150 years ago today he performed one of his most famous exploits. “The safety of the enterprise lay in its novelty;" he wrote, "nothing of the kind had been done before." He had set out with twenty-nine men and headed toward Fairfax Court House. Passing the Union pickets in the rainy darkness, they entered the town, where the Union headquarters were established, late at night without attracting notice. Squads were sent out to round up prisoners and horses. The telegraph wire was cut, to prevent word of the attack getting out. One man captured a soldier who was a guard at the headquarters of General Edwin Stoughton. Arriving at the house, Mosby and a few men dismounted and knocked on the door. When asked who they were, Mosby answered, “Fifth New York Cavalry with a dispatch for General Stoughton.” Mosby later wrote:
The door was opened and a staff officer, Lieutenant Prentiss, was before me. I took hold of his nightshirt, whispered my name in his ear, and told him to take me to General Stoughton's room. Resistance was useless, and he obeyed. A light was quickly struck, and on the bed we saw the general sleeping as soundly as the Turk when Marco Bozzaris waked him up. There was no time for ceremony, so I drew up the bedclothes, pulled up the general's shirt, and gave him a spank on his bare back, and told him to get up. As his staff officer was standing by me, Stoughton did not realize the situation and thought that somebody was taking a rude familiarity with him. He asked in an indignant tone what all this meant. I told him that he was a prisoner, and that he must get up quickly and dress.
I then asked him if he had ever heard of "Mosby", and he said he had.
"I am Mosby," I said. ...
We were in a critical situation, surrounded by the camps of several thousand troops with several hundred in the town. If there had been any concert between them, they could easily have driven us out; but not a shot was fired although we stayed there over an hour. As soon as it was known that we were there, each man hid and took care of himself. ...They had to get though the Union lines before night and they did it, though not without a good deal of danger. Riding directly through the Union forces, within sight of the sentinels, their ride was brought to a safe conclusion after swimming an ice cold stream swollen by melting snows.
When we reached the rendezvous at the courtyard, I found all the squads waiting for us with their prisoners and horses. There were three times as many prisoners as my men, and each was mounted and leading a horse. To deceive the enemy and baffle pursuit, the cavalcade started off in one direction and, soon after it got out of town, turned in another. We flanked the cavalry camps, and were soon on the pike between them and Centreville. As there were several thousand troops in that town, it was not thought possible that we would go that way to get out of the lines, so the cavalry, when it started in pursuit, went in an opposite direction. Lieutenant Prentiss and a good many prisoners who started with us escaped in the dark, and we lost a great many of the horses.