Mosby's Men Strike It Rich
— 1864 Valley Campaign —
The Federal offensive in the Shenandoah Valley begun in May 1864 faltered in the summer with Confederate victories and Gen. Jubal A. Early's Washington Raid in July. Union Gen. Philip H. Sheridan took command in August, defeated Early at Winchester in September and Cedar Creek in October, burned mills and bars, and crushed the remnants of Early's force at Waynesboro on March 2, 1865. Sheridan's victories contributed to President Abraham Lincoln's reelection in November 1864 and denied Gen. Robert E. Lee's army much-needed provisions from the "Breadbasket of the Confederacy."
During the Civil War, this was Brown's Shop Crossing on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In October 1864, as Union Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's army was beating Confederate Gen. Jubal A. Early's army in the Shenandoah Valley, this railroad was a vital Federal supply line. Lt. Col John S. Mosby's Partisan Rangers (43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry) sought to disrupt that line.
On the night of October 14, 1864, in a cut half a mile west where a bridge now crosses the line, Mosby's men tore rails from the track. At 2:30 A.M., Engine No. 27, pulling an eight-car passenger train from Baltimore, reached the break and fell onto its side. Pistol shots smashed car windows. Some of Mosby's 84 men entered the train shouting and ousted civilian men, soldiers returning to their units, women, and children, plus two army paymasters transporting $172,000 in paper "greenbacks" (so called because of their color).
German immigrants bound for a new home in Ohio refused to budge, either from ignorance of the English language or from stubbornness. In frustration, a ranger tossed a flaming bundle of New York Herald newspapers into the car, and homestead-seekers exited the now-burning train. Two Federal soldiers were shot dead, a woman was wounded, and the money was seized. The rangers galloped off to the relative safety of "Mosby's Confederacy," east of the Blue Ridge, and divided the loot. Each share totaled more than $2,000; Mosby declined his share.>br?>br? The rail line was broken only temporarily. Additional Union troops were detached to guard it anew.