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.

confederate kirby smith

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)

 

Susanna Dickinson / The Alamo Story

The story of the Alamo and Santa Anna’s victory at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 is probably the most publicized story of Texas’ fight for independence. The Alamo story is also the story of a woman by the name of Susanna Dickinson who survived this epic battle. Susanna Dickinson was among the women inside the Alamo mission during this March 1836 battle and it is from her memoirs that the world learned of just how this battle unfolded. In fact, Susanna Dickinson had the distinction of being one of only two survivors among the Alamo’s Texan defenders.

Susanna Dickinson, public domain photo

Susanna Dickinson was present at the Alamo with her husband, Captain Almaron Dickinson. The Dickinson’s had relocated to Texas from Tennessee in 1831. Captain Dickinson was among many Texans who felt war with Mexico was inevitable. After their expulsion of the Spaniards from the North American continent during the early 1820’s, the Mexican rulers were trying to consolidate their possessions into a central government. This decision from Mexico City made war with the Anglo Texans a matter of not if but when.

After the Alamo defenders were defeated, Susanna Dickinson was personally interviewed by Santa Anna. In an effort to send a warning to the Texians to the east, Susanna Dickinson was allowed to go home to Gonzales to tell the story of what occurred at the Alamo. Santa Anna wanted Dickinson to tell her fellow Texians that Santa Anna’s army was too big to fight against.

Susanna Dickinson Home and Museum

The result of allowing Susanna Dickinson to go free did indeed initially work in Santa Anna’s favor. Sam Houston ordered Texian settlers and his 400 man force to further east to avoid the Mexican army. The retreat of course was only the beginning of what would become the legendary war for Texas independence which would end at the Battle of San Jacinto and the defeat and capture of Santa Anna himself. Santa Anna’s ploy probably did more than anything to galvanize the resistance against Mexican rule and fostered the creation of the famed battle cry, “Remember the Alamo“.

The story of Susanna Dickinson is significant in the fact that this woman was able to survive the Battle of the Alamo to relate it’s details for posterity. Because Susanna Dickinson survived and was allowed to return home, we have detailed knowledge today of what took place in San Antonio during early March of 1836.

During her life after the Alamo and the Texas War of Independence, Susanna Dickinson married several times before her last marriage to a merchant named J.W. Hannig. She was married to Hannig until her death in 1883 and is buried in Austin Texas. It is the house built for her by Hannig that sits today in Austin Texas as the Susanna Dickinson Museum. Susanna Dickinson’s historical significance was a simple product of fate. She essentially was used as a messenger for Santa Anna and this splendid museum in Austin Texas is dedicated to telling her story. The museum has many programs for both adults and children and features a library of over 500 books.

Susanna Dickinson Home on Fifth Street in the heart of Austin Texas

The Susanna Dickinson home and museum is next door to another Austin Texas historic tourist attraction, the O Henry Museum. This museum of course tells of the somewhat strange life of O Henry who at one time resided in Austin.

Today’s Austin Texas tourist will find the Susanna Dickinson Museum right in the heart, as you can see from the photos, of Austin Texas at 411 East Fifth Street.

There are two other very good Austin Texas stops to put on your trip planner, also in the downtown area of Austin. These are the Driskill Hotel which is an 1800’s architectural and historic masterpiece as well as one of Austin’s most popular hotels. The other is the Texas state capital building, just a few blocks north of the Driskill, which was built in the 1880’s with revenue received from selling over 3 million Texas Panhandle acres for what would become the famed XIT Ranch.

You may also enjoy our trips Into History article…The Resting Place of the Alamo Defenders

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos of Susanna Dickinson Museum are from author’s private collection. Photo of Susanna Dickinson is from the public domain)

The California State Military Museum and the State’s Volunteer Union Company

The California State Military Museum is a gem of a military museum. This venue is the official state of California museum for everything military. California has a very extensive military history. From the early Spaniard colonization, to the Mexican rule during the early 1800’s, to the occupation of United States troops in 1848. Because of this centuries old era of European occupation, California has in it’s possession countless artifacts of each era. One of these collections involves Civil War firearms, uniforms and flags. If you are traveling to the Sacramento California area, this is a military museum not to miss.

california state military museumCalifornia became a state in 1850 during the frenzy of the great California Gold Rush. When the American Civil War broke out, California was in a very remote region in regards to the fighting. In fact, there were no official battles fought on California soil. The Blue and the Gray did not meet in California. All the same, California was quite involved if only on a undercover basis. Regular army troops were largely called back to the eastern battlefields. This was the case throughout the west. The first California Volunteers were formed to guard against a potential Confederate takeover. Battles were fought in both Arizona and New Mexico. One of the most reported on was the Confederate defeat at Glorieta Pass in New Mexico not far east of Santa Fe. The outcome of the Battle of Glorieta stopped the Confederate advance into Colorado and the southern plains. During the Civil War the southern section of New Mexico Territory actually seceded from the Union when the Confederates set up in Tucson.A significant battle there was the Battle of Picacho Pass. The defeat for the Confederacy at Picacho stopped their western advance. This battle is often referred to as the westernmost battle of the Civil War involving regular Confederate forces.

