Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

The Unvanquished

The Untold Story of Lincoln’s Special Forces, the Manhunt for Mosby’s Rangers, and the Shadow War That Forged America’s Special Operations

by Patrick K. O’Donnell

From the bestselling author of The Indispensables, the unknown and dramatic story of irregular guerrilla warfare that altered the course of the Civil War and inspired the origins of America’s modern special operations forces

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 432
  • Publication Date May 07, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6286-1
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $30.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date May 07, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6287-8
  • US List Price $30.00

The Civil War is most remembered for the grand battles that have come to define it: Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, among others. However, as bestselling author Patrick K. O’Donnell reveals in The Unvanquished, a vital shadow war raged amid and away from the major battlefields that was in many ways equally consequential to the conflict’s outcome.

At the heart of this groundbreaking narrative is the epic story of Lincoln’s special forces, the Jessie Scouts, told in its entirety for the first time. In a contest fought between irregular units, the Scouts hunted John Singleton Mosby’s Confederate Rangers from the middle of 1863 up to war’s end at Appomattox. With both sides employing pioneering tradecraft, they engaged in dozens of raids and spy missions, often perilously wearing the other’s uniform, risking penalty of death if captured. Clashing violently on horseback, the unconventional units attacked critical supply lines, often capturing or killing high-value targets. North and South deployed special operations that could have changed the war’s direction in 1864, and crucially during the Appomattox Campaign, Jessie Scouts led the Union army to a final victory. They later engaged in a history-altering proxy war against France in Mexico, earning seven Medals of Honor; many Scouts mysteriously disappeared during that conflict, taking their stories to their graves.

An expert on special operations, O’Donnell transports readers into the action, immersing them in vivid battle scenes from previously unpublished firsthand accounts. He introduces indelible characters such as Scout Archibald Rowand; Scout leader Richard Blazer; Mosby, the master of guerrilla warfare; and enslaved spy Thomas Laws. O’Donnell also brings to light the Confederate Secret Service’s covert efforts to deliver the 1864 election to Peace Democrats through ballot fraud, election interference, and attempts to destabilize a population fatigued by a seemingly forever war. Most audaciously, the Secret Service and Mosby’s Rangers planned to kidnap Abraham Lincoln in order to maintain the South’s independence.

A little-known chronicle of the shadow war between North and South, rich in action and offering original perspective on history, The Unvanquished is a dynamic and essential addition to the literature of the Civil War.

Praise for The Unvanquished

An Amazon Best Book of the Month (History)

The Unvanquished brims with battles that read like Old West gunfights between lawmen and outlaws . . . A fine assemblage of raid-and-shootout stories strung together over the war’s tumultuous years. Told from the eye level of the saddle, seasoned with a dash of early John le Carré, Mr. O’Donnell’s work beautifully brings a covert Civil War out of the shadows.”—Jonathan W. Jordan, Wall Street Journal

“Gives the reader a fuller appreciation of the Civil War and its conduct.”Washington Free Beacon

“The earliest modern U.S. special forces first emerged during the Civil War, according to this rip-roaring account from bestseller O’Donnell . . . Nimbly intertwining the stories of these scouts and spies in brief and breezy chapters, O’Donnell emphasizes the innovativeness exhibited by unconventional forces despite a traditional military establishment who frowned on their ‘ungentlemanly’ behavior . . . An entertaining account of the ‘shadow war’ that defined the future of American special operations.”—Publishers Weekly

“A revealing history of the largely unknown role of irregular forces and undercover agents in the Civil War.”—Kirkus Reviews

The Unvanquished is a spectacular book from one of America’s finest historians. After years of deep research, Patrick K. O’Donnell has unearthed a magnificent Civil War epic. Beautifully written, every page shimmers. Thrusting the reader into violent clashes on horseback, commandos operating in their enemy’s uniform behind the lines, or the intrigue and interference in the election of 1864, O’Donnell resurrects an unknown shadow war. Mesmerizing, action-packed, and original, this triumphant narrative is destined for the screen. Impossible to put down.”—James L. Swanson, Edgar Award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer 

