SHELBY’S MISSOURI RAID, SEPTEMBER, 1863
By Bennett H. Young
Excerpted and introduced by G. E. Rule
from “Confederate Wizards of the Saddle”, 1914
Bennett H. Young was a dashing young cavalryman who served under John Hunt Morgan in Kentucky, and then under Thomas H. Hines in the Northwest Conspiracy. Young never did disclose all the details of his secret service in the latter part of the war, but would occasionally drop hints here and there.
Shelby’s Missouri Raid, September, 1863 is an example of why this Missourian is considered by many to be the equal of Nathan Bedford Forrest as a leader of cavalry. Given that Young rode with another cavalry legend in Morgan, he had as much right as anyone to make such judgments.
Certain parts of Missouri were settled, almost entirely, by Kentuckians. In the earlier days there had been a tremendous emigration from Kentucky to Indiana and Illinois, and when these States had received a large quota of inhabitants from Kentucky, the overflow from that State then turned to Missouri. Its counties and towns were designated by Kentucky names which were brought over by these new people from their home State. In and around 1850 this tide of emigration flowed with a deep and wide current. Among those who left their homes to find an abiding place in the new State, marvelous accounts of the fertility and splendor of which were constantly being carried back to Kentucky, was Joseph O. Shelby. He was born at Lexington in 1831, and when only nineteen years of age joined in the great march westward and found a home on the Missouri River at Berlin, one hundred and fifty miles west of St. Louis. These Missouri-Kentuckians carried with them one of the important manufacturies of the State –hemp, which for many years was chiefly a Kentucky product. In the rich, loamy lands of Missouri, this staple grew with great luxuriousness, and the introduction of hemp seed from China both improved the quality and increased the production per acre. Not only did the fertile land and the salubrious climate turn these people westward, but a love of change also aroused this spirit of emigration.
Young Shelby was fairly well educated. He was a born leader, and no braver heart ever beat in human bosom. Warrior blood coursed through his veins. His grandfather was a brother of Isaac Shelby. This guaranteed patriotism and valor. He had great dash, a spirit of unlimited enterprise, willing and ready to work, with a vigorous body and a brave soul, he became a Missourian and was an ideal immigrant. He had come from the very center of hemp manufacture in Kentucky. This product was made into bagging and bound with hemp ropes. The cotton country of the South was largely dependent upon Kentucky and Missouri for these two things so essential in marketing cotton. It was a most profitable and remunerative manufacture, and was largely carried on by the use of negro labor. Modern machinery had not then been invented for the use of weaving the bagging or of twisting the ropes. To produce these products so important in cotton growing, it was necessary to rely upon the crudest implements.
General Jo Shelby: Undefeated Rebel
Confederate Wizards of the Saddle: Being Remininscences and Observations of One Who Rode With Morganby Bennett H. Young
Sixty miles east of Kansas City, Shelby selected a location at Waverly, Lafayette County, and there began his operations as a bagging and rope manufacturer. It was easy to ship the product down the Mississippi and from thence to scatter it throughout the cotton districts by the waterways over Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama. Shelby was successful from the very inception of his new enterprise. He was hardly well settled in his new home before the difficulties in Kansas began. Strongly believing in slavery, his views as well as his interests and his proximity to the Kansas line intensified his opinions. Loving adventure, brave in war, he returned to Kentucky to recruit there for the Kansas imbroglio. In these days it was not difficult to find in Shelby’s native State men who loved adventure, who were always ready for war, and were overjoyed at the chance to get into a fight. With Clark, Atchison and Greene, Shelby did his full share in the Kansas fighting. It gave him experience that was valuable to him a few years later in the great war. He won reputation with his Kentucky fighters, and when the truce was patched up he went back to the peaceful surroundings of his rope walk in Waverly. This place was noted for its uncompromising Southern sentiments. The antislavery settlers who went by it, ascending the Missouri River, always steered away from it. They knew there was neither comfort to be obtained nor security to be assured when they passed this point. They could not buy anything they wanted there, and they were likely to find trouble.
When the troubles of 1860 began to develop, no one was more enthusiastic for the South or more willing to fight for its rights than Joseph O. Shelby. There was no section, even in Confederate States, more loyal to the South than the immediate territory about Waverly. With sentiments fixed and embittered by the Kansas War, the young men of that portion of Missouri were not only brave and ambitious, but they were anxious to go to war. With his prejudices quickened and enlarged by his nearness to Kansas, which was even then a bitter State, in so far as slavery was concerned, Shelby organized and equipped a company of cavalry at Waverly. It was easy to fill up its ranks with enthusiastic, dashing young fellows who were only too happy in taking the chances of battle, and they were charmed to find a leader of Shelby’s experience, of his enthusiasm, and of his intrepidity.
