...Joe Shelby was the best general that ever drew sword on Missouri soil.

SWMODave

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shelby.jpg

While the Confederacy had cavalry commanders like Stuart, Hampton and Lee east of the Appalachians, and Forrest and Mosby in the ‘Western theatre’, for the Trans-Mississippi region, it was Joseph Orville Shelby and the Swamp Fox ‘Jeff’ Thompson.

After receiving a large inheritance at the age of 21, the Kentucky born ‘Jo” Shelby moved to Lafayette County, MO and started a hemp rope business. He also bought a 700 acre plantation and became one of the largest slave holders in Missouri. But by 1860, according to the State Historical Society of Missouri, inexperience and poor business management forced him to sell the business. Yet like other notable generals who might have failed in business prior to the 1860’s, the war would reveal the gifted leader and fearless warrior Jo Shelby was.

Much has been written of the exploits of Jo Shelby and his Iron Brigade during the war. On this day (May 16) in 1865, Brigadier General Joseph Shelby became the last Major General in the Confederate Army, though the promotion was never officially confirmed, with the Confederate government in hiding. After Kirby Smith surrendered the Dept of Trans Mississippi, Shelby’s spirit of defiance became even more popular after leading men south into Mexico, refusing to surrender. As remarkable as Shelby’s exploits were during the war, it was after his return to Missouri in 1867 where some would say, the most admirable traits of Joseph Shelby’s character truly revealed itself.

Less than a decade later, he became the topic of discussion after being interviewed at the infamous Planter House about the highly contentious Presidential election, which threatened to lead the country into armed conflict again. Missouri had voted for the Democratic candidate, Tilden, who had taken the popular vote by over a quarter million votes. The electoral vote was yet to be decided when Shelby was interviewed. To explain what Shelby said, former Colonel Alonzo Slayback was interviewed the following day and asked about his reaction. He replied “I understand General Shelby to be in favor of law and constitution, upheld by lawful and constitutional means, and if we are fit to be a free people, we must learn to have patience when there is political excitement in the country, and not fly to arms for the overthrow of every administration that may not represent our personal views and predilections. General Shelby was the idol of the Missouri cavalry and has more military genius than any survivor of the Trans-Mississippi department. As such I honor and respect any views he may entertain, and any expression of them he may see proper to make.”

After living life as a farmer near Adrian, MO, President Grover Cleveland appointed Shelby as the US Marshal for the western district of Missouri in 1893. This was not a job for a weak person, as the state still bore old wounds, and remained stubbornly fractured. His appointment raised the dander of Republicans in the East, and one Senator was quoted as stating “ Nearly thirty years have elapsed since the termination of the war. All that one can ask, even the most loyal Unionist, is that the government shall not be confided to men who, during that awful time, represented not fair battle, but rapine, cruelty and chaos. We, or most of us, believe Jo Shelby belonged to the latter class.”

In Missouri, however, the appointment was a popular one, with endorsements coming in from both parties and factions, and from friends and former foes. The honeymoon didn’t last long though, as each appointment Shelby made upon assuming the office, was criticized by one faction or the other. He kept two Republican subordinates on staff, which was not popular with fellow Democrats. And to fill a vacant deputy position, he hired a young black man named Lee Jackson. This was an unpopular decision among fellow former slaveholders, and an exasperated Shelby finally wrote in a public letter ”The young man is competent to render effective service in lines where white men cannot do as well perhaps as he will do. I appointed him for efficiency, and have no patience with that sentiment that gropes always among the tombstones instead of coming out into the bright light of existing life and conditions. . . I am right in what I have done, and by the right I propose to stand.”

During the nationwide Pullman strike in 1894, personal friend and fellow Democrat Missouri governor William Stone demanded of Shelby to explain his actions while protecting railroad property. Shelby’s initial three word reply of “Go to hell” was reworded to “I am acting under the orders of Uncle Sam; ask him.” While he never disavowed the Confederate cause, he did express regret for taking part in the Border War with Kansas. He told historian William Conelley “I was in Kansas at the head of an armed force. I was there to kill Free-state men. I did kill them. I am now ashamed of myself for having done so. I had no business there. No Missourian had any business there with arms in his hands.”

