John S. Mosby was the son of Alfred Daniel Mosby (1809-1879), and his wife, Virginia Jackson McLaurine (1815-1897). He was born in Nelson County, Virginia, but when he was six, Alfred Mosby purchased a farm in Albemarle County, Virginia, and John grew up there.
Young Mosby attended Hampden-Sydney College for two years, then attended the University of Virginia in sessions 27-29 (1850-1853). He was expelled from the University in his third year for shooting a fellow student, George R. Turpin, in a quarrel on 29 Mar 1853. (UVA Faculty Minutes, 5 Apr 1853) Turpin was not killed, and Mosby was convicted of unlawful wounding (a misdemeanor), and sentenced to the maximum one year imprisonment and a $500 fine. While he was in prison, he began the study of law under William J. Robertson of Charlottesville, VA. Mosby was pardoned in Dec. 1853 and his fine was later rescinded by the state legislature. Mosby was admitted to the Bar in 1855 and set up his law practice in Howardsville, in Albemarle County.
On 30 Dec. 1856, Mosby married Pauline Clarke (30 Mar. 1837-10 May 1876) in Davidson, Tennessee. The couple had eight children: May Virginia, Beverly Clarke, John Singleton Jr., Victoria Stuart, Paulina V., Ada B., George Prentiss (d. infant), and Alfred McLaurine Mosby (d. infant). The family made their home in Bristol, Virginia, and Mosby practiced law there until the Civil War began.
In the Civil War, Mosby enlisted as a private in the Washington Mounted Rifles (CSA), which was subsumed into the Virginia Volunteers. He later served J. E. B. Stuart as one of his cavalry scouts. In January 1863, Mosby formed the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry, the Partisan Rangers. By Dec. 1864, Mosby had been promoted through the ranks from 1st lieutenant to colonel. Based on the stories of Gen. Francis Marion in the American Revolution, the Partisan Rangers fought a guerrilla war and successfully disrupted Union supply lines and kept many Union couriers from delivering information from 1863 to April 1865. On April 21, 1865, Mosby disbanded the Partisan Rangers without official paroles, because he refused to surrender. Mosby had a price on his head until General Ulysses S. Grant intervened directly and paroled him in early 1866.
After the war, Mosby was active in the Republican Party. He became campaign manager in Virginia for Ulysses S. Grant. Mosby served as the U.S. Consul to Hong Kong from 1878-1885, and worked as a lawyer in San Francisco for the Southern Pacific Railroad. He later held other federal posts in the Dept. of the Interior and the Dept. of Justice.
John S. Mosby died in Washington, D.C. on Memorial Day, 1916, and was buried in Warrenton Cemetery in Warrenton, VA.
- Ancestry.com. 1850-1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.
- “Col. John Mosby Dead,” Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), 31 May, 1916, p. 11.
- Mosby tombstones, Warrenton Cemetery, Warrenton, VA. Findagrave.com. (accessed 9/22/12).
- “John Singleton Mosby (1833-1916),” Encyclopedia Virginia, <http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Mosby_John_Singleton_1833-1916#its1> (accessed 9/22/12).
- Mosby, John S. The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby. Boston, 1917.
- “Tennessee, Marriages, 1796-1950,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/X811-SPJ : accessed 23 Sep 2012), John S. Mosby and Pauline Clarke, 30 Dec 1856; citing reference , FHL microfilm 2021058.
- University of Virginia Faculty Minutes, 5 Apr 1853. http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/114?doc=/db/JUEL/faculty/vol7/Vol_7_part4.xml&key=P37544#m1