Independence, Missouri, the county seat of Jackson County, was only twelve miles from Kansas City. A vast majority of its people were intensely southern, and when Independence was threatened with the presence of Federal dragoons, Shelby and his company lost no time in marching forty miles from Lafayette County to see that their friends and sympathizers at Independence had a square deal from the Union soldiers. It soon was spread abroad that if the dragoons did come there was trouble ahead and they stayed away. Shelby, now in for the war, rode to join Governor Jackson and General Price in defense of Missouri.
In these days it did not take long for fighting men in Missouri to find people who were. willing to fight them. The southern part of the State was much divided in political sentiment, and the bitterness of a civil war found full development in that territory. At the Battle of Carthage, July 5th, 1861, Shelby and his men did splendid service, and their excellent discipline, their superb courage, did a great deal, not only to create, but to intensify the spirit and steady the arms of the entire Missouri contingent. Beginning as a captain, rising to brigadier-general in three years, Shelby had an activity and experience that few enjoy. He fought in the Army of the Tennessee, and he fought in the Trans-Mississippi Department, and he was never more delighted than when fighting.
Wilson’s Creek, one of the sanguinary battles of the war, was fought on the tenth day of August, 1861, and there Shelby again demonstrated that the only thing necessary to make a reputation and fame as a great cavalryman was the opportunity.
General John H. Morgan, in Kentucky, and Shelby were close friends. They began their careers in much the same way, Morgan had his company of Kentucky riflemen: Shelby his company of Missouri cavalrymen. Morgan died in the struggle: Shelby lived thirty-six years after the close and died in 1897. These two soldiers had grown up in Lexington, and while Morgan was five years Shelby’s senior, they were intimates. Shelby’s career did not close until May, 1865. At the end, unwilling to accept the results of the war, he marched into Mexico with five hundred of his followers and undertook to found an American colony. This project soon failed. The wounds of the war began to heal, and Shelby and his colonists were glad to come back and live under the flag they had so bravely and tenaciously fought. No man in the Confederate army marched more miles, and, with the possible exception of General Joe Wheeler, fought more battles. His activities were ceaseless as the seasons, and his capacity for riding and fighting had no limit. The Trans-Mississippi Department had more difficulties to face than any other part of the Confederacy. They were styled “The Orphans.” They were the step-children in supplies of provisions and munitions of war, and, but for the trade in cotton which was arranged through Mexico, its conditions would have been difficult and well-nigh hopeless. Far removed from Richmond, the seat of the government, it was the scene of jealousies and disputes as to the rank of officers. Covering a territory greater than the remainder of the Confederate States, separated by the Mississippi River from the armies of the East, assailable by the ocean on the south, pierced by many navigable streams, with few manufactories, and with contentions caused by conflicting claims, it was the theatre of much mismanagement; but, through all, its soldiers were brave, loyal and patriotic, and lose nothing in comparison with the best the Confederacy produced. Considering the means at hand, the men in Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Indian Territory did much to win the garlands with which fame crowned the brows of those who immortalized the gray.
