The Confederates Who Fled To Mexico


Out of all the  interesting stories about the American Civil War, the one regarding General Jo Shelby and his men, all Confederate soldiers, is one of the most interesting you might come across.

It’s a story about the bloody conflict in Missouri and Kansas, the Civil War west of the Mississippi River, and a group of Confederate warriors who followed their leader into Mexico rather than surrender to Union forces.

confederate jo shelby

Joseph O. Shelby

Joseph Shelby The Southern Businessman

Joseph Shelby ventured from Lexington Kentucky, his home, to Waverley Missouri in the 1850’s and founded a hemp plantation. Hemp was a very important product for baling cotton for shipment. Slaves were used to turn the hemp into rope. Cotton was king in the South and Shelby acquired a fortune along with several steamboats. It was said that Jo Shelby was the largest slave holder in Missouri.

The slavery issue was boiling for years and years. In states like Missouri and Kansas which had a good number of immigrants, the issue of slavery divided populations.

It was this sharp division that accounted for the massive bloodshed and guerrilla warfare prevalent in both states. The massacre of innocent civilians at Lexington Kansas was just one example.The Lexington massacre was the event that made southern guerrilla leaders like William Quantrill an infamous figure. His group has often been referred to as Quantrill’s Raiders. Out of this group came Bloody Bill Anderson who many thought more ruthless than Quantrill himself. Whether Quantrill’s excesses were condoned by the Confederate leadership is something that’s been debated for close to 150 years.

The slavery issue was something that sooner or later would come to a head. As we all know it certainly did after the election of Abraham Lincoln and the subsequent attack on Fort Sumter.

confederate william quantrill

Early picture of Southern guerrilla leader William Quantrill

A Time to Make a Decision

One of the unique things about the American Civil War was that when the time for hostilities eventually arrived, people literally had to choose which side they would support. The old saying “brother against brother” couldn’t be more true. Some times the decision was quick and at other times it took some deliberation.

Jo Shelby’s family back in Lexington Kentucky were by and large Union supporters. Shelby on the other hand, a prosperous Missouri businessman with slaves, thought otherwise. This is not unique. This type of family division occurred all throughout the country. There were several instances where two brothers were military officers but on opposite sides of the conflict. it’s often been said that the Civil war split families like non other.

Jo Shelby The Warrior

At the outbreak of war, Jo Shelby was actually asked to join the Union side. This was an offer made to many who may have been thought of as sitting on the fence. Shelby declined and went back to his Waverley Missouri home and put together a regiment.

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Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, head of the Trans-Mississippi Dept. for the CSA

During the war years Jo Shelby and his men operated under the leadership of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department. Shelby took part in several battles in the Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas areas, some more key than others. He grew a reputation for daring and led a group of soldiers to be feared. During these years Shelby had some interaction with the Confederate guerrillas including names such as William Quantrill, Frank James, older brother of Jesse James, and Cole Younger.

How involved Jesse James was with Quantrill’s Raiders has been debated. At the time of the Civil War Jesse James would have been only sixteen years old.

What ensued after that and during all the years of the Civil War is a story like non other. The Missouri/Kansas area was a hotbed of conflict over the slavery issue and Jo Shelby was very much involved.

The End Times

After Lee’s surrender to Grant and the fall of Vicksburg the Confederates were doomed. Word of Lee’s surrender took several weeks to reach Confederate troops operating west of the Mississippi. The leadership of the Trans-Mississippi Department eventually made the decision to surrender as well. Before doing so they promoted Jo Shelby to general although there was no way for Confederate records to show this.

Not every Confederate soldier and officer made the same decision. The only real choice anyone had who desired to hold out was to flee to Mexico. A good many of those finding themselves in and near Texas at war’s end did indeed cross the Rio Grande. To many this was preferable to surrendering. Even doing this had great risks and some were killed just over the border by warring Mexican factions.

Union General Philip Sheridan was sent to Texas by Grant to round up renegade Confederates and to restore Union rule. Sheridan’s troops were on the heels of any Confederates fleeing to the border.

maximilian of mexico

1864 portrait of Maximilian I of Mexico

Shelby Enters Mexico

Jo Shelby and his men also made the decision to cross over into Mexico with the goal of offering their services to the French backed Maximilian who had recently taken over rule of Mexico. Maximilian was essentially installed in Mexico by Napolean III. Shelby and his men envisioned being a type of foreign legion for these rulers.

