Gratiot Street Prison Then and Now

Then & Now

Gratiot Street Prison

Picture of Gratiot Street Prison in the 1860s from “Story of a Border City During the Civil War” by Galusha Anderson, published 1908

8th & Gratiot

Site of Gratiot Street Prison today–a parking lot of the headquarters of Ralston Purina Company

The building that became Gratiot Street Prison originally housed McDowell Medical College, owned and operated by Joseph Nash McDowell. The wing north of the tower housed the college, the wing to the south was McDowell’s home.

McDowell's College 1848

This 1848 illustration of McDowells College shows the unfinished building and tower lacking the distinctive dome

Ralston Purina

Ralston Purina’s history on the site of the former Gratiot Street Prison begins well after the building had been demolished.

An article in “Square Talk,” an in-house publication for Ralston Purina employees, from May 1995, discusses the history of the site. Gene McCoskey, Manager of Contract Services and Security, is quoted in the article as saying, “Whenever the grounds crew does any type of digging on the property near the Administration Building, they always come back and mention all the rubble they find after going into the ground just a short distance…I think they are finding rubble of the old prison.”

Ralston Purina has some history of their time at the site on their website.

Ralston Purina Company Historic Information

Gratiot Street Prison Info Sources

Information sources on Gratiot Street Prison

Primary Source books:Grimes, Absalom, Confederate Mail Runner, edited by M. M. Quaife of the Burton Historical Collection, Yale University Press, 1926

Grimes was an agent with the Confederate secret service under General Price, passing back and forth through the Federal lines with letters from families and their relatives in the CSA army. He was in Gratiot St. Prison twice, the first time escaping in a rather dramatic way. Several people have commented that they think Grimes’ amazing story has more than a bit of “old soldiering” to it, but, other than some errors in dating, the book is the truth as can be verified by numerous contemporary sources.

Available from Advanced Book Exchange

Grimes–photo circa 1863 from book

Bio of Absalom Grimes

Excerpts from book:

Campaigning With Mark Twain

Escapes from Gratiot

(these hyperlinks takes you to other sites–use your back button to return here)

Frost, Griffin, Camp and Prison Journal, Press of the Camp Pope Bookshop, reprint edition 1994 (originally printed 1867)

Captain Griffin Frost, of the Missouri State Guard, kept a journal throughout the war and his two stays at Gratiot. Frost writes an interesting story, describing many of the people at Gratiot very well. Some of his racial comments are a bit hard to take but must be viewed in historical context (and that historical context provides a view of the often unseen–and nasty–side of things). Frost’s stated objective in writing was to show that conditions in Union prisons like Gratiot and Alton were as bad as those in Andersonville. In this he fails completely.

Gratiot Street Prison–1876 illustration
Anderson, Galusha, Story of a Border City During the Civil War, Little Brown, 1908Anderson was a pastor in St. Louis just before and during the war. His church was only half a block away from Lynch’s Slave Market. He offered his services as a minister to the Confederate prisoners at Gratiot, but–not surprisingly–none of their accounts mention him. Good, first-hand history by a very priggish sort of writer. A decidedly Union point-of-view. Probably one of the most purely devoted abolitionists in St. Louis, a city of very tangled loyalties.

Available soon on CD-ROM

Galusha Anderson–1861 photo from book

Bio of Galusha Anderson

Galusha Anderson on the 1865 Oath of Loyalty –excerpt from book

Reminiscences of the Women of Missouri During the Sixties, Morningside House, Inc., reprinted 1988

Several excellent accounts of Gratiot and the other St. Louis prisons. (scarce and difficult to find)

Stevens, Harriet, The Graybeards, Letters of Major Lyman Allen, of the 37th Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry, The “Graybeards” Including The Diaries of Viola Baldwin His Step-Daughter, Camp Pope Bookshop, 1998Letters by one of the officers in a unit assigned to guard duty at Gratiot. Some references to Gratiot.

Original prison records:National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 109

M598, rolls 72, 98, 145 — Ledgers from the prison.

M345, rolls 90, 91, 92 — Provost Marshal’s files involving people held at Gratiot Street Prison, files on more that one person. These rolls include daily reports from Gratiot plus some additional ledgers.

M345–All rolls on individual civilians, Provost  Marshal reports. These cover all parts of the USA but a solid 60%, maybe even 80%, of the cases and individuals covered are from the Department of Missouri.

A transcription of Missouri residents (only) listed in the Gratiot Street Prison, Myrtle Street Prison, and Alton Prison ledgers is available in “Missouri Prisoners of War” by Joanne Chiles Eakin. Available from the Civil War Lady’s Book Shoppe.

Prison Journal – March – April 1864

Gratiot Street Prison

“Camp and Prison Journal”

by Griffin Frost

The journal of Captain Griffin Frost was written throughout the war, much of it while Frost was a prisoner at Gratiot Street Prison and Alton Prison and is one of the very few published primary sources available on Gratiot. He published it in 1867 in response to the outcry against southern treatment of prisoners in places like Andersonville. Frost hoped to make it clear that northern treatment of prisoners was just as bad as southern. In this perspective the book was a failure for though deathrates were comparable in northern and southern prisons, the conditions in Gratiot were entirely unlike those in Andersonville, something that becomes immediately and abundantly clear when reading his narrative.

Frost was a newspaper editor and may have rewritten or enhanced some portions of his journal before publication. The portions that leap out in this regard are the occasional pro-southern/anti-northern mini-rants he indulges in which stand out jarringly at times from the flow of the rest of the narrative. On the other hand, Frost was a writer and he was bored with the tedium of prison life so may have unleashed his writing exuberance at times in his journal. He clearly is a skilled writer and writes a lively, interesting tale even in short entries. His information about events taking place around him is not always correct–something that may surprise a reader taking a journal written at the time as being a wholly reliable source. But Frost was limited by his perspective and the information he got and so sometimes reports as fact things that were only rumor. Annotations throughout will try to clarify these moments.

Points in Frost’s writing that grate most on the present-day reader (or so one hopes) are his occasional racial comments. They are harsh and wholly insulting yet will be included here without editing as they do reveal an important aspect of the times and the thought processes that needs to be faced squarely and not glossed over. Try to view these passages in their historical context yet also be aware they do not represent the views of all people at that time, yet by the some token were shared by a number of people from both sides of the conflict.

Though Frost’s narrative covers his entire wartime experience, only those portions that take place in Gratiot or Alton will be presented on this website.

March – April 1864

MARCH 5, 1864.—Received orders to-day to get ready for St. Louis. Obeyed and started; within a square of the prison met Mr. Bradley who knew of the order, and came to accompany me. When we neared the depot we discovered that we were too late for the cars. Mr. B. requested of Col. W. permission for me to remain with him in the city until Monday, when I am to start again for St. Louis, but was denied. I was ordered into my old quarters. Mr. B. is quite hopeful in my case, and thinks there is no doubt of my being with my family soon. I trust he may be correct, for I am not like the “young man who has long lain in the grave for his own amusement.”

MONDAY, March 7, 1864.—I hail this morning from the old homestead, the venerable “Mother of learning,” (to suffer) the classic shades of Gratiot’s walls. How strikingly familiar are the strong locks, the iron bars, the boarded windows, the thumping of balls and clanking of chains, and even the posts in the yard, around which Carlin, Grimes, Sebring and others, froze while they sung, making music with their chains, the mockingly suggestive chorus, “Hard times come again no more.” Mr. Bradley has gone home, and I am not released. The whole matter is postponed indefinitely; some little quibble about the papers. So I resign myself once more to the humdrum existence of a prison monotony.

MARCH 9, 1864.—Discovered yesterday some changes in our official circles. Masterson and Burns are both removed—the latter, though ever kind to me, and gentlemanly in his conduct, has left I find with some, as bad a name as Masterson. I cannot believe it was in the man’s nature to be cruel, except as he was compelled to be in obedience to orders; Masterson was cruel, ungentlemanly, and insulting, in a purely personal manner. New prisoners are constantly coming in from the South. Some ten or twelve officers from near Little Rock were brought in last night, among whom I recognized an old acquaintance, Capt. Hobbs, C. S. A. It is a pity Capt. Masterson was removed quite so soon, as a brick wall is being built between the lamp house and street which will effectually prevent us from catching a glimpse of the dear ladies as they pass. I suppose they think they will spite somebody by building it, and in my case I will admit they succeed.

MARCH 13, 1864.—Last Saturday we scrubbed out our quarters and when through, I was so much fatigued as to be compelled to lie down. Suffered all night with neuralgia and next day felt very unwell. Monday I had a letter from my wife. She was so bitterly disappointed when Mr. Bradley arrived without me. She had Annie with her, and was waiting at the depot with a buggy to take me home. She knew I had been sick, and expected to find me feeble, and so was all prepared to take charge of an invalid husband. Tuesday and Wednesday were dull heavy days, and prison life seemed more gloomy than ever before. To-day a new order has been issued changing the aspect of affairs, and making a very material improvement in our condition. A sutler has been appointed for the prison, and we are permitted to buy whatever he chooses to keep, or we to order in the way of provisions; the only difficulty now is, the money to buy with. It can be furnished by our friends on the outside, and will be, in most cases, but such as have no friends to whom they can apply, must suffer on as before, and there are more of this class than one would imagine. We have availed ourselves of the new programme so far as to purchase some apples, which we have enjoyed as those outside can never know anything about.

Some of Joe Leddy’s song lyrics are online at “Civil War Music of the Western Border

MARCH 18, 1864.—Had last night some fine music on the guitar, by Joe Leddy, who sometime since at Batesville, Ark., was sentenced to be hung, but the sentence being commuted, he was sent from there here, and is now locked up night and day. It was sweet and sad to hear his mellow notes warbling out from his gloomy cage. We listened while song after song poured itself forth, now low and tender, now deep and grand, and anon wild, strong, and thrilling. Music at all times pleasant, is entrancing here.

MARCH 25, 1864.—It is useless to repeat that time drags heavily—the old complaint is worn threadbare—yet every day that comes and goes, but adds another link to this chain of incontestable truth, “time drags heavily.” A week has elapsed—fourteen of us occupy a room sixteen feet square. It is thick standing up, but when we wish to lie down, it is somewhat crowded. I spread my pallet on the table and thus escape the jam.

On Sunday a lot of Feds from Myrtle prison, were placed in with us having been fighting among themselves. One of them had his nose bitten off. They were as hard a looking set as I have seen; after remaining a short time in our quarters they were taken to a strong room and put under lock and key. Wife writes, they have not despaired of my release and are still working to obtain it. Yesterday morning we had a “dashing” time for a few minutes, hot coffee flew in abundance, it ended by one man getting his head cut with a cup. It was not exactly a “tempest in a tea-pot” but one very much mixed with coffee. Altogether it was a foolish affair; with the common enemy leagued against us, there should be peace among ourselves.

I was surprised to find among a lot of new arrivals my old friends Col. and Sam. Winston, who were captured in Platte county, Mo. They have been imprisoned at St. Joseph, and while there, the Col. got into trouble with some Federal horse thieves, about forty of whom were in the same prison, they handled him pretty roughly, giving him a “black eye” which he brings into Gratiot.

For more information on Robert Louden see The Boat-Burners; Sabotage of the Sultana, also Prisoner Notes. The little girl described here is his daughter Mollie Louden, the “little baby sister” is Annie, born in Feb. 1864. Louden’s wife Mary in April 1863 had been held in the same cell Robert was now in.

MARCH, 26, 1864.—Col. Winston was called before Gen. Rosecrans to-day, who lectured him severely for being inside the Federal lines, asking him if he did not know that he had laid himself liable to be tried and hung as a spy. Witnessed a sad and affecting sight, such as too often occurs in a military prison. Capt. Sullivan carried up the little daughter of Mr. Robert Loudon to see her father. She could not be admitted within his cell, but the kind hearted Captain held her up so she could kiss her father through the iron bars; he put his hands through and touched her soft silken hair, and asked her if she nursed little baby sister. Then he kissed her again, and told her to kiss her ma for him. Capt. S. is liked by all the prisoners, but it is feared he will not be permitted to remain long in charge as he has too much soul for the position.

TUESDAY, April 5, 1864.—On the night of my last writing, an attempt was made to dig through the wall into the building of the Christian Brothers, but unfortunately it was discovered before the design was completed and no escape was made. Those engaged in the enterprise were promptly locked up. Mr. Bradley wrote me a few days since, informing me that my brother Dan., a Colonel in the Federal army, had written to Gen. Rosecrans concerning my release. My friends are very kind indeed, and I am truly grateful, but it makes me sad every time I see a man go out on oath and bond; every one seems a stroke of the funeral bell for our beloved South: it will be a sorrowful day when I throw my shovel of dirt and march away. It appears however that it is going to be my fate to be reserved for one of the “watchers.” The following document was sent me this morning from Head Quarters:



St. Louis, April 4, 1864.}

Special Order, No. 89.

The instructions of the Commanding General, directing the release of Capt. Griffin Frost, of the rebel army, having been revoked by Special Order No. 66, par. “G,” Head Quarters, Department of the Missouri, of date of March 7, 1864, he will be transferred under guard from Gratiot street prison to the Military prison at Alton, Ill., to serve out his sentence.

J. P. SANDERSON, Provost Marshal Gen.

Capt. GRIFFIN FROST, Gratiot St. Prison.