In 1862 and the beginning of 1863, when the call became more urgent from the East, Shelby was among the Missourians and other soldiers from the Trans-Mississippi who crossed the Mississippi River. Leaving their own territory unprotected, these thousands of Arkansas, Missouri and Texas men cheerfully and bravely took their lives in their hands and went over to help their brethren in Mississippi and Tennessee who stood with hands uplifted, crying, “Come over and help us.” Shelby, with his company, gladly crossed the stream. They left their horses behind them and went to aid Beauregard and Bragg, Hardee, Van Dorn and Polk, who, with their armies, were so sorely pressed by the descending avalanche, which, coming down through Kentucky and Tennessee and along the Mississippi and up the Tennessee River, was surely and quietly destroying the life of the Confederacy. The pressure, in the absence of these men who had been transferred into Mississippi and Tennessee, became so tense in Missouri, Arkansas, Texas and Northern Louisiana, that additional measures were taken to enlist soldiers who would prevent the occupation of the western bank of the Mississippi, and among the men commissioned to raise regiments, Shelby was the first named. It was not much to do for a man to tell him that he might raise a regiment when he was a thousand miles away from anybody he could hope to enlist. He had a hundred trained, disciplined and gallant men, and with these, hope made the future attractive. Difficulties in those days did not discourage Shelby, and so, taking his one hundred men whose terms of enlistment had expired, they found their way by railway and on foot to the Mississippi River, at a point opposite Helena, Arkansas. At this time, that part of the Mississippi River was under control of the Federals, except Vicksburg and Port Hudson. It required an unusual man to meet the conditions that now faced Shelby. He was a wonderful man, and by January, 1863, he had entered the State of Missouri, then within the grip of Federal forces, and almost entirely under Federal control, with garrisons in every center over the State. With fifty thousand Federal soldiers controlling that Commonwealth, he passed through all these; he safely evaded the enemies in the southern part of the State, carrying his one hundred men for two hundred and seventy-five miles through territory thoroughly occupied by his enemies. In a very brief while, he was not only able to get together a regiment, but a brigade. He was unwilling to take any more chances on twelve months’ enlistments, and he swore his recruits in for the war. The men who had been with him gave him the best possible credentials among the young men along the Missouri River. Threatened Federal conscription and persecution by their foes had made them desperate, and they were only too glad to find a leader who had come from Corinth, Mississippi, with fame in battle, to organize and lead them. It was splendid material, and Shelby’s success was not only surprising to him but to all the commanders further south in Arkansas. Such an experience was an unusual one in the life of any man, and only one of great resources and iron will could have succeeded when going into the enemy’s country garrisoned on every hand and made liable to arrest and even death, and secure three regiments of a thousand men each and march them three hundred miles into friendly territory. Having no arms, except such as they could find at home, consisting of shotguns and revolvers, they furnished their own mounts and gladly went where Shelby asked them to go.
Only a man who had the essential qualities of a cavalry leader could have won in the face of such difficulties. Shelby improved every opportunity that came his way. There were constant jealousies which opposed his promotion. After he had organized and disciplined. his brigade, it was nearly twelve months before his commission as brigadier-general came. This he was to win by his raid into Missouri in September, 1863, but he got it later. Waverly, the most northerly point which Shelby was to reach on this raid, was, as the crow flies, two hundred and seventy-five miles from the Arkansas line. From Arkadelphia, where Shelby started, it was two hundred and fifty miles to the Arkansas line. He had been long teasing his superiors to let him make a raid. There were many inducements for him to take the chances of such an expedition. He felt sure in the first place he could carry his men in and safely bring them out. He felt extremely confident that he could enlist a large number of recruits, and he was not devoid of ambition, so he longed to demonstrate his power and his capacity as a leader. He had been a colonel for nearly two years. He had self-confidence, he had marvelous resources, and he always won the admiration of his associates. General Schofield was in command of the department of Missouri. The State covered an area of sixty thousand square miles. To defend this, he had fifty thousand soldiers, and Missouri herself had enlisted many of these, which, while in the employ of the State, were subject to Federal jurisdiction.
On the 10th of September, 1863, Little Rock had been evacuated and a few days later taken possession of by the Federals. This was a great blow to the men of the Confederacy. Fort Smith also had fallen, and these two towns on the Arkansas River gave control to the Federals of one-half of the State. Through the White and Arkansas Rivers it opened up means for transporting men and supplies four hundred miles south of St. Louis. To Arkansas the loss of the Arkansas River was what the loss of the Mississippi River was to the Confederacy. It was yet, however, a great task for the Federals to move supplies from the White River or the Mississippi River when the stages of the Arkansas River prevented the passage of boats along its waters. The loss of Little Rock and Fort Smith and the shutting off of the Confederate troops from easy access to Missouri had done much to depress the spirit of the men who, west of the Mississippi, were struggling for Southern independence. For months Shelby had entertained the idea that if he were but turned loose with one thousand men he could ride to the banks of the Missouri River, do much damage to the property of the Federals, and bring out a large number of recruits. In Missouri the conditions had rendered it unsafe for men who sympathized