Confederate States Army
Army of Arkansas
American Civil War
Shelby’s Iron Brigade, also known as the Missouri Iron Brigade, was a Confederate cavalry brigade, led by Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby’s, in the Trans-Mississippi Theater, of the American Civil War.
The Iron Brigade nickname was created by Joseph O. Shelby’s former adjutant, John Newman Edwards, in his 1867 account, Shelby and His Men.
Shelby’s Iron Brigade was originally formed, in 1863, under orders, from Major General Thomas C. Hindman, following a successful recruiting expedition, into Missouri, by Joseph O. Shelby, Upton Hays and John T. Coffee; who each recruited, a regiment of cavalry. These new regiments – Shelby’s 5th, Hays’s 11th and Coffee’s 6th (redesignated as 12th), were brigaded, under the command of Colonel Shelby.
Shelby’s Iron Brigade, based themselves in Arkansas, participated in four major raids, into Missouri, during the war, earning a reputation, as the most formidable brigade in the theater.
Shelby was promoted to Brigadier General, following his successful raid of 1863. When Shelby later assumed division command, he was replaced by M. Jeff Thompson. The brigade remained in Shelby’s Division in the Army of Missouri and fought in Maj. Gen. Sterling Price’s Missouri Expedition in 1864—saving Price’s army, from destruction several times, including the retreat at the Battle of Marmiton River.
In the autumn of 1864, some 1,500 of Shelby’s Iron Brigade cavalry surrounded Sedalia, Missouri, and overpowered local Union militia defenders. They began to loot and sack the town, on October 15, 1864. Once General Thompson arrived in Sedalia, he ordered his men to stop the destruction, and moved them on, leaving Sedalia once again in Union hands.
Later, the Missouri Iron Brigade distinguished themselves, at the 1864 battles of Little Blue River and Westport, and captured many towns, from their Union garrisons, including Potosi, Boonville, Waverly, Stockton, Lexington, and California, Missouri.
Rather than surrender, in 1865, with the collapse of the Confederacy, in June, Shelby and his men rode south, into Mexico, to offer their services to Emperor Maximilian, who declined to accept the ex-Confederates, into his armed forces. However, the emperor did grant them land, for an American colony in Mexico, and many of Shelby’s Iron Brigade settled on the free land.
There have been other brigades known by the same name. Use of the “Iron Brigade” name is not taken lightly in the U.S. Army, and the present-day units that have taken “Iron Brigade” as their nickname have proven themselves in battle as worthy to hold the name.
Another brigade, in the Army of the Potomac, had previously been the first Iron Brigade, in the Union Army and later as the “Iron Brigade of the East” or “First Iron Brigade”, to avoid confusion. This unit was the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, I Corps, prior to Meredith’s brigade getting that designation. It consisted of the 22nd New York, 24th New York, 30th New York, 14th Regiment (New York State Militia), and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters.
Another brigade, in the Army of the Potomac, from three western states, was the later named and most, well known Iron Brigade, famously known as the “Iron Brigade of the West”, that fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. This brigade, was composed of units, from Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan, which consisted of the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiments, the 19th Indiana, Battery B of the 4th U.S. Light Artillery, and joined later, by the 24th Michigan.
Although, this Iron Brigade of the East served in the same infantry division, as the Iron Brigade of the West, press attention focused primarily on the latter. Most of the Eastern regiments were mustered out before the Battle of Gettysburg, where the remaining Eastern Iron Brigade Regiments and the Iron Brigade of the West arguably achieved their greatest fame. Recent scholarship identifies two other brigades referred to by their members or others as “The Iron Brigade”: 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, III Corps (17th Maine, 3rd Michigan, 5th Michigan, 1st, 37th, and 101st New York) Reno’s Brigade from the North Carolina expedition (21st and 35th Massachusetts, 51st Pennsylvania, and 51st New York)
The 2nd Brigade of the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division has carried the Iron Brigade moniker since 1985 and was previously called the “Black Hat” Brigade.
The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division was known as the Iron Brigade from its formation in 1917 through World War I, World War II and Vietnam, until some time in the early 2000s when, for reasons that are still unclear, the name was changed to Duke Brigade. The unit crest was an Iron Cross in a triangle, it appears that that was also changed. The 3rd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division is also known as the Iron Brigade. Its unit crest is similar to the medals issued to veterans of the both Western and the Eastern Iron Brigades of the Army of the Potomac. The 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division (United States) is known as the Iron Brigade as well. Located at Camp Casey, South Korea, the brigade has a critical role of military deterrence on the Korean Peninsula.
The 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Armored Division (Spearhead), formerly stationed on Coleman Kaserne in Gelnhausen, Germany.
The 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, also known as the Iron Brigade, is based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was formerly known as the 57th Field Artillery Brigade, at which time its subordinate organizations included the 1st Battalion, 126th Field Artillery Regiment and the 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery Regiment from the Wisconsin Army National Guard, plus the 1st Battalion, 182nd Field Artillery Regiment of the Michigan Army National Guard. Not to be confused with the famous “Iron Brigade” of the Civil War, the 57th Field Artillery Brigade is also known as the “Iron Brigade,” a nickname traditionally given to crack artillery units in the Civil War. It was during World War I that the 57th Field Artillery Brigade earned its nickname as it spent many hours at the front and fired more artillery rounds than any brigade in the American Army.
The 32nd Infantry Division was an infantry division of the United States Army National Guard that fought primarily during World War I and World War II. It was formed with units from the states of Wisconsin and Michigan. With roots as the Iron Brigade in the American Civil War, the division’s ancestral units came to be referred to as the Iron Jaw Division.
The name “Iron Brigade” has also, been used to describe the offensive line of the University of Wisconsin Badger Football Team. The line is known for its size, strength, and dedication to the protection of the backfield. The Badgers play in Camp Randall Stadium, a site used to train Wisconsin volunteers during the Civil War.