“In Patrick K. O’Donnell’s newest book, The Unvanquished, the practice of special operations by both the North and the South in the American Civil War is revealed in a way that only a talented historian could manage. The author has established himself as a master at the art of unearthing truly untold stories, conducting exhaustive archival research, and drawing on his skills as a gifted writer to produce a genuinely captivating story. Beautifully written, The Unvanquished is a terrifically absorbing account of a little-known aspect of the Civil War with much to draw and hold the reader. It is a must-read for anyone wishing to expand their knowledge of American special operations history.”—Will Irwin, retired Green Beret, former professor at Joint Special Operations University, and author of The Jedburghs and Abundance of Valor

“In his latest work, Patrick K. O’Donnell takes his readers on a fast-paced ride alongside scouts, spies, partisans, and counter-guerrilla groups during the Civil War. Effortlessly slipping back and forth between a compelling cast of characters and events, O’Donnell weaves seemingly disparate storylines into a compelling central theme and brings readers to a critical point in our nation’s history, when one misstep might have cast the nation into anarchy. Along the way, O’Donnell brings long-forgotten soldiers back to life, puts a new face to the story of irregular warfare during the Civil War, and reminds us that history does repeat itself.”—Robert F. O’Neill author of Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby and Small but Important Riots 

“Once or twice a generation, an extraordinary historian will rediscover a long-buried aspect of our past and restore its significance in the public eye through masterful research and storytelling. Patrick K. O’Donnell has done exactly that with his brilliant new book, The Unvanquished. From the first days of the Jessie Scouts and Mosby’s guerrilla operations in Virginia, to Sheridan’s legendary operatives whose final battle in Mexico remains an enduring mystery, O’Donnell brings to life not just an unheralded aspect of Civil War history, but shows how their legacy served as a blueprint in the early days of the OSS as our dark world agents and officers struggled build an organization that could defeat Nazi Germany. Patrick O’Donnell connects the long-forgotten dots between the Civil War special operations pioneers whose exploits largely went unheralded and the rebirth of modern special forces in the fires of World War II. The Unvanquished extends and enriches the legacy and heritage of our clandestine warriors and breathes life into some of the most fascinating, forgotten aspects of Civil War history. This book is not to be missed.”—John R. Bruning, author of Indestructible, Race of Aces, and Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island 

“Does Patrick K. O’Donnell find his historical subjects or the other way around? Either way, the results are always truly remarkable. The Unvanquished reads like a compelling historical thriller and yet this is a true story, based on the innovative, original scholarship of a truly great historian and storyteller. I devoured this book. Highest recommendation.”—John C. McManus, Ph.D., author of To the End of the Earth: The U.S. Army and the Downfall of Japan, 1945

Praise for The Indispensables:

Recipient of the Bette Hunt Award from the Marblehead Museum in Marblehead, Massachusetts

Honorable Mention for the 2022 Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award

“Readers who have enjoyed Mr. O’Donnell’s earlier books will not be disappointed with [The Indispensables] . . . Mr. O’Donnell draws upon a variety of primary sources: diaries, letters, orderly books, manuscripts and period newspapers. Secondary sources, old and new, are scoured for apt quotation . . . Mr. O’Donnell’s prose is efficient. The book’s 40 snappy chapters complement his fast-paced writing. He is at his best when it comes to warfare and its apparatus, on land and at sea. Maps help situate the action, as does additional context . . . Those seeking a detailed, reliable account of the War for American Independence’s earliest years—one that embraces its nautical dimensions—will find it here.” —Mark G. Spencer, Wall Street Journal

“Patrick K. O’Donnell has turned five years of research into an engrossing tale.” —Associated Press

“History at the combat soldier’s level. O’Donnell’s vivid writing reveals the sights, sounds, smells, fears, and feelings of the men who do the actual fighting in wars.”—Francis P. Sempa, New York Journal of Books

“O’Donnell’s masterful storytelling transports readers to the ice-filled Delaware River on 25 December 1776 . . . A solid and articulate book.”—Army History

“A vivid account of an impressive Revolutionary War unit and a can’t-miss choice for fans of O’Donnell’s previous books.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Comprehensive . . . Revolutionary War buffs will delight in the copious details and vivid battle scenes.” —Publishers Weekly

