Deryl Sellmeyer, Author of JO SHELBY'S IRON BRIGADE
1. Hi Deryl, tell us a little about yourself.
Essentially, I’m a sixty-seven year-old retired guy with too much grass to mow, and things I’d rather be doing. My wife and I like to visit our two daughters and their families, who live in Nashville and Atlanta. We also like boating at the Lake of the Ozarks and watching the wildlife there.
2. How long have you been writing and what prompted you to write?
Many of us have tried to write a story at some point in our lives. My first serious attempt was a short work I called Saline County Soldier that I self-published in 1983. When I was a child my grandmother would, on rare occasions, tell my two brothers and me about her two grandfathers. James Skinner, her paternal grandfather, though born in Kentucky, had sided with the North, and had enrolled in the Missouri Militia. She had little to say about him, but she had more to say about her maternal grandfather, Loammi James Wilkes. Perhaps she knew more about him, because there was a short biography about him in the History of Saline County 1881. The other reason she knew about him was that her mother, Annie Lee, (said to be named after General Lee) held his memory dear. Though my grandmother had never met her grandfather (he died in 1884) her mother had given her a picture of him. In this picture he sat staring at the camera, his eyes steely, his beard unruly. He was dressed in what she apologetically called his work clothes, but the jaunty tilt of his hat and the cut of his worn coat gave him a decidedly military appearance. My grandmother was proud of this picture, and if we were very lucky she would bring out what to us, was her greatest treasure, a small derringer, which she claimed he had carried during the Civil War (in actuality he probably acquired it some time later).
While we listened to her, our attention captured by James Wilkes’s picture and the diminutive derringer, she would tell us the little she knew of this man. Her Union grandfather had said this James Wilkes (in the years after his death of course) was “nothing but a bushwhacker.” Perhaps that was only part of a larger story. My grandmother claimed that James Wilkes had fought in The Battle of Lone Jack, Missouri, and that at times he had changed from his Confederate uniform and wore a Federal uniform. This seemed to give credence to the charge that he had been a bushwhacker. Yet my grandmother’s favorite story, one, which she often told was that this James Wilkes had been shot in the right side and lung during a battle and taken by his comrades to an old grist mill and left there. She claimed that some northern girls had found him and nursed him back to health, and he had spent the remainder of the war in Federal prisons.
When I was older my grandmother gave me her handwritten account of James Wilkes’s life. She died in 1974 and years later, while browsing through a copy of Battle and Leaders of the Civil War I came across an account of the Battle of Prairie D’Ane Arkansas. This was a revelation. I recognized this battle as one my grandmother had written in her brief biography of her Confederate grandfather’s life. From that point I began an obsessive search and learned that like him, two of his brothers had also been in Colonel Gordon’s Regiment of Shelby’s Brigade, Missouri Cavalry, CSA. This led to my writing my first brief work, Saline County Soldier.
3. Tell us about your book, JO SHELBY'S IRON BRIGADE, and why you wrote it.
Jo Shelby’s Iron Brigade, is a factual history of General Joseph O. Shelby’s Brigade of Missouri Cavalry, CSA. While Shelby is a central figure in the book, it is not a biography of General Shelby’s life. The book is a biography of Shelby’s Brigade and it explains how the brigade was recruited and covers its actions from its creation until the surrender in June of 1865. The book also covers Shelby’s refusal to surrender and his expedition to Mexico. While researching my first work, Saline County Soldier, I realized that an objective account of the history of Shelby’s Brigade did not exist. I wrote a letter to Professor Albert Castel, a prominent Civil War author, asking him if writing a history of Shelby’s Brigade would be a worthwhile project. To my amazement he wrote back and told me what type of records I would need to consult and encouraged me to make the attempt. Without his letter, I don’t think I would have undertaken the project.
4. How did you research writing the Iron Brigade?
I ordered all the records of Shelby’s Brigade from the National Archives, and the consolidated service records of its more prominent officers. Unfortunately, there were only three actual muster rolls and the surrender rolls available for the brigade’s regiments. However, with the casualty lists that existed from a number of their battles, and the officers’ reports that appear in the published Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, I was able to document the brigade’s operations from its origin to the surrender. I also examined a number of old books and newspapers from the period and obtained various manuscripts from the Missouri State Historical Society. From 1983 until I retired in 2003 I slowly plodded through the accounts of the many battles of Shelby’s Brigade and, finally submitted a manuscript to Dr. Castel, who has graciously volunteered to review it. In a very short time he returned it to me marked up with comments such as “Too much detail!” and instructions of what I must do to make it a publishable work. I took his instructions to heart and edited the manuscript, cutting a third of it out. After I had sent the revised manuscript to a couple of publishers, Pelican Publishing Company agreed to publish it. It was published in 2007.
5. Do you have any new projects in the fire? If so, can you tell us about it/them?
I can’t say I have any new project in the fire at this point. After Jo Shelby’s Iron Brigade, however, I tried my hand at fiction and wrote a Novella I called Hartz about several prehistoric people who were driven from their home land in what is now northern Spain and arrive in North America. This story follows a theory that ties pre ice age Europeans to America (The Solutrean Theory). While I was fairly satisfied with the work, I had no luck getting it published. I suppose at some point I could self-publish it to see if anyone else likes it.
After Hartz I began amusing myself writing a rough draft about a globe trotting Dutch character nicknamed Sissy who is an agent for her native country and cooperates with the American CIA. Early in the story she crosses paths with three hapless barbers who are on vacation in Las Vegas and there the trouble and international adventures begin. I guess you could say I was half way through the rough draft before I was sidetracked, but perhaps I’m not done with Sissy quite yet.
6. Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Just as a side note I'll just mention that my Confederate ancestor, Loammi James Wilkes,was shot in the right side of his chest at the Battle of Little Blue near Independence, Mo. on Oct. 21, 1864, which will soon be 150 years ago. I learned the name of the Northern woman who nursed him back to health before he was actually taken into custody at Independence by the Federals. Her name was Telitha Potts. She was a forty-eight year old widow, who had been born in Kentucky. The family story indicated that James Wilkes had been found by some Northern girls at an old mill. Just as the family story indicated Telitha did indeed have several daughters. She also had a son named William, whom James Wilkes, told his captors was a "good Union man," though there is no record that William had been in the service on either side.
7. Deryl's contact information is: firstname.lastname@example.org and his book Jo Shelby’s Iron Brigade can be found for sale on the internet at www.pelicanpub.com. Search Jo Shelby’s Iron Brigade under the history category. It is also available on the web at Amazon.com. and other retailers.
Signed copies can be purchased at Double Eagle Coin Company. (Inside Stack’s Deport) 305 North Scott, Belton, Mo. 64012, phone number 816-876-9316.