with the South to express their sentiments, and anxious again to turn his face towards his adopted home and meet his friends and family, and longing for the glory which he felt would come to the successful prosecution of such an expedition, he pleaded with Generals Holmes and Price and Governor Reynolds and the other officials in the Trans-Mississippi to give him this permission. The Confederate authorities looked at the thing, more calmly than the young military enthusiast. He assured them that recruits would be abundant and that he could fill up his ranks, dismay his enemies, and inflict severe loss in every way upon his foes. They felt that he was taking a tremendous risk to make such an expedition. Some suggested that he was hot-headed, that he lacked the experience as well as the poise for so grave an undertaking. He had been a colonel for twenty-two months. None could deny that he was courageous, that he had faith in himself, that he was possessed of unlimited enthusiasm. These were a splendid equipment for the work he essayed to do. Shelby’s persistence at last availed, and on September 10th, 1863, consent was given for him to make the attempt to carry out his plans. He was allowed eight hundred men, twelve ammunition wagons, and two pieces of artillery. Only six hundred of his men started with him from Arkadelphia, two hundred recruits he was to pick up later further north. Arkadelphia, in Clark County, Arkansas, was one hundred and fifteen miles south of Ozark, at which point Shelby had determined to cross the Arkansas River. From Fort Smith, as well as from Little Rock, scouting parties had gone sixty miles south of Ozark, so that in fifty miles from where Shelby started it was certain he would meet opposition, and that the Federals would attempt to thwart his plans. Once permission was given, there was nothing short of death could stop Shelby’s march. He had pleaded to go, and no dangers, no opposition, could deter him from his purpose. It was true that gloom and doubt had settled in the hearts and minds of many of the leaders who at that time were gathered in and about Arkadelphia, but this spirit, either of hesitation or fear, never touched the soul of Shelby. The people who permitted Shelby to go had forebodings of the outcome, and permission was only granted when it became apparent that nothing would satisfy Shelby but an opportunity to work out his plans. The limited number of soldiers allowed him showed that the Confederate leaders were not willing to risk very much on his undertaking. Marmaduke, always ready to take risks, assented, but he gravely doubted the result. The men who were to go with Shelby were as enthusiastic as he. It was “Home-going,” it was an opportunity to try out chances with the militia over in Missouri, whom Shelby and his men hated with greatest bitterness. The autumn sun was shining brightly when Shelby aligned his small force, placed himself at their head, and waved adieu to Governor Reynolds. The other troops, watching the departure of these gallant and dashing raiders, experienced deepest sorrow when they realized that they were to be left behind. There was no man among the thousands who witnessed the going of these brave boys who would not have willingly taken chances with them. There were no fears of what the future would bring forth. One man in every six of those who rode away would not come back, when at the end of thirty-six days Shelby would return.
Two hundred men taken each from four regiments lacked in some respects homogeneity, but all shouted and waved their hats and guns as the command to march passed down the line. From that moment they became brothers with a common purpose and common courage. The fact of going had by some subtle telepathy, which always marked cavalrymen, gone out among the entire brigade, and from that moment there was universal eagerness to ride with Shelby, and when the assignments were made and the columns formed there were two thousand disappointed men who felt most keenly the dealings of fate which deprived them of a place in the moving column.
If the selection had been left to Shelby he would most likely have taken his entire regiment. These had become with him so dependable, and between themselves and Shelby there had grown up not only affection but completest trust. They believed in him and he believed in them, and they felt that no emergency could arise and that he would make no call upon them that was not demanded by duty. As these six hundred brave men mounted into their saddles and the column started, cheer after cheer greeted each company as it passed by. Governor Reynolds and General Price forgot the formality of military etiquette, and with those who went and those who stayed they joined in vociferous cheers. Benedictions came from every heart as out into the unknown dangers and experiences of the expedition these men rode, souls all aglow with patriotism, joy and soldierly valor. When Shelby held the hand of Governor Reynolds, the expatriated governor prayed him to be cautious, begged him to save as far as possible the lives of the young heroes under him and to be watchful even unto death. As this kindly admonition ended the governor pulled the leader close to him and whispered into his ear, “Joe, if you get through safely, this will bring you a brigadier general’s commission.”
An ugly wound received eighty days before at the assault upon Helena, July 4th, still gave Shelby intense suffering. It was unhealed and suppurating. A minie ball had struck his arm and passed longitudinally through the part from the elbow down. It was still bandaged and supported with a sling. With his free hand he gathered up the reins of his bridle and ignoring pain and danger, he looked more the hero, as thus maimed and yet courageous he started on so long a ride and so perilous a campaign. With his great physical handicap, the admiration was all the more intense, for the spirit and the grit of the man who was undertaking one of the most dangerous and difficult expeditions of the war. Shelby’s body was subordinated to the beckonings of glory and the splendor of the opportunity which had now come in obedience to his pleadings to serve his State, his cause, his country. Other men, less brave or determined, would have hesitated. Some men, possibly equally chivalrous, would have taken a furlough rather than have sought new dangers and more difficult service.
