Lizzie Powell, February 16, 1863

(State Historical Society of Missouri)

                                              Their “Beauty, Talents and Education Made Many A Man A Bushwhacker”:
                                                                         Lizzie Powell and Maggie Creath


   While many women provided help to the Southern cause by secretly collecting and distributing letters or providing food, shelter, clothing and military intelligence to guerrillas, others were far more open in their support – and paid the price. Two such women were Lizzie Powell and Maggie Creath.

   Mildred Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Powell was born in 1840 near Paris, Missouri. Her family moved to the Hannibal area before the war. Little is known of her prewar life, but she was obviously well-educated as shown by the diary she kept during the Civil War. Powell was known for her quick wit. She was the possessor of a sharp tongue that she frequently used against supporters of the Union. Fascinated Union men described her as “young, beautiful & accomplished.”

   Margaret (“Maggie”) Creath was born in 1832, one of Jacob Creath’s four “handsome daughters that he was rather particular about as to who waited on them . . . [which] did not sit well with the young sports.” Jacob was a well-known controversial preacher in the Restoration Movement, a conservative Christian sect that emerged during the Second Great Awakening in the 1830’s. Jacob preached jeremiads against missionary societies, Bible study groups, and instrumental music in church, finding them divisive and not authorized by the literal words of the scriptures. (Upon his instruction, he was buried with no funeral services because Christ and the apostles had none.)[1] During the war, Federal authorities searched his home at least six times, no doubt because of his daughter Maggie’s secessionist activities. She must have been something of a trial for Jacob because he adamantly refused to take any political stand in the pulpit, declaring that a “hatred of war is an essential feature of Christianity.”[2]

   Maggie Creath and Lizzie Powell first drew the attention of Union officers in mid-1862. They were suspected of having smuggled 50,000 percussion caps out of Hannibal in their petticoats for guerrillas.[3] Creath “made quite a sensation” when she appeared with a guerrilla named Clay Price in Monroe County, decked out in rebel colors and with “a brace of pistols ornamenting her taper waist.” Powell openly discouraged young men from joining the Enrolled Missouri Militia, telling them that doing so would be an “everlasting disgrace.” “Their influence,” a Union officer wrote, “being young ladies of large talking propensities, was particularly pernicious, they openly declaring that they acknowledge the authority of no Government but that of ‘Jeff Davis, the noblest and wisest man that ever graced a presidential chair.’” Another officer noted that the two women’s “beauty, talents and superior education have made many a man a bushwhacker who except for their influence would have been an honest man.”[4]

   Lizzie Powell’s diary and Union Provost Marshal’s files on her and Maggie Creath describe the consequences of their very public endorsement of the secessionist cause.[5]

   On September 29, 1862, Captain William Poillon came to Powell’s home to arrest her. Poillon was forty-five years old, a hard-bitten veteran of the Mexican War, and a staunch Union man who for two years acted as a civilian scout for the army in Audrain County and later would be wounded leading a company of United States Colored Infantry at Mobile in 1865. Among his duties was the “ferreting out treason.”[6]

   Poillon brought with him an unusually large force – forty to fifty soldiers – and a half dozen officers who were eager to meet this notorious and attractive Rebel. When Poillon began to introduce his companions, Powell “requested him to dispense with this, as it was not my desire to be introduced to those whose acquaintance I had not sought and did not expect to cultivate.”

   After a brief confinement in jail at Mexico, Missouri, Powell was taken to district headquarters in Macon City. She was brought before General Lewis Merrill, the district commander. After some verbal sparring about the rebellion, Merrill remarked “that he had never met an intelligent southern lady in Missouri. I replied that he had been very unfortunate in his associations.” He forwarded his “fascinating captive” on to Palmyra to face punishment. Powell’s escort, like other Federal officers, was smitten by her and even offered to help her escape to Illinois. She declined, “telling him that I belonged to a party that never runs.”[7]

   At Palmyra she was taken to William Strachan’s office. Powell described Strachan, the local provost marshal, as “a low, red-faced man, with small, keen black eyes and dark hair, brown whiskers and heavy mustache.” After a “spirited discussion of her circumstances,” Strachan sent her to be confined at Maggie Creath’s house. Creath had been arrested at about the same time. The authorities decided that they would banish Powell and Creath to an area described as “north of Indianapolis and east of Illinois.” The two women objected and demanded a trial, which was refused.[8]

