From the hand of ‘The Grey Ghost’: Recently Discovered Col. John S. Mosby Civil War speech at Heritage Auctions Los Angeles

January 19th, 2010 by

heritage mosbyFeb. 12 Historical Manuscripts Auction presents handwritten letter from Civil War Colonel disbanding his legendary Rangers

LOS ANGELES – An emotional and pointed farewell given by controversial Civil War Colonel John S. Mosby, believed to be one of only two contemporary copies known to be written by him, will be auctioned off as part of Heritage Auctions Los Angeles Signature® Historical Manuscripts & Autographs Auction, Feb. 12. It is estimated at $70,000-$90,000.

The Virginia-born and bred Mosby, known as “The Grey Ghost” for his lightning quick partisan-style tactics against Union forces,  addresses his Partisan Rangers at the close of the Civil War after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Rather than subject his troops to the undue hardships they would face if they continued to fight, Mosby disbands the 43rd Virginia Cavalry, also known as “Mosby’s Rangers”:

“Soldiers: I have summoned you together for the last time,” he writes. ”The visions we [have] cherished of a free and independent country have vanished, and that country is now the spoil of a conqueror.”

“Mosby is one of the most romantic figures to come out of the Civil War,” said Sandra Palomino, Director of Historical Manuscripts & Autographs at Heritage Auctions. “Part scamp, all hero, his tactics disrupted Union lines causing General Grant to order that all of Mosby’s men be hanged without trial upon capture.”

The remarkable letter was found, in quite a well-preserved state, at the country home of Jonathan Sturges, well-known as J. P. Morgan’s father-in-law and – in an ironic twist – as an ardent Union supporter.

“How did this rare piece of Confederate history find its way into the hands of the Sturges family?” said Palomino. “They not only sent two sons off to fight for the Union, but also associated with Union leaders like William T. Sherman, Ambrose Burnside, and George McClellan. The contents of the battered old scrapbook enfolding the letter unlocked the mystery.”

In 2009, Dr. Christine I. Oaklander was researching Jonathan Sturges – a prominent New York merchant well-known as a patron and friend to Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand and other prominent Hudson River School painters – at the family’s home when she came across the old scrapbook in a secretary once belonging to Jonathan Sturges’ son, Henry Cady Sturges, along with a hodgepodge of other documents ranging from an 1857 Tiffany, Ellis, and Young invoice and an account book for Henry’s yacht, to cancelled checks from the 1940s and 1950s. The present occupants of the house were unaware of the scrapbook and did not know anything about Mosby. The album had probably not been opened in decades.

With a scholars’ patience, Oaklander discovered that Sturges’ youngest son, Henry, the owner of the secretary, had married one Sarah Adams McWhorter in 1883.

McWhorter came from a prominent Augusta, GA family; several clippings in the scrapbook are from Georgia newspapers, supplemented with handwritten notes and poetry. Oaklander compared the writing to letters from Sarah’s mother, Mrs. George Gray McWhorter, determining that she assembled the scrapbook during and shortly after the Civil War.

“The elder Sarah lost two younger brothers in the war, though neither served near Mosby’s theatre of operation,” said Palomino, “so there is no obvious connection to the Rangers. One of Sarah’s brothers-in-law, however, one Joseph Ganahl, served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army under general Lafayette McClaws in Virginia, and  may well have come into contact with Mosby at some point, the most likely instance of when the letter made its way into the chain that would see it found in the house of an ardent Yankee.”

More than likely McWhorter gave the scrapbook directly to her daughter Sarah at some point after their marriage. Henry died in 1922 and Sarah used the house until her death. Her daughter, Ann Sturges Bullard, inherited the house and, in turn, left it to her children in 1988. One of the children, the great-granddaughter of Jonathan Sturges, currently still lives in the house.

Mosby’s Farewell stands as one of the landmark documents of the Civil War. This is a singular opportunity to own the only extant war date edition of this speech known to remain in private hands, and written by the hand of “The Grey Ghost” himself.

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