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WAR CRIMINAL JOHN MCNEIL

Union Gen. John McNeil

I stumbled upon an interesting book while digging through some archives. The book entitled "Crimes of the Civil War and Curse of the Funding" contains the story of 10 Southern citizens in Palmyra, Missouri who were executed because a Union informant had gone missing. This book goes into more detail of the event than any other book I've read that touched on this subject.  According to the author Henry Clay Dean:

"In the town of Palmyra, Missouri, John McNeil had his headquarters as colonel of a Missouri regiment and commander of the post. An officious person who had acted as a spy and common informant', named Andrew Allsman, who was engaged in the detestable business of having his neighbors arrested upon charges of disloyalty, and securing the scouting's and ravages from every house that was not summarily burned to the earth. 


This had so long been his vocation that he was universally loathed by people of every shade of opinion, and soon brought upon himself the fate common to all such persons in every county, where the spirit of self-defence is an element of human nature. In his search for victims for the prison which was kept at Palmyra, this man was missed ; nobody knew when, or where, or how ; whether drowned in the river absconding from the army, or killed by Federal soldiers or concealed Confederates. 

 His failure to return was made the pretext for a series of the most horrible crimes ever recorded in any country, civilized or barbarous. John McNeil is a Nova Scotian by birth, the descendant of the expelled tories of the American revolution, who took sides against the colonists in the rebellion against Great Britain. He is by trade a hatter, who made some money in the Mexican war. He had lived in Saint Louis for many years, simply distinguished for his activity in grog-shop politics. He was soon in the market on the outbreak of the war, and received a colonel's commission. Without courage, military knowledge or experience, he entered the army for the purpose of murder and robbery. 

As the tool of McNeil, W. H. Strachan  acted in the capacity of provost marshal general, whose enormities exceed anything in the wicked annals of human depravity. At the instigation of McNeil, the provost marshal went to the prison, filled with quiet, inoffensive farmers, and selected ten men of age and respectability ; among the rest an old Judge of Knox county, all of whom had helpless families at home, in destitution and unprotected.

 These names, which should be remembered as among the victims of the reign of the Monster of the Christian era, were as follows : William Baker, Thomas Pluston, Morgan Bixler, John Y. McPheeters of Lewis, Herbert Hudson, John M. Wade, Marion Lavi of Ralls, Capt. Thomas A. Snyder of Monroe, Eleazer Lake of Scotland, and Hiram Smith of Knox county, were sentenced to be shot without trial or any of the forms of military law, by a military commander whose grade could not have given ratification to a court-martial, had one been held; had the parties been charged with crime, which they were not.

Mr. Humphreys, also in prison, was to have been shot instead of one of those named above, but which' one the author has not the means of knowing. The change in the persons transpired in this way : Early on the morning of the execution, Mrs. Mary Humphreys came to see her husband before his death, to intercede for his re- lease. She first went to see McNeil, who frowned, stormed, and let loose a volley of such horrible oaths at her for daring to plead for her husband's life that she fled away through fear, and when she closed the door, the unnameable fiend cursed her with blasphemous assurances that her husband should be dispatched to hell at one o'clock. The poor affrighted woman, with bleeding heart, hastened to the provost marshal's office, and quite fainted away as she besought him to intercede with McNeil for the preservation of her husband's life. With a savage, taunting grin, Strachan said " that may be done, madam, by getting me three hundred dollars." This she did through the kindness of two gentlemen, who advanced the money at once.

She returned with the money and paid it to Strachan. Mrs. Humphrey had her little daughter by her side, when she sank into her seat with exhaustion. Scarcely had she taken her j^lace, until Strachan told her that she had still to do something else to secure her husband's release. At this moment he thrust the little girl out of the door and threatened the fainting woman with the execution of her husband. She fell as a lifeless corpse to the floor. After he had filled his pockets with money and satisfied his lust, the provost marshal released poor Humphreys. 

 Another innocent victim was taken in his place to cover up the' hideous crime. The newspapers were commanded to publish the falsehood that some one had volunteered to die in his stead. The additional murdered man was a sacrifice to the venality, murder and rape of the provost marshal. The victim was an unobtrusive young man, caught up and dragged off as a wild beast to the slaughter, without any further notice than was necessary to prepare to walk from the jail to the scene of murder. 

 The other eleven were notified of their contemplated murder some eiglitecu hours before the appointed moment of the tragedy. llev. James S. Green, of the city of Palmyra, remained with them through the night. Between eleven and twelve o'clock the next day, three government wagolis drove to the jail with ten rough boxes, upon which the ten martyrs to brutal demonism, were seated. 

 This appalling spectacle was made more frightful by the rough jeering of the mercenaries who guarded the victims to the place of butchery. The jolting wagons -were driven through street after street, which Avas abandoned by every human being; wo- men fainting at the awful spectacle, clasping their children more closely to their bosoms, as the murderers, with blood pictured in their countenances, were screaming in hoarse tones the word of command. The company of stranger adventurers, mercenaries, and the vilest resident population, formed a circle at the scene, in imitation imitation of the Roman slaughter in the time of Nero, Caligula and Commodus, to least their sensual eyes on blood and amuse them- selves with the piteous shrieks of the dying men. 

This infernal saturnalia commenced with music. Everything was done which might liarrow the feelings and torture the soul.

The rough coffins were placed before them in such manner as to excite horror;
the grave opened its yawning mouth to terrify them ; but they stood unmoved amid the frenzied, murderous mob. Capt. Snyder was dressed in beautiful black, with white vest; magnificent head, covered with rich wavy locks that fell around his broad shoulders like the mane of a lion.

 When the mercenaries were preparing to consummate this horrible crime, they at last seemed conscious of the character and the magnitude of this awful work, grew pale and trembled : even the brutal Strachan seemed alarmed at his own nameless and compounded crimes of lust, avarice and murder. 

Rev. Mr. Rhodes, a meek and unobtrusive minister of the Baptist Church, prayed with the dying men, and Strachan reached out his bloody hands to bid them adieu. They generously forgave their murderers. To lengthen out the cruel tragedy, the guns were fired at different times that death might be dealt out in broken periods.

Two of the men were killed outright. Capt. Snyder sprang to his feet, faced the soldiers, pierced their cowardly faces with his unbandaged eagle eye fell forward to rise no more. The other seven were wounded, mangled and butchered in detail, with pistols ; Whilst the ear was rent with their piteous groans, praying to find refuge in death. The whole butchery occupied some fifteen minutes. The country Avas appalled at the recital of these crimes, and. incredulous of the facts. The newspapers Avere suppressed to prevent their joublication, and the exposure of the perpetrators. The punishment of the criminals was demanded by public justice and expected by everybody except the criminals, who well understood the cruelty and corruption of the Executive Department. 

 To cover up these crimes by a judicial farce, nearly two years afterwards, charges were preferred against Strachan ; he was convicted upon the foregoing state of facts, and sentence passed upon him. The sentence was remitted and Strachan promoted. For this crime McNeil Avas promoted by Lincoln to brigadier general.

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