Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A Soulless Man of Unknown Parentage

On the evening of the 16th [of May, 1864], the Loudoun Rangers bivouacked just north of [Waterford]. Monday morning, May 17, the command came ... in search of their breakfast. While the company was somewhat scattered in finding something to eat, their pickets on the south side of town were decoyed into a trap by about 100 of Mosby's men. Two men were killed and Sergeant Charles Stewart was dangerously wounded. [He] was still lying in the road when John Mobberly, a desperado from the northwestern section of the county, and his band approached. Seeing the stricken man in the road, Mobberly rode his horse back and forth over Stewart's body, firing at him all the while. Tiring of this sport, Mobberly dismounted and relieved the wounded man of his new cavalry boots....

The near-fatally wounded Stewart was taken to the home of Miss Rachel Steer, a kindly Quakeress. Shortly, other ladies from Waterford arrived on the scene, accompanied by Dr. Thomas Bond. The venerable physician, upon seeing his patient, said "My only ambition in life is to live long enough to make another hell for the man that shot Stewart after he was helpless." Stewart, under the kind care of Dr. Bond and Miss Steer, recovered sufficiently to return to duty....
Waterford, Virginia, in 1864, Waterford Village Web Site

Harpers Ferry historian Joseph Barry in 1903 wrote that in the outskirts of Harpers Ferry in 1844 a dirt-poor bastard boy was born, the outcome of a backwoods romance between one Polly Mobberly and Sam Fine, who deserted Polly and lit out for the territories soon after the baby's birth. There is no record of this birth, but census records from 1860 show a Mary A. Mobberly and her son John, aged 17, living outside Harpers Ferry.

Barry also tells us that the young John Mobberly took a job as a wagon driver for the butcher Joe Hagan, a freedman. Apparently, among the better sort of New York journalists, it was considered a bit of a degraded position to work for a black tradesman, because a New York Times article published during the height of Mobberly's notoriety, in the winter of 1865, sniffs disdainfully,
The fellow Mobley [a common alternate spelling], whose acts of lawlessness have struck terror through the whole of Loudo[u]n ... is a smooth-faced, leaden-eyed, soulless man of unknown parentage; he was raised by a negro in Loudo[u]n, and almost his first act with which he commenced his career of crime was robbing his benefactor of two horses -- the only means he had for obtaining a living.

Company A, 22nd New York State Militia, on Camp Hill at Harpers Ferry, October 1862.

Sometime around the 15th of September of 1862 during the leadup to Antietam, on the bank of the Potomac opposite Harpers Ferry, a troop of Federals committed some sort of outrage on the honor of a local woman. We don't know what that outrage consisted of, but we do know that the supremely angry 18-year-old John Mobberly, unable to exact revenge on the whole troop, instead acquired a horse (could this have been the act that the Times found so distasteful?) and rode south ten miles to Hillsboro and volunteered his services to White's Comanches, the 35th Virginia Cavalry.

It was later written of him by a comrade in the Comanches that he personally killed more Yankees than any man in Lee's Army. Such was the depth of his outrage.

In cooperation with the Comanches and John Mosby's Rangers, with a small command of his own, he boldly harrassed the Union army in the Short Hill country for the entirety of the last two years of the war, causing panic in the Union leadership and sleeplessness among the regular troops. But in so doing, he earned a reputation as a brutal outlaw who, as the war ground to its end, became indiscriminate in his attacks on both Union and Southern interests.

He's buried in a hero's grave, under a grand gravestone -- a gift, it is said, from the women of Hillsboro. Perhaps it might be appropriate at this point to ponder how Sergeant Charles Stewart of the Loudoun Rangers felt about that, after the war.

Up Next: What is it about complete savage bastards that makes the ladies swoon so? Does that tombstone say "Was Assassinated"? What hints and portents are inscribed on the back of the stone? What's all this dark foreshadowing about Sergeant Stewart? And where the hell is Union Deserter French Bill?

On the Mobberly Trail: Dr. Quackenbush Releases the Hounds


XTCfan said...

And how do you make your voice do that?

Anonymous said...

are you going to finish this, or what?

Anonymous said...

are you going to finish this, or what?

Neddie said...

Hush, my importunate one. All will be revealed.

Neddie said...

I think I see the problem: I've posted two more Mobberly entries but didn't add them to the Mobberly Trail. That has been corrected.

Also, I've acquired some new research materials, including a Waterford newspaper that explicitly references Mobberly. That will be up in the next 24 hours, I promise.