St Louis in the News

St. Louis in the News

Excerpts from St. Louis newspapers during the Civil War

by

D. H. Rule

Following are bits and pieces from St. Louis, Missouri newspapers, the Missouri Republican and the St. Louis Democrat, from the Civil War years. These aren’t the world-shaking big news articles, just the tidbits that give the flavor of the city during the war years. As you read, bear in mind that St. Louis was under martial law and the newspapers were censored by the military authorities. The editors could only print approved news or risk imprisonment and confiscation of their papers.

From scanning through the newspapers, it seems the city during the war years averaged about two to three murders per week. During the summer months about two young boys per week drowned in ponds or the river. There was a “floater” found in the Mississippi river every couple days. Infants and small children were routinely found abandoned.

The people were decidedly not what we think of as Victorians. Cuss words were unabashedly used in the newspapers (yet if you read some from the 1880s cuss words are censored out). Ads for sexual problems and sexual diseases were very blunt and explicit.

The flavor of the times was one of a busy, bustling, very alive city that was also more than a bit dangerous.

Articles are in no particular order. Pictures are not from the newspapers–they had no pictures in them.


October 17, 1862We Thursday noticed the arrest of A. J. Ham, cashier of the Bank of St. Louis, by order of Colonel McConnell. Mr. Ham is charged with endeavoring to procure secession songs, for the purpose of circulating them, and thereby doing injury to the Union cause.
St. Louis December 27, 1861Identified—The body of the soldier who was run over and had his head cut off by a train of cars on the Pacific Railroad, Sunday night, has been identified. The name of the deceased was F. Reidenbach. He was a wealthy farmer, and resided in Chamois, near Jefferson City. His wife reached the city Wednesday night, and the body will be disinterred and removed to Chamois.  (they go on to describe an autopsy that suggests the man had been shot first)
May 9, 1861Daily Review of the Saint Louis Market

The market to-day was flat. The impression that the government is now going to enforce the long talked of blockade, deterred buyers from coming forward, and produce for the South is not in demand. This movement, as a military necessity, is unquestionably wise; but locally in St. Louis, it will be rather a severe blow at this time. The idea, however that those who will be affected adversely  will be driven into the rebel ranks, is too preposterous for sensible people to entertain for a moment.

TOBACCO—Market buoyant

FLOUR—Market dull and drooping

LEAD—This article being now contraband of war no shipments are making and we are without quotations.

CORN—Buyers seemed to be afraid to take hold, and the market dragged heavily.

St. Louis 1854

St. Louis in 1854

August 29, 1864Draft! Draft!!—Cavender & Rowse will insure against the draft for one hundred dollars. Call and see them at No. 58 North Third street.
April 26, 1863For the Murder of His Wife—Daniel Miller, the rag-picker, who murdered his wife last Thursday week, was yesterday fully committed to jail by the Recorder, to await the action of the Grand Jury on his case. The Recorder decided the case was not bailable.
September 26, 1862Appointment—Major Samuel T. Hatch has been appointed by General Gray Assistant Provost Marshal General in his department.
September 7, 1862Inquest—The Coroner held an inquest yesterday in view of the body of Patrick Kerrigan, found drowned in the river. Deceased was a laborer, and leaves a family residing on Cherry street, between Main and Second.
Propaganda Envelope September 4, 1862Mrs. Sappington Banished—Mrs. Drusella Sappington, at whose house the rebel Col. John C. Boone and staff were recently found quartered, has been ordered to leave the State without unnecessary delay, and to remain absent till permitted by United States military authority to return. Mrs. Sappington’s residence is twelve miles from the city, between the Manchester and St. Charles roads. She is the wife of W. D. Sappington, who has left his farm and family in that locality, and joined the rebels. Mrs. Sappington is a daughter of Judge Olly Williams of St. Louis county.
September 7, 1862—Saturday—The cases before the Recorder Saturday morning were few in number and of no interest whatever.
October 5, 1864The Rainy Season—The rain, which would have been so timely in June last, is now coming down in profusion, with no prospect of a let up for some days. This dispensation will, however, have its good effects in filling the well, streams, ponds and springs, and will give a start to the grass, which will for some time yet, till winter, furnish to cattle a pasturage that will make the farmers’ winter feed go further.
September 7, 1863Prisoners—The steamer Wm. L. Ewing arrived yesterday from Memphis, with 138 Confederate prisoners, en route for Alton. We understand they went to Alton on the cars.
May 5, 1864Fat Children—Those of our readers who love fat babies should call and see the fat children exhibited by Mr. M. Stone; on Fifth street near Washington avenue. The boy, who is 12 years of age measures 5 feet 3 ¼ inches around the body. The girl, six years of age, measures 4 feet 6 inches around.
August 25, 1862Great Summer Resort

The New Low Pressure Sidewheel Steamer Traveler, will make four Grand Excursion trips from Detroit to Lake Superior, during the months of July and August.

To the tourist seeking health, pleasure, or valuable information, Lake Superior offers greater attractions than any other portion of the United States…

Steamboats 1859
December 6, 1862A Hard Case—Mrs. Mary Ann Cavanaugh was, Thursday, left by Mrs. Lau in change of the corpse of the latter’s baby, while Mrs. L. went out to make arrangements for its burial. Mrs. Cavanaugh got drunk and cut up a great many uncouth shines, threatening to throw the dead baby into the street, without any apparent good and sufficient reason…
September 19, 1862Departure of General Schofield—Gen. Schofield will leave for Springfield this morning at 10 o’clock.

(so much for military secrets and security)

August 25, 1862United States Police Matters—Rigid measures are being taken to enforce the order regarding places of business. Ten saloons and one beer garden were closed yesterday for remaining open between the hours of four and seven P. M. Captain Tunnecliffe, Chief U. S. Police force, returned Saturday to the city, after an absence of ten days at Buffalo.
May 6, 1864Select Family Matinee, Varieties Theater, Saturday afternoon. “Knights of the Lurielberg.”
April 26, 1863Recovery of the Body of Wat. Sullivan—The body of Wat. Sullivan, drowned in a pond on Cass avenue, Friday evening, was recovered yesterday morning. The Coroner held an inquest in view of it yesterday. Only one of the horses attached to the wagon was drowned.
September 11, 1862Meteorological Observations

Corrected daily by Jacob Blattner, Optician

9 o’clock  Wind S. Bar. 29.60 Thermometer F 76 B 19 Weather Cloudy

12 o’clock Wind S Bar. 29.55 Thermometer F 77 B 20 Weather Cloudy

3 o’clock Wind S. W. Bar 29.50 Thermometer F 73 B 18 Weather Rain

Camp Jackson Riot September 8, 1862District Provost’s –Saturday, P. M. –The following cases were disposed of:

The bond of Andrew Welch canceled, as he was sworn into the service of the United States.