None of these boys marching away cared to peer into the future. Along the roads and the paths of the ride and in the midst of battles they were to fight, one in six was to find a soldier’s grave, or, struck down by wounds or disease, might meet death under the most distressing circumstances at the hands of the bushwhackers and home guards who then filled the garrisons of Missouri towns. The joy of home-going eliminated all thought of misery of the future. These men were to ride two hundred and twenty-five miles to the Arkansas State line and two hundred and fifty miles from the Arkansas State line through Missouri to Waverly, in all four hundred and seventy-five miles. The return made nine hundred and fifty miles, even if they marched by an air line.
A little way out on his journey Shelby met Colonel David Hunter with a hundred and fifty men, recruits who were coming out from Missouri to join the Confederates in Arkansas. Hunter and Shelby were kindred spirits. The persecution of some of Hunter’s family had rendered him an intense fighter. He was considered one of the rising infantry officers, but cavalry work suited him better, and so he gave up his rank of colonel with a regiment of infantry in order to take the chances of recruiting a cavalry command. Hunter was bringing out with him several hundred women and children who had been driven from their Missouri homes. Turning these over to a portion of his command, he chose the more promising of his followers and fell into line with Shelby. At Caddo Gap, on the fourteenth day, it was learned that a company of Confederate deserters and Union jayhawkers were in the mountains close by. With a horror and deepest hatred born of the crimes of these men, outlaws from both armies, it was resolved that the first work of the raid should be their extermination. Major Elliott, commanding one of the battalions under Shelby, discovered the lair of these men later in the afternoon, and as soon as it was dark he attacked them with great vigor. Seventy-nine of them were killed and thirty-four captured. Their leader was as brave as any soldier in either army. Puritan blood coursed through his veins. Condemned to death for his crimes, he was left with Major Elliott while the remainder of the force marched forward. The captain of the firing party with a small squad was left to finish up reckonings of justice with this bloody robber and murderer. There had been no court martial. These men were to be killed by common consent. They had been taken in the act, and their crimes were known. The captain in charge of the execution thought it would not be unreasonable to allow any of those who were to be put to death a brief time for prayer. Lifting up his voice, so that all his captors and executioners could hear, the condemned captain prayed-“God bless the Union and all its loyal defenders. Bless the poor ignorant rebels; bless Mrs. McGinniss and her children; bless the Constitution which has been so wrongly misinterpreted, and eradicate slavery from the earth.” The increasing distance between the command induced the captain to cry out, “Hurry up, hurry up, old man, the command has been gone an hour and I will never catch up,” to which the captain, so soon to die, responded, “I am ready, and may Heaven have mercy upon your soul.” The order was given, and the death of twenty old men who had been murdered by this man in the immediate neighborhood shortly before, was avenged, in so far as human law could mete out punishment for horrible crimes. Both sides hated these outlaws, and Federal reports are full of similar condign punishment inflicted upon this class of marauders, who plundered and killed without the least regard for the laws of God or man.
When near Roseville, a short distance south of the Arkansas River, Shelby encountered the 1st Arkansas Federal Cavalry. In northern Arkansas, by the summer of 1863, Union generals had been able to induce enlistments among the residents of that part of the State, and naturally the feeling between these so-called renegades and the Missouri and Arkansas Confederates was extremely bitter, and whenever they faced each other in battle there was no great desire to hear the cries or calls of surrender. These Federal Arkansians and a battalion of the 3rd Illinois Regiment undertook to dispute Shelby’s right of way. They were speedily ridden over and the road cleared of this impediment. The river was forded near Ozark, and here again Shelby. found some old acquaintances of the 6th Kansas Cavalry. This regiment had seen much service in southwest Missouri and northern Arkansas. It had hunted Shelby and Shelby had hunted it, and neither avoided an opportunity to measure swords with the other. Shelby disposed of this new menace in short order. He had now gotten far up among the mountains, and he traveled a hundred and forty miles, with two fights to his credit, and. concluded to give his men one day’s rest.
On the 21st of September, Shelby received authority to make the expedition, and on the 22nd he promptly started on this tremendous march of fifteen hundred miles. Cutting the telegraph wires north of the Arkansas River, Shelby planned to enter the Boston Mountains, from which, northwardly, no intelligence of his coming could be disseminated. It did not take Shelby long to find Federal forces. Within four days from the time he left Arkadelphia, he had learned that his advance would be fiercely contested. His chief concern was to pass the Arkansas River. He found it fordable, but treacherous, and by the 29th, seven days after starting, reached Bentonville, Arkansas. By the 4th of October, Shelby had marched two hundred and fifty-five miles to Neosho, Missouri, where there were three hundred Federal cavalry. These were quickly surrounded and forced to surrender. Their equipment was tremendously valuable, but their horses were a real godsend.
