Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Gaming, Drinking, Etc.

I'll tell you why the ladies of Hillsboro thought John Mobberly was such a bloomer-dampening hot patootie.

Because for comparison they had Philip Derry.

Let's explore that, shall we?

This is a carte de visite Mobberly had printed up and which he handed out quite generously. They still show up all over Loudoun County. (A carte de visite was a calling card with the bearer's photograph on it; these enjoyed a huge vogue in the 1850s and '60s. Read more about them here.)



Let's leave aside for the moment the question of why a busy Civil War guerrilla would have photos of himself printed up (the words rock star suggest themselves). The guy certainly isn't much in the looks department, is he. Unprepossessing, you might say. Richard Crouch opines he looks "for the most part, like a rather spoiled prep-school bully," and I'm not going to argue, although Bud Butts, interviewed in 1955 as the last living man who had ever seen Mobberly alive, described him as "six feet tall, handsome, with jet-black hair."

But tradition tells us that he was just catnip to the ladies of Hillsboro, who (we've seen before) gave him a hero's grave. Tales of his derring-do, no doubt exaggerated beyond recognition, resounded up and down the Rebel-sympathizing central Loudoun -- just as, over in the Unionist German Settlement that he hounded, recountings of his depravities, no less embellished, made the rounds.

So while it's a given that there's nothing like a reputation for daring horsemanship, devil-may-care recklessness in battle, and the weight of a Tragic Lost Cause on the shoulders to make up for a pudgy physique and a certain loutishness about the face, it doesn't hurt either that he was single, passionate, and relatively sober.

So if Mobberly was one exemplar of Old Dominion manhood, Philip Derry might well be held up as another.

In a divorce proceeding brought by Rachel Derry, a woman of 34 years of age in October 1866, her husband Philip is revealed as a liar, a womanizer, a drunk, and a serial abuser:
Her said husband [her complaint reads] on the other hand has, since their intermarriage been guilty of adultery, with a Margaret Collins and others, and has been totally negligent of the personal security of your Oratrix, and insufferably abusive and violent to her, beating and otherwise maltreating her and threatening to take her life with pistols until to protect her person from violence and preserve her life she has been compelled to leave her home and take refuge in the house of a friend as cook etc. etc. where she resides with her children practically without any protection and the children without a father. That the said adultery complaint occurred within five years preceding the institution of this suit, and has been continuous to the present time and is open and notorious. The said Margaret Collins and perhaps others living with her in his own house, her former home. And your Oratrix arces [? sic], that said adultery was not committed by her procurement & commissarce, and that she has not cohabited with the said Philip Derry since she had knowledge of the fact of said adultery.
Philip hotly denied all this in the proceeding, of course, and tried to turn the tables on his long-suffering wife by claiming she was herself unfaithful with a local man -- but he needn't have bothered with the slander. Divorce was granted, and through a maneuver that was as heartless a thing as I have ever seen, the court allowed to stand an earlier agreement -- made under obvious duress during the couple's years-long breakup -- that Philip should get the farm they lived on.

Which Rachel brought into the marriage, having inherited it from her grandfather.

Rachel got $800. The farm was worth thousands.

She later remarried (one hopes to less of a sniveling shit) and her mother sued to get the property back, which did happen, and Rachel inherited it back when her mother died.


The Derry house today. The wings were added later.

Philip Derry was nominally a Unionist (he's listed as having voted against secession in 1861), although I've heard quiet mutterings that this was not out of much conviction.

In 1864, when the Derrys occupied this house and Philip was regularly beating the stuffing out of Rachel, John Mobberly was ambushed here by Federal troops and barely escaped with his life.

There are two differing stories -- one a local word-of-mouth legend and the other based on more reliable documentation. As these things always are, the legend is more colorful -- and contains some germs of believability. Here's how it's told in a 1950 pamphlet, "Old Stone Houses of Loudoun County" by Solange Strong:
During the Civil War the house was owned by a well-known P____ D____ [why Derry's name is redacted this way is anybody's guess] who "farmed a little, but was mostly full of the devil, besides being a Yankee right out," though pretending to be neutral. His home was largely given over to gaming, drinking, etc. [oh, the stiff-necked Old Dominion propriety dripping off that "etc"!] and was a favorite rendezvous for the soldiery.

