Reported Summary Executions of Paroled Confederate Citizens
From his desk in St. Louis, Missouri on December 27, 1862, Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri replied to an inquiry he had received from his Confederate counterpart, Major General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Trans Mississippi Department on his concern about an article that ran from the Memphis Daily Appeal on November 3, 1862, referring to the murder of ten Confederate citizens of the state by the colonel of the 2nd Missouri State Militia Cavalry, John McNeil.
Asking for full information regarding the circumstances related to this event, the department commander found the idea of "Confederate citizens of Missouri" rather curious. The matters of correspondence between two opposing departments would be generally agreed to if the two commanders confined themselves to the operations of the belligerents and exchange of prisoners under the realm of their commands. Curtis was quick to remind Holmes that he had no military power in the state of Missouri and has had none in Northern Missouri for a year past much less a civil organization which would induce any to be a "Confederate Citizen." The only citizens in Missouri were those of Federal citizens having universally acknowledged allegiance to Federal and State authority. No military commander would have the authority to adjudicate the rights of these citizens.
Colonel John McNeil, at the time of the report, had been commissioned a colonel by authority of the State of Missouri. The major general commanding would certainly police up his own soldiers on all matters contrary to civilized warfare; but felt powerless to interfere with the authority of the state having done so with the citizens thereof.
It was in November of 1861 that Brigadier General John M. Schofield was charged with commanding the state's militia. Far from the organized armies of the east, civil control over the state was a task that required sometimes unorthodox measures. The bands of Confederate guerillas caused such a menace, that in June of 1862 and again reiterated in July, authority was granted to Colonel McNeil to exterminate the rebel bands that had been gaining strength and told not to be too moderate in the measure of severity dealt to them.
Under the auspices of General Orders No. 18 of the Missouri State Militia dated, St. Louis, May 29, 1862; all officers and men of General Schofield's command were to exercise the utmost vigilance in hunting down the marauders, and if caught bearing arms were expected to be shot. Any officers or men who fail to adhere to the order would be considered abettors of the criminals and dealt with accordingly.
The Memphis Daily Appeal took interest in the events that had transpired three months later in October. Colonel Joseph C. Porter in command of Confederate cavalry, seeking the welfare of the people, rode into Palmyra on the 12th of September 1862 and captured one of its highly respected residents, Mr. Andrew Allsman, who due to his age was forced to go home after enlisting in the Union 3rd Missouri Cavalry; but then utilized by that army as a knowledgeable informant of those citizens who would exercise loyalties to those outside the federal government.
Colonel William R. Strachan, the provost marshal general published a letter to Colonel Porter in as many places as he could be found including a copy to his wife who allegedly saw him regularly. In it the safe conduct of Mr. Allsman returned to his family had been demanded, with an ultimatum that if not done so within ten days, Colonel McNeil would execute ten of Colonel Porter's people. The rebels did not think this threat possible and put very little weight to it. They were gravely mistaken, for ten days later on the 18th of October ten men were summarily executed by firing squad at Palmyra, Missouri. No less than two fell dead immediately from the squad, while the others were finished off at close range by the reserve force, as one by one they watched their predecessor shot to death before the weapons were turned on them.
It was this incident that had the attention of the President of the Confederate States who instructed Lieutenant General Holmes to communicate with Curtis, and if the facts be true, demand the surrender of Colonel McNeil to the Confederate authorities or thus inform him that ten known Union soldiers of his in Holmes' custody would be likewise executed. General Holmes chose the former option and not the latter.
Earlier in the month, Colonel Strachan wrote to the New York Times after reading an extraction on the subject of the executions and proceeded to vindicate Colonel McNeil of the charges which were being picked up by many. Having acted on orders that would be considered extreme, the chaos of rebels slipping back and forth across the lines in an effort to use the populous for operational information and raising havoc, left the Union citizens one choice, cooperate with these criminals or face murder for not having done so.
The loyalty oaths administered in droves did nothing to alleviate or stop the guerillas from murdering and robbing, and thus Major General John Schofield stepped in with General Orders No. 18, which to his knowledge had never been countermanded but got the point across to the general public.
Setting the record straight for the newspapers, he spoke about cases of loyal citizenry gunned down and robbed around Palmyra, and in some cases, right before wives and children. Mr. Andrew Allsman, it was later learned had been taken from his family and murdered. Many of these, whom had taken oaths of allegiance, went back out again in rebellion with complete knowledge that death would be the result of breaking their word.
All of this became the position of Major General Samuel Curtis. The following June, the exchange of correspondence that took place between he and General Holmes six months previous, had just been forwarded to Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith, who cordially wrote back to Curtis informing him that his position of having "no Confederate Citizenry" in Missouri had not been recognized by him and he duly informed him that the government in Richmond would be referred to.
The package of letters was forwarded to the Adjutant and Inspector General, General Samuel Cooper, to be given to the President for his consideration. Although Smith certainly disagreed with the act as well as the lack of federal understanding to the Confederate citizens of the state, by June 3rd of 1863, as he wrapped up his investigation, that too much time had elapsed and any type of retaliation by the Confederate Government was deemed inadvisable.
Missouri had been a state where the organized armies rarely met to conduct war according the usages of its day. Both sides grappled for control of its land and its citizens who would regularly turn out to fight in its stead. In retribution for acts demonstrated in ending the continual murders between loyal and disloyal citizenry, the Confederates had dragged their feet too long in acting themselves; but to avoid further embarrassment in the appearance of unrelated retaliatory conduct, the means of civil control by the Federal Militia continued unimpeded. The citizens would begin to see a bit of law and order reign, and the unrest within the state slowly come to a halt.
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