Samuel Tylor, paroled for ten days, to remain within the limits of the city, to attend his wife, who is dangerously sick.

September 4, 1864Highly Important To Invalids—Dr. C. H. Woodhull, the king of cancer and chronic disease doctors, has located his office and residence at No. 41 Fourth street, near Elm, where the afflicted can be insured of a safe and certain cure. He is the only Doctor living that can kill and extract a cancer in twenty-four or forty-eight hours, without instruments, pain, or the loss of a drop of blood; and challenges the world to produce remedies equal to his in removing cancers, diseases of the heart, lungs, chest, throat, liver, stomach, and many others too numerous to mention.
September 7, 1863Concert Hall—No. 49 Market Street—The most celebrated vocalist is now engaged at the above resort and sings every evening.
September 7, 1862Prisoners—Seven prisoners arrived from Montgomery county Saturday morning, and were sent to McDowell’s College for confinement. They were recently bound for Price’s army.
June 22, 1864Ann Flynn in Limbo Again—The notorious Ann Flynn, who has served several terms in the county jail for petit larceny, was arrested by a policeman yesterday, having in her possession two straw hats and a head of cabbage. Whether she wanted the hats for her own head and the cabbage head was not explained.
May 6, 1864Going South—Battery K, 1st Missouri light artillery, Captain James S. Marr, having received a full outfit of guns, horses, etc., will leave in a few days for active service again.
Carte De Viste page December 6, 1862Photographic Albums—A friend told us the best collection of Carte De Visite pictures in the city was at McIntyre’s, No. 9 South Fifth street. He has just received a nice lot more of albums.
December 6, 1862Lost.—We notice an advertisement of a negro boy lost, who is described as “yellowish of grief,” and a “liberal reward” is offered for his recovery. Now, the experience of almost any person in this city will prove that there are a great many “yellowish” boys, full of “grief” in this city; but as to their being “yellowish” on account of their “grief” is not so clear as that they grieve because they are yellow, feeling the want of a full meal, while the refrain of a popular song echoes on their memory:

“O, I wish I was in Dixie!”

February 18, 1864Driver of a Coal Wagon Killed—The name of the man who died on Tuesday from the effects of a fall from his wagon the previous night, is Henry Collet. He was from the Illinois coal mines, was about thirty years old, and fell on Second street, between Plum and Cedar. The Coroner held an inquest on the boy, and found that death had been caused by concussion of the brain, produced by the fall.
June 20, 1864An Infant Stolen—In these war times, when babies are a drug in the market, and almost anybody can get one for the asking, it is rather singular to hear of an infant being stolen. Yet Mrs. Mary Keogan McDermot appeared at the police station on Saturday, and stated that an Irish woman had kidnapped her baby, only three months old…
Gratiot Street Prison August 25, 1862Prison Inspection—Colonel McConnell on Friday inspected the Gratiot street prison, it having been reported by disaffected persons that it was not properly kept. An examination revealed perfect order, and everything working satisfactorily under Captain Bishop’s management.
October 12, 1864Alien Substitutes furnished and three years’ certificates obtained by E. Stafford, No. 30 Olive Street, St. Louis.
October 10, 1863One Adam Kurd, colored, was committed to jail yesterday by the Recorder for theft of twenty pounds of cheese from John Massey’s saloon, No. 10 South Levee.
May 8, 1864The “Modest” Girl Convicted—Julia Quinn, a good-looking little girl of fourteen—the same whose modest demeanor captivated the committee of the Grand Jury during their examination of the jail—was convicted of grand larceny in the Criminal Court yesterday, and condemned to two years’ imprisonment in the penitentiary. She had been sent to the House of Refuge as a juvenile vagrant, but escaped from that institution, after giving evidence of great depravity, and a few days afterwards was arrested for stealing wearing apparel at a house of bad repute. Courthouse
August 29, 1864Saloon Keeper Jugged—Mr. Charles Shultz was sent to jail yesterday by the County Marshal for failing to pay his dram shop license.
October 14, 1862Larceny—Mary King was arrested yesterday for stealing a bonnet and shawl from the house of Mrs. Blake, on Ninth and Morgan streets. The girl was young and intelligent, looking not at all like a thief. She stated that her parents resided on Twenty-fourth and Biddle streets.
Missouri Loyal to the Union May 9, 1864The Stars and Stripes Hoisted.—A eleven o’clock this morning an immense United States flag was hoisted oven the Fair Building on Twelfth street. The workmen, guard, and a concourse of citizens assembled, who were addressed briefly and pertinently by Major Alfred McKay.

“Fellow citizens,” said he, “we are about to raise, to float over the building of the Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair, that honored and revered flag which has shielded our liberties for nearly a century of the past, and is destined to do so for centuries to come. I desire that you greet our nation’s banner with three cheers.”

Whereupon, the multitude gave three rousing cheers, which were repeated “with a tiger” and the hammers and saws resuming their busy task, the company separated.

(bear in mind, under the martial law in place, if you failed to cheer you might well find yourself tossed into prison as disloyal)

Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

commentary by D. H. Rule

You’d think such an enormously defining event in a nation’s history as our Civil War would be studied and examined carefully in our schools and common histories, yet it’s not. If you could memorize “1861 to 1865” and vaguely recall the words “Fort Sumter” and “Emancipation Proclamation” you pretty much could pass any high school history test on the Civil War.

What history is known in this country is very skewed and often inaccurate. The situation over the past few years has gotten worse in this regard as the Confederate battle flag has become relabeled as being solely a symbol of racism without any regard to historical context. I’m a neutral in this whole fuss–both sides have very valid points of view. Personally, I don’t care if one state or another has the battle flag as part of their state flag or flying over some monument. By the same token I can see how many would find the flag as offensive. Historically, most of these flags didn’t began flying until quite recently; as part of centennial remembrances so the heritage side of the argument has as many flaws to it as does the symbol of racism side.

