The Battle at Miskel’s Farm Abstract The Battle at Miskel’s Farm placed the Confederate scout forces of John Singleton Mosbys’ Partisan Rangers against the Union forces of Major Charles F. Tagert on 31 March 1863, on a small farm in Loudon County, Virginia in a battle that would display the ferocious confidence and unwavering tenacity of Captain John Singleton Mosby who was never captured by the Union forces. This battle, won by Mosbys’ Rangers, highlights the Principles of Offense, Unity of Command, Security, and Surprise, and the Tenents of Initiative and Agility.
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Additionally present were the violations of the Battlefield Operating System of Intelligence and Command and Control. This victory cemented Captain John Mosby’s reliability as a confident and credible leader for the Confederates during the Civil War. The Battle at Miskel’s Farm Introduction The Battle at Miskel Farm occurred on Thomas and Lydia Miskel’s farm in Loudon County, Virginia where Broad Run empties into the Potomac River on 31 March 1863.
Once serving as a scout under the 1st Virginia Calvary, John Singleton Mosby raised a troop of 69 Partisan Calvary men authorized under the Confederate government’s Partisan Ranger Act of 1862 to operate behind enemy lines and raid federal supply trains. 3 This allowed them to obtain valuable intelligence and supplies from the Union forces in order to help sustain the Confederate forces. This battle emphasized the effective use of Offensive Manuevers, Security and Surprise, and the Tenets of Initiative and Agility.
It also conclusively demonstrated that the lack of security and ability to surprise does not always overcome a solid unity of command. One primary source was used, William J. Stier, Civil War Times. Secondary sources include Mosby’s Rangers by Jeffry D. Wert, and several references provided by the AMEDD History Department. Strategic Setting John Mosby’s troop of Rangers was organized in 1862 under the Confederate government’s Partisan Ranger Act. 1 During his leadership he concentrated on the counties of Loudon and Fauquier in northern Virginia.
John Mosby proved his tenacity by capturing the Union Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton and his 320 man force at Fairfax Court House on March 9, 1863 with only 29 Rangers. 1 Captain John Mosby was known for his untraditional employment of movement and maneuver tactics. Mosby’s men would scatter across the countryside after an engagement rather than encamp like regular cavalry units. 3 So it was a few weeks after the March 9, 1863 capture of Union forces that Mosby was again mobilizing a now 69 man ranger patrol for a mission to over run the isolated outposts of the Union Calvary at Dranesville. Newborn, 2000) Once arriving at Dranesville, Mosby and his men discovered that due to the lack of forage the Union Calvary unit had moved down the Leesburg-Alexandria Turnpike. (Newborn, 2000) Mosby’s Rangers followed the path of the Union’s Federals down the turnpike eventually arriving at Miskel’s Farm around 10 p. m. and deciding to rest for the night. Once the Rangers had left Dranesville, a local woman in the town sent her brother to inform the Union’s commander, Major Charles F. Taggert, 2nd Pennsylvania Calvary of the numbers and direction the Rangers were headed.
Major Taggert recognized the opportunity immediately and appointed Captain Henry C. Flint, commander of Company I of the 1st Vermont Calvary to deploy 150 skilled soldiers to capture and bottleneck Mosby’s Rangers in between the Broad Run River and the Potomac River on Miskel’s Farm. 3 This would revenge the unscrupulous capture of the Union Brig. Gen. Stoughton three weeks earlier and crush the famed Mosby and his Rangers. The military techniques of Captain Flint and Captain Mosby will come into the battke as being profoundly different.
Captain Flint believed in using the saber to fight while Captain Mosby was known for his dexterity in shooting his revolvers. Mosby believed that the saber is of no use against gunpowder and through his leadership his men also carried not only two revolvers but some had an extra revolver in his boot and in his saddle. Mosby also believed in straying from the usual military tactics and normally used unusual but effective military initiative of bulldozing with strong offensive maneuvers; while Flint believed in the structure and coordination of military tactics involving surrounding and enclosing upon the enemy.
