By the outbreak of the war, St. Louis – the Gateway to the West – was a thriving and diverse, yet divided border town. Unlike many cities in the slave states, St. Louis was home to a growing community of European immigrants. By 1860, over half of the city was foreign born, most from the German Confederation or Ireland. The Germans were, by far, the most populous and influential ethic group in St. Louis. With 50,000 in St. Louis alone and united over the divisive issues of slavery and secession, they made a tremendous impact on the Union war effort in the city and their new home state. Just second to the Germans were the Irish, who accounted for nearly 30,000 (or 20%) of the city’s 161,000 residents. Missouri’s Irish – totally over 43,000 – was the highest population of Irishmen in any state in the South. Typically overlooked compared to the Germans, the Irish were more-so divided over the tense issues encapsulating their community. Their impact on the Civil War in St. Louis deserves more attention and further study.
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.
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.
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”