What I do find offensive is the assault on history. By sterilizing the nation of any traces of history we find distasteful, we lose far more than we gain. The quote I use on the very first page of this website says my viewpoint clearly: “There were no good guys or bad guys, there were only Americans fighting Americans.” I have no Confederate ancestors. Nor Union. My history is American history and that includes the history of the United States of America equally with the Confederate States of America. It’s wrong to deny one half in favor of the other.

So, let’s talk about some of the lessons of history that are overlooked or not taught:

The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves…

Not really. The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves only in those states that had seceded from the Union. In other words, it only freed slaves in those states where the Federal government did not then have the power to actually enforce the Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation was based far more on politics than humanitarianism.

Who were the last slave owners in the nation?

Southerners? Confederates? Try again. Northern Unionists. Yes, slavery was legal in Union states past the end of the war. There were legally owned slaves in Union states throughout the war. A real cute irony comes into play with this–as the Union forces conquered states south of Missouri, slaves who had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation could go north to Missouri and St. Louis and become slaves again, all totally legal under Union rule.

The abolitionists of Kansas wanted all people to be equal and free. They certainly weren’t racists…

Kansas was the hotspot in the pre-Civil War years. Abolitionists from the East flooded in with boxes of guns labeled as Bibles being shipped to them from the East. They wanted Kansas to be a free state. At one point these charming lovers of freedom and brotherhood for all proposed banning all African-Americans from Kansas, both free and slave, as a solution to the problem. Nice folks.

Kansans raided into Missouri to “rescue” slaves and take them to freedom in Kansas. Yet when you look closely, you can see the motivation for the majority was simple theft from wealthy Missourians (the origin of the word “jayhawker” seems to be a Nebraska word meaning “horsethief”). Slaves might be appropriated to help carry the plunder back to Kansas. Do you think they asked these slaves if the wanted to be rescued, or do you think they kidnapped them against their wills? Do you think these slaves all wanted to be dragged away from their homes and families?

It’s no defense of slavery to understand that the abolitionists often treated the slaves every bit as much as chattel with no free will of their own as did the actual slave owners. Precious few white people in those days truly regarded black people as people, and that includes Abraham Lincoln, himself. He was remarkably unsympathetic to the fate of his African-American brethren. When a Union officer asked for help to feed and assist freed slaves, Lincoln answered that they were free men now, let them “root hog, or die.”

Union people were fighting to free the slaves, Confederates to keep them slaves…

Some were, certainly not all. Here’s some examples of the staggering ambiguity of the war:

General U. S. Grant’s wife, Julia Dent Grant, owned slaves throughout the war. She brought them with her when she went to visit Grant in his various camps, choosing routes that avoided states where the slaves might automatically be freed. Those who acknowledge this always emphasize that they were his wife’s slaves. Grant, through his own words, was not particularly opposed to slavery at the time of the war. He came–as did many–to the realization of the wrongness of slavery in later years.

James O. Broadhead, Union Provost Marshal of St. Louis was vehemently opposed to abolition, quoted as having said,

every damned abolitionist in the country ought to be hung.” Abraham Lincoln removed John Charles Fremont from command in St. Louis in part because Fremont has peremptorily freed a slave of Col. Thomas L. Snead’s wife. It was not legal for Fremont to have done so.

Col. John M. Wimer, CSA who died in Confederate service, shortly before the war had been elected mayor of St. Louis as an Emancipation Party candidate.

General Sterling Price, CSA the great Confederate general, had been a Unionist until the Federal government overstepped any legal or constitutional boundaries in Missouri. States rights are not just an excuse invoked by those who don’t want to mention slavery (well, not always). States rights was a real issue to many.

There were American Indians who owned African-American slaves and fought on the side of the Confederacy. Several free blacks were part of Quantrill’s unit.

These are just a few examples out of the convoluted thousands that existed. This is part of the reason why the Confederate battle flag controversy is not, historically, as simple as it’s being made out to be. Slavery was the keystone issue of the conflict. But it was not the only issue, nor was it the deciding issue for countless individuals on both sides.

Abraham Lincoln…

The Abraham Lincoln I’ve come to know through research and reading diverse sources is very different from the classic Lincoln of popular American history. That Lincoln is a sad-faced granite statue who is a mournful icon of freedom. The real Lincoln is a complex, interesting human, with virtues and faults. He was a politician through and through. He had a great sense of humor and certainly didn’t put himself on a pedestal. The Constitution didn’t get in his way when he decided on something (I don’t count this as a virtue). He could be cruel to the point of viciousness in his policies. He was Commander in Chief in a war that sent over 600,000 Americans to their deaths yet was, himself, reluctant to sign death warrants for individuals. He put a halt to many of the executions that had been taking place in the early part of the war. Where many around him considered the Confederates guilty of treason, I don’t think Lincoln did, or if he did was willing to let it go for the good of the nation. He wanted reconciliation, not retribution. Many thought Lincoln was soft on the Rebels, yet he certainly wasn’t willing to let the South go. Reconstruction probably would have gone far better had Lincoln survived. I find I respect the real Lincoln less than I did the mythical Lincoln… yet I like him more.

The war ended when Lee surrendered…

Goodness, no. The Department of the Tran-Mississippi didn’t surrender for over a month. People were still fighting after Lee’s surrender. The war was not over. The Civil War wasn’t the War of the East and Lee didn’t surrender the whole Confederacy.

By all its many names…

In this website you’ll find the war called “the Civil War.” This was a considered choice of names. Clarity is the simple reason. Southerners seem to prefer “The War Between the States,” which does have the virtue of accuracy, from a pre-war perspective. Consider the states at that time as individual independent nations, which is effectively how the nation was intended to be when it was formed, and you can see how this name applies. Personally, I like the name selected by Congress “The War of the Rebellion.” It harkens back to the founding fathers and their rebellious spirit and actions, and suits my own libertarian leanings. “The War of Northern Aggression” is too editorially biased, as would a comparable “War to Free the Slaves” be. “The Late Unpleasantness” is too many generations removed at this point.