“Having saved the fledgling American army from complete destruction at the Battle of Long Island and made Washington’s Christmas Day counterstroke at Trenton possible, the Marblehead Regiment truly was Washington’s indispensable force. Patrick K. O’Donnell’s gift for storytelling brings the once famous regiment back to life, as he takes readers from the highest war councils to the grime and grit of battle, as it was keenly felt by the hard-bitten Marbleheaders. In this vivid and brilliant narrative, O’Donnell demonstrates that he is at the top of his game, as he has now written the one indispensable book on the early and most trying days of the American Revolution.” —Dr. James Lacey, author of The Washington War

“Once again Patrick K. O’Donnell has succeeded in shedding new light on a previously overlooked or unappreciated aspect of American military history. The Indispensables is absolutely fascinating, a beautifully written account of men at war, with great issues in the balance. I know of no finer or more insightful historian of the American soldier’s experience than O’Donnell. Highest recommendation!” —John C. McManus, author of Fire and Fortitude: The U.S. Army in the Pacific War, 1941-1943

“Perfectly paced and powerfully wrought, this is the story of common men who gave everything for an ideal—America. The product of meticulous research, The Indispensables is the perfect reminder of who we are, when we need it most.” —Adam Makos, author of the New York Times bestseller A Higher Call

“This is an amazing book about not just a regiment but a community. People from Marblehead contributed to every aspect of the American Revolution’s drama, politically and militarily, in the legislature and on the battlefield, on land and at sea. Patrick O’Donnell gives us a fast-paced, exciting look at Marblehead’s people, men and women, Black, white and Native American, soldier, politician and townsperson, Patriot and Loyalist, a community as diverse as the Revolution itself.” —Don N. Hagist, author of The Revolution’s Last Men and editor of the Journal of the Revolution

“As the American colonies started down the road to American states, localities would often unite under their community leaders for the great struggle they sensed they were a part of. Such was the case of John Glover and his band of Marblehead sailor-soldiers. Historian Patrick K. O’Donnell sets forth in a gripping narrative the transformation of this New England town as it moves from protest to armed revolution. It is a fascinating, unique journey of a band of Massachusetts rebels who play a critical role in George Washington’s, and America’s, success and independence. Mr. O’Donnell’s work is a valuable contribution to furthering our understanding of the role of common soldiers and sailors in America’s founding.” —Todd W. Braisted, author of Grand Forage 1778

“Based on meticulous research in primary source materials, Patrick O’Donnell has woven a gripping narrative that captures the extraordinary story of fighting men of whom few Americans have ever heard, but who nonetheless proved themselves ‘indispensable’ to the cause of American liberty.” —Glenn F. Williams, Ph.D., author of Dunmore’s War: The Last Conflict of America’s Colonial Era

“Broadly conceived and beautifully written, The Indispensables is an absolutely gripping book. Authored by the highly respected historian Patrick K. O’Donnell, it explores the story of the community of Marblehead, MA, and its famous Mariners Regiment, led by the determined John Glover, whose sailors and soldiers made a host of valuable military contributions through the critical battles of Trenton and Princeton. Highly recommended reading for anyone wanting to learn more about the real realities of the Revolutionary War.” —James Kirby Martin, co-author of A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789

Praise for Patrick K. O’Donnell:

“One of our finest military historians who has few equals as a great storyteller.” —Carlo D’Este, author of Patton, A Genius for War and Eisenhower, A Soldier’s Life

“Few authors have the same kind of enthusiasm and gusto that O’Donnell brings to his topic. His gift is taking the reader from the map room to the battlefield. It’s an exciting, often harrowing, trip worth taking.” —USA Today

“O’Donnell admirably blends a story of ardent farmers, merchants and mariners with a combat story of sharp, bloody engagements . . . An example of combat writing at its best.” —Wall Street Journal, on Washington’s Immortals

“Patrick O’Donnell is blessed with a rare gift for storytelling and a keen empathy for the realities of soldiers in combat. He walks in the footsteps of his subjects like few other historians are able—or willing—to do.” —John C. McManus, Ph.D., author of The Dead and Those About to Die and Deadly Sky

Author Tour Dates



Richmond, VA


Hazel and Fulton Chauncey Lecture

428 N Arthur Ashe Blvd.

Time TK