Take Sides with the Truth: The Postwar Letters of John Singleton Mosby to Samuel F. Chapman

Take Sides with the Truth: The Postwar Letters of John Singleton Mosby to Samuel F. Chapman

Take Sides with the Truth: The Postwar Letters of John Singleton Mosby to Samuel F. Chapman

Take Sides with the Truth: The Postwar Letters of John Singleton Mosby to Samuel F. Chapman


During the Civil War, John Singleton Mosby led the Forty-third Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, better known as Mosby's Rangers, in bold and daring operations behind Union lines. Throughout the course of the war, more than 2000 men were members of Mosby's command, some for only a short time. Mosby had few confidants (he was described by one acquaintance as "a disturbing companion") but became close friends with one of his finest officers, Samuel Forrer Chapman. Chapman served with Mosby for more than two years, and their friendship continued in the decades after the war. Take Sides with the Truth is a collection of more than eighty letters, published for the first time in their entirety, written by Mosby to Chapman from 1880, when Mosby was made U.S. consul to Hong Kong, until his death in a Washington, D.C., hospital in 1916. These letters reveal much about Mosby's character and present his innermost thoughts on many subjects. At times, Mosby's letters show a man with a sensitive nature; however, he could also be sarcastic and freely derided individuals he did not like. His letters are critical of General Robert E. Lee's staff officers ("there was a lying concert between them") and trace his decades-long crusade to clear the name of his friend and mentor J. E. B. Stuart in the Gettysburg campaign. Mosby also continuously asserts his belief that slavery was the cause of the Civil War -- a view completely contrary to a major portion of the Lost Cause ideology. For him, it was more important to "take sides with the Truth" than to hold popular opinions. Peter A. Brown has brought together a valuable collection of correspondence that adds a new dimension to our understanding of a significant Civil War figure.


John Singleton Mosby was, in the words of an acquaintance, “a disturbing companion.” Mosby could be ill-tempered, cantankerous, obstinate, and brusque. He did not welcome disagreement with his views and glared with an icy look at men with whom he was displeased or who had failed him. There was a sharp edge and hard realism to him.

It was such a man who organized and commanded the Forty-third Battalion of Virginia Cavalry or Mosby’s Rangers. With a keen intellect, an absolute fearlessness, and an unbending will, Mosby molded and disciplined hundreds of young bloods into the most effective partisan ranger command of the Civil War. For twenty-six months, from the winter of 1863 to the spring of 1865, Mosby’s Rangers conducted guerrilla operations in northern Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley, and into Maryland. With the end of the Confederacy at hand, Mosby disbanded his command rather than surrender it to Union authorities.

In all, roughly 2,100 men served as Mosby’s Rangers during the existence of the command. Hundreds spent a few weeks in the battalion; hundreds more, several months; and scores, from the earliest days to the end. Men such as Willie Foster, William Thomas Turner, Fount Beattie, Richard Montjoy, Dolly and Tom Richards, John Russell, and William and Samuel Chapman rose through the ranks and assumed leadership roles and company command in the battalion. Each man had been handpicked by Mosby.

When the Forty-third Battalion disbanded at Salem (now Marshall), Virginia, on April 21, 1865, the Rangers obtained paroles and returned to civilian life. It would be another thirty years before the surviving Rangers held a reunion, the only gathering Mosby attended. Their former commander, however, kept in touch with many of them . . .

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