I've always suspected this but have never seen any concrete proof. Was the fictitious Edgar Rice Burroughs character John Carter based on the civil war hero/villain John S. Mosby?

Mosby was arguable the most famous enlisted man (became an officer during the war) of the United States Civil war. In the South his dashing exploits made him one of the great heroes of the "Lost Cause." In the North he was painted as the blackest of scoundrels, the boogie man, a fact explained by his amazing successes during the war. So great became the fame of Mosby's partisan exploits that soldiers of fortune came from Europe to share his adventures. Among his daring exploits:

  • Mosby was the chief scout for JEB Stuart when Stuart rode a circle around the attacking Union Army commanded by Gen. George B. McClellan outside of Richmond.
  • Operated behind Union Lines, captured the Payroll of the Army of the Potomac several times. In Virginia there is still talk of finding some of Mosby's hidden gold.
  • Captured the Union General in charge of the occupation of N. Virginia from his bed at his head quarters in Fairfax City, including his staff.
  • Required the Union to commit as many as 10,000 calvary to pursue and protect against his raids, Mosby himself never commanded more than 200 men throughout the war, sometimes as few as a handful.
  • It is said the planks of Chain Bridge connecting Northern Virginia and Washington DC were pulled up every night to protect the Union's capital from John Mosby's Partisan rangers.
  • After President Lincoln was shot, the Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton issued orders to arrest Mosby. So great was his fame, Stanton just knew he was behind the assassination. Mosby was found innocent as he was having dinner that evening with the Union General occupying Virginia.
  • Honored by General Robert E. Lee, Mosby was chosen to command his personal escort detail which accompanied Lee to Appomattox Court House April 9, 1865 where Lee surrendered to General Grant.
  • Mosby's manual on cavalry tactics would be used for decades at West Point after the war.
  • Mosby's autobiography would become a best seller in the post civil war United States in the early 20th century.
  • In his autobiography, Mosby counts some of his former Union captives, as among his best friends.

Back to my Question. Edgar Rice Burroughs, the future author of Tarzan, would begin writing about the fictitious John Carter in 1912( A Princess of Mars). The fictitious John Carter being a famous Virginian Cavalryman who lost faith, left the south and went prospecting in the west after the civil war. Burroughs' John Carter was a discredited man who ultimately overcame himself to again display decisive thinking and a flare for military action and bravery, this time in the martian civil war also about slavery. This also paralleled Col. Mosby who also left the South in disgrace just ahead of death threats and attempts on his life, after becoming a Republican and endorsing General Grant for the Presidency.

Anyway, any hard evidence that Boroughs based John Carter on Mosby or is it all in my head?

  • 3
    You might find this interesting...
    – justCal
    Nov 3, 2017 at 23:37
  • 2
    Dude, that's an excellent find user2448131 !!!!
    – user27618
    Nov 4, 2017 at 2:24
  • @user2448131 - Agreed. It is so good, I think you've earned a name. I'm going to start calling you .... "Bob".
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 7, 2017 at 13:41
  • @T.E.D. I do have to admit to never having been called dude before. Maybe a name is in order.
    – justCal
    Nov 7, 2017 at 14:07
  • Tis also contains possible hints: thepatronsaintofsuperheroes.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/…
    – mart
    Nov 7, 2017 at 14:55

1 Answer 1


I do not find any direct author quotes concerning the John Carter character creation, which would fully answer the question, but there is an interesting connection between Edgar Rice Burroughs(ERB) and Mosby.

An entry on the civil war discussion forum CivilWarTalk talks of an encounter that George T Burroughs, father of ERB, had during the civil war. This encounter was recorded by Mary Burroughs in MEMOIRS OF A WAR BRIDE and details George Burroughs 'night ride' with a disguised Mosby who was apparently scouting for a raid. The volume wasn't widely published, but just held mainly within the family. It does, however, give a direct family connection between ERB and Mosby.

The character of John Carter shows other aspects, however, which can also be attributed to Burroughs himself. He was himself a cavalryman:

became an enlisted soldier with the 7th U.S. Cavalry in Fort Grant, Arizona Territory. After being diagnosed with a heart problem and thus ineligible to serve, he was discharged in 1897

and a gold miner:

...where he took on managing their ill-fated Snake River gold dredge, a classic bucket-line dredge.

(Both above quotes from the ERB wiki article)

So the Arizona gold mining aspect of the Carter character come from Burroughs himself. Like any good author, he drew on what he knew, his experiences, and family history, to create his character.

One last note, an article I found of interest concerning Mosby, and his attitude towards slavery. From a letter Mosby wrote a letter to Samuel "Sam" Chapman In June 1907:

Mosby explained his reasons as to why he fought for the Confederacy, despite personally disapproving of slavery. While he admitted that the Confederate states had seceded to protect and defend their institution of slavery, he had felt it was his patriotic duty as a Virginian to fight on behalf of the Confederacy, stating that "I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery—a soldier fights for his country—right or wrong—he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in" and that "The South was my country."

(emphasis mine) So I guess if a northerner were to include aspects of a Confederate soldier in his character creation, one that fought out of loyalty, despite his personal beliefs, might be more conceivable.

  • 1
    That last bit about fighting for the south and slavery closely parallels Mosby's own explanation of why he fought for the Confederacy after having at first spoken out publicly against succession. And I'm glad it was you who wrote the winner, your original comment was a revelation. Great Answer, thank you.
    – user27618
    Nov 7, 2017 at 16:47
  • Maybe I wasn't clear enough, but the last bit was Mosby's own explanation. I'll edit to clarify.
    – justCal
    Nov 7, 2017 at 18:00

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