Herman Melville on the Gray Ghost
The Gray Ghost, as John S. Mosby was known, inspired both the Union and Confederate armies. Mosby and his men inspired pride in the South and struck fear in the hearts of Union soldiers. That fear was captured in a poem by Herman Melville, called “The Scout Toward Aldie.”
“All spake of him, but few had seen
Except the maimed ones or the low;
Yet rumor made him every thing–
The man who crossed the field but now;
A spell about his life did cling —
Who to the ground shall Mosby bring? “
This very long poem is part of a collection of poetry published by Moby Dick author, Herman Melville in 1866. The interesting thing about the collection, including The Scout poem, is that parts of the incidents recorded were actually witnessed by Melville in Virginia during the Civil War.
Melville’s poetry in “Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War” chronicles Civil War events from John Brown at Harper’s Ferry to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Unfortunately for Melville, this endeavor did not bring him much favorable notice nor profit. Melville was a better novelist than a poet, even though he was not greatly appreciated for either during his lifetime.
In 1993, Stanton Garner published “The Civil War World of Herman Melville” in an effort to shed light on Melville’s life during the War Between the States, and as a way to reassess, if not redeem “Battle Pieces” through the lens of history from a perspective free from the negativity surrounding Melville during his life.
Read the entire poem, The Scout at Aldie, at www.civilwarpoetry.org.