It was 116 years ago that a feisty Confederate officer named Mosby was making Union troops in Northern Virginia look stupid. The short and wiry Mosby once captured a sleeping Union general and later eluded the more than 6,000 Union soldiers ordered to hang the rebel.
Now, proud sons and daughters of the Confederacy, believing that a man who could drive the Yankees crazy ought not be forgotten, have proposed naming a highway after Col. John Singleton Mosby.
The only hitch in this celebration of Southern solidarity is that many Northern Virginians do not want it.
The plan, originally embodied in a resolution of the Virginia Senate, called for renaming Little River Turnpike and part of Rte. 50 as the John S. Mosby Highway.
Residents along Little River Trunpike, which runs between Alexandria and Fairfax City, were quick to condemn the plan, claiming they would have to change their addresses and that an historic roadway would lose its historic name.
John H. Rust Jr., a lawyer seeking election to the Virginia House of Delegates, has become the spokesman for the anti-Mosby lobby.
"The name Little River Turnpike symbolizes the ambition and pioneer spirit of an era when Virginia was still the frontier," said Rust, whose great-grandfather, Capt. Charles Rust, was a Confederate officer in the Shenandoah Valley and a contemporary of Mosby.
Rust, in his virulent anti-Mosby rhetoric, has even resorted to paraphrasing a popular Anheuser-Busch beer commercial.
"You can call it Little; you can call it River; you can call it Turnpike -- but please don't call it Mosby," said Rust. He argues that Mosby "was not sufficiently important to the history of Virginia to have a whole highway named after him."
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the Annandale Chamber of Commerce, merchants along the highway and other Norther Virginians who hold the Little River Turnpike dear all have voiced opposition to the proposed name change.
In the face of such opposition, pro-Mosby forces have retreated and compromised. Beverly Coleman, Mosby's grandson and a prime mover in the introduction last spring of the Mosby Highway resolution, said yesterday he is willing to settle for renaming a section of Rte. 50 between Fairfax City and Winchester after his grandfather.
"There were over 100 episodes of encounters between the colonel's forces and the federals along that stretch of road," said Coleman, 80, in an interview yesterday.
While citizen opposition to renaming that section of Rte. 50 has not surfaced, a problem exists. The road already is named after two relatively prominent Civil War personalities: Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
Coleman, a Washington lawyer and retired Navy admiral, has given this name-overlap problem some thought. He says that Lee only crossed Rte. 50 on his way to and from the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, and Jackson only used it on his way to the battles of Bull Run and Antietam.
"Both those generals are pretty well supplied with roads in their honor," said Coleman, referring to the Lee highway, the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Highway and the Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway, all of which are in Virginia.
The naming decision, under the wording of the Senate resolution, will be left up to the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation. The department's recommendation will be made in November.
State Sen. Clive DuVall II (D-Fairfax), sponsor of the Mosby highway resolution, said yesterday that Mosby consistently has been "underrrated and undervalued" in Virginia Civil War history.
Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, the military leaders of the South and North, both prasied Mosby's courage and intelligence, DuVall has argued. Lee wrote in the summer of 1864: "With the loss of little more than 20 men, he has killed, wounded and captured about 1,200 of the enemy and taken more than 1,600 horses and mules, 230 cattle and 85 wagons and ambulances."
While students of the Civil War and devotees of the Little River Turnpike argue the Mosby highway proposals, there are Northern Virginia officials who have managed to keep from taking sides.
Supervisor Alan H. Magazine (D-Mason) whose district borders on Little River Turnpike, said yesterday, "As long as they keep the potholes away, I dont' care what they call it."
Magazine, it should be noted, is not running for reelection this year.