In 1896, he further frustrated friends by endorsing McKinley, the Republican candidate for President, writing in another open letter “I will abandon friends, party and kindred rather than yield even implied consent to such a base assortment of political heresies. A good patient will not take a quack's medicine. If he does he dies, and if the party swallows the Chicago prescription its days are numbered, its death certain.” - The Scranton Tribune Aug 15, 1896

In 1897, Marshal Shelby was returning from a trip to serve summonses when he contracted pneumonia and ten days later, died on February 13, 1897, at the age of 67. He is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri.

To the end, Joseph “Jo” O Shelby was a man of integrity and fought for principles he believed right, and did not allow others, friend or foe, to steer his course. Dennis Cecil, a private in Jennison’s Cavalry, who faced Shelby on Price’s 64 raid, wrote “It is needless to comment upon the merits or demerits of great chieftains, but the fact is patent that " Joe " Shelby was the best general that ever drew sword on Missouri soil.”

shelby1.jpg

shelby2.jpg

Watertown Republican Feb 17,1897

Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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#3
Still, Shelby's exploits do not seem to be as well publicized as the other great cavalry commanders such as Hampton, Stuart, and Forrest. Is it possibly because operations in the trans-Mississippi area get less attention?
Of course your speculation is accurate. In the minds of so many, if it didn't happen in Virginia or Pennsylvania, it just didn't happen at all. ....and the trans Mississippi might as well have been somewhere on the Planet Mongo! Those who think thatway are missing out on rich detail from the Civil War.
 
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While the Confederacy had cavalry commanders like Stuart, Hampton and Lee east of the Appalachians, and Forrest and Mosby in the ‘Western theatre’, for the Trans-Mississippi region, it was Joseph Orville Shelby and the Swamp Fox ‘Jeff’ Thompson.

After receiving a large inheritance at the age of 21, the Kentucky born ‘Jo” Shelby moved to Lafayette County, MO and started a hemp rope business. He also bought a 700 acre plantation and became one of the largest slave holders in Missouri. But by 1860, according to the State Historical Society of Missouri, inexperience and poor business management forced him to sell the business. Yet like other notable generals who might have failed in business prior to the 1860’s, the war would reveal the gifted leader and fearless warrior Jo Shelby was.

Much has been written of the exploits of Jo Shelby and his Iron Brigade during the war. On this day (May 16) in 1865, Brigadier General Joseph Shelby became the last Major General in the Confederate Army, though the promotion was never officially confirmed, with the Confederate government in hiding. After Kirby Smith surrendered the Dept of Trans Mississippi, Shelby’s spirit of defiance became even more popular after leading men south into Mexico, refusing to surrender. As remarkable as Shelby’s exploits were during the war, it was after his return to Missouri in 1867 where some would say, the most admirable traits of Joseph Shelby’s character truly revealed itself.

Less than a decade later, he became the topic of discussion after being interviewed at the infamous Planter House about the highly contentious Presidential election, which threatened to lead the country into armed conflict again. Missouri had voted for the Democratic candidate, Tilden, who had taken the popular vote by over a quarter million votes. The electoral vote was yet to be decided when Shelby was interviewed. To explain what Shelby said, former Colonel Alonzo Slayback was interviewed the following day and asked about his reaction. He replied “I understand General Shelby to be in favor of law and constitution, upheld by lawful and constitutional means, and if we are fit to be a free people, we must learn to have patience when there is political excitement in the country, and not fly to arms for the overthrow of every administration that may not represent our personal views and predilections. General Shelby was the idol of the Missouri cavalry and has more military genius than any survivor of the Trans-Mississippi department. As such I honor and respect any views he may entertain, and any expression of them he may see proper to make.”