So soon as Shelby passed Neosho, his enemies were fully aware not only of his presence but of his plans. They argued reasonably that he would seek to reach his own home at Waverly and that he would not diverge from a straight line more than twenty or thirty miles. The Federal forces then in Missouri were concentrated at points between Neosho and Waverly over a space twenty or thirty miles wide. By this time, the passions of the war had been fully aroused. Life became no longer a certain thing, the law having been suspended and the southern part of Missouri having been greatly divided; hates had been aroused, excesses committed, men killed, families driven from their homes. McNeil’s disgraceful order for the deportment of Southern sympathizers from a large portion of the State had been savagely enforced, and so, on reaching Bower’s Mills, a place where the militia had been particularly offensive, the town was sacked and then burned. Along the route Shelby traveled the next day, after leaving Bower’s Mills, every house belonging to a Southern family had been burned and, in many instances, the inhabitants put to death. On the 7th of October Shelby captured Warsaw in Benton County, far up towards the point he was attempting to reach. Here, too, Federal forces attempted to dispute his passage of the Osage River. By this time a spirit of highest enthusiasm had taken deepest hold upon the men. Nothing could chill their spirits. Soldiers dashed into and across the river. Neither nature nor man could stay their progress. At Warsaw vast quantities of all kinds of stores and supplies, including horses, had been concentrated and these all fell prey to the hungry raiders, and what they could not use were turned over to the remorseless touch of the flames.
By the 10th of October, Tipton was reached. On an air line, this left Shelby only fifty miles from Waverly, to which place, the abode of his dearest friends, he purposed in his heart to go. From Tipton for thirty miles in every direction rails were torn up, bridges destroyed, wires cut, and cattle guards and water tanks obliterated. When leaving Tipton, Shelby found opposed to him Colonel T. T. Crittenden, a Kentuckian, whom Shelby had known in earlier days, and who had a thousand well-armed and well-drilled mounted men. Shelby had two reasons for destroying Crittenden first, he hated him, because lie was a renegade Kentuckian, according to Shelby’s standard; second, because he stood across his pathway to Booneville. The artillery was brought into line with the cavalry, and Shelby’s whole command, with his artillery in the center, made a galloping charge at Crittenden’s regiment. The Federal regiment melted away, leaving the killed and wounded behind and a few prisoners as hostages.
Booneville, on the south side of the Missouri River, had been a place from which many expeditions had been sent out and from which many orders had been issued for the persecution of the Southern people. The town authorities, pleading for mercy, gladly surrendered. It looked as if Shelby had disregarded all prudence and brought himself into a trap from which it would be impossible for him to escape.
Hardly had Booneville been passed when General Brown, a Federal commander, with four thousand men, came up. Brown was a vigilant general, an impetuous fighter and a soldier of both renown and courage. He was not afraid of Shelby. In this respect he was better off than some of his associates. Game, ambitious and enterprising, he thought it would be a splendid stroke to bag Shelby in his territory and take him a prisoner to Jefferson City –Missouri’s capital. To accomplish these ends, he carefully laid his plans and bent his utmost energies. He well understood this meant real fighting. He lost no time in assailing Shelby’s pickets. He resolved to push his foes at every point, and fight whenever he could find a Confederate.
