In June, 1865, JO Shelby’s Missouri Calvary Division was the last Confederate military unit remaining in service in the former Confederacy. It never surrendered to federal authorities. Instead, it embarked on one of history’s remarkable odysseys.
After the disaster at Westport, Missouri in October, 1864, Shelby’s men began their trek south, wintering near Dallas, Texas. They operated in northern Texas through the Spring of 1865, and then were joined by a number of Confederate notables who had gone west instead of surrendering. The Missourians gathered in camp at Chatfield, north of Corsicana, Texas, where Shelby announced he would to go to Mexico. A number of his troopers, estimated at between 150 and 400, chose to follow. The first remarkable event on the Missourians’ road south occurred in Austin; They arrived just as a mob had entered the Texas State House and looted the last sizable treasure of the Confederate government. The Missourians attacked and routed the mob. The question of “ownership” of $300,000 in gold and silver was then decided by Shelby, who exhorted his men: “We are the last of our race. Let us be the best as well.” The treasure was left in the hands of the State of Texas, to become the foundation of Texas’ post-war economy. Once in Mexico, Shelby intended to offer the services of his Division to the Juarista rebels seeking the overthrow of the French-backed regime of the Emperor Maximilian. His men, nevertheless, voted to back Maximilian. The adventure culminated when Shelby met the Emperor in the National Palace in Mexico City. The Missourians’ offer was not accepted – perhaps out of fear of worsening an already delicate relationship with the United States – but many of the Missourians settled in Mexico on land granted by Maximilian’s government. Most, Shelby included, returned to Missouri within a few years. A 1969 John Wayne film, “The Undefeated,” is loosely – very loosely – based upon Shelby’s long ride into Mexico.