Mosby and Oath-taking

Honor in antebellum Southern society was constantly on public display. One's expressed allegiance to a group or institution, therefore, denoted a highly important act. Whereas many traditional societies surrounded a public official's swearing-in ceremony with a number of rituals, Southern society maintained a simpler, yet equally important, public affirmation of one's duties and allegiances. In many cases, an oral promise to fulfill a task often held equal weight to a written contract (Wyatt-Brown, p.55).

At the close of the Civil War, therefore, the process of re-integrating Southern supporters into the Union involved signing an oath of allegiance to the United States of America. The first step for soldiers was surrender. Mosby, however, could not bring himself to publicly give in to the Yankee troops who had failed to immobilize the Confederate partisans. Instead he merely assembled his men at Salem. Va. in late August 1865 -- more than two months after Lee's surrender -- and delivered a short farewell address, in which he said: "I disband your organization in preference to surrendering it to our enemies" (Memoirs, p.361). As a result, Mosby became a fugitive, and was eventually arrested in January 1866. Beverly Mosby, his wife, appealed to Grant and received from him a special amnesty letter (see full text) that gave Mosby all the rights of other paroled Confederate officers.

Mosby, however, remained unrepentant. In April 1866 in Leesburg, Va., he defied Union orders that no Confederate insignia be worn on the streets. Virgil Jones provides a description of what followed: "Union soldiers standing on the main street of the town were astounded by the sight of an individual in resplendent Rebel uniform, buttons and all. This fellow gave them no attention, and passed on until an officer blocked his path and told him to remove his uniform or the buttons. It was an abrupt order, seriously uttered, but the reply it got almost swept the Federal off his feet. The wearer of the prohibited announced in phrases richly punctuated with profanity that there were not enough damn Yankees in Leesburg to strip his uniform of its identification. In that status the matter remained until a squad of soldiers was called out under arms. Ensuing developments were variously distorted by mouth and press. Some reports said Mosby mounted his horse to leave town and was fired at by the pursuing Federals; others that Mosby had fired at the detail sent to arrest him. No matter which was the correct version, Mosby escaped without injury, buttons and uniform intact" (Jones, p.279).

The veracity of this incident remains less important than its implicit condoning of Mosby's defiant attitude toward the Union army. His never-surrender attitude reflected an ideal of honor that prevalied in victory or defeat. An inscription on Gen. Montcalm's tomb in Quebec sums up this mentality: "Fate denied him glory, but blessed him with glorious immortality" (Memoirs, p.382). Confederate heros held a similar position in the Southern mind. Through an undying allegiance to their original cause, Mosby reinforced the mentality that the South maintained the honorable and noble cause, but like the Native Americans, were doomed to fail.

Biography | 'Primal' honor | Appearance | Oath-taking

Gentility | Chivalry | Mosby and the North | After the war

Further Reading

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