This state document commissions thirty-nine-year-old Richmond native Dr. William Price Palmer as first lieutenant in the Richmond Howitzers artillery. The state seal is affixed to the bottom of the document, and an image of a cannon being fired illustrates the top. The commission was signed by Virginia governor John Letcher on May 27, 1861, four days after Virginians ratified an ordinance of secession.
Though Palmer was an avid Confederate, his father, Charles, was just as committed to the Union cause. The senior Palmer, a well-to-do import-export merchant in the Confederate capital, was jailed in March 1862 for his supposedly seditious activities. He was rounded up, along with friends and fellow Unionists John Minor Botts and Franklin Stearns, and incarcerated in Castle Godwin, a political prison in the slave-trading district of Richmond that had previously served as a jail for African Americans. Dr. Palmer, who had risen to the rank of captain in the Richmond Howitzers several months earlier, vouched for his father and was able to gain his release.
Dr. Palmer served in the field with the 1st Company of the Howitzers, and as a regimental surgeon. After suffering health difficulties he was transferred to Richmond, where he worked with returning prisoners of war. When Richmond fell to Union forces on April 3, 1865, and a fire swept across the city, the senior Palmer, who lived and worked at the corner of Cary and Virginia streets in the heart of what came to be known as the Burnt District, lost everything. Dr. Palmer took in his homeless father, despite their political differences. In 1870, Dr. Palmer was elected sheriff of Richmond. He wrote a number of articles about Virginia history and the Richmond Howitzers before his death in 1896.