Born and raised in Kentucky, a Missourian by choice, JO Shelby possessed the dashing charm of J.E.B. Stuart and the fighting instincts of N.B. Forrest. With the exception only of Ulysses Grant, Shelby is the greatest natural military genius Missouri has produced – and Missouri is the State which produced John Pershing and Omar Bradley.
Before the Civil War, Shelby was a hemp planter and businessman in Waverly, Missouri, and by some accounts the richest man in Missouri. He had an active role in the Missouri-Kansas Border Wars of the 1850’s, raising a troop of horseman in Lafayette County and equipping them at his own expense. Joining the Missouri State Guard, he entered the War early and played an important role in the Battle of Carthage, July 5, 1861.
In 1863, Shelby participated in the three great Missouri raids, including the greatest of all, which bears his name. The saying went that Missouri had five seasons, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and “Shelby’s on a Raid.” In 1864, he had a key role in Price’s Expedition, and his command twice saved the Confederate invasion force, at Westport and at Mine Creek.
Shelby’s exploits during the War are legendary. Conservatively, he traveled – in the saddle at the head of cavalry – more than 5,000 miles in Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and Kansas. Measured in miles, Shelby is without doubt the most well traveled cavalry commander in U.S. History. Still, his wartime operations almost pale in comparison to his Long Ride in 1865. You can read more about Shelby’s Long Ride in the Features section of this site.
Shelby died in 1897, and was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, on the hillside where he made his last stand during the Battle of Westport. Jo Shelby’s funeral procession is the largest, to the present day, Kansas City has ever seen.