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Gray Ghosts and Rebel Raiders (1956)

de Virgil Carrington Jones

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Recreating the incredible adventures of the small bands of irregulars who ranged through northern and western Virginia, snatching couriers to discover Union plans and disrupting supply routes, a historical narrative reveals the impact these daredevils had on the Civil War.
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Written in 1957, this is mostly Confederate apologetics. In the introduction, author Virgil Carrington Jones claims he intends to show that partisan warfare in northern Virginia delayed the end of the American Civil War by about 6 months. He doesn’t offer much to support this claim in the way of hard facts; instead, there are numerous anecdotes of trains derailed, wagon trains looted, couriers ambushed, generals kidnapped, and so on. Given the author’s background and the times, it’s not surprising that the Confederate partisans are always brave, chivalrous and daring while the Federals are always damnyankees and usually cowardly, cruel and stupid. If you check the endnotes, you’ll find that a lot of the more dramatic anecdotes are of the “as related by (somebody’s) grandmother” variety, especially ones that have the Confederate heroes offering particularly quotable comments. The few blacks mentioned speak in dialect and flee at the slightest hint of raiders (which was probably not a bad idea if you were black, working for the Army of the Potomac, and in northern Virginia). The book limits its scope to northern Virginia, there’s no mention, even in passing, of partisan activity in Tennessee/Kentucky and Missouri/Kansas, where things became increasingly brutal as you moved west. There were some hangings and shootings in the Virginia theater, but no Fort Pillows or Lawrences.


To make Jones’ claim tenable, I’d have to see some sort of economic cost-benefit analysis. It’s clear from the anecdotes that the partisans did cause a lot of disruption; huge detachments of Federal troops were necessary to protect supply lines and railroads – often without a great deal of success. The partisan problem was eventually “solved” by Sheridan, by the expedient of devastating the Shenandoah Valley to the extent that partisan units could no longer draw supplies and information from the populace.


It’s been pointed out in a number of military analysis that “special forces” tend to absorb more material and personnel than they justify. The partisans were at least partially self-sufficient, seizing supplies from the Union army and sending at least some on to the Army of Northern Virginia; it’s the personnel question I have some doubts about. Some military authors hold that the motivation that attracts soldiers into special units means that they end up in lower ranks than they are capable of – sort of a reverse Peter Principle – enlisted personnel stay at that rank, even though they could be NCOs in a conventional unit; NCOs could be lieutenants, and so on. Could the troopers and officers that made up Ashby’s, Mosby’s and other bands have been of better service if incorporated into the regular Confederate cavalry? Hard to say for sure, but I’d guess yes for some of them. Lee and Stuart generally did not hold the partisan units in much esteem.


While reading this, I had a vague recollection of seeing a TV series about Mosby. Sure enough, a little googling disclosed The Gray Ghost, a one-season (1957-1958) television series. I was slightly surprised to find the writing credited to Virgil Carrington Jones, but I probably shouldn’t have been.


I can’t recommend this very highly; a few interesting anecdotes but no real connection to the overall war. And, of course, it needs better maps. ( )
1 vota setnahkt | Dec 9, 2017 |
Written from a Southern perspective, this book canonizes the Confederate Raider John Mosby. Living in Northern Virginia, where there are still signs proclaiming it Mosby Country, it is good to know these things. And some of his exploits are truly amazing, but a pall is cast over it by executions in reprisal for Union summary executions of Southern irregulars. War was hell, and the Civil War remains a blight on American history. ( )
  datrappert | Oct 17, 2016 |
Great book that discusses the lesser-known independent commands during the Civil War.
  jessicajames | Feb 19, 2016 |
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Recreating the incredible adventures of the small bands of irregulars who ranged through northern and western Virginia, snatching couriers to discover Union plans and disrupting supply routes, a historical narrative reveals the impact these daredevils had on the Civil War.

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