After living life as a farmer near Adrian, MO, President Grover Cleveland appointed Shelby as the US Marshal for the western district of Missouri in 1893. This was not a job for a weak person, as the state still bore old wounds, and remained stubbornly fractured. His appointment raised the dander of Republicans in the East, and one Senator was quoted as stating “ Nearly thirty years have elapsed since the termination of the war. All that one can ask, even the most loyal Unionist, is that the government shall not be confided to men who, during that awful time, represented not fair battle, but rapine, cruelty and chaos. We, or most of us, believe Jo Shelby belonged to the latter class.”

In Missouri, however, the appointment was a popular one, with endorsements coming in from both parties and factions, and from friends and former foes. The honeymoon didn’t last long though, as each appointment Shelby made upon assuming the office, was criticized by one faction or the other. He kept two Republican subordinates on staff, which was not popular with fellow Democrats. And to fill a vacant deputy position, he hired a young black man named Lee Jackson. This was an unpopular decision among fellow former slaveholders, and an exasperated Shelby finally wrote in a public letter ”The young man is competent to render effective service in lines where white men cannot do as well perhaps as he will do. I appointed him for efficiency, and have no patience with that sentiment that gropes always among the tombstones instead of coming out into the bright light of existing life and conditions. . . I am right in what I have done, and by the right I propose to stand.”

During the nationwide Pullman strike in 1894, personal friend and fellow Democrat Missouri governor William Stone demanded of Shelby to explain his actions while protecting railroad property. Shelby’s initial three word reply of “Go to hell” was reworded to “I am acting under the orders of Uncle Sam; ask him.” While he never disavowed the Confederate cause, he did express regret for taking part in the Border War with Kansas. He told historian William Conelley “I was in Kansas at the head of an armed force. I was there to kill Free-state men. I did kill them. I am now ashamed of myself for having done so. I had no business there. No Missourian had any business there with arms in his hands.”

In 1896, he further frustrated friends by endorsing McKinley, the Republican candidate for President, writing in another open letter “I will abandon friends, party and kindred rather than yield even implied consent to such a base assortment of political heresies. A good patient will not take a quack's medicine. If he does he dies, and if the party swallows the Chicago prescription its days are numbered, its death certain.” - The Scranton Tribune Aug 15, 1896

In 1897, Marshal Shelby was returning from a trip to serve summonses when he contracted pneumonia and ten days later, died on February 13, 1897, at the age of 67. He is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri.

To the end, Joseph “Jo” O Shelby was a man of integrity and fought for principles he believed right, and did not allow others, friend or foe, to steer his course. Dennis Cecil, a private in Jennison’s Cavalry, who faced Shelby on Price’s 64 raid, wrote “It is needless to comment upon the merits or demerits of great chieftains, but the fact is patent that " Joe " Shelby was the best general that ever drew sword on Missouri soil.”

View attachment 188287
View attachment 188288
Watertown Republican Feb 17,1897

Encyclopedia of Arkansas
Find a Grave

Dave,
Thank you a hundred times over (or maybe more) for this excellent profile of General J.O. Shelby. I write this from my fair city of Boonville, Missouri, where your center portrait of the General was made (about two blocks from where I sit) when Shelby captured our town as the vanguard of Price's expedition of 1864. Of course, he had captured the city a year earlier on his great raid of 1863, when he was a colonel. It was said of him that Sheridan might have ridden around the Union Army, but Shelby rode around Missouri. In truth, his 1863 covered about 1,600 miles. He was turned aside at Marshall, just short of his goal of Waverly, but he wasn't defeated. He broke through and then turned south. It was because of that raid that he was made a Brigadier. He re-entered Missouri in 1864 in the lead of Price's invasion force, and he protected Price's rear on the way out when the raid failed. Shelby was amazing.

Shelby is highly regarded out here, as you already know. People who don't read about Shelby are really missing out.
 
