Artifact Spotlight: The “Mosby” Saddle
On June 22, 1863, a bullet pierced the saddle and leg of Private John N. Ballard, a man most notable for losing his right leg twice in battle during the Civil War.
Hello! I’m Rachel Scott, Curator and Archivist here at the John Gott Library. This month’s artifact spotlight is the Mosby Saddle. The colloquial name for this artifact around the library, “The Mosby Saddle,” is actually a misnomer. The saddle belonged to John M. Ballard, a Private in the 43rd Battalion of the Virginia Cavalry under Mosby’s command. I suppose the “Ballard Saddle” wouldn’t draw quite the attention in Old Salem as does the name Mosby, although maybe it should. I’ll let you be the judge.
John Ballard was a young man of 22 years in April of 1861 when he enrolled as a Private in the 2nd South Carolina Infantry. Two years and one month later, in May of 1863, he would join Company A of what would become one of the most famous battalions of the Civil War, Mosby’s Partisan Rangers, or the 43rd Virginia Cavalry.
Following the Rangers’ raid on Seneca Mills, Maryland, Mosby and Ballard made their way to the Bull Run Mountains on the east, near Ewell’s Chapel, to resume patrol. Unbeknownst to them, a concealed US Infantry under the command of Union General George Meade lie in waiting for Mosby’s Rangers, and the confederate soldiers were attacked on their approach to the Chapel that June morning. It is there that Ballard took a musket ball to the right leg, with any structural integrity spared by the bullet being lost on the rough ride back to the Bull Run Mountains. Ballard was transported to the home of Robert Whiteacre near the top of the mountain for amputation, and then to Bennevue, the home of Mr. William Ayre in Fauquier County, to convalesce. He was then admitted to the Richmond General Hospital #1. On a disability discharge from the hospital dated October 17, 1863, Ballard retired to his home in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Retirement did not seem to suit Mr. Ballard, as he was back in service with Mosby by winter on a prosthetic leg. His first prosthesis was crushed in battle near Halltown, Virginia in a charge led by Captain Adolpheus Edward Richards, marking the second time John Ballard would lose his right leg in combat. Afterwards, the artificial leg of US Cavalry Colonel Ulric Dahlgren was recycled and fitted to Ballard, and it is on this leg that he saw the completion of the Civil War on active duty as a 1st Lieutenant to the 56th Virginia Infantry Regiment.
After the War was over, Ballard made his home in Fairfax county. Employed as the Commissioner of Revenue for the county for the next 32 years, he would live out the rest of his life in Fairfax married to Miss Lillie Thrift (m. 1874) with whom he had four children.
John Ballard attended several reunions of the 43rd VA Cavalry including the 1895 50–year reunion held here in Marshall, where this photo was taken in which Ballard is seen resting his crutch on his wooden leg.
He also attended the 1897 reunion in Baltimore, the 1905 reunion in Fredericksburg, and the anniversary of Gettysburg in 1913.
After his death in 1922, so Library lore tells us, his bullet-pierced saddle went to his son who was a contemporary of Mr. John Gott. For years, Mr. Gott offered to purchase the saddle from Ballard’s son with no success. Years passed, and when Ballard Jr. passed on the John N. Ballard collection became part of his estate. Mr. Gott approached the executor of the estate regarding the saddle, and unlike the late Ballard Jr, the executor of the estate considered the old, dusty saddle junk and was more than happy to gift it to Mr. Gott free of charge. John Gott would retain the saddle, held in safe keeping, until the founding of the Fauquier Heritage and Preservation Foundation and the Library in 1993, at which time Mr. Gott gifted the saddle to the Library.
Media source: Fairfax County Photo Archive, Group 168, Fairfax County Library, Virginia Room
Special Thanks to Mr. Robert Sinclair, FHPF President and resident Keeper of Institutional Knowledge, for the background information on the provenance of the object.