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posted August 17, 2002
True Tales of the Tenth Kansas Infantry:
The Paradox of Captain George D. Brooke
by Howard Mann
In August 1864 the Tenth Kansas underwent a dramatic transformation. Having served for three years, two in the field and the last parceled throughout St. Louis and Alton as prison guards, it is small wonder that the stresses and strains of service told on officers and men, alike. A more difficult period in the life of the regiment could not be imagined. Colonel William Weer went past the boundaries of testing the authorities above and managed to divide the regiment’s loyalties over his conduct at Alton Military prison. The resulting court martial caused Weer to be stripped of his rank and cashiered from duty. Two other incidents revealed two different perspectives of another long time Tenth Kansas officer, Captain George D. Brooke.
Captain Brooke was a mainstay of the regiment having enlisted as First Lieutenant of Company A, Third Kansas Volunteers and quickly being promoted to the head of his company since upon transfer to the Tenth Kansas, Company C. Captain Brooke was 42 years old in 1864 and while enlisting from Kansas City, had family in Lawrence, Kansas.
When the Tenth Kansas Infantry arrived in St. Louis, Missouri in January 1864, the veterans were needed as prison guards at the military prison in Alton, Illinois across the Mississippi River. Some companies served on additional details as many of the officers were moved to staff positions with Major General Rosecrans or Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, Jr. in St. Louis. Two secondary posts for the Tenth Kansas were as guards of St. Louis’s Gratiot Street Prison and the lesser Myrtle Street prison.
Originally known as Lynch’s Slave Pen, the Myrtle Street Prison stood two blocks from the St. Louis courthouse on Myrtle and Fifth street (Broadway and Clark Streets today). Also known as the "Hotel de Lynch" the structure consisted of a two and one-half story brick building. Built to hold slaves by an enterprising dealer, the pen was naturally designed to contain prisoners with barred windows and locks and bolts for chains. The prison capacity was one hundred with an additional overseer’s quarters upstairs. In September 1861 twenty-seven prisoners were moved into the slave pen for the first time. By May 1862 Myrtle Street Prison was abandoned in favor of the more spacious Gratiot Street Prison. Due to overcrowding, however, Myrtle Street Prison was again put into service on November 5, 1862, receiving 150 of the overcrowded Gratiot Street prisoners. By September 1864, the Provost Marshal reported about Myrtle Street Prison, "This old negro stall [Myrtle] is a nuisance in every respect and will not do for the coming winter." This was not a pleasant post for any officer.
Captain Brooke was first posted to replace another Tenth Kansas officer, Captain Samuel J. Stewart on July 12, 1864.
Captain Brooke seemed to be everywhere at once when an escape attempt quickly occurred. The August 15, 1864 edition of the St. Louis Democrat reported the following humorous story.
"Several days ago, Captain Brooks, company C, 10th Kansas Infantry, keeper of Myrtle street military prison, received information that several of his prisoners were engaged in an attempt to escape. He therefore, kept a close watch on the movements of his prisoners, and posted his sentinels in such positions that escape from the building would be next to impossible. He had instructed the officer of the guard every night to place the most trustworthy men on post at the prison, and had cautioned the sentinels to be on the look-out for an attempt on the part of the prisoners to escape. On Saturday night Lieutenant Charles T. Knoll, of the 10th E.M.M., was officer of the guard, and is entitled to great credit for his vigilance.
Love, which "laughs at locksmiths," pulls the wool over the eyes of philosophers, and makes a fool of the wisest sage, was at the bottom of this affair; but as
"The course of true love never did run smooth,"
So in this case it ran against the rough edge of Lieutenant Knoll’s sentinels, and came to grief. No one, in looking at the uninviting exterior of the Myrtle street prison, would suppose that its walls were calculated for a nursery of the tender passion, or that they confined a fair Cleopatra whose fascinations could tempt Anthony to lay a world at her feet; but appearances are often deceitful, and Myrtle prison has its romance as well as the French bastille and the Italian dungeons.
Our readers may remember reading in the Democrat, several months ago, an account of the killing of the guerrilla chief, James Blunt, in Lafayette county, and the arrest of his betrothed, Miss Annie Fickle. This young lady, who is said to be something of a beauty, high spirited, about 23 years of age, and a rank rebel at heart, was confined in a room, in the prison, with five other female prisoners. Her deportment during her confinement has been decorous and lady-like, and she has been treated with as much indulgence as the prison rules will allow.