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#5
I can agree that Shelby was the best Confederate cavalryman in Missouri, and a defiant one at that. I live a piece down the road from Marshal, Texas, Missouri's Confederate state capitol in exile, Shelby spent time around there, and I must say the Missourians were interesting guests here in Texas, except for Quantrell, him an his bunch almost started a war between Texas an Missouri with their drunken plundering of the area.

Shelby's spirit of defiance is legendary, according to his biographer Edwards, (who served with him as an officer), when Kirby Smith decided to surrender the Trans-Mississippi Department, Shelby convinced Price an other Missouri officers to try a coup in Shreveport to prevent a surrender. I think the Mexican expedition worked out for the better than that option.
 
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Shelby spent time around there, and I must say the Missourians were interesting guests here in Texas, except for Quantrell, him an his bunch almost started a war between Texas an Missouri with their drunken plundering of the area.
I agree almost completely, but I have a hunch it wasn't Quantrill who started the drunken fighting and plundering in Texas. I can't prove it, but I believe it was Anderson and Todd and their companies who were mostly responsible. Indeed, Q. lost control of his command to those two during the winter of 1863-64 because he was too soft, too disciplined, etc. (in their view).
 
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#7
I agree almost completely, but I have a hunch it wasn't Quantrill who started the drunken fighting and plundering in Texas. I can't prove it, but I believe it was Anderson and Todd and their companies who were mostly responsible. Indeed, Q. lost control of his command to those two during the winter of 1863-64 because he was too soft, too disciplined, etc. (in their view).
Indeed, but Quantrell was still the official commander, and responsible for their actions lol. But your probably correct.
 
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SWMODave, I have often seen the first portrait of Shelby. The second wartime portrait of him was only found and properly identified in recent decades. I have never seen the last engraving. I cannot figure out how to extract it from your post. Would you consider posting it again as an attachment? I will be grateful.
 
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Indeed, but Quantrell was still the official commander, and responsible for their actions lol. But your probably correct.
It is all too true, but he had no control over Anderson and Todd when they returned to Missouri in the spring of 1864. He and Kate more or less retired from the war for most of the summer, in a hollow somewhere in Howard County, MO, overlooking the river bottoms. Still, as you say, he was the nominal commander and the one who was demonized by later writers. He continues to be demonized to this day. Personally, I think Anderson, Todd, and some of their followers were the demons.
 
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It is all too true, but he had no control over Anderson and Todd when they returned to Missouri in the spring of 1864. He and Kate more or less retired from the war for most of the summer, in a hollow somewhere in Howard County, MO, overlooking the river bottoms. Still, as you say, he was the nominal commander and the one who was demonized by later writers. He continues to be demonized to this day. Personally, I think Anderson, Todd, and some of their followers were the demons.
Quantrell wasn't the demon his comrades in bushwhacking were, I recall reading an account of him shooting one Yank in head that turned out to be a former acquaintance, and him being sorry, which is funny to me as the guy survived and lived the rest of his life with a gaping hole in his forehead, I think his name was Ellis?

But getting back to the original subject, Shelby is far too forgotten, whereas the Bushwhackers are widely remembered, Shelby doesn't get enough justice, an he was a far better general than Price, Shelby is almost in the same league as General Forrest in my estimations.
 

SWMODave

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Dave,
I write this from my fair city of Boonville, Missouri, where your center portrait of the General was made (about two blocks from where I sit) when Shelby captured our town as the vanguard of Price's expedition of 1864.
I am researching names of notable soldiers that I can prove traveled on the "Old Wire Road" between Springfield and Rolla, as this "road" crosses thru my property. I could limit the list to just names starting with the letter "S" during the war and be thrilled.