At the same time Maximilian’s mostly French troops were being opposed by Benito Juarez and his Juaristas. If Shelby thought he was leaving a war zone by going into Mexico he was mistaken. The fighting south of the border was intense and bloody.There was an ongoing guerrilla war in the area from Mexico City to the north and northeast.

The Juaristas would deal severely with any troops, Confederate or Union, who they believed entered Mexico to offer aid to Maximilian’s forces. After a few skirmishes with Juaristas, Jo Shelby and his hundreds of troops eventually made it to Monterrey where they hooked up with French commanders.

Shelby’s idea was to head west to the Sonora area and attempt to recruit Americans to fight for Maximilian. He felt he could recruit thousands but was denied permission to travel west. Instead he and his men were ordered to go south to Mexico City for a meeting with Maximilian and his French army chief.

juarez monument

Monument to Benito Juarez in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Emperor Maxilmilian, aside from the fact that his military leader was okay with the idea,  never did accept Shelby and his men into his armed forces as a unit. A few of his men did join a specialized military unit that had it’s origins in Africa.

Maximilian’s decision not to employ Shelby’s unit was likely influenced by pressure from the U.S. The U.S. never liked the idea of the French in Mexico but with the Civil War going on there was very little they could do. At the same time Maximilian was making diplomatic efforts to build relations with Washington.

President Abraham Lincoln even commented that the Union could fight only one war at a time. Emperor Maximilian never allowed any ex-Confederates to join his largely French Foreign Legion army with the exception of just those few men from Shelby’s regiment. He did however grant land to Shelby and other Americans near Veracruz for the purpose of establishing a colonies within Mexico for ex-Confederates.

mexican benito juarez

Benito Juarez

Because of the military and political gains of the Jauraitas, led by Bentio Juarez, this colonial arrangement lasted only a short time. Just two years after it’s establishment the French were overthrown (they had basically decided to begin withdrawing all troops) and Maximilian, installed by Napolean III, who was from Europe’s Hapsburg dynasty, was executed. The Confederate colonies were being attacked as well and many colonists began fleeing back north to the U.S. These events ended the ex-Confederate colonies in Mexico.

Jo Shelby’s Return

Because of the turmoil and uncertainty  in Mexico, Jo Shelby returned to the United States in 1867. His prior farming operation and luxurious mansion were gone.The mansion and the outbuildings had been burned to the ground during the war.

Jo Shelby settled in Adrian Missouri with his family and took up farming which he was involved in before the war except this time without slave holdings. His story is remarkable when you consider that in 1893 President Grover Cleveland made him U.S.Marshal for the Western District of Missouri and he held that post until he died four years later. At the time of his death he left behind a wife, seven sons and a daughter. Joseph Shelby is buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri.

Below are links to additional Trips Into History articles you might find interesting…

The Ironic Surrender of Robert E. Lee

The Confederate Navy

Civil War Submarine

Visiting Waverley Missouri

If you wonder how the town of Waverley Missouri, located on the banks of the Missouri River, regarded ex-Confederate officer and town businessman Joseph Shelby, just take a walk on the town’s main street. There in a park you will find a life sized statue of Joseph O. Shelby sitting upon his horse.

joseph shelby statue waverley missouri

statue in honor of Joseph O. Shelby in Waverley Missouri

The group responsible for the statue raised funds by selling copies of the book, Shelby and His Men. The statue was dedicated in June of 2009 to much fanfare. There were bands, reenactments, speeches, boy scouts and dozens of Shelby family members. This was Waverley Missouri’s way of finally honoring their Civil War hero who many feel was the finest cavalry officer in the entire Confederate army.

If you have the opportunity to visit Waverley Missouri, there s a stretch of highway that was once part of the famous Santa Fe Trail. Waverley served a an important port along the Missouri which cargo could be sent west along the old trail. There’s an annual “Blazin The Trail” event that goes along a twenty mile stretch of the old Santa Fe Trail (Hwy 24) between Waverley and Lexington Missouri.  Along the route during this celebration are shops, crafts, wine, antiques, restaurants and plenty of family events and shows.

Waverley Missouri is about 65 miles east of Kansas City.

To learn more about Jo Shelby and his life before, during and after the Civil War, I would recommend the following books…

General Jo Shelby’s March by author Anthony Arthur and General Jo Shelby: Undefeated Rebel by authors Daniel O’Flaherty and Daniel E. Sutherland.

