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The Palmyra Massacre
1869 map, fairgrounds in foreground
Map link--follow this link and search "Palmyra" to see closer views of map
October 18, 1862, in Palmyra, Missouri, ten prisoners were shot in retaliation for the presumed murder of a local Union man. General John McNeil became known as the "Butcher of Palmyra" and was denounced in newspapers both in the Union states and in other countries. Confederate enlistments, and reenlistments, increased after the massacre.
Forty-Six Years in the Army by John McAllister Schofield
With Porter in North Missouri: A Chapter in the History of the War Between
"The madness of rebellion has become so deep seated that ordinary methods of cure are inadequate."
Palmyra Courier, October 18, 1862
"...here in Missouri our Government commenced by extending toward the rebels in our midst every kindness."
William R. Strachan, Provost Marshal, Palmyra, Missouri
"...cherishing, as I do, the firm conviction that my action was the means of saving lives and property of hundreds of loyal men and women, I feel that my act was the performance of a public duty."
John McNeil, in a July 1889 response to an article in "The Century" magazine
Bio of General John McNeil
PALMYRA, MO., October 8, 1862
JOSEPH C. PORTER:
SIR: Andrew Allsman, an aged citizen of Palmyra and a non-combatant having been carried from his home by a band of persons unlawfully arrayed against the peace and good order of the State of Missouri and which band was under your control, this is to notify you that unless said Andrew Allsmart is returned unharmed to his family within ten days from date ten men, who have belonged to your band and unlawfully sworn by you to carry arms against the Government of the United States and who are now in custody, will be shot, as a meet reward for their crimes, among which is the illegal restraining of said Allsman his liberty, and, if not returned, presumptively aiding in his murder.
Your prompt attention to this will save much suffering.
W. R. STRACHAN,
Provost-Marshal. General District Northeast Missouri
Per order of brigadier-general commanding McNeil's column.
Colonel William Strachan,
Palmyra memorial statue
Vindication of General McNeil
(newspaper editorial by William R. Stachan, Provost Marshal of Palmyra--portions not directly related to Palmyra and McNeil were deleted)
To the Editor of the New York Times:
SIR: Noticing in your issue of December 1 an extended extract from foreign papers, accompanied by an editorial, upon the execution of ten rebels at this place...
Now, Mr. Editor, here in Missouri our Government commenced by extending toward the rebels in our midst every kindness, and a degree of clemency that soon caused it to be much safer, in every part of our State, to be a rebel than to be a Union man. Every neighborhood was coerced, whilst the Government was maintaining within the State a large force, at no time less than 50,000 men, and often largely over-running those figures. Still treason continued rampant, traitors publicly held forth on the clemency with which they were treated, regarding it as proof and confession of the weakness of the Government, that she dare not hurt anyone. Union men and their families were forced to leave their homes and their all and fly for protection and for life to the loyal States... Will our Government never understand our situation? Will it continue to strengthen the cause of the robbers and murderers? What is to become of us?
...Finally, General Schofield, whom all who know must admit to be a gentleman of remarkable kindness of heart, began to come up to the exigency of the times, and issued General Orders, No. 18, an extract from which appears hereinafter. That order has, I believe, never been countermanded, and is in force to this day...
I could give a long list of crimes the most horrid committed by these scoundrels, that would make even fiends in hell shudder.... all this in a State that refused to secede from the Union, hundreds of miles inside of the Federal lines...
In the particular case of Andrew Allsman, he was a man upward of sixty years of age, taken from his family and murdered. Of the ten men executed, one of them was one of the party who murdered Mr. Pratt, above alluded to [deleted]. The other nine men were all caught with arms, and all of them had been once pardoned for their former treason by taking the oath of allegiance to the United States, and had deliberately perjured themselves by going out again--the very oath they took expressly stipulating that "death would be the penalty for a violation of this their solemn oath and parole of honor." Now, sir, are such men entitled to the consideration of honorable warfare (as you seem to think in your criticisms), or are they not rather to be treated as outlaws and beyond the pale of civilization? And, sir, living as we do in Missouri, in times of red revolution, assassination, rapine, in violation of all laws, both human and divine, acts of justice necessarily assume the garb of severity, and the more severe to the criminal the more merciful to the community. And now, in view of the facts that I have alluded to, publishing as you do a loyal paper in a loyal State, a thousand miles removed from the scenes of these outrages, can you unthinkingly join in the howl raised by the full-fledged and semi traitors in our midst against such or any other acts that insure the punishment of treason and traitors?
...What is war? Is it anything but retaliation? Must we allow our enemies, the enemies of liberty and republicanism, to outrage all the laws of war, and not take some steps to show them the propriety of adhering to those laws?
...Mr. Editor, if you could have been a witness to many scenes that attended General McNeil's visit to the various posts of his district, made but two weeks since, when he traversed the whole country on horseback, attended by but two orderlies, when old men would come out of their farm houses, shake hands with the general, call down blessings upon him, ask him to delay so that their wives could come out and thank him for executing justice...