The two military leaders had established different types of Soldiers in their units along with different leadership styles. Captain Mosby’s Rangers were made up a large amount of volunteers and deserters from other branches of service that had nothing to lose since no one wanted them and they usually had no where else to go. The Rangers were taught under Mosby’s leadership to shoot every enemy who comes in their way during a battle especially the enemy’s leader. Rangers also held their own leader in high acclaim.
They believed he was a great leader and would follow him to the death no matter how tired they were it seemed the visual sight of their leader energized them to fight even harder. On the Union side, Captain Flint’s men were already a little concerned by Captain’s Mosby and his Ranger’s notoriety and once placed face to face in battle with the Rangers they began to question their own leadership under Flint. The soldiers under Flint were taught to capture instead of kill so that they could bring their prisoners back to their higher headquarters. Tactical Situation 1.
Mission: Mosby’s mission was his own: he usually did not answer to anyone or wait for orders to accomplish his own mission. As long as he had continued success of slowing down the Union’s supply chains and lowering the morale of the Federal soldiers by capturing them his chain of command was pleased and continued to let him proceed his own mission. Mosby was always on the offense traveling around Virginia looking for Union outposts. He never had to be on the defensive side because he was always on the offensive which meant staying one step ahead of the Union at all times.
On the Union side, MAJ Taggert saw an opportunity to capture and surround the famed Mosby and his Ranger’s between the two rivers of the Potomac and Broad Run. CPT Flint on the other hand was simply following orders which he was given from MAJ Taggert to surround and capture Mosby and his men by surprising them. Advantage is to the Union if the Union can succeed in surrounding and capturing without alerting the Ranger’s of their presence. 2. Equipment: Mosby had at least two revolvers for each of his rangers, with most having three with the additional one hidden in their boots or addles. Flint believed in the battle of the saber first but they also had carbines readily available which were no match for the revolvers. Advantage: Union 3. Terrain: Both Mosby and Flint had to cover the same exact terrain to the Miskel Farm. Although the Union soldiers had the advantage of sneaking up to Miskel’s Farm while the Confederate Rangers slept. Advantage: Union 4. Troops: Flint’s unit had a total of 150 men while Mosby’s Ranger’s only had 69 men. Advantage: Union 5. Time: Mosby’s men had traveled all day on the 31st through snow not stopping until 10 p. m. hat night. They were hungry and tired and did not post a security or watch element while they slept. Mosby’s men did get to sleep all night with no confrontations from the Federals. Flint and his soldiers had rested all day of the 31st but rode all night in the freezing cold to find Mosby. Advantage: Confederates The Battle Captain Flint learned of his mission around midnight on 31 March and immediately began recruiting soldiers to track down Mosby’s Rangers. He departed the Federal outpost at Union Church on the outskirts of Dranesville at two a. m. the morning of 01 April.
Captain Flint split his men into two separate squadrons when they reached the Leesburg-Alexandria Turnpike. He then headed to Dranesville leading 100 troopers fully equipped with carbines, revolvers and sabers. Captain George H. Bean of G Company followed with a second group of 50 men intended to act as a reserve for Flint’s companies. Shortly before daybreak, Flint approached the town from the turnpike while Bean moved in from Herndon Road. (CWTI, 1965) Upon a signal from Flint, the detachments charged simultaneously into Dranesville, converging on the house that Flint thought Mosby was hiding out in.
Finding no Ranger’s in the one particular house in Dranesville, the Federals surrounded and searched every house in town. Flint still not finding any Ranger’s in Dranesville then searched for and found a trail in the snow of hoof prints heading down the Leesburg-Alexandria Turnpike. Flint followed the hoof prints stopping at sunrise at a house about two miles away from Miskel’s Farm on the turnpike to inquire about the Ranger’s. A Union sympathizer at the house informed Flint of exactly where the Rangers’ were resting for the night. (Evans, Moyer, Jones 1991) For once the Union was one step ahead of Mosby.
