

One and one-half hours after arriving at Fairfax Court House, the rangers, never having fired a shot, rode out of town with their prisoners and horses. Using a round about route to confuse any pursuers, Mosby and his men made it safely back to Confederate territory. Reporting to Gen. Jeb Stuart, Mosby wrote: "The fruits of this expedition are 1 brigadier general, 2 captains, and 30 men prisoners. We also brought off 58 horses, most of them very fine. . . I had 29 men with me; sustained no loss. They all behaved admirably."

Fascinating Fact: President Abraham Lincoln, hearing of the raid, expressed more concern for the loss of the horses than of his general. He said, "I can make brigadier generals, but I can't make horses."

Union cavalry at Fairfax Court House; courtesy National Archives
Written by Stephen T. Foster
Printed in USA
MCMXCIII Atlas Edition, USA
D3 602 03-10