|Joseph Orville Shelby was born on December 12, 1830 in Lexington, Kentucky. The Shelby family was one of Kentucky's wealthiest and influential families. J. O. Shelby attended Transylvania University and was engaged in rope manufacturing until 1852 when he moved to Waverly, Missouri. In Waverly, he engaged in various enterprises including steam-boating on the Missouri and a hemp plantation. Being successful, Shelby became a member of the Missouri's social and political elite.|
|During the Missouri-Kansas Border War, he participated in several "border
ruffian" invasions of Kansas. With the outbreak of war in Missouri in 1861, Shelby
raised a cavalry company for the Missouri State Guard and served as its captain. While in
the Missouri State Guard, Captain Shelby saw action at Oak Hills
(Wilson's Creek), Lexington, and Elkhorn Tavern (Pea Ridge). Shelby transferred to the
Confederate Army in the spring of 1862 and went with General
Sterling Price east of the Mississippi River. He soon returned west of the
Mississippi. In the summer of 1862, Shelby headed an expedition into Missouri. The fruits
of this expedition was a thousand-man cavalry regiment. For this accomplishment, Shelby
was promoted to colonel and put in command of a cavalry brigade under Major General
Hindman. Colonel Shelby played an important role in the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas.
1863 proved to be a very busy and rewarding year for Shelby. He was part of General Marmaduke's raid into Southeast Missouri, participated in the Battle of Helena, Arkansas and made his own raid into Central Missouri. The latter activity gained Shelby notoriety and fame throughout the Confederacy. Shelby's Raid which began on September 22, 1863 with 600 men covered fifteen-hundred miles and resulted the destruction of $1,000,000 worth of Federal supplies and $800,000 of railroad property. Shelby also returned with 6,000 horses and mules and 800 recruits from Northern Missouri. This raid may in fact have kept 10,000 Federal troops from reinforcing Gen. Rosecrans after his defeat at Chickamauga. This was no small feat for a general let alone a colonel. Thus, Shelby earned the rank of brigadier general.
General Shelby's "Iron Brigade" largely contributed to Gen. Price's successful campaign against General Steele when Steele attempted to occupy Shreveport, Louisiana. Price sent Shelby into Northeast Arkansas to prepare for the upcoming raid into Missouri (Price's Raid). Once again, Shelby's recruiting efforts were successful. He returned from this mission with 8,000 recruits, a portion of which were added to his command. During Price's Raid, Shelby did not participate in the defeat at Pilot's Knob. He had been detailed to raid a railroad. After Price's Raid, only Shelby's "Iron Brigade" remained effective and provided the cover for the retreating forces.
Shelby refused to surrender in 1865. He planned an attempt to prevent General E. Kirby Smith from surrendering at Shreveport, Louisiana but muddy roads prohibited the plan. After Smith's surrender on May 26, Shelby and several hundred of his Iron Brigade went to Mexico. When crossing the Rio Grande, Shelby ceremoniously buried his unconquered flag. He offered the service of his men to the Mexican Emporer Maximilian who declined the offer so not to offend the United States. Shelby then established a wagon freight company near the Confederate exile colony of Carlota in the state of Vera Cruz. This enterprised thrived until guerilla raids and the withdrawal of the French Army (the support of Maximilian) forced Shelby to return to Missouri in the summer of 1867.
Shelby began growing wheat near Lexington, promoting railroads and operating coal mines. In 1893, Shelby was appointed U. S. Marshal by President Grover Cleveland and held that position until his death on February 13, 1897.
Sources: "Major General Joseph Orville Shelby," Governor's Guard (Jefferson City, MO), March 1995; Jay Monaghan. Civil War on the Western Border, 1854-1865. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
Last modified: April 03, 2013.