Except, a lone Ranger soldier named Dick Moran had spent the night at a friends house down the road. The Federals had to pass this house on the turnpike alerting Moran to Federal soldiers looking for the Rangers. Moran immediately jumped on his horse once the Federal’s passed the house and traveled through a short cut in the woods to Mosby to warn him of the Federal’s approach. Captain Mosby and his 69 men on the other hand had arrived in Dranesville at sundown 31 March with the purpose of overrunning the Union Cavalry picket post located in Dranesville. Upon arrival in Dranesville, Mosby discovered that the Federals had dismantled their base and withdrawn down the Leesburg-Alexandria Turnpike. 2 Mosby and his men left Dranesville and headed down the turnpike in pursuit of the Federals. After traveling over 28 miles in the snow Mosby decided to stop and bed down his men for the night around 10 p. m. at a small farm named Miskel Farm. 2 Thinking that the Federals were ahead of him towards the Potomac River, Mosby decided to only post a sentry for the horses and no guards around the farm house.
As Mosby’s Ranger’s were prepping for breakfast one of the men noticed a Yankee signal men sending messages across the river. 2 Mosby stepped outside to take a look and saw Moran bound from the woods yelling, “Mount your horses! The Yankees are coming! ” 2 At the same time Moran bounds out of the woods, Mosby can see a field of blue coats coming towards Miskel’s Farm. Miskel’s barnyard turned into a hive of noisy action. Men ran everywhere trying to prepare for the battle. None of Ranger’s horses were prepped, they were all running loose unsaddled and unbridled. The Federal’s assumed they had the advantage due to the layout of the Miskel Farm. There was only one entrance to the farm down a small muddy road. The Federals began down the road in rows of two due to it being so narrow while the Ranger’s scurried about trying to organize their horses and soldiers inside the barnyard fence. 3 Once the Federal’s arrived inside the fence surrounding the actual farm they found a gate that opened inward towards the house and another fence surrounding the barn.
Flint instructed Captain Bean from the second group to barricade the fence with themselves surrounding the farm once they were through so that the Ranger’s could not leave the farm fence line. 3 Flint wanted to use this gate to trap Mosby and his Ranger’s inside. Flint did not take into account Mosby and his men’s ferocity for battle; he and some of his men did not wait to properly saddle and bridle their horses and instead began shooting at the Federals’ using the barnyard fence as a shield. Mosby then threw open the barnyard fence and out came the rest of the Ranger’s on horseback. Flint did not think Mosby could organize his horses and firearms so quickly. Flint and his men became trapped in between the farm fence line and the barn fence line along with Mosby and his Ranger’s. (CWTI, 1965) The layout of the farm not only hindered the Federals’ fight, it killed Flint and several other Union men by trapping themselves inside the fence of the farm. Yet it helped the Ranger’s by offering them protection to shoot the Federals and allowing them to charge the Union men into battle. Mosby’s and Flint’s preference of battle became distinct during the battle inside the fence line.
Flint had the perfect opportunity to dismount his unit off the horses and use their carbines to capture the Ranger’s. Instead he chose to keep his unit on horses and charge inside wanting to battle with the sabers instead of carbines. Flint was killed quickly in the fight which left the Federals with no leader to follow except for Bean who immediately retreated towards the barricaded gate. (Newborn, 2000) Captain Bean and some other Federal men eventually broke down the barricaded fence and retreated out down the muddy road leading to the turnpike. Newborn, 2000)4 Mosby chased after the Federals’ all the way to Dranesville capturing as many Federals as he could while some of his Ranger’s went several miles past Dranesville in the pursuit of Federals. 4 Union causalities totaled eight killed and twenty-two seriously wounded but Mosby also captured 83 prisoners with weapons and 95 horses with their saddles. 3 While Ranger causalities were only three wounded and one killed. 3 SIGNIFICANCE 1. Short Term: The debacle of the Union’s charge at Miskel’s Farm further cemented the fame of Mosby and his Ranger’s.
This fight displayed the quality of Mosby’s leadership and the courage and loyalty of his men. Mosby turned adversity into victory and inspired his men. It also unfortunately displayed the mismanagement of tactical knowledge and leadership on the part of Flint and the Union soldiers. Within two months Mosby’s Rangers were mustered into the Confederate Army as Company A of the 43rd Battalion of Virginia Calvary. 3 2. Long Term: Mosby served two more years and was eventually promoted to Colonel by late 1864.