Shelby had broken an axle of his rifled gun. This he felt would be extremely useful to him later on. He ordered Colonel Hunter to hold the enemy in check until he made the necessary repairs on his cannon. By ten o’clock at night, stores had been removed and the gun repaired. The night before had been one of a great downpour of rain. This prevented much sleep. Shelby, not unmindful of the tremendous work that was immediately before him, determined to give his troopers a night’s rest, so that they might be better prepared for the strenuous experiences, that the morrow and the next three days had in store for them. General Brown was fiercely persistent and assailed Shelby’s rear furiously and incessantly. The Federal authorities were clamoring for Shelby’s destruction or his capture. At the crossing of the Lamine River, Shelby ambushed the Federals and inflicted serious loss and routed the assailants; but only momentarily, and then they came back more savagely. To reach Waverly, it was necessary to pass through Marshall, and, as Shelby approached that place, he found four thousand more Federal soldiers under General Ewing, drawn up ready for the gage of battle. With Brown in the rear and Ewing in the front, it looked gloomy for the Confederates. Shelby was now five hundred miles from any real hope of succor. General Sterling Price and Governor Reynolds at Arkadelphia, Arkansas, however much they might desire to help the dashing raider, could do naught for his rescue. A few scattered companies far down in Missouri had neither the will nor the chance to help him. He was four hundred miles inside the enemy’s lines, and these enemies were hunting him with extremest vigor. His capture meant fame for the captor, and his destruction meant temporary peace in war-torn Missouri. Every available man was being thrown across Shelby’s pathway, and every possible obstacle put along the road he was of necessity compelled to travel. His march from Marshall and Waverly, from a military standpoint, was both audacious and reckless, and appeared to be the act of a man trifling with fate. To his enemies, it seemed that Shelby’s impetuosity and the longing for home-going had destroyed all sense of safety, and they were congratulating themselves that he had gone into places from which escape was impossible. Measured by the ordinary standards of military prudence and foresight, Shelby had pursued a most unwise course, and the omens were bad for biro and his small brigade. Shelby conceived the idea of destroying Ewing before Brown could come up in his rear, and then take his chances with Brown, and so, with his twelve hundred cavalry he attacked four thousand infantry. In a short while Ewing had been roughly handled, and his rout was inevitable. Fate seemed propitious, and hope rose high in Shelby’s breast. The battle with Ewing was almost won, and with him out of the way, with shouts of victory on their lips, Shelby would, he believed, make short work of Brown. An evil destiny now intervened. Brown had overwhelmed Shanks’ two hundred and fifty men left to delay his crossing the Lamine River, and he had rushed on to help Ewing at the moment when Shelby’s genius and vigorous attack had nearly completed victory. Shelby needed no interpreter to tell him that; the firing in his rear demonstrated that he had miscalculated the rate of Brown’s approach and that six pieces of artillery and four thousand fresh troops were upon him.
In such an emergency there was only one course left open and that was to retreat. Shelby had left a valiant lieutenant to dispute the crossing of the Lamine River with Brown, and to hold him while he whipped Ewing. Well did this gallant soldier, Colonel Shanks, perform this task. He stood the test as only a brave man could, but the storm he faced was more than any two hundred and fifty men could withstand. There was nothing left for Shelby but to cut his way through the lines of Ewing. This was a dangerous undertaking. Even to so brave a man as Shelby, it was a hazardous task. He looked and saw a weak place in the Federal line. Only instantaneous action could save him. A Federal regiment stationed in a corn field with skirmishers well to the front, and safely ensconced behind corn shocks, seemed to be the best chance for a hard drive and successful onslaught. He, was too far from his base to give up his ammunition. He hated to abandon his meagre supply of cannon. If he stood still between the two advancing Federal armies of four thousand men each, annihilation or surrender was the only fate that could befall him and his men, however brave they might be. The flash of the eye and the resolve of a practiced warrior decided the course he would follow. Escape he would or die in the attempt. Widening the front of regiments and placing a rider on each horse of the ammunition wagons and artillery, he dashed furiously at the Federal forces. The Federals met the shock with courage and stout resistance, but the fierce riding Confederates were too much: they yielded sufficiently to allow Shelby to pass through with his wagons and his cannon. Hunter’s regiment, becoming entangled in the thick woods, did not keep well closed in, and the Federals rallied and cut off Hunter while Shelby rode triumphantly away. Hunter, true to the necessities of the occasion, turned squarely to the right and galloped through another part of the Federal line and made his escape. Shelby’s force was now divided, but it had left the enemy behind. It was impossible for any troops to out-march them. Shelby, hoping against hope, waited two hours for his separated forces to join him. Prudence told him longer waiting meant destruction, and he retreated to Waverly. For eight miles the Federals pressed his rear with relentless zeal. By three o’clock in the morning Shelby passed through his home town. The desire of his heart was gratified. A few moments were spent in greeting, and now he was ready to find his own again, and so, turning squarely south, he started on his long and ever-lengthening march to the place from whence he had come.
