Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Gen. Jo Shelby Statue Dedicated in Waverly, MO June 27th

By Nancy Hitt

Twenty-six years of organizing, planning and selling of books culminated in a recent celebration of the life of Kentucky-born and educated Confederate Gen. Joseph Orville Shelby. The folks of little Waverly, Missouri, population 807, were determined to honor their hometown hero. They completed their long mission on Saturday, June 27, 2009 with the dedication of the first statue to honor General Shelby.

Jo Shelby was born in Lexington, Kentucky, on December 12, 1830. His father died when he was five years old and his mother then married Benjamin Gratz. Gratz ran a hemp operation. Mr. Gratz was a widower with several sons. He educated his stepson, Jo, at a school in Pennsylvania and then sent him to Transylvania College in Lexington.

Shelby was a friend of John Hunt Morgan and their Confederate military careers would have several similarities. After Shelby dropped out of Transylvania, he was employed for a time at his stepfather’s rope factory. At the age of twenty-one, he received funds from his deceased father’s estate and with one of his stepbrothers, settled in Waverly, Missouri. Located on the banks of the Missouri River, it was in this village that Shelby and his step-brothers began a farming operation involving growing hemp for rope. Their property included a wharf and Shelby also started a shipping and steamboat service.

Many Kentuckians migrated to Missouri in the 1820’s and 1830’s, and in 1858, Shelby married Elizabeth “Bettie” Shelby, a distant cousin whose family had likewise made the move to settle in Missouri. She was the daughter of a Shelbyville, Kentucky, native.

It was not long before Jo Shelby took part in the border war engagements in 1858 and 1859. His stepbrother wanted no part in the blood letting caused by the Kansas redlegs and returned to Lexington, Kentucky. Another step-brother, Carey, joined the Union forces and was killed in his first engagement.

Frank Blair, another Kentucky cousin (and brother of Lincoln’s Postmaster General, Montgomery Blair) was stationed in St. Louis. Blair offered Shelby a Union commission when the War started but Shelby refused the offer.

In 1861, at the Methodist Church located near his plantation, Shelby recruited hundreds of men to the Confederate cause in a matter of hours. He outfitted them with his own money. These men became the core of his famous Iron Brigade. Shelby’s adjutant was John Newman Edwards who wrote glowing accounts about the Missouri Confederate exploits during the War for Southern Independence (and, as a post-war newspaperman largely created the legend of Jesse James).

Yankee arsonists burned down the Shelby home along with all the outbuildings.

Captain Shelby led his newly-formed cavalry company into battle at Wilson's Creek, and then - having been promoted to colonel - he commanded a brigade at Prairie Grove. From September 22nd to November 3rd, 1863, Shelby led his Iron Brigade on what was until then the longest cavalry raid of the war. Shelby's Great Raid covered 1,500 miles through Missouri, inflicting over 1,000 Union casualties and destroying or capturing roughly two million dollars of Federal property. This feat only his friend John Hunt Morgan would be able to surpass. Shelby’s brigade played a large role in stopping the Union Camden Expedition in 1864, and after that he accomplished the unusual feat of capturing a Union tinclad (the USS Queen City). In the Summer of 1864, he commanded a division in Sterling Price's Missouri raid.

General Jo Shelby refused to surrender at the end of the War. He led the remnants of his men, about 1,000, across the Rio Grande River at Eagle Pass, Texas. There they buried the battle flag in that river. Shelby offered their services to Emperor Maximilian as a foreign legion, and though that was declined the emperor granted land for an American colony near Vera Cruz. Wife Bettie and her two young sons were reunited with Shelby there. For their refusal to surrender, these men were dubbed "the undefeated.” “The Undefeated” became the title of a 1969 John Wayne film loosely based on Shelby’s actions.

In 1867 Shelby and his family returned to Missouri and began a farming operation in Adrian, Missouri. In 1893, President Grover Cleveland appointed him as U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Missouri.

General Shelby died on February 13, 1897, and was buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri. He left behind a wife, seven sons and a daughter. Shelby became a folk hero to the people of the devastated Southland, and is still considered one of the greatest Confederate Cavalry leaders.

This former Confederate resident is the man Waverly citizens wanted so greatly to honor. The states of Kentucky and Missouri had both failed to raise a statue to their brave son and heroic figure. The Shelby marker which rests in Forest Hills Cemetery is rather insignificant considering the accomplishments of this brave leader of men.

W. L. Pointer and Keith Daleen of Waverly took out a loan in order to purchase 2,000 copies of the book entitled “Shelby and his Men.” These books were sold to help raise the necessary funds for a Shelby statue. It took twenty-six years of fundraising, but they did it. Many people worked on this project over the long years of fundraising.

On a blistering hot Saturday afternoon, a ceremony was held to unveil the General Shelby equestrian statute. There were flags, reenactors, singing groups, boy scouts and at least thirty Shelby family members in attendance from several states. Speeches were given by Jim Beckner, John Hinz, Col. James Shelby, Waverly Mayor Barbara Schreiman, U.S. Representative Ike Skelton, Jim England of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Missouri President of the UDC.

Two notable no-shows were the key note speaker, our own Kentucky Governor Steve Breshear, and the Missouri Governor, Jay Nixon. Though long scheduled to speak, they both managed to come up with last-minute excuses as to why they could not attend this event. Likely the problem was a sudden appearance of untreatable large yellow streaks on each of their backs, since this Confederate memorial service did not fit the PC guidebook and some intrepid reporter just might have mentioned their attendance in the media.

The citizens of Waverly, Jim Beckner, John Hinz, Mary MaCoy, Cathy Gottsch, the sutlers, vendors and reenactors deserve our gratitude for a wonderful weekend event.

If you decide to visit Waverly, don’t miss a chance to see the only remaining original log home that stood upon the Santa Fe Trail. Apparently all the other homes on the old trail have been moved there from various locations. This house witnessed those first Santa Fe freighters, the Union and Confederate soldiers and even stood to attention during Jo’s day.
Nancy Hitt – 2009


Unknown said...

What a load of horse crap. It took 27 years to raise the funds to put up a statue glorifying the enslavement of others. Perhaps a stature of Jeffrey Dahmer and an article to applaud his cannibalism could go in the same city park.

The best thing about his statue taking 27 years to put up is that it can be torn down in just one day. No longer would black residents be forced to walk by a statue that says you should have been kept in chains.

Unknown said...

By the way I did not leave my name since I don't want a cross burnt in my lawn.

Unknown said...

You are an idiot, I think that the statue should have been put up years ago!! It is our history!! Shelby actually regretted his actions in later life. He was a proud citizen of Waverly and it is fitting that he his remembered and honored. taking down monuments and trying to eliminate any sign of the past will not change it.