APRIL, 12, 1864.—Heard last week that a number of prisoners had escaped from Alton. My brother John has been sent from there to Fort Delaware, it seems he finds the latter place a little too tough even for his philosophy. Says he very much prefers Alton. He tells as much as he dares, but what John says means a good deal. He is by no means disposed to be a grumbler, and things have to be bad indeed when he complains. Four thousand prisoners are there awaiting exchange. Having been there myself on a similar errand, but when the crowd was not so great, I can form some idea of the situation. May the good Lord put it into the heart of old Stanton to allow an exchange soon. Col. Winston was out before the Provost on Saturday in company with other officers. Sunday they were preparing to send off a number of prisoners, about 140 privates, who left Monday. Forty-one officers left to-day for Johnson’s Island, where they go to wait for exchange. Would it could be general, and take us all. If the South could gather up all her waste material, she might be strong enough to make a good rally yet.

A Federal prisoner named Cantrel, disputed the word of Lieut. Sebring this morning, when the latter pitched into him and gave him a genteel pummelling leaving a rather ugly cut near the left eye. Matters rested thus until breakfast, when Cantrel slipped up behind Sebring and with a lick unbottomed a bucket over the latter’s head. After which he made all possible speed to the office, on going down stairs he ran against McGinnis and upset a bucket of sugar he was carrying, but nothing stopped Cantrel until he had reported the affair, and was transferred to other quarters, for well he knew that he had best keep out of Sebring’s way.

APRIL, 13, 1864.—I give this day a special mark, for reasons hereafter explained. This morning I was placed back in my old quarters, with the windows on the gallery opened. It is most refreshingly pleasant I find myself for once, with no reasonable cause of complaint, a circumstance so rare, I think it demands notice. My room is comfortable; we are allowed to buy provisions and newspapers are not prohibited. I have said before that Capt. Sullivan is a gentleman. Well, I was ordered before the Provost. Nobody could inform me what was wanted. Getting ready—a guard with his musket took me in charge and we reported at the Provost’s. At the door I met an old gentleman, Mr. Daniel McLoud, of Marion county, Mo., whom I knew; after shaking hands, I went into the office, and there sat my wife and child. The former I saw but a short time fifteen months ago, but the little Annie, not since the war commenced—then she could not talk—now she is equal to an old woman. Our interview lasted nearly three hours. My wife still entertains a hope of my speedy release. When I could stay no longer I bade them an affectionate farewell and reluctantly came back to my prison. My sweet little daughter—she seemed like some bright fairy, or ministering spirit, as she clung round my neck and nestled her head of shining clustering curls so lovingly on my bosom. My noble wife has been a true mother to our darling child. I can write on no other subject—have room for no other thought, so I will close for to-night.

APRIL 17, 1864.—Thursday was a cold disagreeable day, no sensation whatever. Nobody had a laugh, none a fuss, and the musical fountains were all frozen. So we sat the day out like a Quaker meeting. Friday some ladies came in. I don’t know who they were, or on what errand of mercy they descended, but as we saw them enter and heard the low music of their gentle voices, we felt like that Peri, who,

“At the gate

Of Eden stood, disconsolate:

And as she listened to the springs

Of life within, like music flowing,

And caught the light upon her wings

Through the half open portal glowing,

She wept, &c.”

Saturday some of the occupants of Myrtle street prison, were turned over to the tender care and keeping of the Gratiot authorities. Among the number was a son of Judge Soward, of Canton, Mo., who was assigned to our mess. On that day we scrubbed and whitewashed our quarters. To-day we are very nice and comfortable, enjoying the fruit of yesterday’s industry, so we concluded we would celebrate the occasion by having a good dinner, and got one of the sergeants to take a bucket and go out and hail a milk man:

“What’s wanted?” asked the vender of food for babes.

“A bucket of milk for the prisoners,” was the reply.

Gathering up his lines, and giving his horses a crack, he started off, saying:

“I never have, and never will, sell anything to rebels.”

The good natured sergeant had no other alternative but to return with his empty bucket, and thus faded the bright anticipations which clustered around the good dinner “that might have been.” More prisoners arrived to-day.

APRIL 26, 1864.—On Monday we were fully compensated for the failure of our negotiation with the milk man by Miss Laura Elder’s sending us an abundant lot of delicious cake, which we relished as none but prisoners know how. Tuesday a scrap of gossip from Rock Island was handed round; it seems that one of their prisoners, a portly young fellow in Confederate grey, was lately delivered of a fine boy—a new recruit for Uncle Jeff, of course.

Wednesday had a letter from home saying that Gen. Rosecrans had power to release all sentenced prisoners, and as I am in that category hopes are entertained of a favorable action in my case. The monotony of Thursday was broken by Lieut. Sebring’s receiving from Miss Lucy Glasscock, of Ralls county, Mo., a choice variety of most tempting edibles. Ab. C. Grimes was also remembered from the same source. The regiment which has been guarding us was removed on Friday and sent South, some cavalry from Michigan taking their place. We were sorry to witness the change, for the officers of the old regiment were gentlemen, and we had some excellent friends among the men. While they were strict in enforcing orders, they harrassed the prisoners with no petty personal malice or contemptible exhibition of ephemeral power. The new authorities are yet to be tried, they appear to have seen service, which is an argument in their favor. We will forbear comment, and watch the course of events. Yesterday it rained hard all day, continuing through the night, and the clouds are not taken in today. Some ladies however, ventured through the damp to church; wonder if they will hear any prayers offered up for the “prisoners in our midst.” One thing, they’ll hear sure, is the President prayed for. An old Baptist preacher at Hannibal, named Cleavland, had a cannon drawn on him to make him pray for Old Abe, but that was early in the war and I guess they are all whipped into the traces by this time. Abraham ought to be a blessed and fortunate individual, when so many prayers are forced to “spurt out” at the point of the bayonet for him. Our room has become much crowded again, which interferes materially with any effort at comfort, we have hardly room to lie down on the floor, and when all are up stirring about it is impossible to read or write with any pleasure; every one following the bent of his peculiar humor converts the place at times into a perfect Bedlam. I manage to write a few letters, and jot a few lines now and then in my journal, but it is toiling against wind and tide.

The Execution of Barry Gibbons

True Tales of the Tenth Kansas Infantry

The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

The Execution of Barney Gibbons

by Howard Mann

Richard C. Day, former sergeant in the 7th U. S. Regular Infantry, was posted as a civilian in the Quartermasters Department in Saint Louis, Missouri. On an early morning in June 1864, Day went down to get breakfast at the Military Boarding House on Broadway, when he noticed a man standing outside. As he passed the man he noticed him turn pale and something about his stance brought back an old memory. Recognition passed across Day’s face as he realized that the man was Barney Gibbons, a former comrade-in-arms. Anger clouded Day’s painful memory and he clapped his hands on the stunned Barney Gibbon’s shoulder, stating that Gibbons was under arrest and his prisoner. Gibbons did not resist.[1]

The story unfolded at Barney Gibbon’s court-martial on July 13, 1864 in Colonel William Meyers office. Barney Gibbons was accused as follows:

Specifications: In this, that he, Barney Gibbons, a private of Company A, Seventh Regiment United States Infantry, duly enlisted in the service of the United States on or about the 27th day of July, A. D. 1861, at or near San Augustine Springs in the Territory of New Mexico, did absent himself from and desert said service and go over to and join with rebel forces in arms against the government of the United States.

C. Lowell

Asst. Adjt. Genl.

Witness: Richard C. Day in Col. Wm Meyers Office

Major General William C. Rosecrans ordered the convening court martial board to consist of Colonel William A. Barstow, 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry, Lieutenant Colonel C. W. Marsh, A.A.G., Missouri State Militia, Lieutenant Colonel T. H. Dodd, 2nd Colorado Cavalry, Lieutenant Colonel D. J. Hynes, 17th Illinois Cavalry, Major P. E. Fisher, 17th Illinois Cavalry, Captain Alexander McLean, 7th Enrolled Missouri Militia, Captain W. S. Johnson, 1st Arkansas Cavalry, and First Lieutenant Clifford Thomas, 1st New York Cavalry as the Judge Advocate of the Court.[2]

Sergeant Day was the principle and only witness. Day and Gibbons were both members of Company A, 7th Regiment U.S. Infantry. Barney Gibbons was born in Hamilton, Madison County, New York in 1836. His father died when he was nine years old and his mother, when he was thirteen. On December 1, 1858 he joined the United States Army at Toledo, Ohio for a period of five years. Gibbons listed his profession as a teamster. He had grey eyes, dark brown hair, and fair complexion and stood five feet, five and one-half inches tall. Barney swore an oath to “bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whomsoever…”[3]

According to Sergeant Day, Barney joined the 7th Regiment at Camp Floyd, Utah Territory with a batch of recruits from Newport, Kentucky. When the hostilities broke out Company A, 7th Regiment found itself isolated at San Augustine Springs, New Mexico Territory. The commanding officer, Major Lynde, decided to move the command to the safety of Fort Fillmore. Day testified:

We were on the march from San Augustine to Fort Fillmore, Major Lynde had command of a part of our regiment. We had evacuated Fort Fillmore. He marched us across, and we had no water. There were about 300 men laying back on the road for water. I was in the rear guard, and this man fell to the rear. I supposed for the same purpose as the others. I didn’t see anything of him from about 4 o’clock in the morning of the 27th of July. He fell to the rear as we thought for water together with quite a number of the regiment. I got into San Antonio with 12 men of my company with a Lieut. and there formed in line of battle, and were surrendered by Major Lynde. We were then marched from San Antonio to Los Cruces, and were then paroled. We laid in camp there about 3 days. During the 3 days, I had been sent up to Fillmore for a drum and different things of the command that we were told we could have, and while there I met this man, and the day before we marched he rode down into camp on one of the horses that had been turned over by the mounted riflemen. I didn’t see him again until the night before we marched when I saw him riding out on a black horse, with the rebels when it was expected that Capt. Chaplin could come up with 3 companies of our regiment. I haven’t seen him since until I met him up on Broadway.[4]

The hapless Barney Gibbons made a statement to the Court defending his pleas of innocent:

All I have got to say is the charges against me is false. I never belonged to the United States Infantry, but there was a man, my brother, who went by the name of Barney Gibbons, that did and he belonged to that company. I was in Texas at the time, and was in a light battery. My brother pretended to say that he was not treated well and left them and joined us. He resembled me very much and I suppose this man arrested me under that name for this reason. My name is Benjamin Gray. I never assumed the name of Barney Gibbons. My brother did. He joined under that name. He got into trouble and assumed that name to get out of it. I have a cut on my lip and so has he. I was born in Pennsylvania. I came up to Fillmore in Col. John Baylor’s command. I never was in the service of the United States. The company, rebel company, that I belonged to was broken up and I was assigned to a gun boat, the Sachem, but I was dissatisfied and the first opportunity I left them. I never saw this man before that. I know of I might have seen him at the time he stated, but I don’t recollect it. I was in the rebel service at the time this company of the 7th U.S. Infantry surrendered. I was in a battery when the regiment was taken.[5]

Richard Day was challenged about his identification of Gibbons. Day refuted the possibility of a mistaken identity.

He has a cut upon his lip, and a peculiar manner of walking. Capt. Jones of our company was always at him because he never could walk like a soldier, he would throw his head forward and his arms to the rear. He always walked with his hands open and fingers apart even when he had gloves on.[6]

Even when Day was recalled he denied ever hearing of a brother of Gibbons and further explained the mysterious cut.

Q. Did he ever explain how he got that cut on his lip?

A. I think I heard some of the men say he got it from a kick of a horse. We used to call it a hare lip.[7]

Day’s memory seemed to stay sharp for one reason. He put it succinctly.

Q. You have no enmity towards him?

A. None at all except that he deserted us. Was among the few that disgraced us.[8]

The court deliberated and found Barney Gibbons guilty of desertion. The sentence was equally as terse.

And the Court does therefore sentence him, the said Barney Gibbons, a private of Co. A, Seventh United States Infantry, to be shot to death with musketry, at such time and place as the commanding General may designate. Two-thirds of the members of the Court concurring in the above sentence.

July 14, 1864[9]

The date was set for August 13th. A unique aspect of Barney Gibbon’s execution was it was the first military execution of a Union soldier to take place in St. Louis. The military establishment wanted to make a spectacle of it and to impress the Union soldiers with the seriousness of deserting over to the enemy.

Major R. D. Nash, Superintendent of Military Prisons and Colonel Baker, Post Commandant, arranged the details.

The troops, to the number of seven or eight hundred, on arriving at the place of execution (Fort No. 4) formed a hollow square on the west side of the fort, with an open face on the east. A squad of sixty men of the 10th Kansas, commanded by Lieutenant Wood, conducted the prisoner from Myrtle street prison to the place of execution. The prisoner was conveyed in a black covered wagon, belonging to Mr. Smithers, the undertaker, sitting on his coffin by the side of the officiating priest, Rev. Father Santois, of the St. Louis University, who had visited him in the prison and baptized him in the Roman Catholic church on Wednesday last. Gibbins had never received the benefit of a religious education, having been left an orphan at an early age; and it was through the teachings of Father Santois in prison that he was induced to embrace the doctrines of Christianity.