“Civil War” works on many levels, and it’s particularly appropriate for a study of the war in Missouri where neighbors were literally fighting neighbors, and the divisions were as close as people seated across the dinner table from each other. The primary reason for choosing to use “Civil War” almost exclusively on the website is that current readers recognize than name, and so do the search engines.

In summation, the best way to learn about, and come to understand, or try to understand, the Civil War is to read first-hand accounts from both sides. You have to try to understand the society as a whole to get the context, and of the nation and its structure, neither of which are the same as our current society and culture. Don’t judge the people then by the standards of the present. Don’t try to apply the “everybody knows” filters of now to then.

D. H. Rule

Choosing Sides

Choosing Sides

by D. H. Rule

The United States is… The United States are…
The Confederates were lazy white racists fighting to preserve slavery The Confederates were noble knights of sterling character fighting to preserve states rights against Federal tyranny
The Unionists fighting to free the slaves, were patriots battling traitors The Northern Unionists were fighting to tyrannize the South and destroy its sacred heritage

That about sums up the two prevailing views of the Confederates and Unionists. To both sides I would say:

Rubbish!

Our ten-second sound-bite driven world wants distinctive sides and clear, easy-to-define controversy. We want to rewrite history to fit what we wish had been rather than what was, or to create better villains than really existed. We want distinctive good guys and bad guys. As with everything, reality falls into the fussy boundary area between the sides.

The motives of the governments and grand ideals had little to do with how the individuals chose their side of the conflict.

In Missouri, in particular, choosing sides was far more complicated than perhaps anywhere else in the nation. If one was born and raised in Alabama, one almost inevitably went with the Confederacy. Likewise, a New Yorker born and raised, would almost inevitably be a Unionist. Missouri was a border state, not only between north and south, but on the border to the western frontier. Missouri had a mixture of people from diverse backgrounds.

For a person in Missouri the primary factors in choosing sides were:

  • Family heritage
  • Nationality
  • Opinion on preserving the Union
  • Opinion on the rights of states to secede
  • Opinion on preserving slavery
  • Opinion on abolishing slavery
  • Federal oppression
  • Practical, business reasons
  • Youthful rebellious spirit

The side a person chose can almost be told from the family’s history. If the family came to Missouri along the southern migration path—Virginia to Tennessee or Kentucky, then on to Missouri—the person usually went with the Confederacy. If the migration path was northerly, through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois into Missouri, the person usually went with the Union. Family allegiance, and social and cultural upbringing, tended to be the influencing factors.

My research suggests that most Missourians chose sides based primarily on family affiliation with a region, northern or southern. Those who tended to identify themselves as “Southerners” went with the Confederacy while those who identified themselves as “Northerners” went with the Union. This was not an absolute, of course. Many of the most adamant Rebels I’ve researched were actually Eastern Yankees by upbringing.

National backgrounds was another factor. The Germans of St. Louis (of which there were many) were strongly Union based on their homeland’s recent experiences. By the same token, the Irish immigrants had powerful reasons to mistrust strong central governments, and to be wary of the signs of government oppression, and went strongly for the Confederacy.

Then, as in other parts of the country, the keystone issues of the conflict came into play—slavery and preservation of the Union.

The slavery issue had the devote extremists on both sides. These actually tended to be the fringe elements and of relatively small numbers. To be sure, they were vocal and vehement but, as with extremists now, were not representative of the mainstream. On one side were the hardcore abolitionists. On the other, were the equally stubborn proponents of slavery.

For most, the issues of slavery or abolition were matters of leaning rather than the sole deciding factors in which side they chose.

Missouri, though a slave state, was not as strongly entrenched either socially or economically as many of the deep south states. St. Louis had relatively few slaves, though it was a sales and transport hub by virtue of its position on the river.

Few who chose the Confederate side owned, or had ever owned, a slave. Yet many notable Unionists in St. Louis did own slaves, and some continued to do so throughout the war. James O. Broadhead, Union Provost Marshal, is quoted as having said, “every damned abolitionist ought to be hanged.” General U. S. Grant’s wife was a slave-owner.

A number of people who otherwise were in favor of slavery believed even more strongly that the Union should be preserved. Their counterparts believed that states had the right to secede. It’s been said that the difference before and after the War is that before we said, “the United States are,” and after we said, “the United States is.” For a huge number of people at this time patriotic allegiance was to their individual state, not to the nation as a whole.

Then, almost unique to Missouri, was the role the Federal government played in pushing people to the Confederate side. Absalom Grimes, who later, as he put it, “became very enthusiastic in the Rebel cause,” spend the early secessionist days of 1861 sitting it out in neutrality, expecting that the secessionist fuss would blow over in a few weeks. He and fellow river pilots, Sam Clemens (later Mark Twain) and Sam Bowen were pushed toward the Confederate side when Union General John B. Gray tried to impress them into service ferrying Union troops. All three went on to join an irregular Confederate unit in north-east Missouri. In later years Mark Twain would say he quit river piloting because the war ended that occupation. No, he could have continued piloting but he would not do so for the Union.  Yet Mark Twain was later known for his anti-slavery views and friendship with General/President Grant.He also didn’t like getting shot at and the pilot’s house on a steamboat was the easiest target.

Union General John Charles Fremont, and his successors, and martial law undoubtedly account for a number of people choosing the Confederate side. Missouri was under martial law throughout the war. The repression, and violations of Constitutional rights, was extreme. People were arrested and imprisoned without charges, sometimes just on the word of another claiming they had made “treasonable comments,” or for “hurrahing Jeff Davis.” Newspapers were censored and their editors arrested for printing any but approved material. Families of Confederates were targeted and treated abominably. Property was confiscated and women and small children were forced into exile. Due process of law vanished.

For a number of St. Louis business people, and their counterparts further north, the Mississippi River was the critical transportation route to the sea. If the river was cut in half by the formation of a new country, their lifeline was cut off.

Another factor in ‘choosing sides’ I must include is simply a youthful, rebellious spirit. Frontiersmen and pioneers tend toward a greater sense of independence and certainly have no fondness for taking orders from Eastern city people. Couple this with the general tendency of young men toward adventure and the Confederacy’s battle for independence must have seemed an exciting mirror to their own parent’s trek into the frontier and their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ struggle against the British in the Revolutionary War.

