The Civil War Battle of Marshall was fought on Oct. 13, 1863. Union Gen. Egbert B. Brown and 1800 soldiers turned back the raid of Confederate Col. Joseph O. Shelby and his 1,200 cavalrymen in a day-long battle. Union forces attempted to encircle and divide Shelby’s troops, but the wily Confederate commander successfully withdrew his raiders and escaped in two columns. The victory by Brown and his Federal soldiers in the Battle of Marshall was the culminating event of Shelby’s raid that had begun more than three weeks earlier in southwest Arkansas.
By the fall of 1863, Missouri and northern Arkansas as far south as Little Rock, were under Federal control. The Confederate army, temporarily commanded by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, had been driven south of the Arkansas River. Col. Joseph O. Shelby chose this time to approach Price with a bold plan to lead a force of cavalry into the heartland of Missouri and launch a series of lightning strikes against Federal outposts. He hoped such a raid would keep Missouri troops from leaving the state to reinforce a Union army under siege at Chattanooga, Tenn. Along the way he would gather Confederate recruits and rekindle the spirit of hope and resistance in the hearts of Southern-sympathizing Missourians living under Federal control. Shelby received Price’s approval to proceed and the promise of a general’s star if he succeeded in his daring expedition.
The military expedition known as Shelby’s Raid began on September 22, 1863, when Shelby’s brigade, comprising 600 men, rode out of Arkadelphia, Ark. Shelby’s swiftly moving horsemen galloped northward, eluding Federal forces, capturing or scattering militia garrisons, capturing towns and leaving smoldering ruins of courthouses at Greenﬁeld and Stockton.
Brown Takes up the Pursuit
By the time his riders reached Warsaw, Shelby was in the district of Brig. Gen. Egbert B. Brown, a ofﬁcer that Shelby had failed to defeat ten months earlier (Jan. 8, 1863) at the Battle of Springﬁeld. Brown would chase Shelby across 300 miles of thickly timbered country, a grueling three-day pursuit that Brown carried out without forage, rations or camp equipage. In an initial effort to intercept Shelby, Brown moved from Clinton to Osceola with Col. John F. Phillips and 800 men of the Seventh Missouri State Militia Cavalry. At the same time he ordered Lt. Col. B. F. Lazear and 670 men of the First Regiment Missouri State Militia Cavalry to move east from their position at Clinton until they came upon the trail of Shelby’s Raiders.
On Oct. 11, Lazear’s advance guard ﬁnally caught up with Shelby’s rear guard four miles south of Boonville and, in the fading light of day, skirmished with his pickets. Shelby’s men, meanwhile, rode triumphantly into Boonville that afternoon and cheered the sight of the Missouri River, nearly 350 airline miles distant from where they had set out 19 days earlier.
On the morning of Oct. 12, Lazear discovered that Shelby had moved out of Boonville during the night, heading in the direction of Marshall, and he began an immediate pursuit. Shelby posted Capt. G. P. Gordon at Dug Ford on the Lamine River to ambush Lazear’s column. A Federal charge across the ford cleared the enemy and Lazear continued the chase. Shortly, Gen. Brown came up with Phillips’ troops and took the advance. With the Federals pressing his rear guard, Shelby made another stand at Salt Fork Creek, near Jonesborough (today’s Napton). The two sides exchanged artillery ﬁre until nightfall, at which time Shelby moved out and halted within six miles of Marshall, while the Federals bivouacked on their arms at Salt Fork Creek.
The Battle of Marshall
Brown’s united force now numbered about 1,800 men, plus six pieces of artillery, while Shelby, his force now doubled, had around 1,200 men, and two pieces of artillery, including a piece captured from General Brown at the Battle of Springﬁeld.
Brown knew that he would have to get in front of Shelby in order to compel the elusive cavalryman into decisive action. To accomplish this, Brown sent Lazear and his force, now swelled to 1,000 men, on a late night march around Shelby’s left ﬂank to establish a position in his front while Brown would march at daybreak and assault the Confederate rear.
Lazear’s command was in Marshall by sunrise on the morning of Oct. 13, and within an hour his pickets on the Arrow Rock road (today’s Eastwood Street) rode up with the report that Shelby’s Confederates were advancing in force.
Shelby rapidly forded Salt Fork Creek and posted the regiment of Maj. David Shanks at the crossing to delay Brown’s column while he hurled the remainder of his force on the Union troops to his front. Shelby evidently thought he was facing the 4,000-man strong force of Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing, and he wanted to attack and defeat this force before Brown could fall on his rear.