   While there, Powell and Creath heard that Union General John McNeil intended to execute ten randomly selected Confederate prisoners in retaliation for the murder of a Unionist civilian. They were especially disturbed upon learning that one of the men was a prewar friend. Jacob Creath went to see the men the morning of the execution to pray with them. He returned home emotionally overcome. [9] (One of the original victims was spared and replaced by another soldier when his wife acceded to Strachan’s demand for sexual favors while her child waited outside his office. [10])

   Captivity for the two high-spirited women was dull. The played chess, read, and sewed for the most part. On a couple of occasions, they slipped out of the house in “disguise” to visit friends in Palmyra. They considered escape. Finally, Powell could take it no more, she went to see General McNeil unbidden. Powell demanded that she and Creath be allowed to go to Hannibal for a week. To her surprise, McNeil agreed.[11]

   They saw many friends in Hannibal, but she complained to her diary that it rained almost the entire trip. Finally, they returned to Palmyra where they had to report back to “Benjamen, a black Shilock Jew.”[12]

   On December 10, McNeil told Powell that he would let her go completely free if she signed a loyalty oath, but she refused. McNeil profusely complimented her and expressed his admiration for her spirit, and – referring to the recent executions – said she must think him inhuman and barbarous. “I frankly replied that I did.” He then gave her good news – she could go home to Hannibal with few restrictions.[13] Creath remained home in Palmyra but was given her release as well on December 26th.

   Powell remained more or less free in Hannibal. On New Year’s Day, she met none other than Zaidee Bagwell, on a visit to town with her mother (described in Part I). The new provost marshal, Major T.D. Price, came to see her. She wrote in her diary that he “solicits an introduction and passes several compliments; [I] refuse for [the] reason that I do not wish to devote the evening to entertaining a Federal officer.” On January 6th Zaidee introduced her to a nephew of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston (probably her father’s business partner, John F. Johnston). Zaidee and her mother left a couple of days later for St. Louis.[14]

   But more troubles lay ahead for her. On January 8, 1863, a Union citizen, William Newland, complained that Powell was allowed free run of the town. He noted that she was completely defiant of the Union soldiers, “but about one half of them are in love with her.” Four days later, her old nemesis General Merrill ordered her arrest. Powell’s protest that McNeil had released her were ignored and she was confined to a room at the Continental Hotel. A few days later, after discovering a potential escape attempt, Union authorities moved her to the Railroad House, a cheap hotel on the riverfront that previously held slaves awaiting auction.[15]

   Conditions at the Railroad House were poor. Powell quickly fell ill, coughing up blood. (She likely suffered from tuberculosis.) She sent a note to Price requesting to see a doctor. At first Price refused, but when the seriousness of her condition became apparent, he relented.[16]

   Major Price repeatedly threatened her with banishment if she did not sign a loyalty oath. Powell refused to sign the oath and refused to be banished. Price was befuddled. He finally wrote the Provost Marshal General in St. Louis urging that she not be sent north but banished to Dixie. He pointed out that when Powell was served with the original banishment order, she simply refused to go – and the authorities did not know what to do about it. In a postscript, Price (like the other Federal officers) described her as a “young and withal quite fascinating ‘King-Bee’ among the ‘Secesh.’”

   On February 16th, she was allowed to go out. She had her photograph taken for a carte de visite, holding “rebel colors” in her hand. But she came down with diphtheria later that day and was laid up again for five days.[17] Partly because of her ill health and partly because they did not seem to know how to handle her defiance, the Federal authorities released her unconditionally on February 25, 1863. In directing her release, the commanding officer remarked: “A lofty spirit (such as her correspondence shows her to possess) I would rather trust to generous impulses and a sense of propriety, than hope to reclaim to allegiance by imposing any condition.”[18]

   Seeking a more favorable climate for her health and politics, Lizzie and her brother James boarded the Hannibal and St. Joseph train in April 1863 for a trip West to Virginia City, Nevada Territory, a place she called the “land of gold.”[19] Whether she met another refugee from Hannibal named Samuel Clemens isn’t known. She did meet Alfred Powell Hereford, a young lawyer there. They were married in 1864. After the war, Lizzie and her husband returned to St. Joseph for four years. Her health, however, compelled them to move to Denver. There she helped to establish the First Christian Church and the local Red Cross Society. (Lizzie’s son William became an official of the American Ambulance Service and the Red Cross during World War I.) In November 1877, on returning from a carriage ride with the wife of Colorado Governor John Routt, the horses became frightened and she was thrown to the curb, suffering a fatal injury.[20]

   I have not yet been able to find out what happened to Maggie Creath after she was paroled on bond.[21]  

                                                                                           Endnotes

[1] https://ohiovalleyrestorationresearch.com/preacher-profiles/44-pioneer-preachers-jacob-creath-jr.

