In the spring of 1862
Col. Joseph E. Porter of the Confederate Army returned to northern Missouri,
on the orders of a former Missouri Governor, General Sterling Price. His
mission was to raise recruits throughout the region and to establish supply
drops, weapons caches, and construct a network of Southern-sympathizing
informants. The status of Porter and his recruit members of a regular army
and not criminals and traitors were never fully recognized by his
adversaries, particularly Col. John McNeil. McNeil was given command of the
District of Northeast Missouri and the 2nd Missouri State Militia in the
spring of 1862 with the special charge of clearing the area of guerillas.
McNeil chose Palmyra as
his headquarters. Also stationed in Palmyra was Col. William R. Strachan,
Provost Marshal General for Northeast Missouri, whose chief duty was to
arrest citizens suspected or accused of sympathy with the Southern
Confederacy and to administer to them the oath of loyalty and allegiance to
the United States Government.
Porter managed to
recruit approximately 2000 men and conducted a series of mostly successful
raids throughout the spring and summer of 1862. After a major defeat at the
Battle of Kirksville on August 6, Porter disbanded most of his regiment
keeping with him about 400 men loosely headquartered in Lewis County. On
September 12, 1862, Porter decided to raid Palmyra and release forty-five
prisoners who had been captured and placed in the county jail and pick up
arms and supplies belonging to the Federals. He picked a time when most of
the Union forces under McNeil were off on a wild-goose chase at Monticello.
Porter and his men
infiltrated on foot into the town and took over the business section of
town. The federal forces, about one hundred strong, held the jail (photo
courthouse and a two-story brick store at the corner of Main and LaFayette.
Although the Union soldiers had the advantage of better rifles and more
protection they surrendered after a brief fight. The Confederate losses were
one man killed and one man wounded. The Federal forces had two men wounded
at the Courthouse and perhaps two more wounded on the streets. The large
copper ball, which currently rests in the Palmyra courthouse, was at that time an
adornment atop the courthouse. The Confederates found it an attractive
target to test their marksmanship on, resulting in several ragged bullet
holes, which can be seen today.
Porter's men captured
several prisoners among them was Andrew Allsman, sixty-year old carpenter
and Union sympathizer who had the reputation of betraying his Confederate
neighbors to the militia and was much disliked. After several skirmishes,
Porter decided that Allsman was a liability and set him free. Allsman
departed camp with a detail to see him safely to the city limits of Palmyra
or to the nearest Union lines and he was never seen again. Speculation is
that he was taken into the woods and shot.
On October 8, Provost
Marshal William R. Strachan, acting for Colonel McNeil, published a notice
in the Palmyra Courier, a local Union newspaper, the Palmyra Courier that
unless Allsman was returned within ten days, ten former Porter men held as
prisoners in Palmyra and Hannibal would be executed. Nothing was heard from
Allsman, and McNeil was unyielding when Union sympathizer interposed to save
the doomed men. On Saturday, October 18, wagons containing 10 pine coffins
drew up before the jail and the procession to the fairgrounds began, each
condemned man seated on his coffin. At the fairgrounds, a firing squad of 30
men put the Confederates to death. Some of the executioners evidently
wavered, for only three of the ten were killed by rifle volley and a pistol
party was sent forward to finish the execution.
The Palmyra Massacre
was the last of the three executions that occurred in northeast Missouri
during the fall of 1862, the others being at Kirksville in August and Macon
in September. The Palmyra Massacre attracted nation-wide attention and is
said to have been a subject of discussion in the cabinet of President
Lincoln. Confederate President Jefferson Davis threatened to execute ten
Union prisoners unless McNeil was handed over to the Confederacy, but the
threat was never carried out.
Col. McNeil left
Palmyra before the executions and went to St. Louis to give a newspaper
interview explaining his actions. The executions were condemned by the New
York Times and a number of international newspapers and is said to have been
a subject of discussion in the cabinet of President Lincoln. Confederate
President Jefferson Davis threatened to execute ten Union prisoners unless
McNeil was handed over to the Confederacy, but the threat was never carried
out. In order to stop the criticism McNeil's successor, Col. Lewis Merrill,
relieved Strachan of his duty as Provost Marshall. McNeil was earned the
title of "Butcher of Palmyra" and neither McNeil nor Strachan
escaped the taint of their actions.
Palmyra Confederate Monument Association erected a granite monument on the
grounds of the Palmyra Courthouse on February 25, 1907. The monument lists
the men executed who were Capt. Thomas A. Sidenor, of Monroe County; Willis
J. Baker, Thomas Humston, Morgan Bixler, John Y. McPheeters and Hiram T.
Smith of Lewis County; Herbert Hudson, John M. Wade and Marion Lair of Ralls
County and Eleazer Lake of Scotland County.
the Palmyra Massacre Monument
There is no charge to visit the Palmyra
Palmyra Massacre Monument is located on the grounds of the Marion
County Courthouse, which is on S. Main Street (US-61) north of Ross Street
more about the Palmyra area.