Journal of Mildred Elizabeth Powell
By Mary Stella Hereford Ball
In 1861 storm clouds were gathering over Missouri with almost cyclonic swiftness and men and women waited breathlessly until the decision of loyalty or secession was known.
Families and friends were divided here as elsewhere in the states by this decision. One small Missouri town especially, Palmyra-afterwards to be- made famous by the inhuman massacre of ten innocent men-was eagerly discussing war news. Even children fought their sham battles in the streets, young girls and youths held their enthusiastic, though friendly debates, at evening gatherings, little dreaming that soon their own lives, too, would become involved in the great tragedy of the states. Among the belles of the town was Mildreth Elizabeth Powell. Young, exceptionally beautiful, cultivated, of high parentage and distinguished ancestry, she easily swayed her young friends by reason of her eloquent enthusiasm, her expressive brown eyes and her ready ton-tic, which knew well how to employ the heated rhetoric which was so customary in those days. Her nineteen years had been spent in -Missouri with those who had reared her with extreme tenderness and affection, and her heart glowed with the loving sympathy and loyalty to those who had shared her youthful friendship. Among these was a young girl, Margaret Creath, daughter of Elder Jacob Creath, the great expounder of the tenets of the Christian Church, then in its infancy. It was while visiting at her home that she urged her young friends “to go south,” as the expression was then used, and join the Confederate forces, and not to listen to the persuasions of the Union men or their newspapers. Her character was of so positive a nature and her influence was so great that she became feared by General McNeil, then commanding the Union forces at Palmyra, and without warning she was arrested and made a prisoner of war. The great lawn at Prairie Home, the name of Elder Creath’s home, was one day surrounded by soldiers in numbers., commanded by Colonel Smart, who requested to see her. She fearlessly complied, but her spirited answer whetted the anger of her captors, and in a few hours she was imprisoned, to remain until months later she was banished to Nevada, then a far-away territory, where communications with her friends could but rarely be received. Extracts from her journal at that period of her life Will give a better idea of the oppression and cruelty that she underwent in her desire to aid Missouri in her struggle for liberty than anything I can say:
Reminscences of War Times at Palmyra
By Mrs. J. M. Proctor, Monroe City, MO
I was married June 7, 1860, to J. M. Proctor, and my first child, a daughter, was born in May, 1861, a few days after the first gun of the war was fired. We lived on a part of my father-in-law’s farm, back from the main road, between Philadelphia and Palmyra, about one mile. About the beginning of the war some of the leading Secessionists around Palmyra, in order to provide for future emergencies, brought six kegs of powder out to my father-in-law’s and put it in his barn, which was about ten miles from Palmyra, but as troops of Federal soldiers and state militia passed along this road frequently, my father-in-law thought it might not be safe to have all that powder in his barn as the soldiers would sometimes stop and feed their horses at the barns, so he sent it all but one keg down to us to hide in our barn. Not very long after this a small company of militia came out from Palmyra and went to the barn of my father-in-law, and thrusting their swords through the hay, found the keg of powder. We supposed that our negroes had discovered it and reported.
I think the next day, or soon after, a company of soldiers came out from Palmyra to our house, arrested my husband while at work on the farm and my brothers-in-law, Thomas and David Proctor, took them around with them for two days and then released them on their promise to report to Provost Marshal Strawn at Palmyra the next day. They went down and were questioned in regard to that keg of powder, but they denied any knowledge of it, and were released on giving heavy bonds.
The finding of the powder in my father-in-law’s barn made us uneasy about our having five kegs at our barn, so my husband first took it out into the woods and covered it up with brush and leaves where it was left for awhile, but fearing it might be stumbled on by somebody and reported, he went out and emptied all the kegs on the ground and burned the kegs, and then in a day or two, feeling that he had done wrong in throwing away something that might be very useful, he took a large ten gallon keg and went out and gathered it up again, and one rainy day, when he supposed no one would be traveling around, he took it a mile or more from home and hid it by a log in a dense thicket of white oak brush.
Not long- after this one of our neighbors, an old man who spent a good deal of time in hunting turkeys, pheasants and squirrels, was telling us about finding a ten gallon keg in the woods filled with powder, and, of course, we wondered with him who could have put it there, but the next rainy day my husband went out and poured it out into the branch, which was running by reason of the rain which was falling. That was the last of the six kegs of powder.
Coll. John AI. Glover, with quite a company of soldiers, quartered one night at the house of my father-in-law, and they treated the folks very well. He after the war was a Democratic congressman from the First Missouri district.
A terrible raid was made on my father-in-law’s place about the second year, or 1862, by a Colonel Turchin, in command of what were called Zouaves, at the time said to be made up of thugs and thieves from Chicaho, many of them released from prison on condition they enlist in the army. My father-in-law was not at home at the time of this raid. He was in very poor health and aimed to keep out of the way of arrest and imprisonment. These Zouaves came and swarmed through the house and stripped it of nearly everything in it —all the bedclothes, forty-seven woolen blankets, besides quilts, a large quantity of yarn, all the family pictures, and the groceries, all the bacon from forty hogs, all the lard, preserves, molasses, etc.-and then went to the barns and took every horse and mule, wagons and buggies and, harness, and hauled away their plunder. And then a write-up appeared in a Chicago newspaper that Colonel Turchin had found a rebel commissary store and carried off the commissary goods found there.
Some of the officers were considerate enough to put my mother-in-law and her daughter, now -Mrs. James Scott, in a room and lock them in there while the raid was going on.
The militia under Colonel Moore of LaGrange were guilty of some barbarous acts, one of which was committed on two of our neighbors, Flannagan and Ewing. A few of the soldiers went to their houses and represented themselves as rebels seeking information about the rebels, and so drew from them information that showed they were sympathizers with the rebels, and when they had gained enough of incriminating evidence they arrested them and started to LaGrange with them, and when they were about half way there they took them out away from the road into the woods and shot them like dogs and left them lying thee, and sent word to their friends where they might find their bodies, but when found they were so decayed they had to be buried where they lay. This company made frequent raids through the country, taking horses and anything else they found.
The shooting of the ten men at Palmyra is pretty well known over the state. This was in retaliation of the taking of a man by the name of Allsman from Palmyra by Col. Joe Porter’s men and never returning him, after which Colonel McNeil threatened that he would shoot ten men who were then prisoners in the Palmyra jail. They had been picked up from the farms and had never taken up arms. This man, Allsman, was what the people there called a reporter and spy, who was always prying into his neighbor’s affairs and reporting to the authorities everything that appeared to him disloyal, and thus caused the arrest of many good citizens. So Porter went into Palmyra and took him out and he never came back. This killing of the ten innocent men was a brutal thing that stunned the people in this vicinity and demonstrated the fact that war is a terrible thing.
I had two brothers in the southern army. One was badly wounded at the battle of Corinth and my father went after him and brought him home, where lie remained during the rest of the war recovering from his wound. The other brother remained in the army till the final surrender, and died about five years ago; the wounded one is still living. My maiden name was McPike, a daughter of James McPike.