[2] Jacob Creath listed several strict rules for conducting church services, ranging from a prohibition on chit-chat after the benediction where he complained that worshipers would “fly up like a hen after a hawk when he has taken one of her chickens” to an extended diatribe against persons bringing their dogs to church. “If every pet dog goes to meeting then it will be a meeting of dogs. If one dog goes to meeting why not all dogs go, and fight and perform their obscene and vulgar antics. . .?” P. Donan (ed.), Memoirs of Jacob Creath, Jr. (Cincinnati: R. W. Carroll & Company, 1872), 185, 187, 193-195; “handsome daughters” in Marion County Herald, March 17, 1909; “hatred of war” in H. Leo Boles, Biographical Sketches of Gospel Preachers, (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1932), 94-95. quoted in http://www.therestorationmovement.com/_states/missouri/creath,jr.htm.

[3] The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series II, vol. 5, 78.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Journal of Mildred Elizabeth Powell,” in Missouri Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Reminiscences of the Women of Missouri During the Sixties (Dayton, OH: Morningside House, Inc., 1988), 148-183; Lizzie Powell, Union Citizens File, M345, roll 0221; Margaret Creath, Union Citizens File, M345, Roll 0062, both available at Fold3.com. A transcription of Powell’s diary, with some changes and additions to the version published in the Reminiscences, is available at http://digital.shsmo.org/cdm/ref/collection/amcw/id/22095 (hereafter Powell Diary Transcription).

[6] Reminiscences,149; William Poillon, CMSR, M345 Roll 0219; CMSR, USCT-068-Box 46.

[7] Reminiscences, 153-155.

[8] Reminiscences, 155-156, 158.

[9] Reminiscences, 160-161; Memoirs of Jacob Creath, Jr., 179-181.

[10] Strachan was tried for rape and abuse of his official position by a military court in 1864. He was acquitted of rape but found guilty of the second charge (as well as charges of bribery and embezzlement arising from other actions during his tenure as provost marshal in Palmyra.) However, the Department Commander, General William Rosecrans, disapproved all the convictions for lack of evidence. He said that Strachan had displayed “great energy and efficiency” in discharging his duties and that the prosecution was the result of an attempt by “personal and disloyal enemies to crush an efficient officer, than a desire to bring the guilty to punishment.” Daily Missouri Republican, July 27, 1864. The Quincy Tribune ran an editorial criticizing Rosecrans for not explaining what facts he had that the court did not because “we think it may be assumed that the members of the Court which tried Strachan [five Union officers] were ‘loyal men’. . . and the ten eyes of these ‘loyal men’ ought certainly to have discovered intreagues which were visible to the two eyes of General Rosecrans.” Quoted in Daily Missouri Republican, August 3, 1864.

[11] Reminiscences, 165.

[12] The portion of the diary covering the trip to Hannibal and “Benjamen” is omitted from the printed version in the Reminiscences. It may be found in the Powell Diary Transcription, 21-23.

[13] Reminiscences, 166-167.

[14] Reminiscences, 168-169; Powell Diary Transcription, 29.

[15] Lizzie Powell, Union Citizens File, M345, Roll 0221; Reminiscences, 170-171; Powell Diary Transcription, 38.

[16] Reminiscences, 176-180.

[17] Powell Diary Transcription, 46.

[18] Reminiscences, 179; Lizzie Powell, Union Citizens File, M345, Roll 0221.

[19] Powell Diary Transcription, 51.

[20] Reminiscences, 181-182.

[21] Creath wrote a letter dated September 1, 1864 to Private William H. Smith in Cockrell’s Missouri Brigade (CSA) about the death of Major Hugh M. Pollard, a resident of nearby Florida, Monroe County, Missouri. It was sent from Marion, Alabama (northwest of Montgomery), where her older sister, Mary E. Corbin, lived. It is possible that she was finally banished from Missouri. https://sparedshare7.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/1864-various-corresponents-to-william-h-smith/. There is a more intimate letter to Smith dated September 25,1864 published on the same website, but it does not appear to be in the same hand. Maggie was not living with sister Mary at the time of the 1880 Census. Jacob Creath died in 1886. Only his daughters Lucy and Elizabeth are listed as survivors (Mary Corbin isn’t mentioned either, but she may have been living in Louisiana by this time.) It is therefore possible that Maggie died between 1864 and 1886 (although she is not listed as buried in the family plot) or she moved so far away that the Palmyra newspaper did not know of her fate.

 

James W Erwin

​Author