Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Civil War Execution of John Wilcox

It was not altogether unusual during the Civil War for Confederate guerrillas captured in Missouri by Union forces to be executed. In fact, it was almost standard operating procedure. One such execution was the death by firing squad of John P. Wilcox.
Wilcox was a member of Shumate's band of guerrillas, who committed depredations during the spring and summer of 1864 in Cole, Miller, Moniteau, and Saline counties. (I'm not sure of Shumate's first name, but he was probably one of the Shumates listed on the 1860 Saline County census. John Wilcox, on the other hand, was probably from Miller County.) He was captured during April at a house where the bushwhackers were dancing and partying with a group of young women. When Federal troops surrounded the place, a fight ensued, and Wilcox was wounded and taken prisoner. It was first thought that his wound was mortal, but when it became apparent that he might survive, he was taken to Jefferson City and put in the military hospital there.
General Egbert Brown, commanding the District of Central Missouri, ordered Wilcox shot, but the intercession of Wilcox's friends induced General Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri, to countermand the order. Shortly afterwards, Wilcox made his escape from the hospital, but he stopped at a farm about four miles from Jeff City, probably because he was too weak to keep traveling, and was handed back over to military authorities by the farmer.
Shortly after this, Shumate's guerrillas captured two Federal soldiers, and sent one to Jeff City with a message offering to exchange the other one for Wilcox. In the meantime, however, a group of citizens skirmished with some of Shumate's guerrillas, and the second soldier made his escape during the confrontation. General Brown then issued another order, dated July 1, 1864, stating that Wilcox would be executed if Shumate's band or any other band of guerrillas continued committing depredations in the region.
As might have been predicted, the depredations did not stop, and General Alfred Pleasanton, who had taken over for General Brown, issued an order, dated August 6, stating that Wilcox would be shot on August 12 in accordance with Brown's earlier order. On the appointed day, Wilcox rode to the execution site in the west part of Jeff City on a spring-wagon that carried his coffin, and he was accompanied by his sister. A Rev. Manier, who had ministered to Wilcox during his final days, gave what was described as a "an impressive prayer" at the scene. Although Wilcox proclaimed his innocence, he bore his fate with "passive submission."
The prisoner was seated on the coffin with his hands pinioned at his sides, and a blindfold was put over his eyes. The assistant provost marshal of the district gave the command to fire, but all of the dubious marksmen missed their target. Another firing squad promptly stepped forward, and "twelve guns belched forth their deadly contents," according to the Jefferson City Missouri State Times. Wilcox fell forward on his face and died in about five minutes with one ball through his chin and five through his breast.    


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