March 8, 1863 – Captain John S. Mosby and his Confederate partisans conducted a daring raid that included capturing a general who had been tasked to capture them.
Mosby had recently formed the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry, an independent Confederate unit in accordance with the Partisan Ranger Act. The battalion was technically part of the Army of Northern Virginia, but the troopers had the freedom to operate outside the army’s immediate vicinity and live among civilians.
Mosby planned to lead his men on a raid of Fairfax Court House, south of Washington. A Federal brigade was stationed about five miles south of town while the brigade’s two ranking officers, Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton and Colonel Percy Wyndham, were headquartered in the town itself.
Ironically, Stoughton’s main objective was to capture Confederate partisans such as Mosby. Wyndham had caused Mosby much grief by pursuing him the past few months. A deserter from the 5th New York Cavalry informed Mosby that just a small detachment of troops protected these officers. Mosby selected 29 men to join him without telling them what their mission was. They set out on the night of the 8th.
The Confederates bypassed the Federal pickets and entered Fairfax around 2 a.m. Mosby soon learned that Wyndham had gone to Washington on business, but Stoughton was staying in a nearby brick house. Mosby went and knocked on the door, which was answered by a half-asleep staff officer who was instantly silenced and captured.
The officer quietly led Mosby to Stoughton’s bedroom upstairs, which was littered with empty champagne bottles. The general was sound asleep wearing only his nightshirt. Mosby woke Stoughton by lifting the nightshirt and slapping his bare behind. When Stoughton demanded an explanation, Mosby said, “General, did you ever hear of Mosby?” Stoughton asked, “Yes, have you caught him?” Mosby replied, “No, I am Mosby–he has caught you!”
Mosby persuaded Stoughton not to resist by lying, “(General Jeb) Stuart’s cavalry has possession of the Court House; be quick and dress.” Mosby’s men captured more men than their total force, including Stoughton and two captains. They also netted 58 horses and a large amount of arms and supplies.
Southerners celebrated Mosby’s daring raid, which embarrassed the Federal high command and angered the northern public. When President Abraham Lincoln learned of the affair, he tried making light of it by saying that he could make another general in five minutes, “but those horses cost $125 apiece.”
Stoughton was sent to Libby Prison in Richmond as a prisoner of war; he resigned from the army upon his release. Wyndham refused to return to his command for three weeks.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 265; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 514; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 244; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 269; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 514; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 327; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 724