The preparations being completed, the priest and the prisoner got out of the wagon and knelt on the ground, in front of the post which had been placed in the ground on the west side of the fort, and for a few moments engaged in prayer. Rising up, the doomed man stepped forward to the post to which he was to be tied, and to which a seat was attached. The coffin was placed on the ground close by, and the attendants brought forward the rope and white cap. Fifteen feet from the post were six soldiers of the 10th Kansas, and just behind them four more of the same regiment. These were the executioners. The guns of the first six were all loaded with ball and cartridge, except one, so that neither of them could say with certainty that he had caused the prisoner’s death, as it was not known which one carried the gun loaded with blank cartridge.

The prisoner now stood up, facing the executioners. He appeared calm and unmoved, as though determined to meet his doom with manly courage. He was a young man 28 years of age, about five feet nine inches in height, with sandy whiskers, brown hair, and dark blue eye; compactly built, with broad shoulders and full chest and regular features. He was in his shirt sleeves, with his pantaloons turned up at the bottom, and wore coarse heavy boots.

Seeing the attendants handling the rope, he said, “I prefer not to be tied.” He then sat on the seat against the post and waving his hands, said, “Farewell! farewell!”

Major Nash came forward and read the findings and sentence of the court-martial, after which he asked the prisoner if he had anything to say. Gibbins replied in a calm, firm voice: “I have; but I wish to ask if the President of the United States signed that?”

Major Nash replied, “Yes.” and Gibbins proceeded. He said he did not deny that he had deserted; but that he did not desert with the intention of joining the enemy. His company had marched from Arizona to New Mexico, and having traveled all night, he was exhausted and worn out, and fell out of the ranks, and laid down on the ground and went to sleep. While asleep, the rebels under Sibley came upon him and captured him. He was deceived by them and induced to join their ranks. He then gave an account of his escape from the rebel ship, Sachem, at Sabine Pass, and finding his way on board the Federal blockading steamer, Princess Royal. He said, “I think it the most unjust sentence ever passed upon man. I am sentenced to be shot, and I suppose by that escort,” (looking at the executioners.) Seeing some reporters present, he said, “My friends, I do not want that put in the papers; my name has gone far enough. I have no parents, they having died when I was very young, but I have brothers and sisters and I do not want them to know it.” He paused a moment and said, “If there is a man named Richard C. Day present, I would like to see him – Richard C. Day, who was a sergeant in my company.” He waited for Day to appear but Major Nash told him he was not present. Day is the witness upon whose testimony Gibbins was convicted. He said he died in the Catholic faith and thanked Father Santois for his kindness.

The prisoner having concluded, Father Santois shook him by the hand and said, “You are a soldier, and now you must die like a soldier and a Christian.”

Gibbins then took a seat on the chair of death and the white cap was drawn over his head. While this was being done he said, “I would rather not be bound; I think I can stand it without.”

After the cap was drawn down over his head, he said, “I have a word more to say;” but no notice being taken of his request, he waved his hand as if satisfied, and his arms were pinioned to the post. Lieutenant Wood then gave the order – “Ready – aim – fire!”

And simultaneously six rifles were discharged, four balls entering the body of the victim near the region of the stomach, and one striking the bank of earth behind him.

The stout frame of the prisoner quivered slightly, and he cried out in anguish – “Oh! – too low!”

Lieutenant Wood immediately ordered the reserves to fire, and their aim being more accurate, the deserter’s frame relaxed, his head dropped on his shoulder, his bosom heaved convulsively, and in a few moments life was extinct.

His arms were unbound; he was laid on the ground on his back, and Surgeons Dudley and Youngblood, of the army, examined the body and declared that life was extinct. Six or seven balls had entered his body, one entering the aorta, two or three the stomach and bowels, one the right lung, and one or two the breast.

The cap was then removed from his face, the body placed in the coffin with the hands crossed and while the band played a solemn dirge for the dead, the whole column passed slowly by, each soldier casting a sorrowful look upon the lifeless face of the man whose crime had been so fearfully expiated.

The conduct of the soldiers was highly commendable. Not a man offered an insult to the lifeless form in the coffin, but all looked sadly upon him, and each one felt that, whatever may have been the young man’s guilt, he had at least died like a brave man. Never, perhaps, has death been faced with so calm and fearless a mien as by that erring, guilty man, who had no friend but the good priest to speak a word of comfort to him in his last hour upon earth.

After the procession had passed, the body was taken possession of by Mr. Smithers, the lid of the coffin screwed down, and the remains of Barney Gibbins were interred in the cemetery at Jefferson Barracks.

Besides the troops but few spectators witnessed the execution, for the reason that very few persons knew where it was to take place. [10]

The day before his execution, Barney Gibbons provided a little more detail on his errant behavior. He admitted deserting with eighteen other soldiers of the 7th U.S. Infantry as Richard C. Day testified. He also admitted fighting in the battles of Valverde, Apache Canyon, Johnson’s Ranch and Albuquerque. While in Texas his artillery unit was transferred to the Confederate ship, Sachem. He did not like the duty and escaped on the captain’s gig to the blockading Union ship, Princess Royal. He disembarked at New Orleans and drove a Quartermaster’s wagon until May 1864 when he came to St. Louis. He joined the workers on the Pacific Railroad and cut ties near Knob Noster and Warrensburg, Missouri and again, returned to St. Louis in June 1864. He secured a position with the Quartermaster’s department until he was accosted by Richard C. Day.[11]

Barney Gibbons was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

[1]File No. LL 2210, Barney Gibbons, Proceedings of a General Court Martial Held at St. Louis, Mo. July 13, 1864, National Archives and Records Administration Microfilm M1523, Proceedings of U. S. Army Courts-Martial and Military Commissions of Union Soldiers Executed by U.S. Military Authorities, 1861-1866.


[3]Military Records, Barney Gibbons, National Archives and Records Administration.

[4]Barney Gibbons, Proceedings.






[10]St. Louis Democrat, August 13, 1864, “Military Execution”.


James O Broadhead by Kirby Ross

Posted December 6, 2002

Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand
by Kirby Ross, Samuel S. Hildebrand, James W. Evans, A. Wendell Keith

available at

The True Life Wild West Memoir of a Bush-Popping Cow Waddy

By Charley Hester, Edited by Kirby Ross

available for pre-order at

Civil War St. Louis contributing author Kirby Ross published in North & South magazine, Vol 6, issue 7

The Burning of Doniphan by Kirby Ross

(Vol 6, Issue 7 of North & South mails to subscribers October 21st; on sale in stores November 11th)



by Kirby Ross

While serious students of Missouri Civil War history readily recognize the name James O. Broadhead, it is usually in regard to his seven-month tenure as Provost Marshal General of the Department of the Missouri.  His prior very key role in holding Missouri in the Union is otherwise generally overlooked and he himself forgotten—this even though it was once said of him “his powers were almost absolute.”1 Despite his leading position among Missouri Unionists, he was a proud Southerner and well into the Civil War continued to cling to the notion that slavery should be preserved.  As a slaveholder at the dawn of hostilities he once proclaimed, “I am willing to go as far as any living man to protect the institution of slavery in the State of Missouri.  I have no prejudice against the institution.  I have been raised with the institution, and I know something of it.”2 Even as he was being assigned in 1863 to the position of Provost Marshal General—a military command that encompassed Missouri, Arkansas, Indian Territory, Kansas, and southern Iowa—he maintained this mind-set and was reported to have gone so far as to assert that “every damned Abolitionist in the country should be hung.”3

Despite these extreme sentiments and the fact he grew up in Virginia, few men doubted Broadhead’s loyalty to the Union as the war found its way to Missouri.  After the Rebellion was over an ex-Confederate Congressman referred to Broadhead as having been “a trusted counsellor of Mr. Lincoln.”  And an observer on the other side of the conflict later noted, “No man…was more stalwart in his Unionism, or took a more active part when war came, in supporting the Federal Government than did James O. Broadhead.”4

For those that might be unsure about his priorities Broadhead explained, “I am a slave owner myself, but I am not willing to sacrifice other interests to the slave interest….”  Emphasizing the nature of the interests he was willing to place over and above his slave interests, Broadhead also offered words that familiarly echoed ones once uttered by his more famous cousin, Patrick Henry: “Who would not be willing to meet these calamities to preserve the Union and Missouri in the Union and secure to ourselves and our posterity such a destiny as most assuredly awaits us.  That man who does not know when to die is not fit to live; and what better time to offer up our lives than in behalf of such a cause?”5

To understand the paradox of Broadhead, one must look far back into his ancestry and his birthplace.  “Born at the South,” Broadhead once said, “I think I know something of my duty to the South as well as to the Constitution of my country.”  As a native son of Charlottesville, Virginia, it was said by one of his contemporaries that he “imbibed in his youth and early manhood the spirit which actuated the fathers of the Republic.”  Another acquaintance made a similar observation in noting that Broadhead “grew to manhood in an atmosphere created by eminent statesmen and permeated by a love of country, a patriotic devotion to public duty, and a full recognition of the obligation which rests upon the citizen.”6

This “spirit” and “atmosphere” created by eminent statesmen radiated from Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, who also hailed from Charlottesville.  Furthermore, not only was Broadhead a cousin of Patrick Henry but also of Dolley Madison.  In his formative years he was a frequent guest in her house where the host of the manor was James Madison, the “Father of the U.S. Constitution.”  Young James Broadhead’s “personal acquaintance and relations with ex-President Madison served to foster still further these virtues” of love of country and patriotic devotion to it.7

Broadhead’s ties to the Founding Fathers ran deeper still, however.  His father Achilles Broadhead was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to survey the grounds that became the University of Virginia.8 In an even more powerful connection to Jefferson, Dabney Carr, the brother of James’s grandfather Garland Carr, was the beloved childhood friend of Jefferson.  This relationship ultimately evolved from friendship to kinship upon the marriage of Broadhead’s Uncle Dabney to Martha Jefferson, the third President’s sister.  When Dabney died he was the first person to be laid to rest in the new burial grounds of Monticello.  Jefferson interred the body so it would one day be directly at his own side and then placed a headstone over Dabney’s remains that contained the inscription “To His Virtue, Good Sense, Learning and Friendship this stone is dedicated by Thomas Jefferson, who of all men living loved him most.”  After the burial, Jefferson took the Carr children into his household and raised them as his own.9

Completing the atmosphere that so-compelled slaveholder James Overton Broadhead to fight for the very cause that ultimately resulted in the extinction of the “peculiar institution,” Broadhead was also distantly related by marriage to Martha Washington and Mary Todd Lincoln.10

Having completed studies in Red Hills at the classical school of his uncle, Dr. Francis Carr, Broadhead thereafter entered the University of Virginia in 1836 at age 16.  When in 1837 most of his immediate family removed to St. Charles County, Missouri, James remained behind and taught at a private school near Baltimore before joining them out west a year later.  Upon his arrival the scholarly aristocrat joined the employ of the Hon. Edward Bates as a tutor for his children.11

Bates, a prominent attorney as well as nationally recognized Whig politician, reversed roles and soon took Broadhead on as student of his own in the study of law.  By 1842 Broadhead was licensed as an attorney and had moved to Pike County.  Within three more years Broadhead was following in his mentor’s footsteps and was active in state politics as a Whig.  At the age of 26 he was elected to be a delegate to Missouri’s second constitutional convention.  The following year he was sent by Pike County to the state house of representatives, and four years afterward to the state senate.12

Shortly before the Civil War began, Broadhead moved from Pike to St. Louis where he entered into a law partnership with Fidelio C. Sharp, an affiliation that by 1873 grew into “the largest legal practice of any firm, not only in Missouri, but in the West.”13 Then in 1860 Edward Bates, now a Republican, was a candidate for the presidency of the United States.  Strongly backed by newspaperman Horace Greeley, Bates was thought in some quarters to have a good chance at gaining the party nomination.  Instead, Abraham Lincoln was chosen to be the standard-bearer but promptly appointed Bates to be his Attorney General after the general election.14

Broadhead’s own politics began to evolve around this time, although he remained committed to the institution of slavery.  Shortly after the election he admitted, “it is true I voted for Lincoln—and yet I am not exactly a Republican, certainly not a Black Republican….”  Asserting “Lincoln is himself an honest man and a patriot,” Broadhead attributed his support of the Illinoisan to be a consequence of Lincoln’s pro-business economic platform and his advocacy for a strong government, as well as his Free-soil stance that would leave slavery alone where it existed (the Emancipation Proclamation was still far off and unforeseen).  Broadhead did state abhorrence for the fringe groups of the Party—the Red Republicans (labor agitators) and the “fanatical” Black Republicans (Abolitionists), a body that he claimed “is the smallest class.”  All a very interesting perspective given that the Republican Party of 1860 that Broadhead was involved in and spoke of is now seen in a significantly different light in the hindsight of modern times and through the intervening prism of the American Civil War.15

After moving to St. Louis Broadhead began to associate closely with U.S. Congressman Frank Blair, who was a leading opponent of secession in Missouri.  As early as 1859 Blair urged Broadhead to run for the Missouri Supreme Court and advised him he could help deliver at least 10,000 votes.  Although this entreaty was not accepted, Broadhead’s relationship with Blair continued to expand and ultimately developed to the point where “Broadhead was his right hand, his chief lieutenant.”  So close were the two that one day Blair would ask Broadhead to give the nominating speech at a national convention when he ran for President.  Broadhead would also serve as his pallbearer several years after that.16

