Palmyra is a bit of a jaunt from the lake area. The town is two hours from St. Louis, seven miles west of the Mississippi River, and twelve miles north of Hannibal. Situated not far from the River Road, Palmyra’s residents have increased from 150 in 1820, to today’s total of 3,600. This is a small town with a big history.
The town is most famous for the 1862 Palmyra Massacre during the Civil War. The Palmyra Massacre was the execution of ten Confederate prisoners as justice for the capture of a pro-Union civilian, Andrew Allsman. History relates that in 1862, Colonel Joseph Porter of the Confederacy raided Palmyra. During this raid he took Andrew Allsman prisoner. Porter made the decision to let Allsman go free. A guard was to escort Allsman back toward Palmyra, but Allsman was never seen again and was presumed to be dead.
In the meantime, Missouri Civil War documents state that authorities in Palmyra, under the command of Brigadier General John McNeil, released an order for Allsman’s immediate release. The punishment for failure to return Allsman in ten days was the execution of ten Confederate prisoners being held in Palmyra and Hannibal. Porter had moved on and likely did not receive the message. Ten days passed and Allsman failed to return. General McNeil carried out the execution. Ten Confederates were shot in front of a firing squad of 30 men on Oct. 18, 1862. Original documentation can be found through Missouri Digital Heritage.
The Palmyra Confederate Monument Association erected a granite monument outside the courthouse in Palmyra in 1907 in memory of the ten victims. The actual site of the massacre is a farm field just east of Palmyra. The skull, believed to be that of Allsman, was found in a field many years later. It was, eventually, returned to his family.
A few interesting particulars include: the building that served as the headquarters for the provost marshal and Federal Prison in 1858 during the Civil War is being restored as a museum, the old city jail houses the “Calaboose” restaurant, and the 1839 Palmyra Spectator is the oldest continuously operating weekly newspaper in Missouri. In 1829, the first church was organized in Palmyra. The town was incorporated in 1830. There were, by then, seven lawyers, four doctors, and three taverns. In 1832 the first newspaper, “the Missouri Courier,” was established. The first jail was built in 1837. In 1840, the first brick house was built. An all-boys school, St. Paul’s College, opened in 1848 and is now a private residence. The Palmyra Church was built in 1870 by early settlers and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can find the 1858 home of William Russell, a founder of the historic Pony Express.
The Palmyra visitors’ guide states there are over “two hundred antebellum structures in a variety of architectural styles” tht includes a very little brick house. A narrative walking tour of the business and historic district is available at the old 1828 Gardner House. The House once was a stagecoach inn, a tavern, a private school, a private residence, and now a museum and visitor center. Visit www.showmepalmyra.com on the web for more travel information. Situated near the Mississippi River Road travelers have a variety of additional adventures.
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