- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2017

When protesters and politicians talk about removing Confederate symbols, statues and monuments from the public square, they probably don’t have John Singleton Mosby in mind.

A cavalry commander known as the “Gray Ghost” for his ability to pick off Union wagon trains and vanish into the Virginia countryside without a trace, Mosby opposed slavery, secession and war, but took up arms for the South out of loyalty for his home state of Virginia.

Mosby’s life story raises the question of whether those who fought for the Confederacy should be painted with the same broad brushstroke, said David M. Goetz, a Mosby historian.

“Yes, Mosby was a Confederate,” Mr. Goetz said. “But he was one of the most honorable men who ever lived.”

The author of “Hell Is Being a Republican in Virginia,” Mr. Goetz has been guiding tours in Mosby’s postwar home of Warrenton, Virginia, for 16 years.

His tours take people to the Warrenton Cemetery, where Mosby’s gravestone sits beneath a tall pale memorial dedicated to 600 Confederate soldiers who died in Warrenton field hospitals after the First and Second Battles of Bull Run.

Next stop is the Warrenton train depot, where Mosby, who switched to the Republican Party at the end of the war and was viewed as a turncoat by fellow Virginians, was almost assassinated in 1877.

The tour also visits the courthouse square where a small obelisk dedicated to Mosby was erected after his death in 1916.

Despite the fact that his parents owned slaves, Mosby was personally opposed to the institution. After the war, he remained a close friend of his childhood manservant, Aaron Burton, writing him letters and sending him money until Burton’s death in 1902.

“Back then, some people looked into a black person’s eyes and didn’t see much,” Mr. Goetz said. “Others looked into a black person’s eyes and saw a soul, saw another human being. And I think Mosby was like that.”

The effort to erase public reminders of the Confederacy has gained new traction in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Heather Heyer, 32, was run over and killed Saturday by a suspected white supremacists during a protest.

The Southern Poverty Law Center released a widely cited report, “Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy,” that advocates the removal of more than 1,500 Confederate symbols on public lands.

It includes three roads named for Mosby: John Mosby Highway in Middleburg, Virginia; Mosby Street in Savannah, Georgia; and Mosby Road in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Mr. Goetz said the headlong rush to remove Confederate monuments lacks nuance.

“The logic goes something like this: Slavery is evil, the South supported slavery, therefore, anyone associated with the South was evil,” he said. “That’s the simple, boiled-down narrative that most people get. They don’t get any depth, and they don’t get any context.”

Mosby is remembered today not just for his military prowess.

He was U.S. consul to Hong Kong from 1875 to 1882, and served in the Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft administrations, among others.

Mosby became a close friend and confidant of his former battlefield rival, Ulysses S. Grant, and supported his re-election bid despite the former Union commanding general’s unpopularity in Virginia.

Toward the end of his life, Mosby befriended the Patton family and recreated Civil War battles with a young George S. Patton, who would go on to command the U.S. 3rd Army in the Second World War.

“What a life,” Mr. Goetz said. “And people want to take his monument down because he was a Confederate? It’s just absurd.”

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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