As Blair rallied his supporters, in February 1861 he was instrumental in forming the Committee of Safety, whose “purpose was to serve as the executive committee of the Union party.”  Besides Blair, five other men were selected for the Committee, and among their ranks was James Broadhead, who was appointed secretary of the group.  Under the auspices of this organization an armed force of Loyalists was recruited in the city and within a short time several regiments were mobilized.17

A couple of weeks after he joined the Committee of Safety, running on a campaign slogan of “the Union at any cost” Broadhead was also elected to serve as a delegate to the State Convention assembled to decide the question of whether Missouri should secede from the Union.18 As a leader of the Unconditional Unionist, on March 14, 1861, he addressed the group.  By now Broadhead was also a proponent of the belief that secession would result in economic disaster for the state.  Furthermore, should Missouri leave the Union the Fugitive Slave Act would be abrogated—an act that legally required free states to assist in the return of escaped slaves to their owners.  Surrounded on three sides by what would be a foreign country if the secessionists were successful, slaves in Missouri would readily find freedom in Kansas, Iowa, and Illinois after secession just as easily as if they made their way all the way to Canada before secession.19

In his address to the Convention Broadhead observed that Missouri stood directly along the route between the eastern United States and western United States.  He stated that “efforts have been made for the purpose of connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean, by means of a railroad, in order that the wealth of the Indies may be poured into the lap of this country of ours.  And Missouri stands in the pathway of nations; over her soil this pathway must run, just as inevitably as fate.  And do you suppose that the accumulated interest of the East and the West, and I may say the world, will ever submit to have an interdict placed upon that pathway?”  In dramatic fashion Broadhead was arguing that even if the Deep South were allowed to remove itself from the Union, geographic positioning made Missouri different than those states.  Consequently, as Broadhead opined, “I say, then, gentlemen of the Convention, that Missouri cannot go out of the Union if she would; and I think I know what I say when I speak it, that she has not the power to go out of the Union if she would.”20

Several weeks after the March session of the Convention concluded, Abraham Lincoln issued orders that effectively federalized the paramilitary forces raised by the Committee of Safety, thus allowing them to operate under color of authority as U.S. Volunteers.  Now permitted to recruit up to 10,000 troops, additional loyal citizens of St. Louis were brought into another umbrella organization known as the United States Reserve Corps.  Thomas William Sweeny of the Regular Army was placed in command of the five regiments of the Reserve Corps, with James Broadhead assigned to his staff at the rank of major.21

The President also issued orders for the U.S. military in St. Louis to consult closely with the Committee of Safety and to go so far as to proclaim martial law in the city if deemed necessary by the members of the Committee.  Lincoln specifically referred to Broadhead by name in this order.22 One historian later elaborated on the extraordinary influence of the Safety Committee—“Into its hands was given absolute authority in all matters concerning the Union cause in St. Louis….  The Committee became the central medium of advice, information, and direction of the Union activities of the City, and a little later, throughout the State of Missouri.”23

The Committee was not lax in exercising its considerable power in the course of the compulsory military consultations.  When the U.S. general commanding in Missouri, William S. Harney, did not act according to their desires the Committee petitioned Washington and saw to it that he was removed and replaced by Nathaniel Lyon, a much more aggressive officer.24

With Federal authorities concerned about the creation of the Southern-sympathizing Camp Jackson on the outskirts of St. Louis in early May, Lyon asked leave of the Committee for permission to close it down.  Upon receiving their acquiescence, with Secretary Broadhead voting guardedly in favor of the plan, on May 10 Lyon surrounded the military encampment and took its occupants prisoner.  Marching them through the streets of St. Louis, a crowd began to gather along the route.  In the course of events one shot was fired, then another, and very quickly a general maelstrom swept across the area.  When the smoke cleared at least twenty-eight men had lost their lives and many more were wounded.25

While not commenting on the deaths that resulted from this affair, Broadhead did discern a marked shift in the balance of power in the city that resulted from the dispersal of the camp.  Writing to an acquaintance eleven days later Broadhead said the action “operated like a poultice—the inflammation has been drawn out of the great numbers of men [in St. Louis] who were heretofore rampant secessionists.”26

With events happening very quickly in Missouri, Broadhead expanded his Union-supporting activities.  Simultaneous to his service as a major in the Reserve Corps and delegate to the State Convention, he was also appointed by Bates to serve as Assistant United States Attorney.  In that latter position Broadhead was party to a decision made in concert with Attorney General Bates to pursue prosecutions for treason, but only in extreme cases and only when the chances of a conviction were certain.  The treason card was not to be played precipitately.27 One case Broadhead did bring forward—in fact it was the first treason indictment he drew up—was against Governor Claiborne F. Jackson.  This charge was the consequence of a search warrant Broadhead executed that resulted in the seizure of a letter written by Jackson on April 28, 1861, that spoke freely about plans for taking Missouri out of the Union.  Writing a confidential communication to a friend, on May 21 Broadhead discussed the development:  “we have a warrant out for Jackson for treason, but it will not be served yet—perhaps not at all—if he makes the proper settlement.”  (This may very well mark the only time in United States history that a sitting governor has been indicted for treason.)28

A settlement to Broadhead’s liking remained elusive as the situation deteriorated further over the next few weeks.  All finally came to a climax on June 11 in a meeting at the Planter’s House in St. Louis between General Lyon, Governor Jackson, and Jackson’s head of militia, General Sterling Price.  When the negotiations reached an impasse, Lyon rose to his feet and angrily exited the room thundering “This means war!” on his way out.  Whether Broadhead was now ready to serve his warrant is unknown, since Jackson and Price immediately returned to the capital at Jefferson City, gathered their allies, packed the state records, and promptly proceeded on a journey west and then south that saw a large part of the elected Missouri government spend the remainder of the war in exile.29

Afterward, the State Convention reassembled to address the absence of a governing body in Jefferson City.  James Broadhead was appointed chair of a committee formed to consider the status of the state government and to recommend a course of action regarding it.  Broadhead seized upon language the now-absent Governor and General Assembly (legislature) had given force of law when they enacted the bill that created the Convention.  Passed by a very overwhelming margin of 30-2 in the senate and 105-8 in the house of representatives, Section 5 of that statute specifically gave the Convention delegates the power “to adopt such measures for vindicating the sovereignty of the State and the protection of its institutions as shall appear to them to be demanded.”30 Wrote Broadhead on the authority granted, “If the Convention is to be limited in its action by the provisions of the act of the General Assembly, it is difficult to perceive how language could have been used which would have vested it with greater powers.”31

In taking full advantage of the legislature’s legal authorization allowing the Convention to adopt measures that appeared to be needed to protect the state’s institutions, Broadhead issued a report that recommended, among other things, that the offices of governor and lieutenant governor be declared vacated, as well as the General Assembly.  This recommendation was ultimately accepted by a two to one margin by the whole of the Convention, which then promptly appointed Edward Bates’ brother-in-law Hamilton Gamble to fill the position of Provisional Governor.  The Convention thereupon proceeded to act as a legislative body until new elections could be held.32

So went James Broadhead’s very major and very forgotten actions in those first days and weeks of the war in Missouri.  Thirteen years after the close of hostilities one writer summed up his role by stating, “looking back at the critical condition of the government in the early part of 1861, the importance of these prompt proceedings assume immense proportions.  What Mr. Broadhead accomplished in the preservation of the Union . . . can never be fully estimated.33

His activities that followed, important though they might have been in the scheme of events, were almost anti-climactic compared to what had preceded them.  Broadhead spent 1862 serving on the military staff of Provisional Governor Gamble as Judge Advocate General, at the rank of colonel.  He also continued in the employ of Edward Bates where he received a promotion from Assistant U.S. Attorney to U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, where he served from November 1861 through August 1862.34

The following year he was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry Regiment, a Pike County unit.  He was then detached from the regiment and assigned to the post of Provost Marshal General for the Department of the Missouri from June 1863 through January 1864.  In this position he ironically wielded far more power than his commanding officer in the Third M.S.M. (who happened to be Edward Bates’ cousin and law partner).  While his wife’s brothers—John and Caleb Dorsey of Pike County—and their Confederate activities occasionally bedeviled him in his position as PMG, his Conservative Unionist policies offered relative moderation towards the non-combatant slaveholding and Southern-oriented citizenry of the state, as well as extreme aggravation to his Radical Unionist political opponents that desired sterner action on his part.35

After the war Broadhead continued his association with Frank Blair, and together they pursued an effort to repeal the onerous restrictions placed upon ex-Confederates in Missouri.  It was said of Broadhead “he had taken a bold stand against the provisions of the Drake Constitution, which not only destroyed the citizenship, but prevented many from pursuing their vocations as a means of earning their daily bread.  He was equally outspoken in denouncing the reconstruction acts of Congress as revolutionary.”36 In 1868 and 1872 he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and in 1875 played a leading role in the Missouri Constitutional Convention.  The following year he was appointed special counsel for the U.S. Attorney’s office in St. Louis and assisted in the prosecution of the so-called “Whisky Ring”—a scandal that reached directly into the White House.  That same year he was the Missouri delegation’s favorite son choice for President of the United States at the Democratic National Convention.  Two years later he helped found the American Bar Association and was elected to be that organization’s first president.37

In 1882 Broadhead successfully ran for the United States Congress, and, after serving one term, was appointed a special claims commissioner by Grover Cleveland.  Broadhead spent his sunset years as Minister to Switzerland from 1893 through 1897.  Finally retiring at the age of 78 years old, he returned home to St. Louis where he passed away on August 7, 1898.38

© 2002 by Kirby Ross

All Rights Reserved

1In Memoriam. James Overton Broadhead (St. Louis: Legal Publishing Company 1899) 42

2Samuel B. Harding, “Missouri Party Struggles in the Civil War Period,” American Historical Association Annual Report For the Year 1900 I (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office 1901) 93; Journal and Proceedings of the Missouri State Convention, March 1861 (St. Louis: George Knapp & Co., Printers and Binders 1861) 122.

3St. Louis Democrat, 2 June 1863, p. 1; St. Louis Democrat, 10 June 1863, p. 1.  See also The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, 1880-1901) Ser. 1, Vol. LIII, p. 582 (hereinafter cited as Official Records).  The Democrat was a Radical Unionist newspaper very strongly opposed to the appointment of Conservative Unionist Broadhead as PMG.  The Official Records correspondence was a direct reflection of that newspaper’s reporting.  Whether Broadhead actually said these particular words is problematic and thus far no definitive support has been located elsewhere.

4Harding, 93; Thomas L. Snead, The Fight For Missouri (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons 1886) 88

5Missouri State Convention, March 1861, 122-123; In Memoriam, 41-42.  For Broadhead’s relationship to Patrick Henry, see Howard L. Conard and William Hyde, eds., Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis I (New York: The Southern History Company 1899) 241; Garland Carr Broadhead, “Carrs, Winstons and Barretts,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (April 1898) 442; Garland Carr Broadhead, “The Family of Achilles Broadhead,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (October 1895) 212; Garland Carr Broadhead, “Carr Family,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (October 1895) 208-211; Garland Carr Broadhead “Carr Family,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (April 1898) 440-441.  Robert Douthat Meade, Patrick Henry: Patriot in the Making (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company 1957) 23, 40, 53, 64, 65; Henry Mayer, A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic (New York: Franklin Watts 1986) 24, 40, 47.  Patrick Henry was the grandson of Isaac Winston and Mary Dabney Winston, making him the first cousin of Broadhead’s maternal grandmother Mary Winston Carr.

6Conard and Hyde, 241; In Memoriam, 13, 30, 84; Missouri State Convention, March 1861, 122

7Conard and Hyde, 241; In Memoriam, 13, 84.  See also, Katharine Anthony, Dolly Madison: Her Life and Times (New York: Doubleday & Company Inc. 1949) 5; Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia 1990) 376-377.  Like Patrick Henry and James Broadhead, Dolley Madison was a direct descendant of Isaac Winston and Mary Dabney Winston.  Broadhead’s great-grandfather, Colonel William “Langloo” Winston, was a brother of Lucy Winston Coles, Dolley Madison’s grandmother.  See, “Carrs, Winstons and Barretts”; “The Family of Achilles Broadhead”; “Carr Family” Oct. 1895; “Carr Family” Apr. 1898.