While Lazear organized his troops in line just east of Marshall to meet the coming attack, Maj. G. W. Kelly was sent forward with the Fourth Missouri State Militia to slow Shelby long enough to allow Lazear to establish his defensive position. He placed his two pieces of artillery in the center behind Maj. A. W. Mullins and three companies of the First Missouri State Militia Cavalry. He established his right on a hill southeast of Marshall. Here, he posted the Second Battalion, First Missouri State Militia Cavalry, commanded by Maj. J. H. McGhee, and Capt. W. D. Wear’s company, the Ninth Provisional Regiment Missouri State Militia Cavalry. On the Union left, he positioned Maj. William Gentry’s battalion of the Fifth Provisional Regiment Missouri Enrolled Militia.
Upon making contact with the advance guard under Kelly, Shelby halted, dismounted his men and arrayed them in line of battle. Lt. Col. J. C. Hooper’s regiment formed the left while the center was composed of the regiment of Capt. G. P. Gordon and the battalion of Maj. Benjamin Elliot, and the right was made up of the regiments of Cols. D. C. Hunter and J. T. Coffee. Kelly, in the meanwhile, his mission fulﬁlled, retired to the rear of the Federal center to form a reserve force.
Shelby ﬁrst sent Hooper’s regiment against McGhee’s position on the Federal right. The Confederates had to charge across a deep ravine into the face of heavy riﬂe ﬁre from the Federals. This proved too much and Hooper fell back. Next, Shelby unleashed Elliot and Gordon against the Federal center held by Mullins. Three charges were repulsed. Then Hunter and Coffee fell against the Federal left defended by Gentry. Gentry’s militiamen fell back in the face of this charge but rallied at the edge of town and held their position. Maj. Kelly’s battalion was moved to the left of Gentry to shore up the Federal left and prevent a Confederate ﬂanking movement.
By then the battle had been raging for a hour and a half or more, and Lazear’s position had held fast against repeated Confederate charges. At this time, Lazear’s men heard the boom of Federal artillery and knew that the forces of Gen. Brown had come up and were attacking the Confederate rear, held by Shanks’ regiment. Gen. Brown sent the battalion of Maj. T. W. Houts, backed by two sections of artillery, against Shanks’ position on the west side of the bridge over Salt Fork Creek, while Capt. Foster was sent a half a mile north of the crossing, followed by Majors Suess and Foster and two pieces of artillery. They battled Shanks for an hour. At the same time, Brown moved Phillips three-quarters of a mile south around the Confederate position with orders to attack the Confederate left. As his dismounted men moved forward to attack, Phillips saw the Confederates moving north to escape. He then remounted his men and circled around to take up a position on the left of Kelly to prevent a Confederate breakout.
While the Federals moved around his position, Shanks attempted to withdraw toward the main body of Shelby’s troops, ﬁghting all the way. At the same time Shelby was in the process of mounting his force and preparing to break through the Union lines and escape to the northwest in the direction of his hometown, Waverly. At this moment, Maj. Kelly led the Fourth Missouri State Militia Cavalry in a charge through Shelby’s lines that split the Confederate force in two, separating Shanks, Hunter and Hooper from the rest of Shelby’s command. Before Brown could close the trap, Shelby broke through the Union line and led the commands of Elliot, Coffee, and Gordon, along with his trains of ammunition and captured Federal goods, north toward Miami. Shelby did lose one of his two pieces of artillery to Brown as he withdrew, bringing the score to one captured cannon apiece for the two commanders.
Shanks, Hunter and Hooper, meanwhile, swung off to the right, crossed Salt Fork Creek and retreated down the Arrow Rock Road (today’s Highway 41). Phillips pursued Shelby’s force for the rest of the day while Lazear moved west to intercept Shelby when he turned south, and Houts chased after Hunter, Hooper and Shanks.
Aftermath of Shelby’s Raid
Various Union forces pressed the two columns of Shelby’s raiders hard as they retreated toward Arkansas. The raiders were forced to destroy their train of captured goods. Back in Arkansas, near Bentonville, the two columns reunited and on Nov. 3, 1863, the exhausted men of Shelby’s Raiders rode into Washington, Ark., and halted, at last.
Shelby had conducted a textbook raid, one of the longest raids, at 1,500 miles, of the Civil War for either side. Shelby’s reputation as the best cavalry leader in the Trans-Mississippi West, and one of the top cavalrymen of the Confederacy, was indelibly established. Shelby’s superiors recognized his merit and the boost to Confederate morale produced by the raid by promoting him to bridadier general. Shelby and his men had reason to be pleased. The size of their force had been doubled, they had captured or destroyed great quantities of Federal property and they had scattered or captured local Federal garrisons. Shelby’s raid, however, made no lasting impact on the military situation in Missouri. When Shelby left the state, Federal authorities quickly recovered from this temporary disruption.
Gen. Brown, too, could be pleased. He had faced the redoubtable Shelby twice in 1863 and emerged victorious both times–a claim few other Union generals who tangled with Shelby could make. His Missouri militiamen had faced down the battle-hardened troops of one of the South’s most formidable warriors and sent them retreating southward, their forces split and their captured Federal property strewn in their wake.