Colonel Joseph C. Porter
SCV Camp #2055

Shelbina, Missouri - CSA



The Palmyra Massacre

On September 12, 1862, CSA Colonel Joseph C. Porter and the Confederate troops under his command rode into U.S. occupied Palmyra, Missouri in an effort to free the town from it's yankee occupation.

The Palmyra Massacre is an incident that took place in Palmyra on October 18, 1862, when ten Confederate prisoners were executed in reprisal for the capture of a local Union man, Andrew Allsman. Some accounts represent Allsman as a harmless old patriot, while others suggest that the sixty-year old carpenter was an informant, keeping Union forces well-apprised of secessionist plans in the largely pro-southern area.

What is defintely known is that Allsman enlisted in the United States army when war broke out in 1861, but was soon discharged due to his age and the idea that he could better serve as an informant in his hometown area. This would be important to the United States as there was much Southern sentiment amongst many people of Missouri even though the state had been occupied since the early period of the war. Thousands of people were being arrested, simply for speaking publicly of their sentiment with the Confederate States and their cause.

Allsman was called upon, frequently, to testify of the disloyalty to the United States of certain individuals. If Allsman said a man was a Rebel the U.S. authorities believed him without question. These accused Rebels were thrown into jail immediately while their families at home would be robbed by U.S. soldiers. There was deep resentment for Allsman in the town of Palmyra. Reportedly, when Colonel Porter had captured Allsman, some of the ladies of Palmyra had said to Colonel Porter, "Don't let old Allsman come back."

Three days after Allsman's capture Colonel Porter decided he could no longer take Allsman around with him as he slowed down the movement of his troops in their retreat southward. Allsman was offered release but he did not want to be left alone while on his way back home for he feared that his civilian enemies would kill him, so he requested to remain a prisoner of war under Colonel Porter. Colonel Porter agreed that Allsman could choose six of Porter's men as an escort to the nearest home of a U.S. sympathizer.

While enroute to the home of a U.S. sympathizer more men from the Confederate camp approached Allsman and the party of Confederate troops that escorted him. These troops took charge of Allsman and began to continue the trip to the supposed U.S. sympathizer's home.

These new troops took Allsman out into the woods and told him that he was going to pay for the deeds that he had done as an informant. Allsman was shot dead by three men and his body was covered with brush and leaves in the dense underbrush of the thicket. Allsman body was never found, nor were his executioners ever identified.

Meanwhile, not knowing the whereabouts of Allsman, on October 8, Provost Marshal William R. Strachan, acting for McNeil, published a notice (see below) to Confederate Colonel Joseph C. Porter, whose forces had held Palmyra.




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.




Colonel Porter had been in charge during the time of Allsman's abduction. The notice stated that unless Allsman was returned within 10 days, 10 former Porter men held as prisoners in Palmyra and Hannibal would be executed.

It is not known whether Porter saw the notice, but in any event, most writers agree that Allsman had already been the victim of personal enemies among Porter's men and that the Confederate Colonel would have been powerless to return him.

Union authorities had already killed Confederate Colonel McCollough and fifteen of his comrades in August 1862 in Kirksville, only seventy miles to the northwest. U.S. General Merrill had also executed ten prisoners who had refused to take an oath of allegiance to the United States.

The threat had been issued by the provost marshal of northeast Missouri, William R. Strachan. When someone had approached Strachan to plead for his revocation of this order, Strachan, who was more often than not intoxicated, stated that the ten men would be shot according to the order. Strachan's authority came through Gen. John McNeil. Gen. McNeil was asked even by citizens of U.S. sympathies to stop this order. His simple reply was, "My will shall be done."

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 above transcribed notice.

As mentioned prior, a written duplicate of the McNeil "Palmyra Courier" notice was caused to be placed in the hands of the wife of Joseph C. Porter. It was delivered to her 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 ninth day after Strachan's order had passed. It seemed evident to Strachan that Allsman was not going to turn up (they were not aware that he was already dead). Colonel Porter had been making his way southward since before the threat was issued and was most probably not aware of Gen. McNeil's warning. McNeil ordered Strachan to go to the jail and select the "worst rebels" for execution. He further directed that those who could not read nor write were to be left alone, taking instead those "of the highest social position and influence."

