Chasing Mosby, Killing Booth

The 16th New York Volunteer Cavalry

James Carson

McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2017, 264 pages

Book Review published on: June 1, 2018

Grand battles such as Bull Run, Manassas, and Gettysburg were the norm during the Civil War and are covered extensively in Civil War literature. However, very little is written about one of the keys to the eventual outcome of the War between the States, the defense of Washington, D.C. In Chasing Mosby, Killing Booth by James Carson, the author recounts the story of the 16th New York Cavalry, from its initial recruitment and mustering in Plattsburgh and Staten Island, through its numerous and sometimes successful efforts against Mosby’s Rangers and other Confederate forces in northern Virginia, to its final mustering out of federal service in September 1865.

In this important account of chasing Mosby, Carson provides a valuable insight into the guerrilla-style tactics of Mosby’s Rangers versus the largely static defensive and reactive mode of the Union forces of the 22nd Corps. By his own account, Mosby’s main objective was to keep Washington’s cavalry regiments tied down and unable to reinforce Union armies in the Shenandoah Valley and Southern Virginia. By using hit-and-run tactics and not becoming decisively engaged by a much larger Union force, he successfully executed his plan for over two years. Conversely, Union forces were only successful once they morphed their tactics under the leadership of Col. Henry M. Lazelle to larger, multi-company scouting and “reconnaissance in force” cavalry operations, which generally accomplished their mission of obtaining intelligence on enemy locations, activities, and objectives. Mr. Carson does an outstanding job of describing the tactics of the opposing forces in an in-depth manner that allows the reader to get a full appreciation of the challenges associated with each fighting force.

The only disappointment in this book is the lack of detail about the search for and killing of John Wilkes Booth. I found the exploits of the regiment in hunting and ultimately finding Booth enthralling, but I wanted more depth. Unfortunately, Carson focused most of his work on chasing Mosby and only included a short synopsis of the exploits of the 16th in tracking down and killing Booth and capturing his accomplices shortly after the assassination of Lincoln.

Overall, the book is worth the read. It would definitely benefit military historians with a focus in the Civil War but should also be in the professional library of all U.S. Army cavalry officers because of the heritage of the 16th New York Volunteer Cavalry.

Book Review written by: Col. James L. Davis, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas