The Farewell Letter of a Victim of the Palmyra Massacre

There is no doubt that this letter is one of the most heartbreaking ones I have ever read from the Civil War era. On October 17 and 18, 1862, from the cells of the Palmyra Prison, Captain Thomas A. Sidner of the First Northeast Missouri Cavalry penned a letter to his friends and family, notifying them of his pending execution. In command of the District of Northeast Missouri, Col. John McNeil sentenced to death ten random Confederate prisoners from the Palmyra Prison in retaliation for the supposed murder of a local Union sympathizer. With no ties to the murder, Sidner was told that he was to be executed the next day for a crime he was not guilty of. Later known as the Palmyra Massacre, this act became one of the most infamous war crimes of the entire Civil War.

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Col. John McNeil is on the left, with the District of Northeast Missouri’s Provost Marshal Office in the center and Col. Joseph Porter on the right. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Restoration Movement, and FindaGrave.

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“The General Got The Diarrhea”

In the early summer of 1861, former Missouri governor and Mexican War hero Sterling Price, a conditional Unionist and supporter of neutrality, sided with the secessionists and took command of Governor Claiborne Jackson’s Missouri State Guard. Less than a month later and before his men ever fought in combat, Price was stricken with severe diarrhea and was forced to return home at Keytesville, Missouri to recover. Just like today, the pro-Union newspapers took the prime opportunity to make fun of the sick general.

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A political cartoon in the wake of the Battle of Boonville, poking fun at a sickly Sterling Price. Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections

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The Western Sanitary Commission Helps to Supply Grant’s Army at Vicksburg

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This scene from Belle Plain, Virginia taken in 1862, depicts the arrival of supplies and munitions for the Federal army. This was a common sight in the Western armies, as well, even though photographs were much less common. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the late summer of 1861, Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont authorized the establishment of the Western Sanitary Commission, the western counterpart to the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC), based in St. Louis, Missouri via the General Order No. 159. Fremont and many other pro-Union Missouri leaders argued that the USSC was too concerned with the East and its main Federal army, the Army of the Potomac. Between the instability, bloodshed, mass mobilization of armies across the Union-occupied river towns, and the extensive riverine transportation networks, the West needed a sanitary commission that could provide medical services and help to care for the Federal troops mobilized in the region. Fremont, along with St. Louis leaders like banker and philanthropist James Yeatman, educator and civic leader William Eliot, entrepreneur Carlos S. Greeley, philanthropist George Partridge, and businessman John B. Johnson formed the leadership of the Western Sanitary Commission, an organization that rivaled the USSC and saved the lives of thousands of Federal troops in the Western and Trans-Mississippi Theaters. Continue reading “The Western Sanitary Commission Helps to Supply Grant’s Army at Vicksburg”

False Accusations: The Curious Court Martial of Colonel Bernard Laiboldt

On April 14, 1862 in the Army of the Southwest’s encampment near Forsyth, Missouri, Colonel Bernard Laiboldt stood trial. As commander of the Second Missouri Infantry Regiment, Laiboldt was charged with a count of “Misbehavior before the enemy & running away” and “conduct unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman.” His military career hung in the balance as his fellow officers determined his fate.

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A Harper’s Weekly depiction of a court martial. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Missouri Confederate Prisoners Die of Diarrhea and Typhoid at Rock Island

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Confederate prisoners at Rock Island in 1864. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. 

As most every student of the Civil War knows, more soldiers died of disease than in combat. Out of the roughly 700,000~ war dead, 400,000 of them perished from illnesses, which included measles, pneumonia, smallpox, dysentery, typhoid, and influenza. Due to a lack of proper sanitation, immunity, and nutrition, thousands of soldiers perished while in camp, in hospitals, and in prisons. Nonetheless, both Federal and Confederate surgeons tried their very best to save lives, even though they did not full understand yet the causes of disease. Major William Watson of the United States Army worked as a surgeon in the Hospital of the Prison Depot at Rock Island, Illinois, where he recorded many cases of diarrhea and typhoid among Missouri Confederate prisoners-of-war in the winter of late 1864. Continue reading “Missouri Confederate Prisoners Die of Diarrhea and Typhoid at Rock Island”