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The Edge of Mosby’s Sword: The Life of Confederate Colonel William Henry Chapman

by Gordon Blackwell Bonan, Southern Illinois University Press

Occurring on the sidelines of the great campaigns in Virginia, the mounted raids and skirmishes by Colonel John S. Mosby’s 43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, gained their own niche in Civil War legend. Among the many supporting players who contributed to the success and fame of “Mosby’s Rangers” was William Henry Chapman, son of a wealthy slave-owning family who became one of the “Gray Ghost’s” most trusted officers. A thorn in the Union’s side throughout the war, Chapman later turned Republican—like Mosby himself—and spent 42 of his postwar years working for the Internal Revenue Service. In that role he often dealt with local corruption and the violent depredations of the Ku Klux Klan.

Researched and written by a descendant, Gordon Blackwell Bonan, The Edge of Mosby’s Sword recounts the 43rd Battalion’s exploits through the experiences of one of the many horsemen who contributed to the unit’s fearsome reputation. In reconstructing the life of a not-so-typical protagonist, Bonan also provides insight into the complex realities of life in prewar, wartime and post-bellum Virginia and the nation, though he sometimes offers more speculation than solid evidence regarding Chapman’s actual motivations. That quibble aside, this book will be welcomed by buffs with a penchant for the dramatic events that permeated John Mosby’s Confederacy.


Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here