8Plat of Land (A. Broadhead), 15 Nov. 1825, Accession #RG-5/3/1.002, Special Collections Dept., University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

9Rev. Edgar Woods, Albemarle County in Virginia (Charlottesville: The Michie Company 1901) 160-161; “Carrs, Winstons and Barretts”; “The Family of Achilles Broadhead”; “Carr Family” Oct. 1895; “Carr Family” Apr. 1898; Thomas Fleming, The Man From Monticello (New York: William Morrow and Company 1969) 8, 12, 22-23; William Howard Adams, Jefferson’s Monticello (New York: Abbeville Press 1983) 259; Willard Sterne Randall, Thomas Jefferson: A Life (New York: Henry Holt and Company 1993) 90, 176

10See Conard and Hyde, 386; “Carrs, Winstons and Barretts”; Mark Freeman, 20 Mar. 2002, “Thomas Carr of Caroline and Louisa Co., Va.,”

11In Memoriam, 21; William E. Parrish, “James Overton Broadhead,” American National Biography III (New York: Oxford University Press 1999) 579; “Hon. James O. Broadhead,” The United States Biographical Dictionary Missouri Volume (Kansas City: Press of Ramsey, Millett & Hudson 1878) 434-435; St. Louis: the Future Great City (St. Louis: C.R. Barnes 1876) 636-637

12In Memoriam, 21-22, 33; American National Biography, 579; United States Biographical Dictionary, 435.  See also John Vollmer Mering, The Whig Party in Missouri (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press 1967)

13“Hon. James O. Broadhead,” The Century Magazine III (August, 1873) 2

14Parrish, American National Biography, 329-330; History of St. Charles, Montgomery and Warren Counties, Missouri (St. Louis: National Historical Company 1885) 207; Perry McCandles, A History of Missouri II (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press 1972) 280.  See also Marvin R. Cain, Lincoln’s Attorney General Edward Bates of Missouri (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press 1965)

15“Fragments of the Broadhead Collection,” MHS, Glimpses of the Past, 2, 4 (March 1935) 49-51

16Ibid.; In Memoriam, 45; William E. Parrish, Frank Blair: Lincoln’s Conservative (Columbia: University of Missouri Press 1998) 254

17Lieutenant-Colonel James O. Broadhead, “Early Events of the War in Missouri,” War Papers and Personal Reminiscences—Missouri (St. Louis: Becktold & Co. 1892) 4-5, 8, 9-12, 18-19; United States Biographical Dictionary, 435-436; Walter Harrington Ryle, Missouri: Union or Secession (Nashville: George Peabody College For Teachers 1931) 206

18Robert J. Rombauer, The Union Cause in St. Louis in 1861 (St. Louis: Press of Nixon-Jones Printing Co. 1909) 191; Conard and Hyde, 241

19For Broadhead’s position on the economic issue, see Missouri State Convention, March 1861, p. 122-123.  For a concise presentation of the Unionist economic argument, see Ryle, 208-209.

20Missouri State Convention, March 1861, 122-123

21Official Records, Ser. 1, Vol. 1, p. 675; United States Biographical Dictionary, p. 436; War Papers and Personal Reminiscences, 5; Adjutant General’s Report of Missouri State Militia For the Year 1861 (St. Louis: George Knapp & Co., Printers and Binders 1862) 6; James O. Broadhead, “St. Louis During the War,” James O. Broadhead Papers, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis; “General Sweeny’s: A Museum of Civil War History,” 15 Nov. 2002,

22Official Records, Ser. 1, Vol. 1, p. 675

23Ryle, 206

24United States Biographical Dictionary, 436; William E. Parrish, A History of Missouri 1860-1875 (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press 1973) 10-11

25Ibid.; Parrish, A History of Missouri 1860-1875, 12-14; War Papers and Personal Reminiscences, 19-22; James Peckham, Gen. Nathaniel Lyon and Missouri in 1861 (New York: American News Company, Publisher 1866) 140-141

26“Fragments of the Broadhead Collection,” 57-58

27James O. Broadhead correspondence to Edward Bates, 4 Apr. 1862, James O. Broadhead Papers, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis; Official Records, Ser. 2, Vol. I, p. 277; Louis S. Gerteis, Civil War St. Louis (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas 2001) 169

28War Papers and Personal Reminiscences, 22-26; “Fragments of the Broadhead Collection,” 58

29Parrish, A History of Missouri 1860-1875, 22-23

30 Journal of the Missouri State Convention, July 1861 (St. Louis: George Knapp & Co., Printers and Binders 1861) 5, 9-10; W.F. Switzler, Illustrated History of Missouri From 1541 to 1877 (Saint Louis: C.R. Barns, Editor and Publisher 1879) 322; Eugene Morrow Violette, A History Of Missouri (Cape Girardeau, MO: Ramfre Press 1960 reprint, 1918) 328; Louisiana (Mo.) Journal, 1 Aug. 1861, p. 2

31Missouri State Convention, July 1861, 10

32Missouri State Convention, July 1861, 5-12, 17-18, 20-22, 25

33United States Biographical Dictionary, 436

34Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Missouri for 1862 (St. Louis 1862) 3; Gerteis, 269; In Memoriam, 42

35United States Biographical Dictionary, 436; In Memoriam, 42

36In Memoriam, 44; See, William E. Parrish, Missouri Under Radical Rule, 1865-1870 (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press 1965) 58, 78, 84, 88, 248, 305, 315; Parrish, Frank Blair: Lincoln’s Conservative, 236, 241, 245, 251

37Biographical Dictionary of the United States, 436-437; “Broadhead, James Overton,” 29 May 2000, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress,

38 Ibid.

Sorrowful Revenge by Firing Squad!

True Tales of the Tenth Kansas Infantry

Sorrowful Revenge by Firing Squad!

by Howard Mann

Twenty-four year old Michael Zwicky of rural Washington, Missouri walked along St. John’s Creek on October 23, 1864 with four of his neighbors. They were hunting persimmons when suddenly they spied three bodies lying on the ground partially covered by leaves. Two were in federal uniform, one distinguished as an artillerist, and one in civilian clothing. Horrified, the young men saw three more bodies, one with major’s straps on his coat. The other two bodies were “torn to pieces (I suppose the hogs and buzzards tore them and I saw pieces of brown jeans lying around and near the bodies)”. Zwicky and his comrades hastily reburied the bodies since the retreating Confederate invasion force had recently passed through. They quickly notified the local Justice of the Peace and Coroner, Esquire Kleinbeck.[1]

Kleinbeck rounded up another local man, James M. Kitchen, to investigate the suspicious deaths. Kitchen had heard “fourteen or fifteen shots [being fired] in rapid succession” three weeks earlier on a Monday while hiding in the brush from Sterling Price’s invading forces. Kitchen rifled through the dead major’s pockets to try and identify him. He removed two pocket diaries, a receipt for $25, the two shoulder straps, and several sets of orders including one from Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, signed by his aide-de-camp, Captain Charles S. Hills, Tenth Kansas Infantry. In each case the recipient was Major James Wilson. The body with civilian clothing had a $10 Confederate bill and a $5 Federal greenback, and a photograph of a soldier. Kitchen also found a letter dated May 13, 1864 to “Mr. T. Boyd, ever dear and sweet husband. Most of the letter was unreadable.[2] By that time the Rebels had left the area quickly moving to the west and already on the verge of engaging the Kansas militia and Federal forces in front of Kansas City at the battle of Westport. Only a few weeks before (September 26-27) a much stronger Confederate army had broken itself on repeated charges against the self-same Brigadier General Thomas Ewing and a small 1,000-man force at Pilot Knob, Missouri. Among the missing Union men was Major James Wilson, 3rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry.

The Federal authorities were notified and had been looking for the missing Major. The mystery was quickly solved. Captain Hills had provided Major Wilson with orders early in the action when Price’s army converged across the Arcadia valley in front of Fort Davidson, Pilot Knob. He noted that Major Wilson had a minor head injury and was exhausted from regrouping his 3rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry trying to slow the Confederate onslaught. On September 27th, Wilson was captured along with Captain Franz Dinger, 47th Missouri Infantry.[3]

The first Union soldiers to again validate the identity the unfortunate Major Wilson was Lieutenant Colonel Amos W. Maupin of the 47th Missouri Infantry. Not having sufficient wagons he again buried the bodies by October 25th.[4] Finally on October 28th Lieutenant John F. Jacoby and a party from Wilson’s regiment, 3rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry, arrived with wagons to recover the bodies. Jacoby and his companions easily identified Major Wilson, whose eyes were gone and face blackened through decomposition. A wart on his forehead identified one of the other soldiers, Sergeant John W. Shaw, Company I, 3rd M.S.M. Cavalry.  Private William C. Grotte, of the same company, was recognized by his red hair and profuse freckles on his face and neck. One soldier recognized another man as Private William Skaggs, Company I. A less positive identification was of Corporal William R. Cowley (Gourley), Company I. The body clad in the artillery jacket may have belonged to Company I or K, 3rd M.S.M Cavalry. These companies originally were recruited as artillery and had kept the red-striped jackets. It was obvious that Sterling Price’s men had executed the dead Federals.[5]

In fact, Major Wilson and the entire 3rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry had bitter and personal enemies among Price’s army. The war in southeastern Missouri was waged between families and neighbors in adjoining counties. The balance of pro-Union supporters and pro-southern families dotted the countryside in the southernmost counties of Missouri along the Mississippi River and next to Arkansas. Opposing much of the area patrolled by the 3rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry were pro-Confederate Home Guard units such as Timothy Reeves Company of Independent Scouts. In 1862 events shaped a consolidation of these independent units into a battalion sized regiment, the 15th Missouri Cavalry Regiment, C.S.A. led by Colonel Timothy Reeves. Reeves, a rural Baptist minister, was targeted by the 3rd M.S.M. under Major James Wilson. Members of Wilson’s family were pro-southern and his loyalty to the Union cost him the relationship with his wife, children, brother and father. Since many of the men from both units had been local farmers in Ripley and Pike counties, the guerrilla aspect of war quickly escalated.

According to Kirby Ross in “Atrocity at Doniphan, Missouri” he describes the ensuing events:

“During the course of the war Wilson’s troops routed Reeves’ command several times.  Then on September 19, 1864, under orders from the Union command in St. Louis, Wilson dispatched a small task force consisting of troops from the 3rd M.S.M. and the 47th Missouri Infantry under First Lieutenant Erich Pape, with instructions to burn Doniphan, the seat of Ripley County.  After fulfilling their orders the Federal raiders retreated to the northeast, burning several farms along the route.  At Ponder’s Mill on the Little Black River a pursuing force of Confederates under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Rector Johnson surrounded them and a sharp skirmish ensued.  Several on both sides were killed or wounded, and six Union troops taken prisoner.  All of the prisoners were subsequently executed.”[6]

Reeves and Wilson were personal enemies and Wilson along with five hapless men of the 3rd M.S.M. was in General Sterling Price’s power. As Price’s army retreated away from Pilot Knob, let Brigadier General Thomas Ewing and his men slip from their grasp, and saw St. Louis eluding their invasion, Price decided to turn over his prisoners to Colonel Timothy Reeves and the 15th Missouri Cavalry near Union, Missouri.[7]

Reeves men marched Major Wilson and his men near St. John’s Creek in Franklin County, formed up the firing squad, shot and killed the men.  The dead were left where they lay. In his study of the executions, Kirby Ross continues:

After the war, three Confederates explained the motives behind the executions.  Griffin Frost, who spent time in a military prison with some of Reeves’ men, stated in his diary that Reeves was retaliating for the previous execution of a similar number of his men. Confederate Generals M. Jeff Thompson and Jo Shelby shed light on what may have been the reasons for the acquiescence to the executions by the Confederate senior command and attributed them to the burnings undertaken by Wilson’s men.  General Thompson went on to regret that the killings were not “done by such order and form that retaliation would have been avoided….  [B]ut responsibilities of this kind were not to our commander’s liking, and they were turned over to Reeves to guard, with a pretty full knowledge that they would be shot.”[8]

As General Thompson had foreseen, the Federal response was severe.  On July 30, 1863, President Lincoln had issued orders “that for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war, a rebel soldier shall be executed.”  In this spirit and in the cycle of violence alluded to in General Thompson’s statement the U.S. command opened yet another round of reprisals that targeted captured Southern troops held in St. Louis.  “[I]f the laws of war and humanity are not sufficient to secure our prisoners from murder I will add to their force the motive of personal interest,” proclaimed Major General William S. Rosecrans.  A Union military dispatch goes on to tell the tale:  “I have to report to the commanding general that I have this day ordered the slayings of six enlisted rebel prisoners of war, in compliance with his orders to retaliate for the murder of six men of Major Wilson’s command, of the Third Cavalry Missouri State Militia, by the guerrilla, Tim Reves….  Captain Ferguson has been ordered to send a major to Colonel Darr from Independence for the same purpose.”  As Rosecrans ordered, six Confederate enlisted men were selected, taken to a public place, and shot.[9]

Capt. Griffin Frost wrote from Alton, Ill., prison:

“OCT. 28.—The six men who were placed in close confinement on the 9th of this month, were handcuffed and taken to St. Louis this morning, where, it is said they will be shot some time to-day. They are to be executed in retaliation for a Maj. Wilson and six men, who were turned over to Reeves and by him shot, in retaliation for the murder of the same number of his men. When will this thing stop? This game of lex talionis makes sad havoc upon the lives of innocent men.”

The outcry in St. Louis was very loud. Brigadier General Ewing was particularly affected having been Wilson’s commanding officer at Pilot Knob. Ewing was also aware that many of Price’s men would have treated him the same way if he had been captured for promulgating the infamous Order Number 11 that emptied the border counties of Missouri after the burning of Lawrence.[10] Ewing and his commanding officer, General William S. Rosecrans agreed that retribution needed to be made. Rosecrans issued the order for retribution as the body of Major Wilson lay in state in a church in St. Louis.[11]

None of the six condemned privates served in the 15th Missouri Cavalry nor were involved in Price’s battle at Pilot Knob. The hapless men were Harvey H. Blackburn, age 47; George T. Bunch, age unknown; Asa V. Ladd, age 34; Charles W. Minnekin, age 22; George Nichols, age 21 and James W. Gates, age 21. In many ways they were similar to the executed men of the 3rd M.S.M.

James W. Gates was a member of Company H, Captain Dickey’s 3rd Missouri Cavalry. Gates was from Cooper County.