General McNeil has even in the early part of this terrible war been censured from headquarters for being too lenient toward the rebels. Time and experience proved to him that in order to save bloodshed it was necessary to show some examples of severe punishment, and the result, in giving security to persons and property of loyal men in our section, has amply justified the steps taken by him. Do you suppose that a rebellion that in this late day has ventured to employ the scalping knife of the savage in its service, that commenced in fraud, that has sustained itself from the commencement by robbery, that has practiced extermination and banishment and confiscation toward citizens that ventured to remain true to their original allegiance, can be put down without somebody being hurt? Let me ask of you to do justice to a kind and brave officer, who has simply dared to do his duty, and in doing so has obtained the thanks and deepest feelings of gratitude from every loyal man in Northern Missouri...
...These terrible "butcheries" (i.e., the just punishing of guerrillas, assassins, and violators of parole) have finally restored safety here. Since the public execution of the ten men at Palmyra, not a murder nor a single personal outrage to a Union man has been committed in Northeastern Missouri, or since the rebels learned what would be the price of a Union man's life, three months ago, for it is that time since official notice was served on them of what would be done if Allsman was not returned to his home, and that the decimal system would be carried out for each loyal noncombatant that should subsequently be murdered by them, so long as guerrillas could be found in the district. "Verily a tree shall be known by its fruits? A wise punishment has once more enabled the dove of peace to hover over our households, unterrified. Guerrillas in this district found their vocation gone. Traitors began at last to recognize that the oath of loyalty meant something...
In conclusion, Mr. Editor, if you are correct in your denunciations of what you term a "butchery," do not waste your anathemas upon General McNeil alone because he saw proper to teach traitors that the life of an unarmed non-combatant Union man, a loyal citizen of the United States, was a sacred thing--that murderers should not take it with impunity--but bestow some of it upon equally gallant and meritorious officers like General Merrill, who executed ten of those perjured scoundrels at Macon City, and General Schofield, who issued Orders No. 18, or General Halleck, whose orders touching bridge-burners and guerrillas I had supposed until now even the editor of the Times approved of.
WM. R. STRACHAN,
Provost. Marshal, Palmyra
Palmyra Monument, inscription:
Erected to the Memory of
Capt. Thomas A Sidenor
Willis T. Baker
John Y. McPheeters
Hiram T. Smith
John M. Wade
Francis M. Lear
From the Palmyra, Missouri Courier.
Saturday last, the 18th instant, witnessed the performance of a tragedy in this once quiet and beautiful city of Palmyra, which, in ordinary and peaceful times, would have created a profound sensation throughout the entire country, but which now scarcely produces a distinct ripple upon the surface of our turbulent social tide.
It will be remembered by our readers that on the occasion of Porter's descent upon Palmyra, he captured, among other persons, an old and highly respected resident of this city, by name Andrew Allsman. This person formerly belonged to the Third Missouri Cavalry, though too old to endure all the hardships of very active duty. He was, therefore, detailed as a kind of special or extra provost-marshal's guard or cicerone, making himself generally useful in a variety of ways to the military of the place. Being an old resident, and widely acquainted with the people of the place and vicinity, he was frequently called upon for information touching the loyalty of men, which he always gave to the extent of his ability, though acting, we believe, in all such cases with great candor, and actuated solely by a conscientious desire to discharge his whole duty to his Government. His knowledge of the surrounding country was the reason of his being frequently called upon to act as a guide to scouting parties sent out to arrest disloyal persons. So efficiently and successfully did he act in these various capacities, that he won the bitter hatred of all the rebels in this city and vicinity, and they only waited the coming of a favorable opportunity to gratify their desire for revenge. The opportunity came at last, when Porter took Palmyra. That the villains, with Porter's assent, satiated their thirst for his blood by the deliberate and predetermined murder of their helpless victim no truly loyal man doubts. When they killed him, or how, or where, are items of the act not yet revealed to the public. Whether he was stabbed at midnight by the dagger of the assassin, or shot at midday by the rifle of the guerrilla; whether he was hung and his body hidden beneath the scanty soil of some oaken thicket, or left as food for hogs to fatten upon, or whether, like the ill-fated Wheat, his throat was severed from ear to ear, and his body sunk beneath the wave, we know not. But that he was foully, causelessly murdered it is useless to attempt to deny.
When General McNeil returned to Palmyra, after that event, and ascertained the circumstances under which Allsman had been abducted, he caused to be issued, after due deliberation, the following notice:
"PALMYRA, MO., October 8, 1862.
"JOSEPH C. PORTER:
"SIR: Andrew Allsman, an aged citizen of Palmyra, and a non-combatant, having been carried from his home by a band of persons unlawfully arrayed against the peace and good order of the State of Missouri, and which band was under your control, this is to notify you that unless said Andrew Allsman is returned, unharmed, to his family within ten days from date, ten men, who have belonged to your band, and unlawfully sworn by you to carry arms against the Government of the United States, and who are now in custody, will be shot as a meet reward for their crimes, among which is the illegal restraining of said Allsman of his liberty, and, if not returned, presumptively aiding in his murder.
"Your prompt attention to this will save much suffering.
"W. R. STRACHAN,
"Provost-Marshal-General, District of Northeastern Missouri.
