The Confederate Pimpernel

Fame, even mere celebrity, creates a reality of its own. We are often curious about the reality behind the image, and if sometimes we are disappointed, we have to admit also that sometimes we are not. The story that Professor Ramage tells with authority cannot be thought of as disappointing in any way. In that sense, what's old is new, and what has been presumed to be predictable is in fact surprising, and then some.

We might be curious first as to how a man who rose to the rank of colonel only late in the Civil War should have attained to such fame. Mosby was constantly referred to in the Union as well as the Confederate newspapers—he was a bogeyman to the North and a hero to the South, even though he never commanded more than 400 men. The reach of Mosby's renown is hard to estimate, but I can think of three ways to approach it. He was the only Confederate to be treated as he was by a contemporary major author in Melville's poem, The Scout Towards Aldie. That work, which first appeared in Battle Pieces (1866), uses Mosby's name in every one of its stanzas, as the mysterious enemy comes to dominate that poem by dominating the imaginations of the invading Yankee soldiers he successfully opposes. Ramage has shown that psychological domination was one of Mosby's most powerful weapons; and Edmund Wilson, Aaron Kramer, and Stanton Garner have variously dealt with the qualities of Melville's...

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