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The South Was My Country

How can a soldier be proud of the country he defends while at the same time opposed to the cause he is fighting for? John S. Mosby, the renowned Confederate partisan leader, dealt with this moral dilemma years after his war ended. Mosby despised slavery, and believed the South had seceded to protect this peculiar institution. Yet he fought to defend the practice as he felt his patriotic duty to his nation outweighed all other factors. After the war, Mosby befriended General Grant and joined the Republican Party, but held firm to his belief that, “I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery – a soldier fights for his country – right or wrong – he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in …The South was my country.” Mosby remained proud of having fought for the Confederacy, even though he disliked an essential part of what the war had stood for.

Mosby’s attitude was not shared by many of his peers. In the wake of Reconstruction a growing number of Southerners began to argue that protecting slavery had not been the real cause of the war, and some even claimed that slavery was in fact a just institution – a notion that persists even today. These ideas spread and grew into the “Lost Cause” movement, a romantic vision of the South which would eventually gain vast exposure from the popularity of films including “Birth of a Nation” and “Gone with the Wind.” In this letter (GLC03921.21) Mosby attacks men who supported this mindset with all the fury of a great warrior. Was Mosby correct in faulting these men for their views, when they believed they were only trying to protect the Confederacy he defended so bravely? Was he a hypocrite to condemn slavery while taking pride in fighting in its defense? Mosby expressed a complex and fascinating set of beliefs about the Civil War, at a time when its history was just beginning to be written.

Dan Wolf, Manuscript Cataloger
Gilder Lehrman Collection


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GLC03921.21, John S. Mosby to Sam Chapman, 04 June 1907.

For more information or to obtain copies, contact Ana Ramirez-Luhrs at or call (212) 787-6616 ext. 209.


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June 4th 1907

Dear Sam:

I suppose you are now back in Staunton. I wrote you about my disgust at reading the Reunion speeches: It has since been increased by reading Christians report. I am certainly glad I wasn’t there. According to Christian the Virginia people were the abolitionists & the Northern people were pro-slavery. He says slavery was “a patriarchal” institution – So were polygamy & circumcision. Ask Hugh is he has been circumcised. Christian quotes what the Old Virginians – said against slavery. True; but why didn’t he quote what the modern Virginians said [struck: about] [inserted: in] favor of it – Mason, Hunter, Wise &c. Why didn’t [struck: t] he state that a Virginia Senator (Mason) was the author of the Fugitive Slave law – & why didn’t he quote The Virginia Code (1860) [strikeout] that made it a crime to speak against slavery, or to teach a negro to read the Lord’s prayer. Now while I think as badly of slavery as Horace Greeley did I am not ashamed that my family were slaveholders. It was our inheritance – Neither am I ashamed that my ancestors were pirates & cattle thieves. People must be judged by the standard of their own age. If it was right to own slaves as property it was right to fight for it. The South went to war on account of slavery. South Carolina went to war – as she said in her [2] Secession proclamation – because slavery wd. not be secure under Lincoln. South Carolina ought to know what was the cause for her seceding. The truth is the modern Virginians departed from the teachings of the Father’s. John C. Calhoun's last speech had a bitter attack on Mr Jefferson for his amendment to the Ordinance of `87 prohibiting slavery in the Northwest Territory. [struck: Jo.] Calhoun was in a dying condition – was too weak to read it – So James M. Mason, a Virginia Senator, read it in the Senate about two weeks before Calhoun's death – Mch. 1850. Mason & Hunter not only voted against The admission of California (1850) as a free state but offered a protest against [inserted: it] wh. the Senate refused to record on its Journal Nor in the Convention wh. Gen. Taylor had called to from a Constitution for California, there were 52 Northern & 50 Southern men – but it was unanimous against slavery -- But the Virginia Senator, with Ron Tucker & Co. were opposed to giving [inserted: local] self-government to California. Ask Sam Yost to give Christian a skinning. I am not strikeout ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery – a soldier fights for his country – right or wrong – he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in. Yours Truly
The South was my country. Jno: S. Mosby

[written across the top of page 1]
In Feby. 1860 Jeff Davis offered [inserted: a] bill in the Senate wh. passed, making all the territories slave territory. (see Davis’ book. ) He was opposed to letting the people decide whether or not they w[struck: ould] [inserted: d have] slavery – Wm. A. Smith, President of Randolph Macon quit his duties as a teacher & in 1857-8-9-60 traveled all over Virginia preaching slavery & proving it was right by the bible.

Captain Sam Chapman Staunton

Senator Jas. M. Mason was the author of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850; but the Ordinance 1787 for the government of the Northwestern Territory, contained in its amended form, as passed, the fugitive slave provision.
See Benton's Thirty Years, p 133.

Notes: Written on Department of Justice stationery. Christian is George Christian (see GLC 3293).

Suggested Reading

Ashdown, Paul and Caudill, Edward, The Mosby Myth : a Confederate Hero in Life and Legend. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, 2002.

Ramage, James A., Gray Ghost : the life of Col. John Singleton Mosby. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999.

Tate, J.O., The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby. Nashville: J.S. Sanders & Co., c1995.

Foner, Eric and Brown, Joshua, Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. New York: Knopf, 2005.

Davis, William C. The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1996.

Foster, Gaines M. Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause and the Emergence of the New South, 1865-1913. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Gallagher, Gary W., and Glatthaar, Joseph T., editors. Leaders of the Lost Cause: New Perspectives on the Confederate High Command. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2004.

Gallagher, Gary W. and Nolan, Alan T. The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Gallagher, Gary W., Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History: A Persistent Legacy. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Marquette University Press, 1995.

Moore, Winfred, Jr., Sinisi, Kyle S., and White, David H. Jr., editors. Warm Ashes: Issues in Southern History at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.

Pollard, Edward A., The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates. New York: 1866.

Rearden, Carol, Pickett's Charge in History and Memory. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Wilson, Charles Reagan, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920. Athens, Georiga: University of Georgia Press, 1980.


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