turning east, it entered the Hannibal road, pursuing it nearly to the residence of Colonel James Culbertson; there down the fences, they turned northward, entering the fair grounds (half a mile east of the town), on the west side, and, driving within the circular amphitheatrical ring, paused for the final consummation of the scene.
The ten coffins were removed from the wagons and placed in a row 6 or 8 feet apart, forming a line north and south, about 15 paces east of the central pagoda or music stand, in the center of the ring. Each coffin was placed upon the ground, with its foot west and head east. Thirty soldiers of the Second Missouri State Militia were drawn up in a single line, extending north and south, facing the row of coffins. This line of executioners ran immediately at the east base of the pagoda, leaving a space between them and the coffins of 12 or 13 paces. Reserve were drawn up in line upon either bank [flank] of these executioners.
The arrangements completed, the doomed men knelt upon the grass between their coffins and the soldiers, white the Rev. R. M. Rhodes, offered up a prayer. At the conclusion of this, each prisoner took his seat upon the foot of his coffin, facing the muskets which in a few moments were to launch them into eternity. They were nearly all firm and undaunted, two of three only showing signs of trepidation.
The most noted of the ten was Captain Thomas A. Sidner, of Monroe County, whose capture at Shelbyville, in the disguise of a woman, we related several weeks since. He was now elegantly attired in a suit of black broadcloth, with a white vest. A luxurious growth of beautiful hair rolled down upon his shoulders, which, with his fine personal appearance, could not but bring to mind the handsome but vicious Absalom. There was nothing especially worthy of note in the appearance of the others. One of them, Willis Baker, of Lewis County, was prove to be the man who last year shot and killed Mr. Ezekiel Pratt, his Union neighbor, near Williamstown, in that county. All the others were rebels of lesser note, the particulars of whose crimes we are not familiar with.
A few minutes after 1 o'clock, Colonel Strachan, provost-marshal-general, and Reverend Rhodes shook hands will the prisoners, two of them accepting bandages for their eyes. All the rest refused. A hundred spectators had gathered around the amphitheater to witness the impressive scene. The stillness of death pervaded the place. The officer in command now stepped forward, and gave the word of command. "Ready, and fire." The discharges, however, were not made simultaneously, probably through want of a perfect previous understanding of the orders and of the time at which to fire. Two of the rebels fell backward upon their coffins and died instantly. Captain Sidner sprang forward and fell with his toward the soldiers, his face upward, his hands clasped upon his breast and left leg drawn half way up. He did not move again, but died immediately. He had requested the soldiers to aim at his heart, and they obeyed but too implicitly. The other seven were not killed outright, so the reserves were called in, who dispatched them with their revolvers.
It seems hard that ten men should die for one. Under ordinary circumstances it would hardly be justified; but severe diseases demand severe remedies. The safety of the people is the supreme law. It overrides all other considerations. The madness of rebellion has become so deep seated that ordinary methods of cure are inadequate. To take life would be little intimidation to men seeking the heart's blood of an obnoxious enemy. They could well afford to make even exchanges under many circumstances. It is only by striking the deepest terror in them, causing them to thoroughly respect the lives of loyal men, that they can be taught to observe the obligation of humanity and of law.
Richmond, November 17, 1862.
Lieutenant General T. H. HOLMES,
Commanding Trans-Mississippi Department:
GENERAL: Inclosed you will find a slip from the Memphis Daily Appeal of the 3rd instant, containing and account, purporting to be derived from the Palmyra (Missouri) Courier, a Federal journal, of the murder of ten Confederate citizens of Missouri, by order of General McNeil, of the U. S. Army.*
You will communicate, by flag of truce, with the Federal officer commanding that department, and ascertain if the facts are as stated. If
* See Holmes to Curtis, December 7, 1862, p. 816, and Curtis to Holmes, December 24, 1862, p. 860; also Smith to Curtis and to Cooper, June 31, 1863, Part Ii, pp. 307, 852.