(Article copyright 2013 Trips Into History. Photos and images from the public domain)


California Chinese and the Napa Valley Wine Caves

An historic story that hasn’t received a great amount of attention are the wine caves built by Chinese laborers during the latter part of the 1800’s. In fact, in 1885, Chinese laborers built a 350 foot wine cave in Napa Valley California using only picks and shovels.

napa california

Napa California

The Early Chinese Immigrants

The Chinese in California, who first arrived in large numbers due to the Gold Rush, built a great deal of the state during the late 1800’s. An interesting fact is that the Chinese were actually quite knowledgeable about California much before the great gold rush. It’s said that by the year 1600 the Chinese knew enough about California to have drawn a map of the coast. Some historians contend that Chinese explorers may have visited the west coast many years before Columbus landed in the New World in 1492 and the map from 1600 would be a good indicator.

While the Chinese worked the gold fields in the Sierra Nevada foothills, they did so with resentment from the white miners. As a result, the Chinese tended to work in groups for added protection and to work sites that were considered less desirable by the whites. The resentment didn’t end there as the California legislature soon passed a tax act that effectively took half of the Chinese workers wages. On top of that the law incredibly allowed any citizen to collect these taxes which led to violent clashes.

napa california opera house

Historic Napa Opera House

The First Napa Wine Caves

The wine caves built by Chinese laborers into volcanic rock were used for wine aging and storage. Construction on the first caves began in 1871. In 1881 a second set of tunnels began to be built.

If you visit Napa Valley California today you’ll be able to view this first wine cave at the Del Dotto Vineyards at 1055 Atlas Peak Road in Napa, CA . In 1997 the wineries new owners restored the original winery and started to store their wines in the historic caves.

The Napa Valley wine caves were just one of their accomplishments. There’s much more to the story of the Chinese laborers in early California which is detailed below. There are many reminders today that still survive which point to the work of nineteenth century California Chinese laborers.

The excerpt below is from the book Rails Tales, and Trails published by Nimbus Marketing and really gives you a great glimpse at he numerous projects California Chinese laborers were involved in.

For more information on the book and it’s companion award winning film “The Hidden Wonder of the World, the Transcontinental Railroad from Sacramento to Donner Summit” visit website

The Chinese in California

During the nineteenth century tens of thousands of Chinese crossed the Pacific to work, trade, and settle in California. Drawn initially by the gold rush, they brought the skills that would help them thrive in Gold Mountain. Like others from around the world, the Chinese who did not strike it rich in the mines engaged in a variety of occupations to make money in California.

You can see and feel the spirit of the early Chinese in many places in California. The Tree-of-heaven (also known ailanthus, Chinese sumac) can be found sprouting in abandoned gold mining sites, a living reminder of the Chinese gold miners who arrived in the 1850s.

Some of California’s earliest buildings were made of pre-fabricated materials shipped from China and assembled by Chinese workers in the Golden State. Of all buildings prefabricated in China and exported to the United States, the earliest one still standing is the Double Springs Courthouse in Calaveras County. It was constructed in 1850 from pre-cut camphor wood.

Most of the early Chinese debarked in San Francisco, known as Dai Fou, the big city where they established a thriving community. They also headed inland toward the gold mines and settled in Sacramento, as Yee Fou ,the second city. Marysville, just 40 miles from Sacramento became the supply center for the northern mines, was called Sam Fou ,the third city.

Chinese workers in mountain snow building the transcontinental railroad through the Sierra Nevada range. Public domain photo

Chinese immigrants built many of the flumes and roads in the mining districts. Throughout California, there are stone walls that are said to have been built by Chinese American workers in the nineteenth century. They are usually made from uncut field stones, without the use of mortar. The stones were obtained by clearing the surrounding land for pasture or farming.

The wine caves of Napa Valley were constructed in the late 1800’s. They were dug by pick and shovel. The loose dirt was carried out in woven baskets. You can find many abandoned wine caves throughout the hills of the Napa Valley.

Chinese laborers pulled early Sacramento out of the mud, building earthen levies that kept the American and Sacramento rivers from regularly flooding the nascent city. But by far the most visible reminder of the early Chinese are the massive tunnels, of the old Central Pacific Railroad in the Sierra Nevada from Sacramento to Truckee.

Many Chinese stayed with the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads after the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, and helped build modern California.

Two additional Rails, Tales, and Trails book excerpts that describe a short self-guided tour of the of historic transcontinental railroad sites from Auburn California to Donner Summit can be found on the Western Trips links below.

