Thursday, July 5, 2012

O'Neill: "CHASING JEB STUART AND JOHN MOSBY: The Union Cavalry in Northern Virginia from Second Manassas to Gettysburg"

[ Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby: The Union Cavalry in Northern Virginia from Second Manassas to Gettysburg by Robert F. O'Neill (McFarland, 2012). Softcover, 10 maps, photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:273/328. ISBN:978-0-7864-9256-5 $45 ]

Many books have been written about the exploits of John Singleton Mosby and his band of Confederate partisans in the Fauquier and Loudoun counties of northern Virginia, but comprehensive histories of the operations of the Union units that opposed them are less common. Over a defined interval, Robert O'Neill's Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby: The Union Cavalry in Northern Virginia from Second Manassas to Gettysburg goes far in rectifying this deficiency.

In covering a relatively short period, roughly September 1862 through June 1863, an incredible level of operational detail and background information about the men and units of both sides is offered. The content presented in the book would easily fit inside twice the number of pages of a volume with more typical physical dimensions, print size, and spacing. Using a large collection of participant accounts, a dizzying number of raids and skirmishes, both famous (like the celebrated capture of Brigadier General Edwin Stoughton in his bed) and obscure, are described in Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby. O'Neill effectively conveys to the reader the mounting frustration of Union officials and military commanders, from the Secretary of War on down, as they struggled to effectively secure lines of supply and communication through "Mosby's Confederacy", particularly the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.

As the title implies, the book is primarily written from the Union perspective. The first half is largely the story of the cavalry brigade of Colonel Richard Butler Price (formerly that of John Buford), comprised of the 1st Michigan, 1st Vermont, 1st West Virginia, and 5th New York volunteer cavalry regiments. In March 1863, these units, along with the famed Michigan Brigade, would be incorporated into a division of cavalry attached to the Defenses of Washington and commanded by Major General Julius Stahel.

In addition to accounts of the action, the author does a fine job of integrating smaller scale events in the sector to the major campaigns engulfing the region, like Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. O'Neill opines that perhaps Mosby's greatest contribution occurred during the early stages of the Gettysburg Campaign, when one of the Gray Ghost's raids led to the recall of Stahel's Division, which had been perfectly positioned to wreak havoc upon the undefended trains of A.P. Hill's III Corps.

Better maps and more of them would have been preferable, but the ones included do a fairly acceptable job of locating important geographical points and tracing Union movements in a general fashion. More impressive is the bibliography, the author having rooted out mounds of manuscript material located in repositories across the country, the content of which enriched his narrative immeasurably.

Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby is highly recommended as an original and substantial contribution to the history of Union cavalry operations in the eastern theater, as well as an excellent case study of an ineffective anti-partisan strategy. Mosby students will also want a copy of this book, as it fleshes out his opponents to an unprecedented degree.


  1. Excellant book. Received my copy 2 days ago. I wish author had done this in hardcover edition. I try to stay away from McFarland because of their high prices- especially for paperbacks. James McCorry

    1. I don't know if the author has any input on the matter of format. The publisher used to be exclusively hardcover, now, at least for the CW books in their catalog, it's almost the opposite.

  2. It's too bad that a great sounding book like this isn't published by someone like Savas. I'd like to own these types of microhistory books for my collection but I will not pay $45 for a paperback copy of one.


  3. I just saw this, Chris. Thanks for the kind words. I would have published this in a heartbeat. Bob does great work. Many books from this publisher are books I have rejected, but I did not have a chance to see this one. Each publisher is unique, each serves a different niche in different ways, at different pricing. There are other viable options for publishing CW than Savas Beatie--it would be foolish to argue otherwise--but as an author I have a hard time understanding this choice for the reasons you mention (and a few others).


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