October 4, 1863 – Colonel Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby’s Confederate “Iron Brigade” entered Missouri and conducted the longest raid of the war.
Shelby commanded a brigade of Confederate cavalry stationed at Arkadelphia, Arkansas. In late September, the force headed north to wreak havoc in Missouri and prevent Federals there from aiding the Army of the Cumberland besieged in Chattanooga. In early October, Shelby rode through Huntsville and Bentonville before crossing the border and arriving at Neosho, the former capital of the pro-Confederate Republic of Missouri. About 400 Federal cavalrymen sought refuge from the Confederates in the courthouse, but Shelby’s cannon compelled them to surrender.
The Iron Brigade continued on to Warsaw, where the troopers seized 30 wagons, destroyed nearby telegraph wires, and wrecked about 30 miles of railroad track. By the 10th, Shelby’s men had advanced to within 40 miles of the Missouri capital of Jefferson City. They destroyed the Missouri Pacific Railroad at Tipton, burning the depot and wrecking several railcars. Meanwhile, Federal forces began assembling to stop Shelby’s raid.
Rather than riding east toward Jefferson City as expected, Shelby moved north and captured Boonville on the Missouri River. The Boonville mayor and leading citizens greeted Shelby and his men, assuring them that they supported the Confederacy and asking that private property be respected. Shelby complied, destroying only the new bridge over the Lamine River, estimated to be worth $400,000.
By this time, Shelby’s force had swelled from 600 to over 1,000 with the addition of pro-Confederate Missourians joining along the way. The Confederates had also captured Federal horses pulling 300 captured wagons. However, large bodies of Federals were closing in on Shelby from the north, south, and east.
A Federal force five times greater than Shelby’s tracked the Confederates down and defeated them at Arrow Rock on the 13th. Despite the disparity in numbers, Shelby split his force in two, with the larger portion dismounting to make a defensive stand while the smaller one fought through the Federal line. The larger force eventually remounted and fought through as well, with both forces riding off in separate directions. The Confederates sustained about 100 casualties, and this engagement convinced Shelby to return to Arkansas.
One portion of Shelby’s force made it back to Arkansas on the 19th, while the second portion joined the first along the Little Osage River the next day. The final clash with Federal forces took place on the 24th at Harrisonville and Buffalo Mountain.
Shelby’s raid lasted over a month, making it the longest of the war. Despite losing a sixth of his men, Shelby had inflicted 1,200 Federal casualties (600 killed or wounded and 600 captured and paroled), destroyed 10 Federal forts, seized nearly $1 million in supplies, and taken nearly 6,000 horses and mules. Thus, Confederate officials in the Trans-Mississippi Department considered this raid a success.
Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 673-74; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 776-78; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 356, 359; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 417-18, 420-21, 425-26; Wikipedia: Shelby’s Raid