GRAY GHOST by James A. Ramage


The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby
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A comprehensive biography of the Confederate guerrilla leader (1833—1916), with an emphasis on his Civil War exploits. Ramage’s (History/Northern Kentucky Univ.; Rebel Raider: The Life of General John Hunt Morgan, not reviewed) well-documented volume charts the progress of Mosby from a boyhood victim of playground bullies to an icon of the Confederacy. Proceeding in fairly chronological fashion, Ramage focuses on Mosby’s stunning career as a guerrilla leader, a man who was shot several times (once in the groin—the bullet remained in his body), who quoted Lord Byron while he harassed the Union troops relentlessly despite repeated attempts to capture or kill him. Ramage is most at ease in these sections, moving steadily (if unspectacularly) through descriptions of strategies and firefights that generally end with Mosby’s men stealing Union horses and supplies (which they divided among themselves), killing enemy soldiers, and disappearing into the woods like, well, gray ghosts. The author credits Mosby with innovations in guerrilla strategy (e.g., in close combat, his cavalry used two handguns each instead of the traditional saber) and more than once characterizes him as “one of the most brilliant minds in the history of guerrilla war.” The final 66 pages deal with Mosby’s long post—Civil War life. He was, among other things, a private attorney, US consul in Hong Kong, an employee of the US Interior and Justice departments, a popular lecturer and writer. He even portrayed himself in a lost silent film. Ramage sometimes slips into the biographer’s trap—admiring his subject so thoroughly that he can utter only a rare discouraging word about Mosby, who owned slaves and once shot an unarmed classmate. Also unconvincing is the cereal-box psychology Ramage applies to Mosby—viz., his boyhood battles with bullies explain his ferocious fighting spirit. A volume that will become the standard reference on Mosby—intelligent and thorough, but at times flattering rather than analytical. (32 b&w illustrations, 7 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8131-2135-3
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Univ. Press of Kentucky
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999


NonfictionSUA SPONTE by Dick Couch
by Dick Couch