The Palmyra Massacre - Palmyra, MO
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member YoSam.
N 39° 47.942 W 091° 31.396
15S E 626424 N 4406494
Quick Description: Brutal political execution of Innocent men
Location: Missouri, United States
Date Posted: 11/1/2014 6:26:03 AM
Waymark Code: WMMT2A
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member cldisme
Views: 2

Long Description:

The Palmyra Massacre

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 October 18, 1862, 10 Confederate prisoners were executed at Palmyra’s fairgrounds in retaliation for the murder.

Col. John McNeil commanded the Union’s 2nd Missouri State Militia in Palmyra. Also stationed in Palmyra was the Provost Marshal General for Northeast Missouri, Col. William Stracham, 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 August 6 and disbanded his regiment. He kept about 300 – 400 recruits with him, not far from his Lewis County home. On September 12, while Col. McNeil was away from headquarters, Porter and his men marched almost unopposed into Palmyra. They freed 45 – 50 prisoners and destroyed Strachan’s provost marshal records of oaths and bonds. Taking three prisoners of their own, including Andrew Allsman, they returned north to Lewis County. With McNeil in hot pursuit, Porter ordered his men to scatter. He also decided to release Allsman, ordering a detachment of six men to accompany Allsman to a nearby public road leading to Palmyra. What exactly happened to Allsman has never been clearly established, but he was undoubtedly shot and killed by someone.

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 October 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 at Kirksville; Willis Baker, an outspoken 54-year-old Confederate sympathizer suspected of murdering a Union man; Thomas Humston, at 19 the youngest of the 10, and the only one held as an oath-breaker; and William Humphrey, captured at Kirksville. Fortunately for Humphrey, his wife made a successful plea to Col. McNeil to spare here husband. He was replaced by Hiram Smith. The remaining six men – Herbert Hudson, John Wade, Francis Marion Lear, John McPheeters, Morgan Bixler and Eleazer Lake – had served in Porter’s campaign before their capture.

Shortly past noon on Saturday, October 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 handshake, followed by Strachan. Willis Baker refused to shake Strachan’s hand, telling him contemptuously, “Every dog shake his own paw.” Maj. Isham Dodson in charge of the firing squad, called them to attention and gave the orders: “ready, aim – thus perish all traitors to their country’s flag – Fire!”

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 Vinidcation of General McNeil.” Another letter (also probably written by Strachan) was sent to Prsident Abraham Lincoln Defending McNeil’s actions. Despite these efforts, neither McNeil nor Strachan ever outlived the bitter feelings against them for their part in the Palmyra Massacre.


Another excellent website that can be viewed to see a lot of the commentary of the day is the Civil War St. Louis. The website is probably the best local area information in a single resouce for the American Civil War.

Disaster Date: 10/18/1862

Date of dedication: 2/25/1907

Memorial Sponsors: Palmyra Confederate Monument Association and its friends

Disaster Type: Sociological

Relevant Website: [Web Link]

Parking Coordinates: Not Listed

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