california volunteer sergeants uniform

California Volunteer Sergeants Uniform

California, aside from being geographically remote from the rest of the U.S., was inhabited by a large variety of people, mostly due to all of the different people the Gold Rush attracted. People from the midwest had settled in California as well as people from the south. Democrats were a majority in the state, but southern Democrats a minority. Regardless, in 1861, a group of southern Democrats made an attempt to get California and Oregon to secede from the Union. That attempt met with failure. The largest threat was in the southern part of California. Many southern Democrats, sympathizers, and discontented Californios posed the real problem and it was in that part of the state that southern sympathetic volunteers organized militia units. The term Californio is a Spanish term for a Californian. This distinguished a Californian from the Native Indian population. That southern threat was eventually put down by Union forces still in the region. The southern question had reared it’s head back at the time of original statehood in 1850. From the outset California had declared itself as a non slavery territory. When the issue of granting statehood reached Congress there was opposition from southern lawmakers. The northerners in Congress obviously were able to overcome this largely because of the vast gold wealth in California and because of it’s enormously increasing population. There were several attempts by many southern Californians to push for secession from the Union during the 1850’s, and one measure actually reached Congress. After Lincoln’s presidential win in 1860 that measure was quickly set aside and died. The war of secession in California went nowhere.

civil war california cavalry hat

California 100 Cavalry hat

While President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to join the Union side and imposed a draft, he didn’t apply this executive order to California. A state like California was asked to form a volunteer force to take over the responsibilities of the regular army. These duties were essentially to protect wagon trains, stagecoaches and to try to keep the Indians in check. Many volunteers in the case of California much preferred to fight the war in the east as imposed to local service. While patriotism influenced the volunteers who wished to fight the Confederacy on the eastern battlefields, the volunteers who stayed in the west to replace the withdrawn regular troops no doubt were also making a large contribution. It’s a well known fact that after the regular troops were sent east, Indian depredations increased. While many may have thought that service in the far west was not quite as glamorous, if war could be considered glamorous, as serving in the east, there is no question that the California volunteers who stayed in the west were providing a very necessary service to the Union. They also were on hand if thoughts again rose for a war of secession in that state.

A group contacted the governor and offered to raise a company of 100 volunteers to go east. Californians had been well aware of the war going on thousands of miles away and many wanted to enter the conflict. The governor accepted the offer and the California unit was formed as a separate company of a cavalry regiment from Massachusetts. Officially they became Company “A” of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, but they were more popularly known as the “California Hundred’. This Civil War regiment would ultimately travel to Boston by ship through the Panama Isthmus. Their passage was paid by the bounty they received for joining the Union Army. Everything worked out so well with this first company from California that another 400 men went east in 1863 again via ship through Panama. The second contingent of volunteers were referred to as the California Battalion. There was also a group known as the California Battalion that served during the Mexican American War of 1848.

civil war rifles

Civil Wat era vintage rifles

The three vintage Civil War rifles on display at the California State Military Museum pictured right are a 1863 Springfield Percussion Musket .58 Caliber. Below it is a 1860 Springfield .52 caliber short barrel and on the bottom is a 1855 Springfield Percussion .58 caliber rifle. The Springfield rifles were heavily used during the Civil War.

The Californians formed Company A in the Massachusetts regiment that was headquartered in Boston. The entire Massachusetts regiment was then sent south to the Baltimore area and then into Virginia. For about a year between 1863 and 1864, the Califonia 100 saw a lot of action against John S. Mosby’s Confederate Rangers. Sending troops back east from California was only one of the state’s contribution to the Union war effort. Much needed gold was shipped back east. Troops from southern California entered what is today the state of Arizona via Yuma to confront Confederate forces who had taken over much of the southern part of the New Mexico Territory. The most significant action was at Picacho Pass in April 1862.

During the Civil War, the California company’s casualty total were eight officers and eighty-two enlisted men killed. Another one-hundred and forty-one were lost to disease. Many more were lost to sickness as opposed to deaths during battle.

spanish spurs

Spanish or Californio style spurs

Many artifacts of this era are on display at the California State Military Museum. In 1993, Civil War artifacts, on display at in the State Capitol were moved to the California Citizen-Soldier Museum to exhibit, maintain, and preserve. In 1994 the California Citizen-Soldier Museum was made the official military museum for the state. In 1995 the museum was renamed the California State Military Museum. The museum today boasts over 33,000 military artifacts. These include weapons, uniforms, unit records, battle flags, photographs, personal letters, newspaper articles and medals.

In addition to California Civil War artifacts are large displays of Spanish and Mexican era artifacts as well as exhibits pertaining to World War Two. The California State Military Museum is located in Old Town Sacramento California. As military museums go, this is one you’ll want to visit during your next California vacation or western road trip.