Sturgis, Sigel (at least 3 times), Sheridan, Shelby... I just wish some of them would have dropped something now and then - nothing found yet

And per your request, here is the photo from one of the era newspaper obituaries. It was posted in numerous papers, sometimes reversed to have him facing right.


shelby2.jpg
 
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Quantrell wasn't the demon his comrades in bushwhacking were, I recall reading an account of him shooting one Yank in head that turned out to be a former acquaintance, and him being sorry, which is funny to me as the guy survived and lived the rest of his life with a gaping hole in his forehead, I think his name was Ellis?

But getting back to the original subject, Shelby is far too forgotten, whereas the Bushwhackers are widely remembered, Shelby doesn't get enough justice, an he was a far better general than Price, Shelby is almost in the same league as General Forrest in my estimations.
I think Shelby was probably the equal of Forrest as a cavalry commander. I am also a fan of Forrest's tactical accomplishments. Who can say what Shelby might have done if he had been East of the Mississippi? Shelby and Forrest were both very flawed, but both very great, inspiring leaders.
 
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I am researching names of notable soldiers that I can prove traveled on the "Old Wire Road" between Springfield and Rolla, as this "road" crosses thru my property. I could limit the list to just names starting with the letter "S" during the war and be thrilled.

Sturgis, Sigel (at least 3 times), Sheridan, Shelby... I just wish some of them would have dropped something now and then - nothing found yet

And per your request, here is the photo from one of the era newspaper obituaries. It was posted in numerous papers, sometimes reversed to have him facing right.


View attachment 188399
Sheridan? I had no idea! Thanks for the engraving of Shelby!
 
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The old wire road called Telegraph Road today in St. Louis, started at Jefferson Barracks ran down to Rolla, to Springfield, then through Pea Ridge. It was the route the telegraph wires ran down. I believe the road ran down to Texas, not sure though.
 

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Of course your speculation is accurate. In the minds of so many, if it didn't happen in Virginia or Pennsylvania, it just didn't happen at all. ....and the trans Mississippi might as well have been somewhere on the Planet Mongo! Those who think thatway are missing out on rich detail from the Civil War.
Unfortunate that the trans Mississipi gets lost in the sauce. There are many commanders on both sides, such as Shelby and Richard Taylor, who distinguished themselves in that arena or had fascinating careers (like Nathaniel Lyon, Earl Van Dorn, Sterling Price).
 
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Here's a little fact which is a mystery. When Tombstone gunfighter Johnny Ringo, was found dead a CDV of Jo Shelby, but not this one, was found among his possessions with an inscription on the back which read "My General." From all accounts Ringo or Ringgold was too young to fight in the Civil War. It is the same image as depicted above in the middle.
 

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... While the Confederacy had cavalry commanders like Stuart, Hampton and Lee east of the Appalachians, and Forrest and Mosby in the ‘Western theatre’, for the Trans-Mississippi region, it was Joseph Orville Shelby and the Swamp Fox ‘Jeff’ Thompson..
Although not relevant to your subject, and not meaning to hijack the thread, I still feel compelled to point out that Mosby's Confederacy was scarcely a part of the 'Western Theatre' - Mosby for the most part operated in Loudon, Fairfax, and Fauquier Counties of Northern Virginia, occasionally spilling over the Potomac River into Maryland and across the Blue Ridge into the Shenandoah Valley, all locations well east of the Appalachians. For more on the region: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/a-trip-through-mosbys-confederacy.139767/
 
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The old wire road called Telegraph Road today in St. Louis, started at Jefferson Barracks ran down to Rolla, to Springfield, then through Pea Ridge. It was the route the telegraph wires ran down. I believe the road ran down to Texas, not sure though.
It did - it continued through I. T. (Indian Territory) in the vicinity, I believe, of Fort Gibson, but I don't recall what its southern terminus was.
 

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Sheridan? I had no idea! Thanks for the engraving of Shelby!
At the very beginning of the war, Captain Phil Sheridan served as Commissary Officer for Gen. Sam Curtis, although I don't believe he was actually present at Curtis' victory at Pea Ridge. This sounds like a waste of his talents, but it was actually a good experience for someone who would one day have an independent command to feed, clothe, etc.
 



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