Charles Warner, of the 1st Nebraska, also a prisoner, saw Annie and fell desperately in love with her. Whether his passion was reciprocated, the lady can alone tell; but it seems that she encouraged his attentions, for several reasons. He had been promoted to the position of head cook for the prison guard, and had conducted himself so well that Captain Brooks had the utmost confidence in him, and did not suppose that he had any desire to escape, as several opportunities had been presented which he manifested no disposition to take advantage of. A short time ago he had got out of the prison and spent a night in the city, but returned the next day. Warner had been sentenced to twelve month’s confinement for leaving his post and carrying whiskey to prisoners, and three-fourths of his time had expired. Annie was doomed to remain in duress for a longer period, and Warner determined to steal her – fly with her to some remote land – make her his own – settle down to the cultivation of turnips, cabbages and children, and become a worthy citizen.
To carry out his plan, he let six of his fellow prisoners into this secret, and obtained their assistance in burrowing out of the prison. A piece of file and an old iron poker were obtained, and about a week ago the party went to work with these simple tools. Beginning at the corner of the kitchen, in the eastern part of prison, they succeeded in making an opening under the floor, and through two brick walls east and north of the kitchen. But one wall remained to be cut through, and they had worked about a dozen bricks out of this and made a small opening, when at half-past two o’clock yesterday morning the sentinel posted immediately over the place descried them and gave the alarm. Captain Brooks called up Sergeant Issac T. Swart, company A, 10th Kansas, and Sergeant James R. Kennedy, company I, same regiment, and hurried to the place. On seeing the opening in the wall, Sergeant Swart plunged in like a bull-dog after a badger, and confronted the fugitives. They were waiting eagerly for the last wall to be cut through, and felt confident that in a few moments they would be at liberty. Annie was in front, and Warner sat with his back against the opening, which had been made. The party were conducted to the "Ice-box," and in future will not be allowed as many privileges as heretofore. The following are the prisoners who accompanied Warner in his expedition:
John C. Eates, 25th Missouri, has been ten months in prison, and was recently tried by court-martial, but his sentence has not been promulgated.
John Williams, 30th M.S.M., committed April 11, 1864, and tried a few days ago for deserting five times; sentence not promulgated.
James and John Berry, brothers, the first a lieutenant, the other a sergeant in company D, 14th Kansas; committed April 12, 1864, and not yet tried. They are charged with murder, desertion, and about all the other offenses known to military law.
David Best, 9th M.S.M.; sentenced to confinement at hard labor for six months; sent from St. Joseph.
David Mills, 1st Iowa; committed July 15, 1864, and under sentence to be shot September 2nd, for desertion. Mills had been shackled with ball and chain, which he had managed to unfasten. When Captain Brooks asked him how they got off, he said they "dropped off," and the Captain fastened them on him again, and said, "When you get these off again, let me know." "Yes, Captain," said Mills, "I’ll come right in and let you know."
Warner, the cook, who had periled his life in attempting to rescue Annie Fickle, appeared greatly mortified at his failure. He had but little to say, however, on the subject, but will, no doubt, recover from his love fit long before his charmer regains the light of liberty."
Captain Brooke’s diligence did not remain unassailable for long. He inherited a substantial problem in the structure of the old building, the overcrowded conditions and with the ingenuity of his prisoners. His selection as commanding officer of the prison was predicated on an existing problem as noted by the Provost Marshal. In a communiqué on July 9, 1864 it was noted that "an officer of more dignity and self respect should be appointed." Captain Stewart was observed as "on too intimate terms with prisoners, eating and sleeping with Lieutenant Hines & Major Coats." Since Brooke was consumed by his vigilance for more dramatic escapes, he was not as prepared for Lieutenant Hines to simply walk away.
The story unfolded on September 12, 1864 with a short note from Captain Brooke to Colonel J. P. Sanderson, Provost Marshal General:
I have to inform you of the escape from confinement at this prison of Lieut. H. H. Hine. From all that I can learn, it was about one o’clock this morning. Sergt. Stewart saw him returning from the privy about that hour. Sergt. Deitz who was on watch for the night, informs me that he made his rounds outside of the prison at about one o’clock and the presumption is that he (Hine) pass’d the Sentinel at the door, during the time that the Sergt. on watch was out, and escaped."
While the facts started out simple, they were quickly complicated by more complex circumstances. A second note, the same day, recognized that it was there was inside assistance.
Since I forwarded the written report of the escape of Lieut. Hine to your office, Sergt. Deitz, who was on watch during the night, has owned up that he permitted him to go under the pretense of getting some money promising to return in two hours time. I was about to send Sergt. Deitz after the Sentinel, who was on post at the door at the time Hine, was supposed to have escaped, and he concluded to make a clean breast of it and acknowledge his complicity with the affair. I at once placed him under arrest, and will prefer charges against him."
Possibly realizing that he might be held accountable for this perplexing situation, Brooke wrote again on September 14 to Colonel James Darr, Assistant Provost Marshal:
I have the honor as directed by you this day to forward to your office, a list of the employees in this Prison Office, as follows.
Sergt. J. H. Stewart, Clerk, Corpl. Elijah Strosnider, Prison Keeper, Sergt. Wm. F. Waggoner, Commissary Sergt.