Elusive till the end and after the surrender of General Lee, Mosby disbanded his command late in April of 1865 rather than surrender to the Union who continually outfoxed. 3 While Mosby and his Rangers were definitely a nuisance to federal commanders it is uncertain as to how effective they were prolonging the conflict. 4 ANALYSIS Captain Flint failed to achieve his objective of surrounding and capturing the enemy forces of Mosby’s Rangers at Miskel’s Farm primarily because he misused the Principle of Manuever and Mass.
Captain Flint decided to trap Mosby and his men inside the fence line of the farm, not realizing he could also be trapping himself and his men. The gate to the farm swings inward so if the gate is bombarded from the inside and there is not enough room for it to swing open then everything inside would be trapped and not be able to escape the farm. Taking this into consideration, once Captain Flint and his men were located on the inside they did not take into account the tenacity and voraciousness of Mosby and his men.
Mosby and the Rangers were well rested and ready to fight. It even seemed that his men were glad the Federals enclosed themselves inside with them, that way the Rangers would not have to chase after the Federals. Mosby and his men could have hid inside the second fence line of the barn and shot the Federal’s from there but instead Mosby swung open the barn gate and charged after the Federal’s. Captain Flint used the Tenent of Synchronization, the Principles of Surprise and Security and lastly the BOS of Intelligence to surround and capture Mosby and his men on Miskel Farm.
Captain Flint acquired the intelligence of the location of where Mosby and his men were staying for the night. Allowing him to effectively surprise and trap Mosby and his men at the farm. Captain Mosby misused the principle of security but not posting guards around the farm while everyone slept. Captain Mosby did reverse the principle of surprise against captain Flint by turning adversity into triumph and charging against the Federals’ even though they were outnumbered, trapped inside the fence line of the farm and ill prepared for battle.
Captain Mosby also had the advantage of intelligence from one of his Rangers who had stayed the night at a friend’s house down the road from the farm and was in turn able to warn Mosby seconds before the Federal’s charged the farm. Bibliography CWTI Staff. “John S. Mosby- An Appraisal. ” Civil War Times Illustrated Nov. 1965: 4- 7, 54-59. Evans, Thomas J, James M Moyer, and Virgil Carrington Jones. “Tour # 14 The Battle of Miskel’s Farm. ” Mosby’s Confederacy A Guide to the Roads and Sites of Colonel John Singleton Mosby. Shippensburg: White Mane Publishing Company, 1991. 47-49.
FReeper Foxhole. “Colonel John Singleton Mosby (1833-1916). ” www. freerepublic. com. May 2003. 21 Apr. 2008 . Jones, Virgil Carrington. “Chantilly and Miskel Farm. ” Ranger Mosby. North Carolina: University of North Carolina, 1944. 108-114. Newborn, Horace. “The Operations of Mosbys Rangers. ” Blue & Gray Magazine Aug. 2000: 6-11. Stier, William J. “Specters At dawn. ” Civil War Times Feb. 2005: 24-32. Wert, Jeffry D. “Chapter 3, From Miskel’s to Grapewood. ” Mosby’s Rangers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990. 51-67. Williamson, James J. Mosby’s Rangers A Record of the Operations.
New York: Ralph B. Kenyon, 1896. 50-57. _______________________________________ 1 CWTI Staff, “John S. Mosby – An Appraisal,” 2005, Civil War Times / Nov 1965 www. TheHistoryNet. com>. 2 Evans, Thomas J, James M Moyer and Virgil Carrington Jones, Tour #14, The Battle of Miskel’s Farm (Shippensburg: White Mane Publishing, 1991) 47-49 3 Newborn, Horace, “The Operations of Mosbys Rangers,” 2000, Blue & Gray Magazine 4University of North Carolina, “Chantilly and Miskel Farm”s. < http://www. UF. Historical. edu/Civil War/Yeehaw> (15 April 2001). ———————–