Triumphs and setbacks

From mid-1863 through early 1865, Mosby's Rangers continued to steal Union supplies, destroy Union communication lines, and ambush Union patrols with great effectiveness. Mosby recognized that he was a hunted man, and he barely escaped death in a couple of battles with Union pursuers. But he never gave any thought to quitting his guerrilla activities. "The true secret was that it was a fascinating life, and its attractions far more than counterbalanced its hardships and dangers," he later admitted.

Mosby's leadership enabled his band of guerrillas to avoid disaster on numerous occasions. But in early 1864, his fortunes took a turn for the worse. On January 10, eight of Mosby's Rangers—including his two best lieutenants—were killed by Union cavalry forces outside of Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Then, in May 1864, Mosby learned that his close friend

Jeb Stuart had been killed in battle outside of the Confederate capital of Richmond.

In August 1864, Mosby faced his greatest challenge yet when Union cavalry under the command of General Philip Sheridan (1831-1888; see entry) entered northern Virginia. Sheridan's mission had two primary elements. First, he had been ordered to destroy fields and farms in the area so that they could not be used by Confederates. Second, he had been instructed to clear northern Virginia's Shenandoah Valley of the troublesome Confederate cavalry and guerrilla units that had used it as their home for the previous few years.

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