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Joseph O. Shelby (1830 – 1897)

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Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby was a famous Confederate
Confederacy is a term used to identify the states that seceded from the United States and formed their own separate government during the Civil War. "Confederacy" is also used interchangeably with the terms "the South" and "the Confederate States of America."

Confederate is the term used to identify an individual who was loyal to the Confederacy.
cavalry general. He was born in Lexington, Kentucky, on December 12, 1830, to Orville and Anna Boswell Shelby. His father was a wealthy planter and hemp rope producer.

When Joseph was five, his father died, and his mother remarried to Benjamin Gratz, a wealthy merchant and land owner. Joseph attended Transylvania University and was groomed to become a successful businessman.

After receiving a large inheritance at the age of twenty-one, Shelby moved to Waverly in Lafayette County, Missouri. Together with his step-brother, he founded the Waverly Steam Rope Company. The company produced hemp rope using slave labor.

Shelby also owned a seven-hundred-acre plantation worked by slaves. On July 22, 1858, he married his distant cousin, Elizabeth N. Shelby. Together the couple had seven children.

By 1860, Shelby’s finances were in decline largely due to his own poor management. He was forced to sell the rope company, plantation, and his slaves.

Confederate Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby Confederate Brigadier General
Joseph O. Shelby
Confederate Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby.

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Like many pro-Southern Missourians, Shelby was angered by the Camp Jackson Affair
The Camp Jackson Affair was an incident early in the American Civil War that occurred on May 10, 1861, when Union military forces captured a pro-secession state militia camped outside of St. Louis. The camp was named after Claiborne Fox Jackson, Missouri's governor, who wanted the state to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy. The men in the camp were preparing to capture a federal arsenal and give its weapons and other military supplies to the South, but the Union forces prevented them from attacking the arsenal. A riot broke out when the captured men were marched into the city, and twenty-eight people were killed when the soldiers fired into the crowd.
in St. Louis. During the incident, Union
Union is the term used to identify the United States and its government during the Civil War.
General Nathaniel Lyon’s militia fired upon a civilian mob and killed twenty-eight people. In response, Shelby recruited a large number of men from Lafayette County, Missouri, to support the Confederacy by serving in the Missouri State Guard. Shelby and his troops fought at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and later at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas.

Recognized for his leadership skills and talent, Shelby was quickly promoted, and given command of the “Iron Brigade,” so named for their toughness. In 1863, he was promoted to brigadier general in the Confederate States Army, and continued to lead his men against Union forces until the end of the war.

As the Confederacy crumbled, Shelby led six hundred of his men south to Mexico. The Emperor Maximilian granted Shelby and his men permission to found a colony called “Carlota” outside of Vera Cruz, Mexico. After the Emperor Maximilian was overthrown, Shelby returned to the United States.

He began farming in Lafayette County, Missouri, and later moved to Bates County, Missouri. In 1893, President Grover Cleveland appointed Shelby U.S. Marshal of the Western District of Missouri.

Joseph Shelby in Mexico Joseph Shelby in Mexico Joseph Shelby appearing before Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Carlota of Mexico.


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By this time Shelby had put the war behind him. He selected an African-American to serve as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. When critics complained, Shelby declared, “I am right in what I have done, and by the right I propose to stand.”

He also voiced regret for his actions in the Border Wars, telling historian William Elsey Connelley, “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.”

Shelby died of pneumonia
Pneumonia is an illness that affects an individual's lungs. It is caused by bacterial or viral infections that inflame the air sacs in the lungs and make it difficult to breathe. An individual suffering from pneumonia may have a cough, fever, breathing difficulties, and chest pain. Pneumonia can affect people of all ages and can lead to death if it is left untreated.
on his farm near Adrian, Missouri, on February 13, 1897, and was buried in Kansas City, Missouri.
Text by Kimberly Harper with research assistance by Garrett Walker

Meets Show-Me Standards SS: 2, 6, 7; 4th grade GLE 2a.A.

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References and Resources

For more information about Joseph O. Shelby's life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about Joseph O. Shelby in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri.The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets.


  • Article in the Missouri Historical Review
  • Articles from the Newspaper Collection
    • “Anecdotes of Shelby.” Boonville Weekly Advertiser. September 15, 1899.
    • “Fought His Last Fight.” Boonville Weekly Advertiser. February 19, 1897.
    • “In a Warrior’s Grave: Gen. Jo Shelby Laid to Rest.” Adrian Journal. February 19, 1897, p.1.
    • McClurg’s Slander of Gen. Blair – Card from Gen. Jo ShelbyJoseph Shelby wrote this letter to the editors of the Columbia Statesman in 1867. He was responding to a letter printed in the newspaper that claimed to give his political views.

      [Columbia Statesman, November 1, 1867, p. 1]
      .” Columbia Statesman. November 1, 1867, p. 1.
    • “Shelby’s Brigade.” Jefferson City Daily Tribune. June 3, 1885.
  • Books
    • Arthur, Anthony. General Jo Shelby’s March. New York: Random House, 2010. [REF F508.1 Sh428a]
    • Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 691-692. [REF F508 D561]
    • Connelley, William Elsey. Quantrill and the Border Wars. Cedar Rapids, IA: The Torch Press, 1910. [REF F554.1 C762]
    • Davis, Edwin Adams. Fallen Guidon: The Saga of Confederate General Jo Shelby’s March to Mexico. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1995. [REF 973.738 D292 1995]
    • Garraty, John A., and Mark C. Carnes, eds. American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. v. 19, pp. 415-21. [REF 920 AM37 v. 19]
    • O’Flaherty, Daniel. General Jo Shelby: Undefeated Rebel. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1954. [REF IHG F508.1 Sh428o]
  • Manuscript Collection
    • Shelby, Joseph Orville (1830-1897), Letter, 1885 (C0521)
      To Mr. Lankford, Marshall, MO, from Audrain, Bates County, MO, Aug. 2, 1885. Letter from a Confederate brigadier general to a friend, giving his reasons for the Civil War
      The Civil War was a military conflict that began on April 12, 1861, when Southern forces fired on Fort Sumter outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Several Southern states had seceded from the United States (also known as the Union) and formed the Confederate States of America (also referred to as the Confederacy) out of fear that the United States' newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln, would not allow the expansion of slavery into new western states. Battles and skirmishes were fought throughout the country by Union and Confederate forces. General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. As other Confederate forces heard the news of Lee's surrender, they surrendered as well and the war was soon over. Over half a million men were killed or wounded in the war. Thousands of former slaves gained their freedom. After the war, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution were passed prohibiting slavery, providing equal protection for all citizens, and barring federal and state governments from denying citizens the right to vote due to their race, color, or status as a former slave.
      .
    • Shelby, Joseph Orville (1830-1897), Scrapbook, 1865-1932 (C3558)
      Clippings about the military career of a Civil War general from Missouri, newspaper accounts of his death in 1897, tributes and correspondence.

Outside Resources

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Historic Missourians: Joseph O. Shelby
Joseph O. ShelbyJoseph O. Shelby on his wedding day in 1858.

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Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby

Born: December 12, 1830
Died: February 13, 1897 (age 66)
Category: Military Leaders
Region of Missouri: Northwest
Missouri Hometown: Waverly