Rural Missouri - October 2013 - (Page 24)
Charge of the Iron Brigade
Shelby’s Great Raid ~ October 1863
Confederates expose thin Union defenses in Missouri
by Jim Denny
Marmaduke’s lackluster spring raids, sensed that his
time had come. He was able to gain the reluctant
approval of Price and Marmaduke to launch a daring
raid deep into enemy-occupied Missouri.
ow a self-promoted colonel, William Clarke
The opposite of the cautious and plodding MarQuantrill and the greater part of his guermaduke, Shelby had the dash and daring of a true
rillas decided to head for Texas wintering
cavalry leader. Shelby and his men crossed into Misgrounds a little earlier than usual. On
souri on Oct. 2, 1863, and struck quickly. The next
Oct. 1, 1863, some 400 guerrillas commenced their
day, they surrounded the 180-man garrison at Neosouthward migration.
sho and compelled its surrender.
By Oct. 6, they had reached the vicinity of BaxWith conﬁscated fresh mounts and supplies, Shelter Springs, Kan. Here, Quantrill had a stroke of
by’s Iron Brigade rode northward through Sarcoxie
the grotesque luck that seemed to be a part of his
and Bowers Mills. On Oct. 5, the small
strange genius. He and his guerrillas
garrisons at Greenﬁeld and Stockton
encountered the 100-man escort of
were captured along with more supMaj. Gen. James Blunt, the hard-bitten
plies. Shelby rested that evening near
commander of the Army of the FronHumansville.
tier. Quantrill’s men opened ﬁre and
The various Union militia units
launched a headlong charge toward the
that attempted to intercept Shelby had
hapless Kansas and Wisconsin soldiers.
been left in the dust by the wily and
Blunt’s green troops panicked and
swift-moving cavalryman. Shelby’s
bolted for the rear.
men were outdistancing the Union
On their superior horses, the guercouriers, who galloped to inform superillas rode down and shot the panicriors where Shelby was last seen.
stricken Federal cavalrymen from their
Meanwhile, Shelby continued
saddles as they ﬂed. Within 15 minunmolested through Humansville and
utes, 82 dead and dying Union soldiers
Warsaw, where they captured another
were strewn across the prairie. Gen.
rich horde of supplies on Oct.
Blunt and 15 of his men barely
6-7. His men captured Tipton on
got away. Quantrill could rightly
Jim Denny, a Co-Mo Electric member
the Paciﬁc Railroad on Oct. 10
boast: “By God, Shelby could not
from Lupus, brings the state’s Civil War
and spent a good part of the day
whip Blunt. Neither could Marhistory to life in Rural Missouri as we
destroying as much of the railmaduke. But I whipped him!”
commemorate the sesquicentennial of
road as possible.
At that very moment, the
this time in our nation’s history. Order
To that time, none of the
same Col. Joseph O. Shelby
Jim’s book, “The Civil War’s First Blood,”
Union forces in pursuit of Shelwas some 80 miles northeast of
online at www.ruralmissouri.coop.
by managed to shave his lead
Baxter Springs scattering militia
over them to less than 24 hours. But now that Shelforces at Humansville. As Quantrill left Missouri,
by threatened vital railheads, the state capital and
Shelby had moved in with his Iron Brigade — 1,200
important towns of the Missouri River heartland,
handpicked Missouri veterans eager to strike at the
thousands of Missouri troops took up the chase.
heart of Federal Missouri.
Finally, outside of Boonville, the 670 men of the ﬁrst
Two weeks earlier and more than 200 miles farstate militia cavalry began to skirmish with Shelby’s
ther south, Shelby had been in Arkadelphia, Ark.
Following the abandonment of Little Rock, Gen.
On Oct. 11, Shelby entered Boonville. After 19
Sterling Price and his army had fallen back to Arkadays of strenuous riding, 350 miles from Arkadeldelphia deep in southern Arkansas. Shelby, hardened
phia, his men ﬁnally were beside the banks of the
by dozens of battles and a participant in Gen. J. S.
Missouri River. Shelby turned west and headed in
the direction of Marshall.
Now the militia was nipping at his heels and had
to be held at bay by repeated rear-guard stands at
creek crossings. Shelby could keep this up indeﬁnitely, as long as no Union force blocked his path.
He was about to face his greatest challenge, and
it would come from a former nemesis, Brig. Gen.
Egbert B. Brown. Brown had beaten back repeated
charges of Shelby’s Iron Brigade at the Battle of
Springﬁeld a little more than 10 months earlier.
Now, he had an army of 1,800 men encamped
within ﬁve miles of Shelby’s force. If he could march
a detachment around Shelby’s sleeping army and
reach Marshall before Shelby did, he could accomplish what no other Union ofﬁcer had managed to
do — trap Shelby between two armies and destroy or
cripple his force.
Brown’s plan worked to perfection. When Shelby’s army approached Marshall on the morning of
Oct. 13, he found his way blocked by Union soldiers. A thousand Union defenders, commanded by
Col. Benjamin Lazear, beat back several charges by
Shelby. Finally, Brown arrived with 800 men — the
supposed anvil to Lazear’s hammer.
But, at the very moment he stood on the verge
of military glory, Brown’s nerve failed him and he
never gave the command to charge. Maneuvering
and constant ﬁring continued for an hour or so. The
many steep, brushy ravines where the battle was
fought made accurate ﬁre impossible. Hardly anyone
was killed or injured on either side.
Finally, Shelby staged a “breakthrough” by scattering a few dozen defenders and riding with half his
force toward Waverly, his home before the war. The
other half of his men, three regiments in all, escaped
by riding east then south. The remainder of the raid
was rapid retreat back to Arkansas in two separate
columns, both under constant Union pursuit.
For Shelby, the raid was a triumph. He was promoted — at long last — to brigadier general. He had
conducted the longest cavalry raid (1,500 miles,
he claimed) that had yet been attempted. He was
now acknowledged as the best cavalry ofﬁcer in the
western theater and one of the best in the whole
The Union defenders of Missouri had less about
which to brag. Shelby had clearly demonstrated how
porous their thin defenses were to skilled Confederate invaders. Still, they had ﬁnally corralled Shelby
and chased his raiders out of the state. Other than
that, Shelby’s raid had changed little for either side.
The militia was unable to protect Missourians
from either guerrillas or raiders. The misery that
plagued Missouri during 1863 would descend again
in 1864. Missouri’s seemingly endless nightmare
would drag on for another horriﬁc year. Both guerrillas and Confederate raiders would be back.
Shelby’s Iron Brigade — 1,200 men strong — was eager to strike at the heart of Federal Missouri. Artwork courtesy of Andy Thomas, Carthage, Mo., www.andythomas.com.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - October 2013
Rural Missouri - October 2013
Schooled on sailing
A deer dilemma
Therapy for the heart & soul
Out of the Way Eats
Charge of the Iron Brigade
Hearth and Home
Rural Missouri - October 2013