Patriots and People

Patriots and People

by D. H. Rule

The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere. –Thomas Jefferson,  1787.

Were the Confederates patriots? Yes, in the finest tradition of American history—that of rebellion. This country was born of rebellion and a rebellious attitude keeps it strong. “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing,” one of our nation’s fathers said. That same man was also the author of one of the most seditious documents ever written, the Declaration of Independence.

When I started studying and researching the Civil War I began with the Confederate side because it’s the side we don’t hear as much about. The winners write the history and the shape of the nation we live in is the result of the Union victory. And, quite frankly, I find the Rebels more interesting. They took the greater chance; faced the greater odds; risked more both personally and collectively. Every single one of them, the leaders in particular, faced the very real chance of being executed for treason if they lost. At the war’s end the Missouri Confederate soldiers fully expected that they’d never be allowed to return home.

While I’ve found admirable people on both sides, I’ve also found fanatics and extremists on both sides. Atrocities were committed by Union people and Confederate. No one wins any prizes for having ultimate nobility.

The Missouri Confederates I’ve been researching cover the range of virtues and faults, with both noble deeds and wicked. For a while they were, to me, distant and remote historical figures, almost like fictional characters whose stories I was constructing and reconstructing. Then one day I went to to take some pictures for the upcoming book on Gratiot Street Prison.

On a rainy day in St. Louis, Missouri, after battling traffic and poorly marked historic sites, I came to the National Cemetery at Jefferson Barracks. There I diligently followed my map and instructions to find the graves I had come to seek out. I had my cameras and tripod, my notebook and guidebook. I’d done my research and only needed to take a few photos. Smith graveBy the numbers on the gravestones I searched for number 4601 among the pointed-topped Confederate graves.

I found it. I read the name on it. Stephen R. Smith. I knew his story, had read several different accounts of his death. But to me he was, essentially, a character in a book. Then I glanced at the tombstone next to his. And I knew that name too. And that of the next one, and the next, and the next. I knew the names, and I knew their stories. I’d helped a descendant find information on one. I’d read the letter one fellow had written to his wife the night before he was shot in retaliation for someone else’s atrocity, so becoming part of yet another atrocity.

foster,janeThere were so many of them. Row upon row stretching out through the rain at this lonely patch of ground. As I stood there, no longer thinking about taking pictures, they quit being characters in a book and became people—real people who lived and died, usually far too young and often in terrible ways. There were so many stones stretching out in endless rows. Some had rounded tops—Union—and some had peaked tops—Confederate. It didn’t matter. They’d joined a fellowship of Americans who died for their country. They were all Americans and their lives, and deaths, shaped the nation in which we live today. They need to be remembered.

James H Baker – Provost Marshal

James H. Baker – Union Provost Marshal

James H. Baker was Union Provost Marshal of St. Louis in 1863, later of the Department of Missouri. In his role as Provost Marshal he pursued, among others, Robert Louden, subject of the article in “North and South” magazine.

Baker was from Minnesota, having served as Secretary of State. He became a Colonel in the 10th Minnesota, later brevet brigadier-general.

Baker in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion

Following are memorial tributes by fellow Minnesotans:


I met General Baker first in the political campaign of 1860. I heard him then make one of the very ablest and most eloquent speeches I had ever listened to, though I had heard speeches by Daniel Webster, Daniel S. Dickinson, William H. Seward, Joshua R. Giddings, Benjamin F. Wade, Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and many other noted orators. I say now, after hearing many speeches delivered by General Baker, that in true eloquence he was the peer of all of them, and in power the superior of all of them, Abraham Lincoln excepted. Once I heard Henry Clay, when I was in my “teens” and Clay was an old man, somewhat enfeebled doubtless by age and disappointment; but the old fire flashed as he “picked his flint and tried it again,”–at any rate, he electro-fired me. When I heard General Baker the first time (and many times after), the image of Henry Clay came before me like a flash.


James Heaton Baker, son of Rev. Henry Baker, a Methodist preacher, and Hannah (Heaton) Baker, was born in Monroe, Ohio, May 6, 1829. He graduated at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1852. In 1853 he purchased the Sciota Gazette, at Chillicothe, Ohio. In 1855 he was elected secretary of state on the ticket headed by Salmon P. Chase as governor. In 1857 he removed to Minnesota, where, for two successive terms he was elected to the same office. At the outbreak of the Civil War he resigned, and accepted a colonel’s commission in the Tenth Minnesota Volunteers. In 1863 his command was ordered to the South, and he was detached and made provost marshal of St. Louis, and subsequently of the department of Missouri, in which position he served until the close of the war, he being meanwhile promoted to a brevet brigadier generalship.

At the close of the war he was appointed register of the land office at Booneville, Missouri, but in two years resigned and returned to his farm in Blue Earth county, Minnesota.

In 1871 President Grant appointed him commissioner of pensions, a position for which he was singularly well fitted. He resigned in 1875, and was appointed by President Grant surveyor general of Minnesota. Gen. Baker has been prominent in Masonic circles, and has contributed much to the newspaper and periodical press. He was married Sept. 25, 1852, to Rose, daughter of Reuben H. Thurston, then of Delaware, Ohio, now of Mankato, Minnesota. This estimable lady died at Washington City, March 21, 1873, leaving two sons, Arthur and Harry E. Gen. Baker, since his appointment as surveyor general, has resided at Mankato. He served in 1885 and 1886 as railroad commissioner for the State.


General James H. Baker, a life member of the Minnesota Historical Society, died at his home in the City of Mankato in this state on May 25, 1913.

General Baker was born in Monroe, Butler county, Ohio, on the 6th day of May, 1829. He was the son of Henry Baker, M. D., and Hannah Heaton Baker. In his youth he attended the Firnian Academy at Middletown, Ohio, and later the Ohio Wesleyan University. For a period of time he edited the Sciota Gazette at Chillicothe, Ohio, it then being the oldest newspaper in the state. He served as Secretary of State of Ohio from 1854 to 1856, when Salmon P. Chase was Governor of that State. In 1857 he came to Minnesota, and shortly thereafter located with his family in Blue Earth County.

