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Hagerstown man preserves great-grandfather's Civil War diaries, other items

July 18, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION
  • Civil War items of Col. Edward M. Mobley are displayed at the Hagerstown home of his great-grandson Charles "Jim" Mobley Jr. Among the artifacts are photos of Mobley, his diary and a letter he wrote to his wife.
Photo by Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

Charles “Jim” Mobley Jr. considers himself to be fortunate that he has the opportunity to hold the long-barreled revolver once carried by his great-grandfather, who formed a group of Union fighters in Hagerstown as the country became embroiled in the Civil War.

He also can draw the sword once carried by Col. Edward M. Mobley, hold the leather pouch that carried the colonel’s pistol cartridges and read through Mobley’s diaries, which contain details of his war experiences in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

But Colonel Mobley’s story goes much deeper than that.

Mobley already was carving out a name for himself in Hagerstown as an elected official when he became caught up in the unfolding events of the war.

He was elected sheriff of Washington County in 1859. A passage from the 1898 book “Portrait and Biographical Record of the Sixth Congressional District” describes the times in town then as “troublous.”

That’s because Washington County was on the border between the North and the South and the tensions were reflected in the county jail, which Mobley ran on Jonathan Street.

At one time, the book stated, there were no fewer than six people in the jail on charges of murder stemming from political unrest that was brewing, according to the book.

After serving as sheriff for two years, Col. Mobley heeded President Abraham Lincoln’s first call for 75,000 volunteers and found enough men in Hagerstown to form a unit, said Jim Mobley.

The group went to Baltimore, where it was designated Company A, 7th Maryland Regiment Volunteer (U.S.), Mobley said.

Starting as captain of the unit and rising to the rank of colonel, Mobley was wounded twice in combat — once in the leg and once in the neck — and was among the Union troops present when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at the courthouse in Appomattox, Va., on April 9, 1865.

Among the items that his great-grandson has at his Hagerstown home is a letter the colonel wrote to his wife Ellen when Lee surrendered.

Colonel Mobley and his wife had 10 sons, including Edward Carver, who fought alongside his father.

Louis Richmond Mobley, Colonel Mobley’s eighth son, was Jim Mobley’s grandfather. Louis Richmond Mobley’s son, Charles L. Mobley, was Jim Mobley’s father.

With the colonel’s artifacts displayed on a table in Mobley’s home, Mobley talked recently about his great-grandfather’s experiences in the Civil War.

The artifacts include a patch displaying Col. Mobley’s captain’s bars. There are slings for his sword, a worn leather holster for his Savage revolver and a couple of tintype photographs, one showing Colonel Mobley in an 1864 winter camp. There is a portrait of a bearded Col. Mobley, while another photograph shows him participating in a parade on what appears to be South Potomac Street, Mobley said.

In the background of the South Potomac Street photograph is the First Hagerstown Hose Co., of which Col. Mobley was a member.

Mobley said that when he was growing up in his family’s home on Oak Hill Avenue in the 1930s, his great-grandfather’s war artifacts were kept in a drawer in a tallboy.

“My sister and I would get the drawer open every once in a while and play with (the items). Then we could catch heck from my father,” Mobley recalled.

Mobley said his great-grandfather was given a second sword by the City of Hagerstown when the 7th Maryland Regiment Volunteer was formed.

That sword was passed on to a relative, who Mobley believes sold it. He said he thinks it ended up in a museum in Delaware.

“It’s a good reflection to think about 150 years ago when this stuff was being used and how fortunate I am to still have possession of some of this paraphernalia,” said Mobley, who worked at Jamison Door Co. in Hagerstown for 27 years before retiring.

Mobley, 82, said he is not sure what he will do with the collection of memorabilia.

“My hope is to get a good home for it. It’s history that needs to be shared,” Mobley said.

Mobley said that when reading passages in his great-grandfather’s diaries, he has been impressed by his command of the English language.

The pages of the diaries are yellow with age, as is the letter the colonel sent to his wife when Lee surrendered.

Mobley pulls out the letter and carefully scans the words as he gets ready to read it.

Col. Mobley talks in the letter about getting close to Appomattox at about midnight on April 8, 1865, after marching for 18 hours.

Lee had abandoned the Confederate capital of Richmond, Va., and retreated west, hoping to join his army with Confederate forces in North Carolina. Union forces pursued and cut off the Confederate retreat.

At the Appomattox Courthouse, Lee launched an attack to break through the Union forces to his front, assuming that those Union forces consisted of cavalry. When he realized the cavalry was backed up by two corps of Union infantry, Lee had no choice but to surrender.

In the letter to his wife Ellen, the colonel wrote of the unexpected turn of events.

“This indeed has been a glorious day as the papers will have already informed you,” Colonel Mobley wrote.

After marching toward Appomattox, Colonel Mobley said, he was involved in an effort to “drive the Rebs which was done easily for nearly a mile.”

He wrote that just as his unit was about to make a bayonet charge on the enemy, Union soldiers learned of the truce.

“Thousands of hats were thrown into the air at once and all of us shouting the joy we felt after so great a victory so easily won when we expected a bloody fight,” Col. Mobley wrote to his wife.

The colonel was wounded in the leg at the Battle of Bethesda Church on May 27, 1864, in Hanover County, Va., his great-grandson said.

“He bound up the wounded member himself and refused to leave the field,” according to his obituary in The Sun.

He was injured again on Aug. 18, 1864, during the Second Battle of the Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg, Va. In that conflict, the color bearers had been shot and Col. Mobley snatched a flag from one of the men and was shot in the neck, according to his obituary.

After the Battle of Antietam, Col. Mobley was made provost marshal and his regiment was stationed in Williamsport, Jim Mobley said. In December 1863, Mobley was transferred to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., where he served as provost marshal from March 28 to July 2, Jim Mobley said.

The job of provost marshal was not unlike that of  sheriff and Mobley’s job involved keeping the peace in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and guarding prisoners, Mobley said.

When the war ended, the colonel returned to Hagerstown and worked as a collector of state and county taxes, assessor and deputy internal revenue collector, his great-grandson said.

Col. Mobley died April 4, 1906, and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery on South Potomac Street in Hagerstown.

His burial site is marked by a large stone with “Mobley” inscribed at the bottom. A plaque in his honor can be found at 525 N. Locust St.

“Colonel Mobley had an interesting war record,” The (Baltimore) Sun newspaper remarked in a “special dispatch” when reporting his death in 1906. The newspaper noted that the colonel’s duties in the war included being sent with his regiment to guard the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in the spring of 1863.

Members of the Mobley family were involved in a variety of business interests over the years in the Hagerstown area.

Col. Mobley followed in the footsteps of his father in a carriage-making business that was on Washington Street, Jim Mobley said.

Jim Mobley said his grandfather was a pharmacist in Hagerstown and his father, Charles L. Mobley, owned and operated a jewelry and watch-making business, known as Burnett and Mobley, on North Potomac Street.

Jim Mobley worked at Fairchild Aircraft north of Hagerstown before he went to work for Jamison Door Co.

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