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Charles Miller Shelley

Ryan Kline, Auburn University
Charles Miller Shelley
Charles Miller Shelley (1833-1907) represented Alabama's Fourth Congressional District as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1877 to 1885. Previously, Shelley served in the Confederate States Army, most notably the Thirtieth Alabama Infantry Regiment. He received numerous accolades during the war and became a brigadier general at only 30 years old. Immediately following the Civil War, Shelley moved to Selma, Dallas County, where he continued his career as an architect before entering Alabama politics.
Shelley was born in Sullivan County, Tennessee, on December 28, 1833, to William Park Shelley, a contractor and builder originally from North Carolina, and Margaret Finley Etter Shelley; he had perhaps nine siblings. At least one brother, James Shelley, fought for the Confederate States Army, in the Tenth Alabama Infantry Regiment. James was present at many important battles and would take charge of the regiment during the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg after Col. William Henry Forney was badly wounded. James Shelley was killed during the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia, in June 1864. In 1836, the family moved to Alabama; sources disagree on whether they settled in Talladega, Talladega County, or Selma. Because of his family's lower economic status, Shelley could not afford a formal education, which led him to study architecture and construction methods under his father, continuing the family craft.
In February 1861, after Alabama seceded from the Union, Shelley volunteered at at Fort Morgan, Baldwin County, with the Talladega Artillery. During his stay at Fort Morgan, Shelley rose to the rank of lieutenant and was then elected captain of a small company that was placed in the Fifth Alabama Regiment. The unit was commanded by Gen. Robert Emmett Rodes. The troops were then sent to Virginia and were present at the First Battle of Manassas in Northern Virginia, though the infantry was not involved in active combat in this first major battle of the war. Shelley and his fellow soldiers traveled across Virginia, engaging in fighting during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign between the James and York Rivers.
In January 1862, Shelley was promoted to colonel and later organized the Thirtieth Alabama Infantry Regiment in Talladega in April 1862, recruiting men from surrounding counties. (Future representative Taul Bradford was also a member of the Thirtieth.) These soldiers reported for duty in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and later traveled westward into Mississippi and fought in several battles, including the Battle of Champion Hill, just to the east of Vicksburg. In it, Shelley's clothing was reportedly pierced seven times by bullets for which he was praised by Gen. Robert E. Lee. They then traveled west to reach the Mississippi River Valley in time for the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg, when Shelley and other members of the regiment were captured and then paroled in early July. Afterwards, the regiment recruited more men in Demopolis, Marengo County, and was placed in a brigade then under the command of Brig. Gen. Edmund Pettus. It entered the Chattanooga Campaign and fought in the November 1863 Battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Shelley was temporarily given the rank of brigadier general to lead select troops into Tennessee, fighting in the November and December 1864 Battles of Franklin and Nashville, respectively. These proved to be disasters for the Confederacy and ended major fighting in Tennessee. During the Nashville battle, Shelley's brigade endured massive casualties, with nearly a thousand wounded. Early in 1865, Shelley's forces were moved back to North Carolina, and before Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, Shelley was home in Alabama.
After the war, Shelley returned to his architecture business and that June married Kathleen McConnell, a daughter of Congressman Felix Grundy McConnell. The couple appears to have had five children, two of whom died in infancy. In 1874, he entered local politics and served as the sheriff of Dallas County for two years. In 1876, Shelly began his campaign for the U.S. Congress.
Ann Olivia McConnell Shelley
In 1877, Kathleen Shelley died, and Charles married her sister, Ann Olivia. That same year, Shelley was elected to the 45th Congress to represent Alabama's Fourth Congressional District. He won the seat formerly filled by Charles Hays, a Republican born in Greene County who served the district from 1869 to 1877. Following Democratic resurgence in the South and Alabama, Shelley defeated his two African American opponents, Republican James Rapier and freedman Jeremiah Haralson, who ran as an Independent; Rapier and Haralson split the Republican vote and earned Shelley a 38 percent majority for the victory. Shelley won re-election in 1879 against Haralson, who contested the vote and brought it before a federal court. Haralson believed that Shelley controlled the election through violence that limited Republican and African American voting, reinforcing the political gains of the Democratic Party. However, the court declared Shelley the winner of the 46th Congressional election. Shelley was reelected to the 47th Congress, but results were contested by James Q. Smith and the seat declared vacant on July 20, 1882. Shelley then won election to fill the vacancy, serving from November 1882 until March 1883. His reelection to the 48th Congress was successfully contested by attorney and judge George Henry Craig, but Shelley would serve from March 1883 until January 1885. Craig served the final months of the term until that March but was unsuccessful in his bid for another term; the seat was won Alexander C. Davidson. Craig's son, William Benjamin Craig, would represent the district from 1907-1911. After his term in Congress, Shelley left Washington, D.C., but remained active in Alabama politics, losing a bid for governor against William Samford in 1900.
Shelley moved to Birmingham, Jefferson County, and on January 20, 1907, died there at the age of 73. He was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Talladega.
Published:  May 8, 2020   |   Last updated:  May 8, 2020