He was elected Secretary of State in 1859 and again in 1861. In 1862 he was commissioned, by Governor Alexander Ramsey, to be Colonel of the Tenth Minnesota Volunteers, then being recruited for service in the War of the Rebellion. He served with his regiment the first year in the campaign against the Sioux Indians, and in the fall of 1863 with his regiment went South. At the close of the war General Baker was appointed Commissioner of Pensions, and afterward Surveyor General for Minnesota. In 1881 he was elected State Railway Commissioner, in which office he served two terms.

For a time General Baker was the editor and proprietor of the Mankato Free Press. A goodly portion of his life in Blue Earth county was spent on a beautiful farm owned by him near Rapidan, where he personally engaged in agriculture, in which he was always much interested and very progressive.

General Baker was always much interested in the early history of Minnesota, and was never more at home than at the meetings of the old settlers of his county and state. He was pre-eminently a social man, an easy, fluent, and very interesting conversationalist, and hospitable to a fault. He was never more happy than when surrounded by his friends whom he always delighted to entertain.

He was a consistent attendant and supporter of the Methodist Church, and also belonged to the Masonic Order, as well as the Elks, the Grand Army of the Republic, and the Loyal Legion.

He was a power to be reckoned with in politics, and his influence was always felt in the civic and social life of the community in which he lived, and always for the betterment of conditions and of humanity in particular. The life of General Baker stands out as one of pronounced individuality, and of great strength of purpose.

On September 25, 1851, he was married to Rose Lucia Thurston at Delaware, Ohio, who died March 20, 1873. On December 23, 1879, he was married to Miss Zula Bartlett, who survives him and now resides in the homestead in Mankato.
General Baker was away in beautiful Glenwood Cemetery in Mankato. His funeral was held on Wednesday, May 28, 1913, being largely attended.


The late General James H. Baker was a man of many splendid talents. Eminent as he was as an orator, warrior, and statesman, he also possessed rare talents as an author. His numerous and valuable historical and biographical contributions found in the publications of this Society attest this fact. Among these papers are “History of Lake Superior,” “The Sources of the Mississippi River,” “Transportation in Minnesota,” and “The Lives of the Governors of Minnesota.” All these writings show great research and a masterly selection and presentation of the mass of material their author was always able to discover.

The general had a very acute mind and retentive memory, and his long life spanned one of the most eventful periods of the world’s history; and so far as this related to the “Middle West” of our own country, he had a personal acquaintance with most of the great men and a personal touch with most of the big events which went to make up that history. Hence the ease with which General Baker could always command the right material and infuse into it the very life and atmosphere it had when it was the actual reality.

Besides the very unique relation he bore to the people and the times concerning which he wrote, the general had a remarkable command of the English language and a fervid literary spirit, which gave force, fitness, and finish to every sentence he penned. His style is never dull nor florid, but always elegant, incisive, and vigorous.

His monograph on “The Sources of the Mississippi” is a valuable contribution to geographic knowledge, and it dealt a mortal blow to certain theories as to the head of the great river once in vogue. His “History of Lake Superior” did much to call attention to the world’s greatest waterway and the world’s greatest iron mines. “The Lives of the Governors of Minnesota,” forming Volume XIII of this Society’s Historical Collections, written at the eventide of our author’s life, is a fitting climax to his literary activity, being truly a great work, which will grow in worth and importance as the years go by.

Mighty was he with tongue, sword, and pen, and his passing removes from our midst one of our greatest and best citizens.

General John McNeil – Bio of Butcher of Palmyra

A bio of General John McNeil

“The Butcher of Palmyra”



McNeil, John, brigadier-general, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Feb. 14, 1813. He learned the hatter’s trade in Boston, Mass., engaged in the business first in New York city and subsequently for many years in St. Louis, Mo., and was a member of the Missouri legislature, 1844-45. He was president of the Pacific insurance legislature, 1855-61. He was captain of a volunteer company early in 1861, was promoted colonel of the 3d regiment, U. S. reserve corps, and on July 17, 1861, he defeated, with about 600 men, the Confederate forces under Gen. David B. Harris at Fulton, Mo. He was then placed in command of the city of St. Louis by Gen. Fremont, and on Aug. 3, 1861, he was appointed colonel of the 19th Mo. volunteers. In 1862 he took command of a cavalry regiment, and of the district of northeast Missouri, which he cleared of guerrillas. He was commissioned brigadier-general of volunteers, Nov. 29, 1862; was ordered into southeastern Missouri in December of that year, and in the spring of 1863 he held Cape Girardeau with 1,700 men against Gen. Marmaduke’s force of 10,000. In 1864 he was appointed to command the district of Rolla, Mo., and with the assistance of Gen. John B. Sanborn, Clinton B. Fisk and E. B. Brown he saved the capital from Price’s army. Afterwards he joined his cavalry force with that of Gen. Brown and participated in the campaign which led to the defeat of Price’s army at Newtonia, Oct. 28, 1864. He then commanded central Missouri until April 12, 1865, when he resigned. He was given the brevet rank of major-general of volunteers in recognition of faithful and meritorious services during the war, to date from the day of his resignation. Gen. McNeil was clerk of the criminal court in St. Louis county, 1865-67; sheriff of the county, 1866-70, and clerk of the criminal court again, 1875- 76. He was in 1876 commissioner to the Centennial exhibition in Philadelphia was an inspector in the U. S. Indian service in 1878 and 1882, and at the time of his death was superintendent of the United States post-office, St. Louis branch. He died in St. Louis, Mo., June 8, 1891.

The Union Army A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States 1861-65

8 vols, Federal Publishing, 1908

Palmyra Massacre

The Palmyra Massacre

Palmyra, Missouri

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. Further Reading: 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 States
by Joseph A. Mudd

Available from Camp Pope Bookshop


“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

SAINT LOUIS, MO., June 12, 1862.

Colonel McNEIL, Palmyra, Mo.:

I want you to take the field in person, with as much of your force as can be spared, and exterminate the rebel bands in your division…

Don’t rest until you have exterminated the rascals.

J. M. SCHOFIELD,

Brigadier-General

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.

Yours, &c.,

W. R. STRACHAN,

Provost-Marshal. General District Northeast Missouri

Per order of brigadier-general commanding McNeil’s column.

headquarters of

Provost Marshal

Colonel William Strachan,

Palmyra, Missouri


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)

HEADQUARTERS PROVOST-MARSHAL,
Palmyra, Mo., December 10, 1862.

