Lt. John Singleton Mosby—the Confederacy’s legendary “Gray Ghost”—staged one of the war’s greatest coups in the home of Dr. William P. Gunnell, a handsome two-story brick house at 10520 Main Street, Fairfax (now occupied by offices for the Truro Anglican Church). Before dawn on March 9, 1863, Mosby led 29 men through the woods that filled a gap in the Union lines above Fairfax Courthouse. He was searching for a colonel in the New Jersey cavalry whose father, an English lord, had sneeringly labeled Mosby and his rangers a “pack of horse thieves.” The colonel had gone to Washington, but there was a consolation prize available: Brig. Gen. Edwin Stoughton, who had headquartered himself at Gunnell’s home. Stoughton, far from enemy positions, had not deployed guards; danger seemed unfathomable until the moment Mosby entered his bedroom.
Mosby recalls slapping the sleeping officer on the back and asking, “General, did you ever hear of Mosby?”
“Yes,” replied Stoughton. “Have you caught him?”
Along with Stoughton, Mosby’s men absconded with two captains, 30 enlisted men and 58 horses. Among Rebels, the exploit was widely celebrated, but some cavalry officers, perhaps jealous, harrumphed at the loose ways of Mosby’s men. When Mosby turned Stoughton over to Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, the cavalry officer (and nephew of Robert E. Lee) snubbed the Gray Ghost while warmly greeting the West Point classmate who was now his prisoner.
President Lincoln later observed that he “didn’t mind the loss of the brigadier as much as the horses, for I can make a much better general in five minutes, but the horses cost one hundred and twenty-five dollars apiece.”