"Per order of brigadier-general commanding McNeil's column."
A written duplicate of this notice he caused to be placed in the hands of the wife of Joseph C. Porter, at her residence in Lewis County, who it was well known was in frequent communication with her husband. The notice was published widely, and as Porter was in Northern Missouri during the whole of the ten days subsequent to the date of this notice, it is impossible that, with all his varied channels of information, he remained unapprised of General McNeil's determination in the premises.
Many rebels believed the whole thing was simply intended as a scare, declaring that McNeil did not dare [?] to carry out the threat.
The ten days elapsed, and no tidings came of the murdered Allsman. It is not our intention to dwell at length upon the details of this transaction. The tenth day expired with last Friday. On that day ten rebel prisoners, already in custody, were selected to pay with their lives the penalty demanded. The names of the men so selected were as follows: Willis Baker, Lewis County; Thomas Humston, Lewis County; Morgan Bixler, Lewis County; Herbert Hudson, Rails County; John M. Wade, Rails County; Marion Lair, Rails County; Capt. Thomas A. Sidner, Monroe County; Eleazer Lake, Scotland County, and Hiram Smith, Knox County. These parties were informed on Friday evening that unless Mr. Allsman was returned to his family by 1 o'clock on the following day, they would all be shot at that hour. Most of them received the announcement with composure or indifference. The Rev. James S. Green, of this city, remained with them during that night, as their spiritual adviser, endeavoring to prepare them for their sudden entrance into the presence of their Maker. A little after 11 a.m. the next day, three Government wagons drove to the jail; one contained four and each of the others three rough board coffins. The condemned men were conducted from the prison and seated in the wagons, one upon each coffin. A sufficient guard of soldiers accompanied them, and the cavalcade started for the fatal grounds. Proceeding east to Main street, the cortege turned and moved slowly southward as far as Malone's livery stable; thence turning east, it entered the Hannibal road, pursuing it nearly to the residence of Col. James Culbertson; there, throwing down the fences, they turned northward, entering the fair grounds (half a mile east of the town), on the west side, and, driving within the circular amphitheatrical ring, paused for the final consummation of the scene.
The ten coffins were removed from the wagons and placed in a row 6 or 8 feet apart, forming a line north and south, about 15 paces east of the central pagoda or music stand, in the center of the ring. Each coffin was placed upon the ground, with its foot west and head east. Thirty soldiers of the Second Missouri State Militia were drawn up in a single line, extending north and south, facing the row of coffins. This line of executioners ran immediately at the east base of the pagoda, leaving a space between them and the coffins of 12 or 13 paces. Reserves were drawn up in line upon either bank [flank] of these executioners.
The arrangements completed, the doomed men knelt upon the grass between their coffins and the soldiers, while the Rev. R. M. Rhodes offered up a prayer. At the conclusion of this, each prisoner took his seat upon the foot of his coffin, facing the muskets which in a few moments were to launch them into eternity. They were nearly all firm and undaunted, two or three only showing signs of trepidation.
The most noted of the ten was Capt. Thomas A. Sidner, of Monroe County, whose capture at Shelbyville, in the disguise of a woman, we related several weeks since. He was now elegantly attired in a suit of black broadcloth, with a white vest. A luxurious growth of beautiful hair rolled down upon his shoulders, which, with his fine personal appearance, could not but bring to mind the handsome but vicious Absalom. There was nothing especially worthy of note in the appearance of the others. One of them, Willis Baker, of Lewis County, was proven to be the man who last year shot and killed Mr. Ezekiel Pratt, his Union neighbor, near Williamstown, in that county. All the others were rebels of lesser note, the particulars of whose crimes we are not familiar with.
A few minutes after 1 o'clock, Colonel Strachan, provost-marshal-general, and Reverend Rhodes shook hands with the prisoners, two of them accepting bandages for their eyes. All the rest refused. A hundred spectators had gathered around the amphitheater to witness the impressive scene. The stillness of death pervaded the place. The officer in command now stepped forward, and gave the word of command, "Ready, aim, fire." The discharges, however, were not made simultaneously, probably through want of a perfect previous understanding of the orders and of the time at which to fire. Two of the rebels fell backward upon their coffins and died instantly. Captain Sidner sprang forward and fell with his head toward the soldiers, his face upward, his hands clasped upon his breast and the left leg drawn half way up. He did not move again, but died immediately. He had requested the soldiers to aim at his heart, and they obeyed but too implicitly. The other seven were not killed outright, so the reserves were called in, who dispatched them with their revolvers.
It seems hard that ten men should die for one. Under ordinary circumstances it would hardly be justified; but severe diseases demand severe remedies. The safety of the people is the supreme law. It overrides all other considerations. The madness of rebellion has become so deep seated that ordinary methods of cure are inadequate. To take life for life would be little intimidation to men seeking the heart's blood of an obnoxious enemy. They could well afford to make even exchanges under many circumstances. It is only by striking the deepest terror in them, causing them to thoroughly respect the lives of loyal men, that they can be taught to observe the obligation of humanity and of law.
©2001 D. H. Rule
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