“Colonel Shelby”


"Colonel Shelby, Colonel Shelby, I do not think it right For you to charge on Dardanelle At such a time of night. This old coat, I don't want it, I guess I'll have to run, I've not got sword or pistol Nor even a shotgun"


Colonel (later Brigadier General) Joseph O. "Jo" Shelby (1830-1897) was one of those romantic figures so common in the Confederate cavalry. Born in Kentucky (see [no author listed; John S. Bowman, executive editor], _The Civil War Almanac_ World Almanac Publishing, 1983, p. 375), he cut his teeth in the Kansas conflict (see Shelby Foote, _The Civil War: A Narrative_, Volume I: Fort Sumter to Perryville, Random House, 1958, p. 784). He first commanded cavalry under Sterling Price in Missouri, and served most of the war in the Trans-Mississippi.

When the war ended, Shelby fled to Mexico rather than surrender. According to the _Civil War Almanac_, he took about 600 troopers with him, and tried to prop up the French-backed government of the Emperor Maximilian. When Maximilian fell, Shelby returned to Missouri (1867).

Like so many cavalry officers, he deliberately cut a dashing figure. This may have led to the disillusionment shown by his subordinate here.

Shelby seems to have inspired at least one other fragment of a song. Fred W. Allsopp's _Folklore of Romantic Arkansas, Volume II_ (1931), p. 222, has a stanza "Jo Shelby's at your stable door, Hide your mule, hide your mule... There's something up and hell's to pay, When Shelby's on a raid...." This is said to be an addition to the Union song "Hide Your Mule," which does not seem to have entered tradition.

Dardanelle is near Russellville, Arkansas, a little north of the halfway point of a line between Fort Smith and Little Rock. It probably goes without saying that there was no major battle there. My guess is that this refers to some event in the summer or fall of 1862. In June of that year, Shelby was a colonel organizing a cavalry brigade in northwestern Arkansas to take part in an invasion of Missouri. He fought at the battle of Prairie Grove, still in northwestern Arkansas, in late 1862 (for background on that battle, see the notes to "Prairie Grove"). By the middle of 1863, he was wounded in fighting in Helena, Arkansas, far east of Dardanelle, and he was promoted Brigadier General that fall.

The picture of unarmed Confederates is all too accurate. Price's Missouri militia was initially armed mostly with fowling pieces brought by the soldiers themselves, and the Confederates never did manage to build much of a munitions industry. To a great extent they had to depend on captured Federal weapons. And the earlier in the war, the poorer their equipment. This adds to the impression that Randolph's fragment describes something that happened in 1862. - RBW


  1. Randolph 247, "Colonel Shelby" (1 text)
  2. Roud #7713
  3. BI, R247


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1942 (Randolph)
Found in: US(So)