Asa V. Ladd lived in Stoddard County. He was a member of Company A, Jackson’s, in Burbridge’s Missouri Cavalry. Ladd was a farmer and had a wife, Amy, and four children.

Charles W. Minnekin, Independence, Arkansas, was a private in Company A, Crabtree’s Cavalry Regiment.

John Nichols, Company G, 2nd Missouri Cavalry, was from western Cass County, Missouri. Nichols had faced forces containing the Tenth Kansas at Newtonia, Cane Hill and Prairie Grove in the fall of 1862. He would see them again as his executioners.

Harvey H. Blackburn was also from Independence, Arkansas. He was a private in Colonel A. Coleman’s Arkansas Cavalry.

George T. Bunch had been substituted for a teamster, John H. Furgeson. Bunch was a private in Company B, 3rd Missouri Cavalry. They were all captured during the raid.[12]

Absalom Grimes was in a cell in Gratiot St. Prison across from the condemned men the night before they were executed. He wrote:

“Never, so long as I live, will I be able to forget or cease to hear the cries and pleadings of those men after the death warrant had been read to them. Ministers and priests were allowed to visit them and during the entire night their lamentations were ceaseless.”

Asa Ladd story and his last letters to his family

The men were housed in the Gratiot Street Prison and not informed until the day slated for the execution, October 29, 1864. A Catholic priest, Father Ward, and an Episcopalian minister, Reverend Phillip McKim, attended the men in their last few hours. They baptized five of the men, and Asa Ladd, who was already baptized, wrote a heart-rending letter to his wife, Amy, and children. Reverend McKim sorrowfully added a personal note to comfort the unknowing widow.[13]

The men were taken in a covered wagon to Fort Number 4, near Lafayette Park at two o’clock on Saturday, October 29th.  Their escort was made up of men; at least one of them had faced in battle before. The Tenth Kansas Infantry had drawn this distasteful duty before. Several weeks before a firing squad of Tenth Kansas soldiers had shot a Union deserter, Barney Gibbons, to death. The Tenth Kansas had been posted in St. Louis and at the nearby Alton, Illinois, military prison since January 1864. The veteran soldiers finished out their three-year enlistment as prison guards, provost guard, and posted around St. Louis in administrative capacity. The regiment mustered out a majority of the men and officers on August 19, 1864. The same month saw the court-martial and cashiering of their Colonel, William Weer, for improprieties while in command at Alton. The remaining men were steadfast in their desire to complete their duty and they re-enlisted in the Veteran Tenth Kansas Volunteer Infantry under the temporary command of Captain William C. Jones.

The ensuing scene was filled with tension. The Saint Louis Democrat of October 30th described the events:

“On the west side of the fort six posts had been set in the ground, each with a seat attached, and each tied with a strip of white cotton cloth, afterward used in bandaging the eyes of the prisoners. Fifty-four men were selected as the executioners. Forty-four belonged to the 10th Kansas and ten to the 41st Missouri. Thirty-six of these comprised the front firing party, eighteen being reserved in case they should not do this work effectually.

About three o’clock the prisoners arrived on the ground, and sat down, attached to the posts. They all appeared to be more or less affected, but, considering the circumstances, remained remarkably firm. Father Ward and Rev. Mr. McKim spoke to the men in their last moments, exhorting them to put their trust in God. The row of posts ranged north and south, and at the first on the north was Asa V. Ladd, on his left was George Nichols; next Harvey H. Blackburn, George T. Bunch, Charles W. Minnekin, and James W. Gates. Ladd and Blackburn sat with perfect calmness, with their eyes fixed on the ground, and did not speak. Nichols shed tears, which he wiped away wit a red pocket-handkerchief, and continued to weep until his eyes were bandaged. Nichols gave no sign of emotion at first, but sat with seeming indifference, scraping the ground with his heel. He asked one of the surgeons if there was any hope of a postponement, and being assured that there was none, he looked more serious, and frequently ejaculated, “Lord, have mercy on my poor soul!” Again he said: “O, to think of the news that will go to father and mother!”

After the reading of the sentence by Col. Heinrichs, Minnekin expressed a desire to say a few words. He said:

“Soldiers, and all of you who hear me, take warning from me. I have been a Confederate soldier four years, and have served my country faithfully. I am now to be shot for what other men have done, that I had no hand in, and know nothing about. I never was a guerrilla, and I am sorry to be shot for what I had nothing to do with, and what I am not guilty of. When I took a prisoner, I always treated him kindly and never harmed a man after he surrendered. I hope God will take me to his bosom when I am dead. O, Lord, be with me!”

While the sergeant was bandaging his eyes, Minnekin, said: “Sergeant, I don’t blame you. I hope we will all meet in heaven. Boys, farewell to you all; the Lord have mercy on our poor souls!”

The firing party was about ten paces off. Some of the Kansas men appeared to be reluctant to fire upon the prisoners, but Captain Jones told them it was their duty; that they should have no hesitation, as these men had taken the life of many a Union man who was as innocent as themselves.

At the word, the thirty-six soldiers fired simultaneously, the discharge sounding like a single explosion. The aim of every man was true. One or two of the victims groaned, and Blackburn cried out: “Oh, kill me quick!” In five minutes they were all dead, their heads falling to one side, and their bodies swinging around to the sides of the posts, and being kept from falling by the pinions on their arms. Five of them were shot through the heart, and the sixth received three balls in his breast, dying almost instantly.

The execution was witness by several thousand spectators, most of them soldiers, and it was conducted in a manner highly creditable to those engaged in the performance of the disagreeable duty.

The bodies were placed in plain painted coffins, and interred by Mr. Smithers.”[14]

The Confederate major selected, Major Enoch O. Wolf, Ford’s Battalion was ordered to be shot in November 1864. Major Wolf credited his reprieve to his showing the Mason’s sign to his minister. He claimed that President Lincoln wired an order ending the execution.[15] A second telling by Brigadier General Thomas Fletcher, 47th Missouri Infantry, who had been at Pilot Knob, was slightly different.

“Eleven Confederate Majors in our hands were compelled to draw lots to determine who should be shot in retaliation for the murder of Wilson. The man so selected was in charge, for a time, of Lieut. Col. Charles S. Hills of the 10th Kansas, then on staff duty. Col. Hills became interested in him. The night before the morning fixed for his execution, Col. Hills appealed to Hon. Henry T. Blow, one of the noble-hearted, patriotic men who deservedly stood near to the great generous-hearted Lincoln. He telegraphed Mr. Lincoln and the answer came to stay the execution, and it remains stayed until this day.”[16]

Documentation, letters, diaries, or comments by the men and officers of the Tenth Kansas Infantry have never surfaced. The execution apparently affected the men to the point of wavering in their duty. The veterans would fight against Missourians at Nashville in December 1864 and at the last large land battle of the Civil War, Fort Blakely, April 9, 1865. It does seem that the Kansas grew to respect and connect more with their opponents as the war ground to a halt. During the lulls in siege at Fort Blakely, the Kansas and Missouri men would talk with each other, swap tobacco and coffee, and wish for home.

[1]“The Retaliation: The Murder of Wilson and his Comrades”, St. Louis Democrat. October 31, 1864.


[3]Suderow, Bryce A., Thunder in Arcadia Valley: Price’s Defeat, September 27, 1864. Southeast Missouri State University, 1986. pages 71-72; Peterman, Cyrus A. and Hanson, Joseph Mills, Pilot Knob: The Thermopylae of the West. Two Trails Publishing Company, 2000. pages 95-96.

[4]“Retribution: The Murder of Wilson and his Comrades”, St. Louis Democrat. October 29, 1864.


[6]Ross, Kirby. “Atrocity at Doniphan, Missouri”. Unpublished manuscript used with permission of the author.

[7]Wilson, James Papers. Western Historical Manuscript Collection. “Testimony of Capt. Franz Dinger, the main witness concerning the battle of Pilot Knob, the capture of Maj. Wilson, and treatment after surrender, taken in St. Louis on October 30, 1864.”

[8] Ross, Atrocity at Doniphan; Donal J. Stanton, Goodwin F. Berquist, and Paul C. Bowers, The Civil War Reminiscences of General M. Jeff Thompson (Dayton, OH.: Morningside 1988) 294; General Joseph Shelby correspondence to Major C.C. Rainwater read before the Southern Historical Association, Ewing Family Papers, Box 213; Letter from Gen. J.O. Shelby, CSA to Maj. C.C. Rainwater, Jan. 5, 1888, Cyrus Peterson Battle of Pilot Knob Research Collection, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, MO.  See also, Griffin Frost, Camp and Prison Journal (Quincy, Ill.: Quincy Herald Book and Job Office 1867).

[9] Ross; Roy P. Basler (ed.), The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, New Jersey: 1953, VI: p. 357; General Order No. 252, Official Records, Ser. 1, Vol. XXXIII, pp. 866-867; Official Records, Ser. 1, Vol. XLI, Pt. 4, p. 316; Official Records, Ser. 2, Vol. VI, p. 163; Official Records, Ser. 2, Vol. VII, pp. 1118-1119

[10]Thunder in Arcadia Valley, page 151, pages 35 – 36.


[12]Ibid. “The Retaliation”.

[13]“The Retaliation”.

[14]St. Louis Democrat. “A Military Execution: Shooting of Six Rebel Soldiers”. October 30, 1863.

[15]Bartels, Carolyn. The Last-Long Mile: Westport to Arkansas October 1864. Two Trails Publishing, 1999. pages 115 – 120.

[16]“The Asa Ladd Story”. Ladd Digging Ground.

Prison Journal – Dec 1863 – Jan 1864

Gratiot Street Prison

“Camp and Prison Journal”

by Griffin Frost

The journal of Captain Griffin Frost was written throughout the war, much of it while Frost was a prisoner at Gratiot Street Prison and Alton Prison and is one of the very few published primary sources available on Gratiot. He published it in 1867 in response to the outcry against southern treatment of prisoners in places like Andersonville. Frost hoped to make it clear that northern treatment of prisoners was just as bad as southern. In this perspective the book was a failure for though deathrates were comparable in northern and southern prisons, the conditions in Gratiot were entirely unlike those in Andersonville, something that becomes immediately and abundantly clear when reading his narrative.

Frost was a newspaper editor and may have rewritten or enhanced some portions of his journal before publication. The portions that leap out in this regard are the occasional pro-southern/anti-northern mini-rants he indulges in which stand out jarringly at times from the flow of the rest of the narrative. On the other hand, Frost was a writer and he was bored with the tedium of prison life so may have unleashed his writing exuberance at times in his journal. He clearly is a skilled writer and writes a lively, interesting tale even in short entries. His information about events taking place around him is not always correct–something that may surprise a reader taking a journal written at the time as being a wholly reliable source. But Frost was limited by his perspective and the information he got and so sometimes reports as fact things that were only rumor. Annotations throughout will try to clarify these moments.

Points in Frost’s writing that grate most on the present-day reader (or so one hopes) are his occasional racial comments. They are harsh and wholly insulting yet will be included here without editing as they do reveal an important aspect of the times and the thought processes that needs to be faced squarely and not glossed over. Try to view these passages in their historical context yet also be aware they do not represent the views of all people at that time, yet by the some token were shared by a number of people from both sides of the conflict.

Though Frost’s narrative covers his entire wartime experience, only those portions that take place in Gratiot or Alton will be presented on this website.

Buy a reprint of Frost’s full book from:

Available from Camp Pope Bookshop

reprint no longer available, but check Camp Pope’s inventory of other fine books

and check their other Missouri-related publications

December 1863 – January 1864

Dec. 3, 1863.—Judge Sowards of Canton, has been released, but I have not heard on what terms, of course he had to accept such as were offered, whether they were dictated in the spirit of justice, humanity, or spite. He was an agreeable and gentlemanly fellow prisoner, and we would mourn his exit, but we know that our loss is his gain; so with resignation we pronounce, “may the bunk which has known him here, know him no more forever,” and so mote it be, with some of the rest of us. I trust we are fully prepared for such a change.

A Federal revenue officer has been put in with us, for stealing. Such arrangements are very distasteful to our circle, as almost the only privilege we try to exercise is that of being select in our associations; and it is exceedingly offensive to have to come in contact with plebeanism of this style. We consider it quite a sufficient condescension to have intercourse with the better class of that party without having their thieves thrust in among us.

It’s interesting that for all his admiration of those who escaped and attempted to do so, Frost, himself, apparently never considered escaping.

Prison life is dull and disagreeable at the best, with all our efforts to keep a stiff upper lip, and looking at the bright side, we will have heavy gloomy days. Maj. Brasher has received a lot of novels and magazines, with which we while away some of the tedious hours, and the revenue officer, after all, affords us quite a fund of amusement. He is almost frantic over his imprisonment; thinks he will go crazy if it lasts long. One of the boys remarked he wouldn’t have far to go. Letters drop in occasionally advising me to “take the oath.” My sister at Cairo speaks to day. I would like to say, once for all, and once to all, that first; I don’t know that I would be permitted to take the oath, as I was captured this time under peculiar circumstances, and, second, I have no wish to leave prison in that way, if I can escape by a more honorable route. I shall await the result of my trial; if I am booked a prisoner for the war, without hope of exchange, I will begin to consider what is best to be done. Meantime I am truly thankful for the interest manifested by my friends, and grateful for their efforts in my behalf. Brasher, the noisy fellow, is trying to fill our cage with the melody of his song he is rattling off.

