The Arkansas in the Civil War Message Board

Shelby and His Men- a story

Its been brought up before about the unreliability of John Edwards' book, "Shelby and His Men: or, The War in the West." It seems that unless there are other eye witness reports, it's hard to tell what is fact, exaggeration, or fiction. It's such a shame, because there's no doubt in my mind that Shelby's brigade had so many interesting accounts and factual stories that it shouldn't have been necessary to resort to exaggeration or fiction. I've always remembered a very unusual story he told about two soldiers at the battle of Prairie Grove. Recently I came across a "very similar" story in a newspaper preceding Edwards' book. And after doing a little digging I came across yet another similar story. I thought I would post them here to show what likely inspired Edwards' creation . What's unusual is that in Edwards' account he uses the full name of an actual surgeon, Dr. Spencer Brown. Maybe Dr. Brown agreed to play along with the story if anybody asked him.

The Morning Herald (St. Joseph, MO), September 1, 1862

An Arkansas volunteer in the Mexican war, riding on horseback, came across an Illinoisian who was shot in the leg. The Illinoisan told him that he was wounded, and asked him to be taken up and conveyed out of danger. "Arkansas" placed him on behind his saddle, and fastened him to himself with a leather strap. While they were hastening from danger, a grape shot took "Illinois" head off, but "Arkansas" thought he had only fainted from fatigue and pain. When a safe place was arrived at the horseman released his charge, and seeing his head off, exclaimed, "Well these Illinoisans are the greatest liars. Here's a rascal with his head cut off, when he told me he was only shot in the leg. You can't believe a word they say."

Fox Lake Gazette (Fox Lake, WI), January 7, 1863

A LIAR.--Among the many anecdotes of Antietam one beats all others. An Illinois soldier, wounded, asks an Indiana man to help him off the field. The latter does so by enabling him to mount his horse, riding himself, before. During the ride, the poor Illinoisan had his head shot off unknown to his companion. Arriving at the doctor's quarters, the Indiana man was asked what he wanted.
"I brought this man to have his leg dressed."
"Why", replied the doctor, "his head is off."
"The ---- liar! exclaimed the man of Indiana looking behind him, "he told me he was only shot in the leg!"

"Shelby and His Men" John Edwards 1867 p. 123

Prairie Grove
In this charge were two Irishmen from St. Louis--splendid, strapping fellows, full of fun and devilment. They had the very day of enlistment made a solemn agreement between each other to go into every fight, side by side, succor one another in distress, and in the event of a wound that was not mortal, the one unhurt should bear the other from the field. Charging furiously down the hill after the retreating Federals, the oldest, Jerry, received an ugly bullet through his right thigh, falling heavily. True to his promise, the youngest, Larry, gathered him up immediately, threw him across his back and started to the rear. Meeting Dr. Spencer Brown, engaged busily among the wounded, the doctor said to him: "Ah! Larry, and why are you taking a dead man from the field." "Dead--and faith he's not so aisy kilt." "But look up and see for yourself." The faithful companion turned slowly around to get a glance at his companion's face, and, sure enough, during the retreat a cannon ball had taken his head smoothly and evenly off without Larry knowing the slightest thing about it. A wondering, half curious expression came over his countenance, as if he did not half understand matters, then, gently laying down the mutilated burden, he said with great gravity, "Be gorrah, but he tould me he was wounded in the leg!"