Strachan walked into the jail where twelve men waited to hear the verdict. Only five of those twelve would be selected while five more would be selected from the Hannibal jailhouse and brought to Palmyra for execution. One of the ten men selected, Willis Baker, was sixty years old and had never served in the Confederate army but had two sons who had. Mr. Baker had been charged with harboring them and their companions, and, when a Union man had turned up murdered in the area, he was charged with complicity in that crime.

Willis Baker was not hardly a religious man and the death threat did not quite him, as it surely had the nine other men, and Baker stormed and swore that he had done nothing to deserve being shot like an animal, and that he would see "old McNeil and Strachan miles in Hell" before he would forgive them. The names of the other nine men selected were: Capt. Thomas A. Sidenor, from Monroe County, Thomas Humston, from Lewis County, Morgan Bixler, from Lewis County, John Y. McPheeters, from Lewis County, Herbert Hudson, from Ralls County, John M. Wade, from Ralls County, Francis W. Lear, from Ralls County, Eleazar Lake, from Scotland County, William T. Humphrey, from Lewis County. These nine men were most all family men and all of them were active in their churches. All of them had been soldiers in the Confederate army.

The first man that Strachan had put on the death list was that of William T. Humphrey. Upon learning of this, his wife, Mary Humphrey, with her two step-children and her two-week-old baby, fled to the provost marshal's office, begging for her husband's life. She was sent to General McNeil.

General McNeil was grimly determined to kill her husband, but she succeeded in convincing him that her husband, though invited by Porter's men, refused to rejoin them, fearing that his parole would be revoked. Once assured of her statement, McNeil directed Strachan to choose another man to replace Humphrey.

Back at the jail, old Willis Baker was somewhat more calm than before, only occasionally calling down an imprecation upon the Yankees. He was seated in one corner of the jail, telling a young boy named Hiram Smith what to tell his family after he was gone. Tears streamed down young Hiram's face as he listened to the old man speaking in low, sad tones. How he dreaded relating all of this to the tortured faces of Willis Baker's wife and sons.

From the hallway came the jailer, who stepped near the cells and called in a loud voice, "Hiram T. Smith!" Brushing the tears from his eyes, young Smith walked to the cell door and looked through the bars. At that moment Provost Marshal Strachan appeared, asking "Is your name Hiram Smith?" "Yes sir," was the polite reply. "Well then, prepare yourself to be shot with the other men today at 1 o'clock."

Silence fell like a rock. Then, as Smith's fellow prisoners tried to comfort him, William Humphrey, reprieved but saddened at Strachan's diabolical choice of another youth who could neither read nor write, offered to write a letter to his family. His parents were dead, so young Hiram Smith dictated a letter to his sister, written in detail by the man whose place he would take before the firing squad.

Only Hiram Smith and Thomas A. Sidenor had no wife nor children. Hiram Smith was twenty-two years of age. Sidenor had been a Captain in the Confederate army but his unit had been destroyed in battle and there after disbanded. He had then taken up the life of a civilian and was engaged to be married.

Thomas Humston was only nineteen years old. Contrary to Gen. McNeil's arbitrary stipulations, Humston could neither read nor write. He was in jail only because he had been picked up by a scouting party on routine duty.

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.

On October 18, 1862, a little after 11 a.m. - three Government wagons drove to the jail; one contained four and each of the others three rough board coffins.

At 1:00pm the condemned men were conducted from the jail and seated in the wagons, one upon each newly made coffin. A sufficient guard of soldiers accompanied them, and the cavalcade started for the fatal Palmyra Fairgrounds. 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 Colonel 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.

Upon arriving at The Palmyra Fairgrounds, the prisoners and 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.

They took their pistols and went from man to man, shooting him until he stopped moaning. Mr. Bixler was the one who had not been shot. He had to sit and watch as the reserve troops shot his friends at point blank range until they came and shot him.

