True Tales of the Tenth Kansas Infantry:
Raid on a Nest of Nymphs
by Howard Mann
In August of 1864, the Tenth Kansas had almost completed its obligation to the Union. After a tenuous start as part of the Kansas Brigade in 1861, consolidation in early 1862, weathering the tests of battle throughout the fall and winter months of 1863, and enduring the tedious pursuit of guerillas until assigned the grueling duty of prison guards at Alton Prison in Illinois in 1864, the Tenth was about to muster out. The most wearing aspect of the Tenth Kansas’s tenure was the inconsistency of its officers. Colonel William Weer was undergoing a court-martial for embezzlement of prisoner funds. Lieutenant Colonel John T. Burris had been detached from the regiment since the Indian Expedition on administrative duties at Fort Leavenworth and Kansas City. Major Henry H. Williams, while remaining with the regiment had been detached in St. Louis on the staff of Brigadier General Thomas Ewing.
The original posting of the Tenth Kansas as prison guards at Alton Military Prison did not require all of the regiment’s ten companies. Other companies were assigned to provide guards at St. Louis’s two prisons, Gratiot Street Prison (the old McDowell Medical College) and the Myrtle Street Prison. Some of the soldiers under the command of Captain Mathew Quigg were assigned to provost guard duty in the city of St. Louis.
Mathew Quigg was one of the premier officers of the Tenth Kansas. Originally a militia officer of “Lane’s Fencibles” from Atchison, Kansas, Captain Quigg led his stalwarts to Fort Leavenworth at the outbreak of war. His unit was uniformed, armed and well-drilled, unlike many of the eager young farm boys who would join Lane’s Brigade in search of adventure. Quigg’s men came prepared for war. Captain Quigg was frequently placed in command in tight situations at Locust Grove and Prairie Grove specifically. At one point he was being backed to replace a colonel in another regiment who was being cashiered. Captain Quigg was a recognized leader. But even a recognized leader can come up against a formidable opponent.
The St. Louis Democrat, August 18, 1864 reported one of Captain Quigg’s last encounters before mustering out the same month.
“RAID ON A NEST OF NYMPHS — A week or two ago, we noticed the visit of Colonel Baker and Captain Quigg to the five-story building on Fifth street, between Pine and Chesnut, the upper stories of which are occupied as dens of prostitution by a happy family of white and black men, women and children. The occasion of this official visit was to inquire into the truth of complaints that had been made to the military authorities in regard to the nuisance committed by the occupants of the house in “Harrolson Alley.” Colonel Baker cautioned the persons found in the rooms, that if any more complaints were brought to him he would proceed to turn them out and take possession of the premises. For a few days the occupants of the rooms gave no cause of complaint, but soon relapsed into their old habits, and so annoyed the females employed in the Government workshop on the opposite side of the alley that they could not endure it, and reported the facts to Colonel Baker. One Tuesday the Colonel sent a Lieutenant of the Provost Guard to notify the nymphs that they must vacate the premises before night. The girls obtained a respite until Wednesday morning, when the Lieutenant took a guard and turned them out of doors. Eighteen rooms were confiscated. Some of the inmates had taken time by the forelock and skedaddled, but others being unable, like Noah’s dove to find rest for the soles of their feet, had returned to the ark and abandoned themselves to their fate. One lady, however, was permitted to remain undisturbed, because she represented herself as the wife of a Lieutenant of the 11th Missouri cavalry, at Little Rock; two or three others were found in bed with haggard countenances, moaning in great apparent distress, and complaining of being exceedingly sick, and of course the officer was too chivalric to turn sick women out into the streets, and they too were allowed to remain. One young girl was sitting on her trunk, with a despairing countenance; she had not found other lodgings, and declared that she intended to end her woes by taking “pizen.” A large sized Amazon, called “Noisey Belle” had been unable to get away because the landlord held her furniture for back rent and would not permit her to remove it. The soldiers settled the dispute by tumbling Belle’s furniture, bedding, crockery-ware, bonnets, bundles, etc., out upon the sidewalk. The upper story was occupied by colored people, who were not molested.
The portion of the building cleared out is owned by the Tyler estate, and is leased to parties who sublet the rooms to any one who will pay for them. This example will doubtless be a sufficient warning to the large congregation of lewd women in other parts of the building, but if they do not conduct themselves with more propriety in (the) future, they also will be ejected by the military arm.”
Captain Quigg returned home and mustered out with about half of the existing regiment by the time the article was published. The remaining veterans of the Tenth again consolidated into four companies of the Veteran Tenth Kansas Volunteer Infantry. The Veteran Tenth would plunge into the nightmarish last days of Hood’s Franklin/Nashville campaign and end up charging the earthworks at Fort Blakeley, Alabama. Added to the Tenth’s honors should be the storming of “Harrolson’s Alley”.