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MC student hero remembered on 150th anniversary of Civil War battle

By Jeff Rankin
09/13/2011
George Palmer, a member of the Class of 1861, earned the Medal of Honor for his bravery at the Battle of Lexington, 150 years ago this week.

One of the first key western battles of the Civil War was waged 150 years ago this week, and a Monmouth College student played a heroic role in the heated conflict.

 

The Battle of Lexington, Mo., is being remembered with a reenactment this weekend, and the great-great grandson of George H. Palmer, MC Class of 1861, will travel from his home in Ventura, Calif., to take part in the commemoration. David Luff, an educational systems analyst, and his family will also visit Monmouth College on Saturday, bringing with him the Medal of Honor that his ancestor won for bravery at Lexington, as well as a Union battle flag that Palmer managed to stash in his boot before being captured.

 

The son of a former mayor of Monmouth, George Palmer joined Co. G of the First Illinois Cavalry as a bugler in May 1861. His father was captain of the unit. By September, Federal forces and loyal Missouri units attempted to hold the line of the Missouri River and protect the capitol at Jefferson City against a formidable Confederate force commanded by Gen. Sterling Price. The Confederates headed for the river town of Lexington, which was being held by Col. James Mulligan and captured a house being used as a Union Hospital.

 

Two companies of Union infantry were sent to retake the hospital, and George Palmer impulsively joined them. The lower floor of the building was easily seized, but none of the troops would follow their commander’s orders to charge up the stairs to face Confederate snipers above. At this point, Palmer ran forward and said to the men, “If you will follow me I will lead you! We must drive them out!” Five rebels were captured and, although Palmer and his men were soon taken prisoner, he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1896, following a long Army career fighting in the Indian wars.

 

Palmer’s battle trophies will be shown at Monmouth College on Saturday morning, during the presentation to the college of artifacts belonging to Palmer’s uncle, Gen. Abner Clark Harding, under whom he later fought at the second battle of Fort Donelson in 1863. The ceremony will be held in the college library beginning at 10 a.m. David Luff is the great-great-great grandson of Harding, and will be among 13 Harding family members who will travel to Monmouth College for the presentation.

 

Palmer was one of four former Monmouth students to be awarded America’s highest military honor. James K.L. Duncan was a sailor who saved his ship during the Civil War by grabbing a flaming cartridge and flinging it overboard. Robert Dunlap distinguished himself at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II, while his cousin, Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, survived years of torture in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War.