Battling Sheridan

Over the next few months, Mosby's Rangers and regular Confederate cavalry under the command of Lieutenant General Jubal Early (1816-1894) repeatedly struck against Sheridan's invading army. Mosby's raids on the Union Army's supply lines were so effective that Sheridan admitted that "Mosby has annoyed me considerably." But Sheridan diverted large numbers of troops to protect his supply lines. He then continued with his brutally effective demolition of the Shenandoah Valley.

In September, Mosby suffered a gunshot wound that forced him to the sidelines for a few weeks. During his absence, Sheridan's cavalry captured seven of Mosby's men and executed them. They killed their captives because they believed that a Union cavalryman had earlier been murdered while trying to surrender. Before leaving, the Union troops pinned a note on one of the bodies that indicated that death would "be the fate of all Mosby's guerrillas caught hereafter."

Mosby decided that he had to take firm action to put a halt to such executions. In October, Mosby's Rangers derailed a train outside Harpers Ferry and stole more than $170,000. Union cavalry under the command of Major General George A. Custer (1839-1876) gave chase, but over the next two weeks Mosby captured thirty of his pursuers. On November 6, the guerrilla leader ordered all of the prisoners to pull a piece of paper out of a hat. The seven men who selected papers with marks on them were to be killed in revenge for the executions of his men a few weeks before. When Mosby saw that one of the unlucky drawers was a teenage drummer boy, he spared his life. But he forced the other prisoners to draw again to see who would take his place. Of the seven condemned Union prisoners, four actually lived (two survived their gunshot wounds, and two escaped). But Mosby felt that he had made his point. If any more of his rangers were executed, he would execute the same number of Union prisoners.

By late October 1864, Sheridan had swept Jubal Early's cavalry out of the Shenandoah Valley and burned many of the farms and crops in northern Virginia. He never fully crushed Mosby and his raiders, but ultimately the guerrillas could do little to stop Sheridan, as he pushed his way through the region. In December 1864, Mosby was wounded once again. Rumors of his impending death swirled around the Confederacy until February 1865, when he made an appearance in Richmond.

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