Self-Guided  Historic Tour From Auburn California

Donner Summit and the Central Pacific Railroad

For more information about the Chinese contribution to the building of early California, please visit website

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History. Book excerpt copyright Nimbus Marketing. Photo of Chinese railroad workers from the public domain)

Touring The Texas Hill Country

The Texas Hill Country, located in the central part of the state, attracts tourists, nature lovers, water sport enthusiasts, and families from all over the U.S. The beautiful rolling hills, scenic lakes, unique geography and the famed Texas hospitality have marked the Texas Hill Country as a popular destination for anybody wanting a great vacation or weekend trip experience.

longhorn caverns in texas

Limestone caverns at Longhorn Caverns State Park

So much of the Texas Hill Country represents the history of the Lone Star State. It was a place of large immigration during the early to mid 1800’s and today in many ways is a living history museum within the state itself.

The Fascinating Caverns of the Texas Hill Country

The Texas Hill Country was formed about 30 million years ago by a giant earthquake. The violent quake forced limestone and granite layers to the surface and buckled the earth to form the rolling hills and valleys the Texas Hill Country is now famous for. Examples of this geologic action can be seen at several caverns. These would include the Longhorn Caverns in Burnet Texas and the Natural Bridge Caverns just north of San Antonio. Both of these are popular tourist destinations which will take you hundreds of feet underground to experience the beautiful limestone formations.

nimitz museum of the pacific war

Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg Texas

Fredericksburg Texas

Fredericksburg Texas, in the middle of the Texas Hill Country, is one of the most popular stops for those on Texas vacations. Fredericksburg TX is a very unique and historic location with excellent restaurants (German fare is the big draw), very beautiful and serene bed and breakfast lodgings and it is the home of the Admiral Chester Nimitz Pacific War Museum.

This very unique museum tells the story of Japan’s rise to power, the beginning of the War in the Pacific and the events that led to the U.S. victory. There are also very interesting exhibits regarding the home front and the war’s effect on both Texas and the nation. Many artifacts are on display including newspaper articles, and mementos. You’ll also find a lot of information concerning individuals and their part in the war effort.

driskill hotel austin texas

Driskill Hotel, Austin Texas

Austin Texas

The most historic hotel in the state of Texas may very well be the Driskill Hotel located in downtown Austin.

When you tour this hotel you will marvel at the architecture, both inside and outside. This Austin Texas hotel is both a popular and fully operational hotel and at the same time is one of Austin Texas’ most historic sites. When you’re making a list of things to do in Austin Texas I would recommend you add the Driskill Hotel to your list.

Jesse Driskill purchased land at the corner of 6th and Brazos Streets for his new project of building a grand hotel. He had plenty of money from his Civil War beef operations and wanted to branch off with other investments.

driskill hotel texas

Grand staircase, Driskill Hotel

The Driskill Hotel was built for a reported $400,000. Not small money today and obviously a hug sum in the late 1800’s. Driskill built his luxurious Austin hotel to compete with the palaces of New York, Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco. When the hotel was completed it was by far the centerpiece of this frontier town being constructed of local brick and limestone with a hand laid marble floor. There was no other hotel like it in Texas at the time.

The Driskill Hotel is one of the more popular tourist attractions in Austin Texas. This historic hotel is located in the heart of Austin at 604 Brazos Street.

guenther house san antonio texas

Exhibit on the grounds of the Pioneer Flour Mill and Guenther House, San Antonio Texas

The Old Pioneer Mill and Guenther House in San Antonio

This mill was started by a German immigrant named Carl Hilmar Guenther who originally settled in the Texas Hill Country town of Fredericksburg.  The story about the Pioneer Flour Mill is a very interesting story about German immigration into frontier Texas. At the site is a wonderful museum within the Guenther House along with an award winning restaurant. Add to this beautiful gardened grounds. The museum now houses mill memorabilia including antique baking accessories, cookie cutters and anniversary Dresden china plates which were given to customers by the mill. The site address is 203 E. Guenther Street, San Antonio.

The old Pioneer Flour Mill and Guenther House is located in the King James area of San Antonio.

Additional Trips Into History articles you’ll enjoy include…

An Historic Texas Hotel in Waxahachie

The Comanche Indians

Cattle Drives and Cowboys

Visit Luling Texas / Railroads, Oil and Watermelons

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)