“We met, ’twas in a crowd, I thought he would shun me,

He came, I could not breathe, for his eyes were upon me,

He spoke, his words were cold, and his smiles were unaltered,

But I knew how much he felt, for his deep toned voice faltered.

I wore my bridal robe; I rivaled its whiteness,

Bright gems were in my hair, how I hated their brightness;

He called me by my name, as the bride of another,

Oh thou hast been the cause of this anguish my mother.”

We receive a free lecture every now and then from Capt. Masterson, and it is amusing indeed to hear him; talks as though he was lord and master of all he surveyed. He has such a beautiful way of delivering his remarks; always comes up with one eye closed and a grin on his face, and commences: “Now boys, didn’t I tell yees so, and so, and why in the divil don’t yees mind me.” After lecturing us some five or ten minutes, he starts off grumbling, saying “its no use talking to rebels—they are a hard set.” We think so too.

MONDAY, Dec, 7, 1863.—I was notified on Saturday last, to be ready for trial to-day. The following is the General Order, which they say I have violated:


ST. LOUIS, Aug. 25, 1863.}

General Order, No. 86.

Large numbers of men are leaving the broken rebel armies in the Mississippi valley, and returning to Missouri—many of them doubtless, with the purpose of following a career of plunder and murder, under the form of guerrilla warfare while others would gladly return to their homes as peaceful citizens, if permitted to do so, and protected from violence. It is the desire of the commanding General, that all those who voluntarily abandon the rebel cause, and desire to return to their allegiance to the United States, shall be permitted to do so under such restrictions as the public peace shall require. All such persons may surrender themselves and their arms at the nearest military post and will be released upon taking the oath and giving bond, &c.

The above order is one of Halleck’s, and as I failed to comply with the terms offered, it is presumed that I had other intentions. I made no remark, but this morning obeyed the summons which called me before the Military Commission. That learned and august body soon disposed of my case to suit themselves, but have not, as yet, vouchsafed a knowledge of their conclusion to the humble object of their sage deliberations. I would like to know, but prisoners learn patience. After the trial was over, I asked for a guard and permission to go shopping, which being granted, I started out, went first to a picture gallery and got a glass for my little daughter’s picture, then went to a furnishing store for some toweling. While making my purchase, the merchant asked me what regiment I belonged to? I told him I belonged to Gen. Parson’s command, of the Confederate army, which seemed to surprise him. Six or eight ladies being present, one of them asked me if I wanted to go back South? I answered in the affirmative. She enquired if I did not think I ought to reform? I replied that when convinced I had done wrong, I should probably think of reformation. “Are you not convinced now?” said she. I confessed that I had not received sufficient light to comprehend my error. She smiled good naturedly, and as I passed out I heard a couple of her companions who had remained silent, saying in a half whisper, “he’s all right,” “he’s O. K.” They were rebel ladies. On our way back to the Hotel de Gratiot I was pleasantly surprised by meeting in front of the Planter’s House, with Samuel Anderson, of Palmyra. I would have enjoyed a good talk with him, but was only allowed a few words, and had to pass on. Dinner was awaiting my arrival; after it was dispatched, we were informed that our friends, would in future, be deprived of the permission which has heretofore been occasionally granted them, of sending in clothing, provision, &c., to relieve our necessities. I made a few remarks in the way of remonstrance which excited the dander of a self important little official, who politely invited me up stairs and locked me in the room where the condemned criminals are kept. Two of them are sentenced to be shot. I managed to communicate with my old quarters through a hole in the partition, learned that quite a little gust of anger had sprung up in consequence of my remarks. How sore they are where the truth hits. The sergeant came up about nine and took me down for my bed clothes. I shouldered and brought them up. So here I am with my tent pitched in the wilderness of sin. One of my room mates is named Fornchell, a young married man, who was in prison with me at Springfield; he also has been exchanged and recaptured, and is now wearing a ball and chain, it is said he is sentenced to be shot, but he denies in toto the charges against him. While he was in Jefferson City he had some photographs taken with his ball and chain on; it is rather a sad looking picture for his young wife to contemplate.

MONDAY, Dec. 14, 1863.—They only kept me one night in the condemned cell, but it was a night of horrors. I could hear the rattling of chains, and the thumping of balls, every time the poor fellows would turn over on their pallets of straw. They seemed cheerful enough when awake, but the moaning and groaning in their sleep told a story which their manly spirits could not hide. I was forcibly brought to reflect on the contrast—McNeal murdered ten men in Palmyra, and was promoted; Combs murdered Lasley, Price and Ridgeway, a cold blooded butchery, and is a hero; Haith Jones of Frankfort, Pike county, Mo., was foully assassinated at night by the home guards, and is unavenged; twenty seven prisoners, a surgeon, Dr. Davis, among them, shot down like dogs at Kirksville was a valorous achievement, and so on, name after name, murder after murder, might be added, committed with every attendant circumstance of savage brutality, endorsed, applauded and rewarded by the same Pharisacal hands that are now stoning to death these poor chained starving wretches. Sinners they may be, probably are, and God help the hypocrite, who pretends to be otherwise. Still death to them and honor to guiltier hands, is a bitter perversion of God’s eternal law of justice. Thank Heaven there is a court of appeals where the Chief Justice can neither be blinded, bribed nor brow beaten. My friend Major Brasher, exerted all his ingenuity to divert my mind and scatter its gloomy reflections; saluting me through the “hole in the wall” with questions and comments; before retiring he gave me a parting volley—would have my opinion of my new “posish,” &c. I do not know that my answers were particularly amiable, however they were a happy reflection of my mood. In the morning I told the sergeant I wanted my clothes, if I had to stay there. He started off, but soon came back and ordered me to load up my bedding and march for the old quarters. I obeyed without a murmur. Don’t know that I shall attempt to reason with these fanatics again, they give me the worst of the argument. Capt. Burns interposed for my release or I might have been there yet. We are not a great deal better off here, as we are not allowed to see friends, receive packages, buy provisions, or anything else. Having no stamps, I waited on Capt. Masterson, made my politest bow, and humbly enquired if I could procure some, as I wished to send a letter to my wife. He answered me, “no, not a d—d thing?” I retired in disgust. Newspapers are also forbidden, and we have to do our own washing. If they come down on the lower quarters in the same proportion they have on us, I don’t see what’s left for them, as they have never had any surplus in the way of provisions or privileges. We are told that Masterson is the cause of all our troubles; if so, he certainly delights in human suffering. The other morning before I got up, he bolted into our room and turned to me in a sneering manner, saying:

“Well friend Frast, yeer plaasure will now end, you’ll not enjoy yeerself any more when the ladies pass, in thrawing kisses, and wavin’ yeer handkerchief. I shell put a stop to all sich sports.” And sure enough the comical old monster had the windows weather boarded. When he had it all fixed to his notion, he delivered himself of a lecture. Great guns! I wish some of the scolding old women could have heard him, I think it would have shamed them out of the business. I think he must have inherited the virago propensities from forty cracked voiced old grandmothers. How he did come down on “proper places,” “looking out of windows,” and “other things in general.” If he ever lets us buy anything again we must vote him a night cap with a big ruffled border, and a calico recticule, with smoking tobacco and cob pipe. If he was an opium eater, like many old grannies it would enhance our peace and quiet. He has had all the Federal prisoners removed from here to Myrtle, so he could let himself out on us. We jogged along under the thumb screws, giving him as wide a berth as possible and being very circumspect in our words and ways until Saturday night when the storm burst in its fury. About three o’clock in the morning, with great bustle and confusion we were waked and ordered out to answer roll call. Prisoners had escaped! Three or four officers—several from the lock-up, and a number from the lower quarters; fourteen in all.

Lt. Robert Lane LaValle of New Madrid, April 14, 1837-Feb. 2, 1902. He escaped from Alton June 28, 1864.

One man, Lieut. Lavalle was recaptured by the guards as he was in the act of climbing a fence. They were so enraged he thought they would shoot him after surrendering, but they brought him in and the officers plied him with many questions concerning the escape. He told a plain straight forward story. Said there were ten or twelve others, who were just ahead of him and who got off. That in the first place they went to the lamp house cellar, where they took underground passage through a hole which they had dug for that purpose, and which extended for forty or fifty yards, terminating in an another cellar, from which they emerged into a yard, climbed the fence and were off; at least those who were quick enough. He was covered with mud and dirt that he had gathered in the hole, which was barely large enough for a man to squeeze himself through. In working the tunnel they hauled the dirt back in a box and packed it down tight in the cellar. It must have taken three or four weeks to complete all their arrangements and they certainly deserve great credit for their skill and management; the only pity is, that more could not have availed themselves of so fine an opportunity, for we will not have such another offered again soon, as old Masterson will be more rigorous than ever. He closes the iron doors now, and locks us in at seven. He is in a regular stew about the digging of the passage, and is making great effort to ascertain who were engaged in it, but his success is not encouraging however. He sends all the officers whom he questions down to lower quarters, whether they know anything or not. The men in the lock-up, up stairs, descended by means of a rope made of blankets—I have the names of four of them—W. Owsley, who had just gotten through his trial, and was charged with murder, robbery, bushwhacking, &c. Thinking it would go hard with him, he took an appeal by way of the blanket ladder. Also — Watkins, who was one of a party that charged upon the guards last spring and escaped, but was recaptured, and has been in the lock-up ever since, concluded to enlarge his quarters; and two Lieutenants, Martin and Stewart, thought they would go down and take a walk. There were others, whose names I have not been able to pick up, but whoever they are, the best wishes of their late prison comrades attend them, notwithstanding we have to suffer for their good luck, our keepers being stricter than ever; I cannot even write to my wife. George Henly and George Phillips, our Confederate roll callers were sent below on suspicion of being implicated in the escape. The Feds are worse beat than they have ever been before, with all their splurge and splutter they cannot get any new light on the subject, for every prisoner is a Know Nothing.

DEC. 21, 1863.—The week past has been dull and disagreeable, and I have been quite sick, but have weathered it along without going to the hospital. The boys soon cut through the plank over our windows, making little holes to peep out; if Masterson knows of it he says nothing, and we make no comments; he is showing his spleen by searching prisoners who come in from the Provost’s. Two Lieutenants, Brown and Thaxton were overhauled Tuesday, and Brown lost a small knife which he brought with him when he first came to Gratiot.

Col. Priest and another officer have been put in the strong room to remain for the future; they have no idea what led to the movement. Lieut. Gowing visited them to-day, and old Masterson caught him there, when he ordered him to stay, and had him transfer, bag and baggage, saying he supposed the Lieutenant liked their quarters better than his own. On Sunday there was an order received from the Secretary of War, permitting us to buy tobacco and stationery, so we will be able to write to our families again. We are allowed to buy tobacco because they fear we will get sick if deprived of it, and they will have to furnish us medicine and medical attendance which will cost them more than the comfort derived from our punishment will come to. We had quite an addition to our number on Friday, about seventy Confederates arrived from Little Rock; men and officers, who were left there sick when our forces evacuated the place. They tell us that Old Pap has taken Washington, Arkansas. One of these men, Capt. Caldwell, had a surgical operation performed on his side yesterday, by Dr. Dudley, who took out a piece of bone from a wound which was received last September. Twelve other prisoners have also dropped in, one of Jo. Shelby’s Captains among them. New arrivals are gladly welcomed, from the fact of their bringing in something fresh to talk about. When a citizen is thrown to us, we consider we have drawn a great prize, as he brings in all he knows, and takes out all he learns; it is the best show we have to keep the U. G. R. R., in repair. The Feds don’t know how they play into our hands in such cases, or they would be a little more careful how they thrust citizens into military prisons. I am indebted to the U. G. Express Co., for postage stamps, which came shortly after Capt. M’s ungentlemanly refusal.

Daniel R. O’Neal was released on Oath and Bond January 2, 1864.

DEC. 28, 1863.—Another week of prison life, has dragged its long length slowly by, taking a joyous Christmas in its train. Tuesday was a day of perfect stagnation. The Feds thought of no new method of cruelty, and we submitted to all the plans in operation. Old Gratiot was like a ship becalmed in Southern seas. Wednesday a little breeze sprung up on the admission of a citizen prisoner, a Mr. O’Neal, from Herman, Gasconade county, arrested for speaking disloyally. He seems somewhat uneasy, and well he may if there is any prospect of his being shipped east. We see in an old copy of the Columbus Crisis, which an underground accident threw in our way, that political prisoners at Camp Chase fare even worse than prisoners of war do here. The following is the article in full, which we copy for future reference—it bears date December 24, 1862.

“We speak wholly of the political prison, of the State, as we know nothing whatever of what occurs in the prison where “rebels taken in arms” are kept—that is, “the prisoner of war.”

It must not be forgotten that there have been from six to seven hundred political prisoners at Camp Chase at a time; and although several hundred have been lately discharged without trial, there are yet there some four hundred—one or two hundred of these have arrived there within a few days past from Kentucky and Western Virginia. These men were taken from their homes, some from their beds at night, some from their homes in daytime, and a great many of them are picked up in their fields at work, and never suffered to see their families before being spirited off to Ohio and incarcerated in the celebrated Bastile, which will soon be as famous as Olmutz itself.