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…

Bio of General McNeil

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

Thomas Humston

Morgan Bixler

John Y. McPheeters

Hiram T. Smith

Herbert Hudson

John M. Wade

Francis M. Lear

Eleazer Lake

HORRIBLE FEDERAL OUTRAGE–TEN CONFEDERATES MURDERED–THE FULL PARTICULARS OF THE SCENE.
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.

“Yours, &c.,

“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

Absalom Grimes Letter to Lucy Glascock

Letter from

A. C. Grimes to Lucy Glascock,

December 1863

This letter was written to Grimes’ future wife, Lucy Glascock of Ralls County, Missouri, from an iron-lined dungeon beneath Myrtle Street Prison in St. Louis constructed especially to hold Grimes and prevent him from escaping again. Grimes had been arrested in Memphis a few weeks earlier, attempted to escape from Irving Block prison, was taken briefly to Alton Prison, then returned to St. Louis.

“Smith” is a Federal detective who was supposed to spy on Grimes and get information from Grimes on his activities. Instead “Smith” delivered a letter to Lucy, first letting the Union Provost Marshal copy it.

“Mrs. Vail” is Marion Wall Vail, Grimes’ aunt who had been exiled to the south for her role in Grimes’ mail smuggling organization. Bettie is Lucy Glascock’s sister.

The General in Memphis Grimes refers to is General Veatch, who reported on Grimes to General Stephen A. Hurlbut who, in his addition to Veatch’s report on Grimes, suggested he be kept in irons and close confinement for the remainder of the war. Neither had sympathy for the Rebel agent who was in Memphis to marry his sweetheart, Lucy, and then go south of the lines for the last time. The wedding would not take place for another year and a half.

I’ve broken the letter into paragraphs for easier reading, and did some minor spelling corrections. Blanks indicate words that could not be deciphered. Commentary notes inserted in [italics] .

Myrtle Street Prison

Dec 9th 1863

My Darling Lucy

Though misfortune for so many years has been my Lot Kind Providence in his mercy has suffered me already to be the recipient of many blessings & favors. One among the greatest is a prospect that I may let you hear from me & that I may once more hear from you. Through the kindness of a true friend Mr. Smith whom I hereby introduce to you, he has for several days been confined with me in this thing, which did I not so well know its purpose I would have under any other circumstances supposed it to have been made & intended for an Ice Box on some New Orleans Steamboat, not a particle of light but as for air there is plenty of it & very fresh I assure you as I freeze in here. I have a candle all the time when not asleep.

After you left Memphis or at least same day the 25 Ind reg’t left & with it our friend Henry [a Union guard who carried a message from Grimes to Lucy while in Irving Block prison in Memphis] therefore I did not receive the package you promised me please send it by my friend Mr. S. When I get out of this which will be some of there time but can’t say when, he will arrange so as I may get it.

I am not ironed, something very singular, but they upon my word did not iron me. So until all favors in this respect are denied me I upon honor am compelled to remain a prisoner without an attempt to help myself. [this promise arrangement only lasted about a week more]

My Darling Lucy sometimes I am almost persuaded to quit so that I might at last gain the pleasure of being with you through life. All our hopes so far have been vain. Why it is I cannot tell. One at a time when we thought they would soon be realized but alas. Abraham and his Confederates (or whatever they may be called) has interfered. We know but too well with the happiness we anticipated. But then Dear Lucy were I thus knock under & take the oath I fear you would not have the same love & respect for me for then I am no longer a man of truth and honor as I would be severing from my opinion of right. Your opinion must first be given & my Life, it will be respected ask as all your wishes & opinions for the last five years & all my promises I believe has been faithfully kept during that time to you. But as we so well know lack other more of this anon.

I attempted to escape from Memphis on 23rd of Nov. I believe was the cause of my being sent up the river. I was taken in Irons to Alton hand & foot. By Capt. Clark, Genl. Veatch’s Adjutant, three guards. My irons were taken off me there by order of Capt. C. who treated me well & in gratitude will I remember him. Two days I roomed in the best prison rooms but ah! a dispatch came from St. Louis & another piece of ordinance in shape of a 12 pounder was recommended. [ball & chain] A room to myself was also given for my use, ’twas not so large as to get lost in either, or so high up I could fall out of the ___ & break my neck. [the penitentiary cells at Alton were 4 feet by 7 feet by 7 feet high]

That did not seem to satisfy some of my St. Louis friends So on the third day a committee of one was sent to escort me to my native City & it happened to be Mr. Conners, the same man who arrested me in the fall of 1862. I was brought down handcuffed only & must acknowledge Mr. C. treated me well as did the balance of the Detectives although they are a set I must acknowledge I have not much love for & told them so but never the less as I am in their power I will in gratitude remember all the favor shown me by anyone. How long I must remain here I know not.

I must hear from you. I want to know particularly about some things which you must only by word of mouth communicate to Mr. S. when he see you do not write. I was hauled up before Genl V. in Memphis & I told him all the circumstances why I came up to Memphis & my name the first thing otherwise I believe I would have gotten a trial & let out in Memphis. I thought as Genl a gentleman & a soldier he might have compassion upon a poor fellow in my  [?]. But all But, this is the results of depending on leniency from my enemies. He addressed of being in on at least had me if I had not been in Louisville a short time back. I said I been in Memphis two nights which was all ___ on. I told him so but told him I had been a prisoner in St. Louis in Sept 1862 & escaped & also had come within 5 mile of Memphis in Oct with Mrs. Vail & Mrs Freleigh & had come in on the 7th of Nov 1863. That was all I believe Lucy.

I must now must now close but with reluctance for I look on this as the only chance I may have to write to you for a long time & I will keep in good spirits during my imprisonment & wish you to do the same & in knowing that if the time ever does come when I may be released that I go forth with a happy heart to meet you my darling once more & may God in his mercy grant that our persecutions last but a short time & in future favor us more than of late. My Dearest Love to your Ma & Pa & Bettie & all others. I now bid you farewell hoping the war may soon end & again in peace & happiness me & all other may meet. Until then I pray that God in his mercy may protect us both & good bye

Every your devoted

(signed) Abbie.