It seems hard that ten men should die for one. Under ordinary circumstances it would hardly be justified; but severe diseases demand severe remedies. The safety of the people is the supreme law. It overrides all other considerations. The madness of rebellion has become so deep seated that ordinary methods of cure are inadequate. To take life for life would be little intimidation to men seeking the heart's blood of an obnoxious enemy. They could well afford to make even exchanges under many circumstances. It is only by striking the deepest terror in them, causing them to thoroughly respect the lives of loyal men, that they can be taught to observe the obligation of humanity and of law.




CONTEMPORARY ACCOUNT

From the Palmyra, Missouri Courier. October 20, 1862:

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

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, carelessly murdered it is useless to attempt to deny.




ALLSMAN'S SKULL

According to James J. Fisher's column in the Kansas City Star (July 29, 1994) Andrew Allsman was observed alive September 16, 1862, in the company of two Confederate guerillas, near Troublesome Creek (in the vicinity of Steffenville, MO). In 1877, a farmer walking the creek found and later gave away a skull thought to be Allsman's. The skull came into the possession of a Newark MO pharmacist, who put it on display, where it attracted much attention. One Edward Wilson purchased it in 1890 and had it placed in a walnut chest lined with velvet. Eventually, he returned the skull to one of Allsman's daughters, living in Palmyra, who identified it and arranged for burial. However, Paul Davis, a journalist working for the Hannibal Courier-Post, recalls being shown a box matching this description and containing a skull said to be Allsman's by a Ralls County resident in the 1990s.

The Western Historical Manuscripts Collection at The University of Missouri-Columbia's Ellis Library has an "Account of finding skull believed to be that of Andrew Allsman.": "Facts Relating to the Palmyra Massacre," 1946 Item # 644 Hodges, T.L. and Mrs. T.L.: State Historical Society of Missouri, Typescript Collection (C0995)

EPILOGUE

~ In 1864 Strachan was tried for this and other offences; sentenced to prison, he was released by General William Starke Rosecrans on the ground of persecution and unjust trial. Strachan's accuser was a Union officer. It has been claimed that Strachan spared the life of one of the intended victims (Tom Humphrey of Lewis County)in exchange for $500 paid by Humphrey's wife. Strachan is also said to have violated Mrs. Humphrey, whether as part of the bargain or not (Capt. Griffin Frost, quoted by Joseph A. Mudd, "With Porter in Northeast Missouri").

~ President Lincoln promoted McNeil shortly after the Palmyra Massacre. He was just one of many U.S. officers who were promoted by Lincoln after committing atrocities such as the one at Palmyra, Missouri. He left the army in 1865 after being promoted to brevet rank of Major General of Volunteers in recognition of his faithful service to the Union during the American Civil War. His actions caused a stir in both North America and the rest of the world. Later, McNeil later held the posts of Clerk of the Criminal Court, Sheriff and Superintendent of the St. Louis branch of the US Post Office. He will always be most noted in history as being the "Butcher of Palmyra" - the man who ordered the execution of 10 Palmyra citizens.




PALMYRA CONFEDERATE MONUMENT


The Palmyra Confederate monument association erected a granite monument in Palmyra on February 25, 1907.

The victims listed were 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 and Eleazer Lake.



Sources:

  • Mudd, Joseph A., "With Porter in North Missouri." Washington, DC: National Publishing Co., 1909. 452p.
  • The Missouri Partisan Ranger - Virtual Museum & Archives
  • Contemporary background documents from Civil War St. Louis
  • Harper’s Weekly, January 1864
  • Sallee, Scott E. "Porter's Campaign in Northeast Missouri, 1862, Including the Palmyra Massacre." Blue & Gray 17 (February 2000): 6-12,14-16,18,20,44-51. Illus. Sidebars: "Joseph A. Mudd - With Porter in No. Missouri," p.10; "Their Last Hours - An Account of Elder Jacob Creath, Jr.," p.45; "Last Letters By Several of the Palmyra Condemned," pp.46-47; "Whatever Happened to Andrew Allsman?," p.49.





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