150 Years Ago This Week: A Union general gets a spanking

March 1863

Only two months after becoming a Partisan Ranger, Confederate Capt. John S. Mosby and several of his Rangers sneaked through Federal lines into Fairfax Courthouse, Va., on the chilly, rainy night of Sunday, Mar. 8, intending to capture Sir Percy Wyndham, a British “by-the-book” Union cavalry officer observing the war for Queen Victoria.

Wyndham was so infuriated by Capt. Mosby’s unconventional hit-and-run tactics that he accused Mosby of being a horse thief. Capt. Mosby had replied that all of the horses he stole had been with Federal riders, armed with revolvers and sabres. That night, accompanied by 29 Rangers and using Rangers John Underwood and “Big Yankee” Ames as guides, the Rangers entered the town, posing as a unit of the 5th N.Y. Cavalry.

Brig. Gen. Edwin Stoughton
Brig. Gen. Edwin Stoughton

Learning that Wyndham was not there, having been summoned to Washington, Capt. Mosby heard that all of Union troops in Fairfax were commanded by Brig. Gen. Edwin Stoughton, of Vermont. Gen. Stoughton liked the “good life” as a bachelor, enjoying both women and drink. That night he hosted a champagne party at his headquarters, the home of Dr. William Gunnell. After the party, he retired to sleep in a high state of inebriation in his bed on the second floor.

Capt. Mosby and five Rangers – Joe Nelson, William Hunter, George Whitescarver, Walt Hatcher and Frank Williams – went to the Gunnell home and confirmed the general’s presence from a captured Union guard. Under the pretense of having dispatches for the general, Capt. Mosby and Rangers Nelson, Hunter and Williams went up to the general’s bedroom.

Finding Gen. Stoughton on his stomach snoring heavily, Capt. Mosby pulled back the covers and smacked the general hard twice on his bare backside with his gloved hand. “I hear you’re looking for Mosby!” Capt. Mosby is reported to have exclaimed. Gen. Stoughton rolled over and sat up quickly, saying, “Yes! Have you got him?” “No, but he has got you!” Capt. Mosby replied. Forced to dress, Gen. Stoughton was taken to Confederate lines along with two captains, 38 privates and 58 horses of high quality, as well as arms and equipment.

Word of the raid and Gen. Stoughton’s capture soon spread far and wide. In Washington, President Lincoln bemoaned the loss, saying that while he did not mind so much losing a general – he could create one with the stroke of a pen – replacing the horses was a different matter. The raid helped to enhance the reputation of Capt. Mosby and the Partisan Rangers throughout the South; in the North, news of the raid was not so well received.

On March 9, a second “Quaker,” or fake ironclad vessel made of logs with pork barrels for funnels, drifted down the Mississippi River past Vicksburg, Miss., drawing Confederate artillery fire from batteries overlooking the river. The next day, Jacksonville, Fla., was reoccupied by Union soldiers, mostly U.S. Colored Troops, without difficulty. President Lincoln issued an amnesty to soldiers absent without leave if they returned to their camps by April 1; otherwise, they would be arrested as deserters.

President Davis in Richmond sent dispatches to Lt. Gen. John Pemberton in Vicksburg, concerned over Federal attempts to take the city. In Baltimore on March 11, Federal authorities there prohibited the sale of photographs of Confederate military officers and statesmen. The same day, Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant’s men were again thwarted by Confederates from capturing Vicksburg. On Friday, March 13, the accidental ignition of an artillery friction primer being made at the Confederate Ordnance Laboratory in Richmond led to a huge explosion; the blast killed or injured 69 workers, including 62 women.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 194 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.