Palmyra in Marion County, Missouri — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)
A State Divided
— The Civil War in Missouri —
The Palmyra Massacre was a grim ending to Confederate Col. Joseph Porter's 1862 recruiting campaign in northeast Missouri. Besides recruiting local men for the Confederate army, Porter attacked Union outposts and patrols all summer long. In Mid-September, Porter led his men to Palmyra, where they captured – and later apparently killed – a pro-Union citizen. The next month, on Oct. 18, 1862, 10 Confederate prisoners were executed at Palmyra's fairgrounds in retaliation for the murder.
Col. John McNeil commanded the Union's and Missouri State Militia in Palmyra. Also stationed in Palmyra was the Provost Marshal General for Northeast, Missouri, Col. William Strachan, who required known and suspected Southern sympathizers to swear oaths and post bonds to ensure their good behavior. One of Strachan's local informants was 60-year-old Andrew Allsman.
Porter Takes Palmyra, Captures an Informer
After a series of mostly successful raids, Porter suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Kirksville on Aug. 6 and disbanded his regiment. He kept about 300 – 400 recruits with
By mid-October Porter moved the last of his recruits over the Missouri River on the way to Arkansas. About a week earlier Col. McNeil published a notice in the Palmyra Courier demanding Porter return Allsman unharmed to his family within 10 days. If he failed to do so, 10 of Porter’s men jailed at Hannibal and Palmyra would be shot. When the 10 days passed with no word from Porter, McNeil directed Provost Marshal Strachan to compile a list of 10 prisoners to face a firing squad. The execution was scheduled for Oct.18.
Col. Strachan Selects Prisoners for Execution
Among the 10 Confederate prisoners chosen were Capt. Thomas Sidenor, one of Porter’s recruiting agents and who commanded a company
Shortly past noon on Saturday, Oct. 18, three government wagons arrived at the Palmyra jail. One carried four rough wooden coffins and the other two carried three each. The prisoners were led out of the jail and each man was seated on a coffin. The wagons were taken to the amphitheater of the fairgrounds, where the coffins were unloaded and placed in a row with the lids removed. About a hundred spectators gathered. After a prayer by a local Baptist minister, the 10 men sat on the foot of their coffins about 30 feet from the firing squad. All the prisoners were plainly dressed except for Sidenor, who wore a suit and a white vest – the suit he was to be married in.
Sidenor shouted to the firing squad to “aim here” and pointed to his heart. Shortly after 1 p.m. the Baptist minister gave each man a final
Only Sidenor and two others were killed outright. Six were wounded, and one man wasn’t hit at all. Strachan directed a backup squad armed with pistols to finish the gruesome task. The bodies were placed in the coffins and the lids nailed shut. The wagons took the coffins back to the town square to be claimed by relatives.
Col. McNeil left Palmyra before the executions and went to St. Louis to give a newspaper interview explaining his actions. The interview was published in several newspapers, and the executions were condemned in the New York Times and a number of international newspapers. To stop the criticism and show his support for McNeil, Col. Lewis Merrill, commander of the Union District of Northeast Missouri, relieved Strachan as Provost Marshal General, claiming the position was no longer necessary. Col. McNeil was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers.
Strachan took it upon himself to answer the New York Times criticism of the executions, sending a long letter to the editor titled “The Vindication of General
Were The Executions Justified?
Great controversy followed the execution of the 10 prisoners at Palmyra. Gen. McNeil claimed the murder of Andrew Allsman, a non-combatant, while a prisoner of Col. Porter demanded the harshest retaliation and that the 10 men selected "had already forfeited their lives by violation of parole." This justification was reinforced by Provost Marshal William Strachan's "Vindication of General McNeil," written in response to a New York Times editorial and a letter from Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis.
The main critic of the executions was the New York Times. An editorial on Dec. 1, 1862, argued that though the 10 executed men may have been "guerrillas, land pirates and outlaws of the basest sort," and may have even deserved death for their crimes, "neither their character nor their infamous deeds had anything to do with their execution" and that further, if the demand for Allsman's release had been met, "they would have lived – in spite of their crimes; and so far as appears they would have died for his non-appearance, if their characters had been perfectly spotless."
Capt. Thomas Sidenor's Letter from Palmyra Jail
Dear Brother, sisters and Friends: -- I seat myself for the last time to write you a few lines. I am in good health, but alas, tomorrow is the day set apart for me to be carried to another world. Oh, I hope I will be received in Heaven where justice is done. I have not had a trail and they won't give me any chance for my life. Oh, I hope that God will forgive these unmerciful creatures that will commit the unpardonable act. To take innocent men and shoot them for crimes that they never have done. We are to be shot for one man that J. C. Porter took away from here, a man that I never saw in my life. Oh, is this justice?.... Oh, my mind is so frustrated that I cannot write, can't collect hardly a sentence, or spell a word correctly. But read it the best you can and think it is from your brother. Ellen,
Location. 39° 47.932′ N, 91° 31.468′ W. Marker is in Palmyra, Missouri, in Marion County. Marker is at the intersection of West Lafayette Street and South Dickerson Street, on the right when traveling west on West Lafayette Street. Marker is on the northwest corner. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Palmyra MO 63461, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 11 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Palmyra Confederate Monument (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); George Shannon (about 400 feet away); Palmyra (about 400 feet away); Potawatomi Emigration (approx. 0.3 miles away); His Friends Rest Here (approx. 10.3 miles away in Illinois); A Victorian Cemetery (approx. 10.3 miles away in Illinois); Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse (approx. 10.6 miles away); Huck Finn’s Home (was approx. 10.6 miles away but has been reported missing. ). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Palmyra.
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Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on May 15, 2012, by Bill Kirchner of Tucson, Arizona. This page has been viewed 923 times since then and 6 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on May 15, 2012, by Bill Kirchner of Tucson, Arizona. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page.