A little way from Waverly, at Hawkins’ Mills, Shelby concluded that his wagons and his artillery would be troublesome, and so he sunk them in the Missouri River and reduced everything to the lightest possible weight. It was of the highest importance that he should safely pass the Osage River. It was a long march from Waverly to this river. Sleep and rest were out of the question. The tired beasts were allowed to feed a little and the men took an hour or two for repose. Even an hour’s delay might bring disaster. Nature pleaded for repose and rest, but safety pointed her finger forward, and fate, willing to extricate the bold horseman, bade him stay not his hand nor speed. Leaving Waverly, on the morning of the 14th, to the evening of the 16th, he had marched more than one hundred miles. He had gone through from the Missouri to the Osage River in two days. This was a tremendous spurt. Nothing now, short of bad management, could prevent Shelby’s escape, and so he began to move somewhat more leisurely. Along by the road at Warrensville, there were two thousand Federals waiting to hold him up; but he passed a few miles west without alarming them, and proceeded on to Johnson County, to which point they pursued him. One of the Federal commanders reported that Shelby’s men were “running like wild hogs,” and another, that, bareheaded and demoralized, they were making their escape in detached parties through the woods, thickets and byways. Even though hard pressed, and with no time to spare, Shelby could not refrain from one effort to punish those who had so vigorously and so sorely pressed upon him. He ordered a dash at his foes, and they, quickly realizing that it was not wise to press Shelby, even if he was running, fled at his coming. On the 17th, 18th and 19th of October, men and horses were put to the utmost limit. The Federals were loth to permit Shelby’s escape, and they hung on to the Confederate rear with the grip of death. With such odds in their favor, they held it a great misfortune to let him get away, and they judged that all sorts of inquiries and criticisms would follow, if, with fifty thousand Federal soldiers in Missouri, even so resourceful and dashing a cavalryman as Shelby could march nearly through the entire State in the face of so many pursuers, and then safely ride away. Energies were redoubled, orders of concentration kept the wires warm; but warm wires, circulating orders and relentless pursuit could not stop the mad speed and the ceaseless tramp of Shelby and his men. They had better reason to urge them escape than those who were following had to run them down. On the 20th of October, he was safely on the Little Osage River in Arkansas, and there, to Shelby’s gratification and surprise, he found the remainder of his command under Colonels Hunter, Hooper and Shanks. Reunited, their spirits rose to the highest pitch of enthusiasm. They had been battered and hammered and pursued, but they were all safe. One hundred and fifty of the eight hundred men who started were either wounded or dead along the line of march; but the expedition was completed, and the apparently impossible was accomplished.
Fate dealt more generously with Hunter and Hooper and Shanks than with Shelby. At Florence and Humansville and Duroc, on the Osage, they had had their troubles with the First Arkansas cavalry. They had a fight with McNeil’s two thousand men at Humansville, but he was held in check. The Federal forces were fierce in their attacks, and they marched with the greatest strenuosity to block the way these men were taking to avoid capture. Artillery with cavalry in a forced march is never a thing to be desired. Guns and caissons make heavy pulling, and no horses can for many miles keep pace with horsemen who are pushed to their highest speed. The help of the cannon had now lost much of its value and as it might retard the speed in some slight degree, it was destroyed and abandoned and the last of Shelby’s battery went down before the aggressive pursuers. It was abandoned at Humansville, and the fleeing horsemen were glad to get rid of such a grievous burden.
The greatest sufferers on the tremendous march had been the horses. They were goaded, tired and driven to the greatest effort. Half starved, with reduced flesh, their speed was ever-decreasing. Mercy was so incessant and so insistent in her appeals that the beasts were given three days’ rest.. Not a single soldier was willing to scout except when absolutely necessary to keep in touch with the movements of the enemy. The Federals, under John Cloud, hearing that Shelby had escaped from Missouri, left Fayetteville and went out to hunt him, but Cloud was not very anxious to find Shelby. He followed slowly and at a safe distance and pursued Shelby to Clarksville on the Arkansas River where Shelby crossed the stream twelve miles east of Ozark, where he had passed thirty days before.
A great march was ended, and Shelby, in his reports, claimed that he had in the thirty days killed and wounded six hundred Federals; he had taken and paroled as many more; he had captured and destroyed ten forts, about eight hundred thousand dollars’ worth of property and he had captured six hundred rifles, forty stand of colors, three hundred wagons, six thousand horses and mules, and destroyed a million dollars’ worth of supplies. At one place in Arkansas he had dispersed eight hundred recruits and destroyed fifty thousand dollars’ worth of ordnance. At the time Shelby left Arkadelphia, Rosecrans was calling for help, and one day after Shelby started, the Battle of Chickamauga had been finished and Rosecrans, with his army driven back and discouraged, was at Chattanooga, crying for help. Ten thousand men were kept from reinforcing Rosecrans. All this was accomplished by eight hundred men. Shelby’s superiors had led him to believe that this was a forlorn hope. The young Confederate colonel had shown them they were mistaken in their estimate of him and that he was worthy of the wreath on his collar which would make him a brigadier-general.