GIBSON CLAY DAVIS – Colonel John S. Mosby’s Rangers


Gibson Clay Davis was born February 13, 1844 in Rappahanock County, Virginia, a son of Milton B. and Octavia (Jett) Davis. He enlisted in Company F of Colonel John S. Mosby’s irregular cavalry. This celebrated band of mounted men, known as “Mosby’s Rangers,” gained notoriety from 1863 through 1865 by harassing the Union Army In Virginia’s Shenan­doah Valley. Davis was one of nine Mosby men cap­tured on October 29, 1864 during a skirmish at Upperville, Va. He was imprisoned at the Old Capi­tol Prison in Washington, D. C. until February 6, 1865, at which time he was transferred to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor. He was released there on June 13, 1865. Davis came to Texas after the war and married in Chambers County in 1876 to Virginia Moore “Ninnie” Alston, a daughter of William J. Alston. They built a substantial farming operation on Lake Miller near Wallisville. After the death of his first wife, he was married secondly in 1880 to Miss Rachel Mayes, daughter of Joshua J. and Sarah (Dunman) Mayes. G. C. Davis served as the sheriff of Chambers County from 1880 to 1896 and operated a hotel at Wallisville from 1895 until 1915. He died January 12, 1918 at Wallisville and is buried in the Wallisville Cemetery. Sheriff Davis and his first wife, Virginia, had the two following children: Edna, born in 1878 and died about 1883 at Wallisville; and Lena Virginia [1881— 1951], who married first in 1900 to Robert L. Kilgore and secondly to Charles Tarkilsen. Sheriff Davis and his second wife, Rachel, later formally adopted their two granddaughters, Jennie Moore Kilgore [1902—1987], who married Joseph Hennessy; and Octavia Jett Kilgore (1905—1989], who married Lester Byerly LaFour.

Almost 2,000 men would serve with Mosby 80% being from Virginia. Many were too young to join the regular army, yet Mosby favored these young troopers. "They haven't sense enough to know danger when they see it, and will fight anything I tell them to," he once noted.

"Mosby's Confederacy" encompassed almost 125 square miles in the Piedmont region of Fauquier and Loudoun counties with secluded country lanes, past open farmland and rolling pastures. It was obvious that the terrain favored guerrilla warfare. A lone sentry could sit astride his horse on a hilltop and see for miles. Forests provided natural cover, and the ubiquitous stone walls gave temporary refuge.

The people of Virginia may have been Mosby's greatest asset. Jeffry D. Wert, author of Mosby's Rangers, wrote, "When Mosby came to Virginia, he made his mission theirs and gave shape to people's lives for over two years." The rangers could not have operated without the cooperation and assistance of local citizens. "Jeb" Stuart once cautioned Mosby to "not have any established headquarters anywhere but in the saddle." Accordingly, Mosby and his rangers lived in "safe houses" throughout the region. Many had hiding places--trapdoors and secret wall panels that enabled them to go undetected when houses were searched by Union soldiers.

Mosby's successes so irritated Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant that after the Berryville wagon train raid on August 19,1864, in which 29 of 30 Union soldiers were killed, the North's top military leader told Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan to hang any rangers he captured without benefit of a trial. Sheridan's main objective was to defeat Maj. Gen. Jubal Early, not Mosby, in the Shenandoah Valley, and he delayed committing any men to the new task. Three weeks after Sheridan's defeat of Early at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, Grant again instructed Sheridan to "clear out the country so that it will not support Mosby's gang." Brigadier General Wesley Merritt was given four days to destroy all barns and mills in Snickersville before moving on to other areas. A Middleburg resident reported, "The whole heavens are illuminated by the fires." Mosby was a hunted man, his days clearly numbered.

Mosby did not known of Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, until he read about it in the Baltimore American newspaper. Soon afterward, Union Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sent a message to Confederate stragglers: "Those who do not surrender will be brought in as prisoners of war. The guerrilla chief Mosby will not be paroled." Mosby chose to disband the 43rd Battalion rather than surrender. On Friday, April 21, 1865, almost 200 men gathered for a farewell address read by Mosby's younger brother, William. In part, Mosby had written: "The vision we have cherished of a free and independent country, has vanished, and the country is now the spoil of a conqueror. I disband your organization in preference to surrendering it to our enemies."