|"Mosby's Prize," Bradley Schmehl|
From time to time my wife and I collect pieces of railroad-related art. Over the years we’ve been privileged to obtain some original works and some high-quality prints depicting various railroad-related subjects. On Saturday evening we attended a small art show at nearby Fairfax Station where Christine surprised me with a wonderful original plein air work titled “Winter Tracks” by Nick Aman. (Those familiar with railroads in this area might be able to tell this is a scene from Clifton.)
|Winter Tracks, Nick Aman|
Yesterday we attended a Memorial Day parade and wreath-laying ceremony in Warrenton. After the ceremony we wandered into Black Horse Gallery, which specializes in military-related artwork. We both liked Bradley Schmehl’s oil painting titled “Mosby’s Prize” enough to spring for a Giclee print.
It’s hard to live in northern Virginia and not learn about John S Mosby, the famed Confederate "Gray Ghost” and his 43rd Virginia Battalion who spent the last two years of the Civil War raiding Union supply lines. As you might expect, to the North he was a nothing short of a pirate, (although even the damnation of his actions in this 1863 edition of Harper’s Weekly read like grudging admiration). To most Southern civilians, and in Southern newspaper editorials, he was something of a Robin Hood. Many Confederate officers felt his men would better serve their cause in front line units and not behind the lines raiding and pillaging.
Regardless of what side he fought for Mosby remains one of the most unique personas from a period in American history chock-full of interesting characters. Civil War historians are familiar with his exploits during the war, including the action at Catlett’s Station depicted in this painting. Mosby was wounded at least three times, one of them so serious that a Union surgeon examined him and pronounced the wound mortal. Later in life, he vehemently defended the controversial actions of Jeb Stuart at Gettysburg. He was also somewhat unique among the Confederate officer corps in his opposition to slavery (he, and most of his troopers, weren't slave owners).
As interesting as his wartime exploits were, Mosbys’ history after the war makes fascinating reading. After the war Mosby was a wanted man, with a $5,000 bounty on his head. He eluded capture in the area of Lynchburg, Virginia, until the end of June 1865, when Ulysses S. Grant intervened and paroled him. After the war, Mosby became an active Republican, saying it was the best way to help the South.
In his autobiography Grant stated, "Since the close of the war, I have come to know Colonel Mosby personally and somewhat intimately. He is a different man entirely from what I supposed. He is able and thoroughly honest and truthful."
Mosby's friendship with Grant, and his work with those whom many Southerners considered the enemy, made Mosby a highly controversial figure in Virginia. Grant appointed him as U.S. consul to Hong Kong (1878–1885). Mosby then served as a lawyer in San Francisco, California with the Southern Pacific Railroad. Later he worked for the Department of the Interior, first enforcing federal fencing laws in Omaha. Mosby was friends with the family of George S. Patton. He visited the Patton Ranch and recreated Civil War battles with George, with Mosby playing himself and George playing General Lee.
Mosby died in 1916 at the age of 83. He is buried in the very ceremony where we attended the wreath-laying in Warrenton.Here's the artists description of the scene depicted in the painting:
“In the summer of 1863, after the Confederate victory at the battle of Chancellorsville, the Civil War in the East neared another crescendo as General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, camped on the Rappahannock River, prepared to invade the North. The southern partisan guerrillas stepped up their activities, with raider John Singleton Mosby in the forefront.
Late in May 1863, Mosby and his men made their way to Catlett's Station, Virginia, on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad; working from the cover of a stand of trees, they displaced a rail and waited. It was not long before a train bearing supplies for General Joseph Hooker's army, camped north of the Rappahannock, came rumbling by; suddenly the train lurched and, in a cacophony of screaming metal, ground to a halt. Down the tracks, Mosby's gunners wheeled out a little mountain howitzer ‐ which the Confederates had captured at the battle of Ball's Bluff ‐ and began firing, causing a huge hiss of steam as one of its cannon balls crashed through the locomotive's boiler. Then Mosby's partisans came swarming out of a copse of trees, gathered up as much of the train's cargo as they could carry and galloped away.
In hot pursuit came blue‐coated soldiers from three Union cavalry regiments.* The chase halted when the 40 or so guerrillas faced the howitzer about and let go with a charge of grapeshot. After a brief, whirling, hand‐to‐hand fight, Mosby signaled with a blast from a whistle he carried for the purpose, and in the best partisan style, his men scattered in all directions ‐ to reassemble and share their prizes later. They were forced to leave behind their howitzer, but they had looted a train that contained, among other supplies, a quantity of shad, a delicacy the Virginians found very much to their taste.”
* In an effort to keep this somewhat within the topic of this blog, one of the three Union regiments was the 1st Vermont Cavalry!