One memorable evening [Derry] invited several attractive ladies for a card-playing soirée, neglecting to tell them he had a few Federals hidden in the basement. He is quoted as saying that he "expected nature to take its course." Nature took its course through Confederates Ross Douglas and the redoubtable John Mobberly, the "detached scout." Lured by lights and ladies, they were riding lickety-split across the fields for an evening's fun. Douglas, jumping his horse over the last fence, entered the house first. Just as he was settling into a hard-bottomed Windsor chair, the Federals burst out of the basement and let him have it. The bullet went through him and the back of the chair.

Mobberly, whose horse had refused the jump and had to be led through the gate, was just tying the nag up. On hearing gunfire he quite understandably remounted and left. Douglas, taken outside for dead, was thrown across his horse and left to wander. Having the good luck to end up at a friend's, he eventually recovered. Even the chair wasn't permanently impaired. Last heard of sold at auction several years ago, it is still supposed to be in the county, easily identifiable by the bullet hole.

I suspect this of being the descendant of the fence Mobberly's horse refused.

I have to confess I'm skeptical about several of the details of this story, but we do know about Derry's turpitude and propensity for whoring. Two women, Clementine and Margaret Collins, are named in Rachel's suit, and look like excellent candidates for the "attractive ladies" mentioned in Strong's account, and have to wonder what Derry meant by his expectation that "nature" should "take its course" that night. (But then, I've got a filthy 21st century mind, and may have watched perhaps too much Deadwood lately.)

Richard Crouch gives us an account that's a bit less folksy:
A contemporary northern newspaper account stated that Lieutenant C. H. Pearson of General Stevenson's staff and a squad of six men stopped at Philip Derry's house, about 15 miles from Harpers Ferry, on the night of October 26, 1864. "Knowing it to be the resort of some of Mosby's guerrillas, they immediately surrounded the house. Pearson walked up and knocked at the foor, which was opened by Darby's [surely a misspelling of "Derry's"] wife. He immediately called upon them to surrender, to which they answered 'never!' and before they had time to draw their revolvers he shot both of them dead."
We know Mobberly wasn't killed in 1864, and the newspaper account mentions nothing about him, so it's possible this is a different incident than Solange Strong's. But if both these incidents (or "this incident," if they're the same) are true, Philip Derry certainly doesn't come off very well in either of them, does he. Either he's a drunk, gambling, whoring duplicitous Yankee, or he's wearing Yankee colors, voting Yankee, and running a doss-house for Mosby's guerrillas.

Hardly the sort of thing you'd want your daughter marrying.

And anyway -- your daughter has the hots for John Mobberly instead.

------

Sources:

Richard Crouch, Rough-Riding Scout: The Story of John W. Mobberly, Loudoun's Own Civil War Guerrilla Hero, Elden Editions, 1994

Solange Strong, Old Stone Houses of Loudoun County, Virginia, 1950

Many thanks to Connie Derry, descendant of Philip Derry, for help in the preparation of this essay.

Effusive thanks also to the Ginsberg family for permission to photograph their beautiful home.

8 comments:

Melani Carty said...

Excellent article. Please do tell the location of the Derry residence?

handdrummer said...

Neddy,
Just in case you haven't encountered this. (I assume that you probably have) It's an article on Mosby by H. Beam Piper, the Central PA science fiction author I write about. It is apparently the loose basis for the Disney film on Mosby.

handdrummer said...

Of course, you write about Mobberly not Mosby. Sheesh. Shows what happens when a lyme addled brain engages and a tasty foot emerges that just has to be inserted into a convenient oral location.

And it's Neddie, not Neddy.

I think I'll just go hide in the cave now.

Neddie said...

>> you write about Mobberly not Mosby.

Dude, you'd be amazed how many people make this mistake.

In fact, I've read speculation that some of the derring-do attributed to Mosby should actually have been credited to Mobberly, but the similarity in the names tripped up even contemporary witnesses.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't you know it? Neddie has to tell the ENTIRE universe that I'm descended from Crazy Philip.
I'm the one that needs to go hide in a cave now!

Connie Derry a/ka/a anonymous

Anonymous said...

This is so interesting - have traced the Derry's here in Ontario back to UELs...kind of creepy sharing a name with the poor woman -
thanks for the good read...
Rachel Derry

†he Pa†rio†™ said...

Thanks for an interesting read, Neddie.

D. Doc Derry
(Webmaster - Derrys in America)

Hi Connie :0)

D. Doc Derry said...

Neddie,
I am a cousin of Philip B. Derry Jr. - ok, so it's four times removed...HA! Would love to use your essay in my new book about the history of my Derry family. Connie will like the book too.