Lucy say nothing about Mr. S. coming to see you at all as he is only released on bonds & only sees you ___ & me  (signed) Abbie

(from NARA M322 roll 4, service records)

Absalom Grimes Obit

Grimes’ Obituary

A. C. Grimes, 1906 newspaper photo


Ralls County Record
New London, Missouri, Friday, March 31, 1911

Capt. Ab. C. Grimes Dead

Captain Ab. C. Grimes, a noted Confederate mail carrier, pioneer river pilot and manager of hunting preserves, died at his home, No. 437 Olive Street, St. Louis, last Monday night.

He was 76 years old and had been ill for a month.

His career was linked with the life of Mark Twain, the late humorist, as both were pilots and members of the same Confederate company.

For thirty years Captain Grimes guided river steamers through tortuous currents. On leaving the river the old soldier located in Lincoln county and managed game preserves, which were visited by thousands of St. Louisians.

Capt. Grimes moved to St. Louis four years ago.

He was twice married. His second wife was much younger than he. Shortly after his second marriage, in 1905, Captain Grimes shot a man whom he accused of insulting his bride.

The river pilot was born to the rank as his father was a pilot on the earliest boats on the Mississippi river. His mother’s brother was also a pilot and owner of steamers plying the Mississippi.

When the Civil War began Captain Grimes left the river and joined a company organized at New London, Ralls County, by Captain Theodore Brace. Mark Twain enlisted in the same company on the day that Grimes was accepted.

During the war General Sterling B. Price selected Captain Grimes and Robert Louden to act as mail carriers. These intrepid fighters smuggled mail between the soldiers in the Southern Army and the home folks in the North.

Six times the late Captain was captured by Union soldiers, but on five occasions he escaped. When taken the sixth time he was incarcerated in the Gratiot Street Prison, from where he attempted to escape and got shot.

Prior to his effort to escape he was sentenced to be hanged, but this was commuted through the influence of the late Archbishop Ryan of Philadelphia, who was then located in St. Louis. The Confederate soldier was sent to Jefferson City for confinement.

When stealing through the lines to get his mail in the hands of the soldiers on the battlefields, Captain Grimes was assisted by many women now living here who were Southern sympathizers.

After the war and his retirement from the river, Captain Grimes became manager of the King’s Lake Shooting Club in Lincoln county. He remained with the club thirteen years and then built a clubhouse a few miles down the shore of the lake. This clubhouse he named Grimes’ King Lake Club, where he lived for ten years.

Since coming to St. Louis he has conducted a moving-picture show, next a shooting gallery and lately has worked for the General Compressed-Air Vacuum Cleaning Company.

Lucy Glascock Grimes
His first wife he married in New London in 1865. She was Miss Lucy Glascock, who died in 1903. They had seven children, of whom two survive. They are Hudson Grimes, No. 3448 Pine Street, and Mrs. W.L. Mitchell, of Ferguson, St. Louis county.

The second Mrs. Grimes, Nell Tauke Grimes (1906 newspaper photo)

Mr. Grimes’ second marriage took place December 15, 1905, in Lincoln county to Miss Nell Tauke. She survives him.

The remains will be laid to rest in Barkley Cemetery this (Thursday) afternoon.

Barkley Cemetery, New London, Missouri

Absalom Grimes Bio

Grimes was a steamboat pilot on the upper Mississippi river at the outbreak of the war. Refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the United States suddenly required to renew pilot’s licenses, Grimes left the river and waited, expecting that in a few weeks the “secession disturbance would be settled.” Grimes’ own family was Union, his mother saying she had to leave her home in Ralls County because of the animosity of her pro-secession neighbors to her views. At least one of Grimes’ brothers enlisted in the Union army. Many others of his relatives, aunts and cousins, aided him in his mail smuggling at great personal risk and cost. The family of his fiancée, Lucy Glascock, was also pro-Confederate. Their wartime romance become famous.

Grimes first joined an irregular Missouri State Guard unit in Ralls County, Missouri. Sam Clemens, later famous as author Mark Twain, was a lieutenant in the “Ralls County Rangers.” Twain’s version of the adventures of this unit leans more to the serious side than the version Grimes told. (these hyperlinks take you to another site–use your back button to return here). A Twain biographer gives more credence for accuracy to Grimes’ version. Grimes later joined the 1st Missouri Cavalry CSA as a private and was captured near Springfield, Missouri. He escaped while being sent from Myrtle Street Prison in St. Louis to Alton Prison in Illinois.

Before returning south to join his unit, Grimes decided to gather up letters from Missouri families to carry with him, thus establishing himself in his wartime career, becoming “Official Confederate Mail Carrier”, with a commission as a major, for General Sterling Price’s army. Grimes was captured several times but acquired a reputation as an escape artist, once by escaping from the guardhouse at Cairo, Illinois, then from Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis while chained in close confinement and under heavy guard.

Excerpts from Grimes’ memoirs telling of his escapes from Gratiot

(this hyperlink takes you to another site–use your back button to return here–the site has very loud music on it, you may wish to mute your audio before following the link)

The next time the Federals arrested him they were very serious about holding on to him and several escape attempts failed.

A letter from Grimes to Lucy Glascock written from prison, Dec. 1863

In the last attempt to escape from Gratiot in June of 1864, shortly before Grimes was scheduled to be hanged as a Rebel spy, two men were killed and Grimes was shot and seriously injured. This ended both his escape attempts and wartime career. Grimes was spared execution through the influence of Union friends, eventually being given a full pardon by President Lincoln.

Grimes married Lucy Glascock in March of 1865. They had seven children together but only two–Hudson D. Grimes and Lottie Grimes Mitchell–survived to adulthood. Grimes returned to river piloting, then into other careers, including the ownership of a hotel. He also owned a hunting resort in Lincoln County, Missouri. A few years after Lucy’s death in 1903, Grimes remarried to a younger woman named Nell Tauke. Grimes died in March of 1911.

A. C. Grimes obituary

Shortly before his death, at daughter Lottie’s insistence, Grimes wrote his memoirs. It’s likely he never intended the memoirs to see publication, and they weren’t published until 1926. The story he tells is true, though contains many errors in dating and sequence of events, but also contains considerable omissions. Grimes was far more deeply associated with the Confederate secret service agents operating under General Price than he says in his book. Still, the book is a fascinating story of the War in Missouri and along the Mississippi River.