I would further state that when I took command of this Prison I found G. J. Ham and Maj. Coats, both prisoners, employed to a certain extent in the Office. Ham as Clerk and Coats in charge of the Medicine and the Ice Box and was informed by my predecessor, Capt. Stewart, that they were there with the approbation and wish of Capt. Burdett. I therefore permitted them to remain. Today I received instructions from Maj. Williams not to allow it, unless authorized by competent authority. I therefore removed them at once."
Whether politically motivated, as many court-martial cases were, or through an earnest desire to uncover the truth, the Provost Marshal and his assistant quickly filed charges against Captain Brooke through Major Lucien Eaton, Judge Advocate under Special Orders #22 for a General Court-martial on September 28, 1864. The trial was held on October 11, 1864 at 10 o’clock at the Southeast corner of 5th and Pine streets, Room number 5, 3rd Floor. Brigadier General Solomon Meredith presides as President of the court-martial. The witness list expanded to soldiers and civilians. In the charges and specifications Captain Brooke was accused of extending privileges to certain prisoners at Mrytle Street Prison that allowed for the escape to occur.
The official charge is "Neglect of duty to the prejudice of good order and military discipline." The specification concerns the "permitting sundry prisoners there confined as well as other persons, unlawful ingress and egress from and into said prison."
The trial centered around Captain Brooke’s knowledge of three "privileged" prisoners, Lt. H. H. Hine, 2nd Colorado Cavalry, Lt. G. J. Ham, and Major Coats, who all occupied the upper room and held unofficial duties under several regimes of prison commanders. It was quickly established that the enlisted men did not know that the three were even prisoners, but poorly dressed officers of the prison. Since none of the men were Confederates, this is plausible. While the sergeants, who shared an extra upper room with the prisoners, knew they were incarcerated, they may have thought they had additional privileges from the other prisoners.
Captain Brooke protested his innocence in a forthright, factual manner. The second witness, Charles Y. Mason was a prisoner, possibly with an ax to grind. His diatribe revealed that the prison was rampant with illicit activities. He stated that Hine was frequently escorted to houses of "ill-fame" by prison guards and that prisoners could get whiskey. He accused Brooke of being lax in both of these areas as well as allowing prisoners to mix with the few female prisoners kept in a separate room. The trial quickly moved to interrogations of women that had visited Lieutenant Hine at Myrtle Street. With a Victorian purient interest, the prosecutor questioned Mary Chapman, a widow who was obviously a prostitute. Chapman established that she had an ongoing relationship with Lt. Hine since 1861. When asked, "What was the nature of these calls" (by Lt. Hines), she replied, "Friendly Calls." Mary Chapman also noted visiting other prisoners who had escaped in the past and that Union guards accompanied many. A laundress, Mary Wood, was more evasive, swearing that she had picked up Hine’s laundry at the prison and nothing more. A washerwoman, Dora Gray and her daughter, Sarah Jane McDermott, 14, were even more mysterious. Sarah revealed that she occasionally acted as a go between, but would only acknowledge she had taken a basket of food to Lt. Hine at the prison. The women were unshaken in their affirmation of lack of knowledge.
The seemingly guilty Sergeant Deitz, Company B, 10th Kansas, who was arrested on September 11, 1864 for allowing the escape, made it clear that he believed that Hine would return after acquiring money. He noted that Privates Benton Baily, Company B, 6th Missouri Cavalry and John C. Pierce, Company D, 6th Missouri Cavalry, both prison guards thought Hine was an officer of the prison. Sergeant James H. Stewart, Company D, 10th Kansas Infantry, explained how he and Corporal Elijah Strosnider, Prison Keeper, examined packages and letters of the prisoners and noted nothing unusual. While he firmly believed that Deitz purposefully let Hine escape, Stewart was surprised and defended Deitz’s motives and Brooke’s professionalism.
While others were named as witnesses, such as Colonel Sanderson, Provost Marshal, they either did not appear or claimed illness. No one wanted to accept responsibility nor blame. The court accepted Captain Brooke’s story, as well as the arrest of Sergeant Deitz as a final farewell to Lieutenant Henry. H. Hine. The guilty party in the escape was the lack of communication between officers and staff, the fraternization between Union soldiers and Union prisoners, and the building, itself, which did not easily accommodate overcrowding. Captain Brooke was, at most, admonished but not removed from office. Captain George D. Brooke remained with the regiment until June 16, 1865 having been a good officer, even commanding the regiment at one point. Private Lewis A. Deitz from Ogden, Kansas, mustered out with the regiment on August 30, 1865. James H. Stewart, Sergeant, mustered out shortly after the incident, in October 1864. Lieutenant Henry H. Hine, Second Colorado Cavalry disappeared from the scene.
©2002 Howard Mann
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