Our Ohioans are put into the same prison with these men from other States, and from them we have learned some facts which the people of Ohio ought to know. Many of these men have been kept in this prison for over one year, a great many for five, six, seven and eight months, without even seeing outside, or being allowed to communicate personally with any one, not even wife, child, father, mother, or stranger.

They are furnished with nothing but a single blanket, even these cold nights, unless they are able to purchase additional comforts with the money they may be able to command. Many are poor men, and unable to purchase; they were not permitted to bring along a change of clothing, and many had on when seized nothing but summer wear, and that has become filthy, worn out, and scarcely hangs upon their backs.

They have no bedding, and are therefore compelled to sleep on bare boards. They have not enough wood furnished to keep fires up all night, and hence the suffering is intensified by the cold weather. If they attempt, after night, to walk out in the yard to take off the chills of the dreary night, they are instantly threatened to be shot by the guards, as ordered by those in command.

Dr. Allen, of Columbia county, Ohio, said he laid on a bare board until his hips were black and blue. The wood furnished them is four feet long, and they are compelled, each mess, to chop it up for themselves. Recollect, always that these are political prisoners, against whom no one appears as accuser, and no trial is permitted.

The prison has become filthy—awfully so—and the rats are in droves. If the prisoners attempt to kill one of these rats, they are forbidden, and threatened with being shot instantly. Recollect, as we have said before, these are political prisoners, against whom some malicious negro-worshipper has created a suspicion of disloyalty, but whose name is kept secret, and hence there can be no trial.

The prison is perfectly alive with lice, and no chance is given to escape the living vermin. A dead man, one of the prisoners, was the other day carried out to the dead-yard, laid there over night, and when visited in the morning by other prisoners, who heard there was a dead man there, they found the hair on his head stiff with lice and nits—the lice creeping into his eyes in great numbers, and, as he lay, they were thick, crawling in and out of his open mouth.

Not long since two of the prisoners got into a scuffle in trying their strength, and finally into a fight, as was supposed, and several other persons rushed to part them, when the guards from the lookout above fired on them, killing an old man by the name of Jones, from Western Virginia, and a ball grazing the skull of another; he fell, and it was supposed at first, he was killed also; another of the balls passed through a board at the head of a sick man in the hospital, and only escaped him by a few inches. The two men in the scuffle were not hurt. We might go further, but God knows this is enough for once. It is enough to make one’s blood run cold to think of it.

Now, if any one doubts this—if the authorities at camp or at the State House doubt it—if the Legislature, when it meets, will raise a committee, we promise to name the witnesses who, if sent for, will, under oath, prove all this, and as much more, some of which is too indecent to print in a newspaper for the public eye.”

This was their programme a year ago, and as the Yankees are a progressive race, the inference is, that if O’Neal should chance to tarry a few months at Camp Chase he could pick up a world of rich experience which would startle the military outside—that is if he should live to get out with his story; but we have heard it said that “dead men tell no tales.” I know that live ones don’t dare to tell all they know—even in underground letters much less in those carefully worded concerns which we send through the hands of prison inspectors. For instance, if I should tell my wife, how on Christmas eve, we offered an humble petition for liberty to purchase a Christmas dinner, and how unfeelingly we were denied, my letter would not pass, and I would be sent to the lower quarters or dungeon to learn better manners than to write the truth. Nor would it do to inform her of how I “peeped” out at the window, and saw ladies come to the prison with bundles of clothes for their friends, and after standing at the door for some time, go away, carrying their packages with them, while the men for whom they were intended are actually shivering in rags. One aged mother came with clothing for her “sick boy, who always needed warm clothes in winter.” She begged, and cried, but it was no use, the “sick boy” must abide in his tatters. The kind old mother stood on the corner, looking toward the prison, and crying for a long time, then she turned her poor old blinded eyes away and walked off.

Friday was Christmas day—I cannot speak for those jamming and crowding around in their rags in the lower quarters, nor for those in the lock-ups whose heavy balls and chains are eating into their ankles, while the still more deadly iron of despair is cankering in their souls, their Christmas enjoyments are best known to themselves, but as a specimen from our quarters, decidedly the best in Gratiot, I will chronicle the events of my holiday operations, commencing at six o’clock in the morning, when I arose and answered to roll call, then breakfast—pickled pork, bread and coffee; went out in the hall and peeped from the window awhile, then went back to our room and warmed, from thence to the window again—in and warmed, and out again; this time saw some Feds starting off; also saw several lady friends; went in again and watched the boys play cards, which is the only amusement they have; got tired of that and returned to the window; stood there and wished for the privilege of being out where I could enjoy myself with my friends, but wishing was all I could do, so I yawned and sighed and went into the pickled pork dinner. Frank Noel declared he would not insult his stomach with the cod livery stuff, and so confined himself to a limited supply of baker’s bread and coffee. Frank has not been here long—he will come to it yet—he ought to sojourn in the lower quarters, if he wants the kinks taken out of his stomach, there is not much turning up of noses down there I guess, no matter what is set before them. After dinner a fellow prisoner sent me a pear, I don’t know how he obtained it, but I regarded it as a most acceptable Christmas gift, appreciating it for its own intrinsic sweetness, as well as the generous refinement which actuated the donor. Fine fruits are not so plentiful in Gratiot as to be given away without self sacrifice. We did not tarry unusually long at the festal board, but sought the more inviting precincts of the hall window; saw some ladies pass—did not “throw kisses or wave my handkerchief,” but I thought “as long as I have the spirit of a man I will peep.” I won’t say the ladies didn’t peep some too. They looked at our gloomy walls as though they would like to have Alladin’s Lamp, and make the Genii spirit us off, prison and all, into some far country where they could have opened our doors, and feasted us in the most royal manner, but their wishes were no more effectual than mine. I gazed for awhile longer at the paving stones, imagined they had a hard hearted appearance, lying there watching us; went back to my room, picked up the romance of “Zaidee,” read an hour or two, and—went back to the window for a last look, stood some ten or fifteen minutes, saw nothing of interest and left; went to the lamp room, brought up our lamp, pulled out the table, and played cards till time to go to bed, and thus ended Christmas day 1863, in the officer’s quarters, Gratiot Street Military Prison, St. Louis, Mo. Not much after the style in vogue in the palmy days of old Dr. McDowell and his Medical College. Wonder how that gentleman would feel to walk around his premises and take a view of the students now gathered in the institution together with the faculty presiding over the establishment. His remarks on such an occasion would be rich beyond a doubt. More than one Yank would burn beneath the touch of his caustic wit.—Christmas day passed off dull enough, and we stole to our beds as quietly as chained dogs to their kennels. Slept till midnight, when a militia horse thief from the lower quarters, came running up and informed the prison officers that the lock-up prisoners were about to make their escape.

Ab Grimes, recently transferred to Gratiot from Myrtle St. Prison, cut the hole in the floor. After several days chaining the attempted escapees to the post as punishment, the prison officials offered to let them go in if they’d promise not to attempt to escape. All except Grimes and Sebring agreed. They nearly froze to death in twenty below zero weather New Year’s Eve. Sebring finally gave his word but Grimes refused. Two ladies, the Harrison sisters who lived across the street, saw the prisoners’ treatment and went to Provost Marshal Broadhead to complain. He sent orders to bring them in out of the cold. William Sebring’s account of this event appears in the Official Records.

Of course the whole gang were out in a minute, they went down and discovered that a hole had been cut through the floor of Clifford’s and Carlin’s room, through which they proposed to let themselves down by blankets, when they would be joined by a lot from the lower quarters, and all make a rush on the guards and as many escape as possible. It would have been a perfect success if it had not been for the coward who reported. The next day Clifford was thrown into a solitary dungeon, the darkest pit in the prison; and Carlin, Sebring and one other, were taken down into the yard, and hand-cuffed and chained to a post—after they had stood there for several hours, a second squad was brought down and chained to another post, where they could be seen from a Southern residence across the street. They were kept there until late at night, although the weather was extremely cold; they stamped, shouted, and sung to keep from freezing; we could hear them after we went to bed, thumping the pavement, and singing “Hard times.” The same thing was repeated yesterday and to-day, except Carlin had a post to himself, and the weather much colder; we find it difficult to keep comfortable by the fire, and yet we hear “Hard times come again no more” pealing out on the frozen air. They unchain them and take them in to eat their meals. While passing near the kitchen one of them struck an old fellow over the head and “made the blood flow” pretty freely, it was the father of the horse thief who reported on them, and said to be the cause of his son’s doing so. Desperate measures will cook desperation. I guess they would have killed the old sinner if they could. While they are chained at the post, old Masterson goes out and stands and scolds as long as he can endure the cold, then he comes in and takes an easy chair, smacks his lips, and admires his own bravery; chuckling over the big things he said to them. Had another letter from John, and one from home, the latter reads:

“I have a bid to a Christmas dinner, but do not expect to go, for I could not enjoy myself and you in prison. All the pleasure I expect to see is when Annie gets her doll, which I have been dressing to-day. Dear little creature, she is more company for me than all the rest. She talks a great deal about “Old Kris,” and what she expects him to bring her. I would like to send you a turkey, but know it would be useless.”

We have had a letter also from Johnson’s Island, written by Lieut. Coale, who mentions Col. Dawson as being there, and sending his respects to all. Col. Dawson and I went on exchange together last spring, and the same kind of fortune still seems to cling to us both. It appears they are dying off pretty rapidly on the Island, resulting I suppose, from change of climate and want of clothing. I have learned from other sources than through the hands of inspecting officers, that there is great suffering in that prison. The ladies of Hannibal, Mo., have made an effort to relieve them, sending boxes of clothing, &c., but I have not heard as to whether their contributions reached the prison or were refused admittance.

MONDAY, JANUARY 11, 1864.—Two weeks have elapsed since my last writing, and but little has occurred deserving notice. The chain gang were faithful at their posts, never omitting their duty for any change of wind or weather. On the night of New Year’s eve, snow fell to the depth of ten or twelve inches; but the boys tramped round with their “Hard Times” song. I am told that some of them were badly frosted. I have not heard that any whined or begged, on the contrary, they bore themselves as true soldiers, showing their superiority over their persecutors, by the unflinching firmness which they manifested under the torture. All honor to their heroism, and success to their next adventure. A Secesh negro has been confined here for some time, but I learn is now released. I do not know the particulars, but as he is a rare circumstance, I should like to have seen Sambo. He must have a mental development considerably superior to the generality of his race. Most of them are like young jay birds, open their mouths and gulp down everything the Yankees see fit to stuff them with. Saw some of them a few days since in Federal uniform, they were stepping along quite briskly, as though they thought it something grand to be food for powder, and save Yankee hides. Several of our citizen prisoners have been released; among them, Messrs. Wilson and O’Neal, the latter on a three thousand dollar bond. A Mr. T. Roberts of Marion county, was released on oath and bond, not to leave the limits of his county. Such terms are very common; usually imposed for what are termed “disloyal speeches.” A man is not heard in his own defence, and his word, if anything, is taken against him. I suppose more “false witness” has been borne in such cases than any one person would be able to imagine. Every petty spite seeks that method of gratification; no one being safe. The weather continued intensely cold, up to Thursday the 7th, when a few ladies could be seen on the streets, but only such as were called by business seemed to venture out; it was awfully rigorous on the post gang in the yard and then locked up without fire. I suffered on New Year’s day, as near the fire as I could get, wrapped up in my shawl and blanket; had a terrible time, and would have complained of my condition if there had not been hundreds in the house in a worse fix. Prisoners are being brought in all the time; over a hundred on the 6th, about a dozen officers with them. Gratiot occasionally gets very much crowded, and when such is the case there are many and just causes of complaint. The prisoners are poorly fed, worse bedded, and nearly suffocated in the impure air. It is said there has been as many as seventeen hundred men at one time in these lower quarters. That number could scarcely find standing room, sleeping would be out of the question, of course they must suffer, sicken and die. If each individual case, could be recorded, even the hard heart of Northern humanity, blunted as it is to all but the imaginary hardships of the negro’s lot, would surely for a moment indulge in the luxury commiserating a fellow creatures woes, but they maintain a persistent deafness and blindness, and most hardened unbelief whenever an incident is mentioned as having occurred outside the pale of their political church, and yet how they gulp down every exaggerated story of so called rebel cruelty, without ever investigating for the truth, or considering any mitigating circumstance. On the night of the 9th, a fresh attempt was made by some of the prisoners to escape from the lower quarters. They were discovered and prevented, and are now wearing a ball and chain as a punishment. The roof of the hospital building caught fire on Saturday, creating quite an excitement among the sick prisoners, but the flames were fortunately extinguished in time to prevent any serious damage, except such as might have occurred to the invalids in consequence of the shock to their nervous system. That interesting and gentlemanly character, Capt. Masterson, is still piping his cracked voice in odious authority, within the classic halls. I presented myself at the office the other day, to obtain an axe for chopping wood, not knowing but it would be thrown at my head, but greatly to my surprise he said:—”Walk in Capt. Frast, and take a seat.” I stated my errand—he renewed his invitation, or rather order, at the same time shaking me cordially by the hand. I was completely mystified, and dropped into the proffered seat. “Captain,” said he as blandly as it was possible for him to speak, “I would thank ye for the note yees received this morning from Clint. Burbrige in the lock-up.” I replied that he was mistaken, as I had received no such note. He affirmed that I had. I protested I had not. He said, he would be sorry to be under the impression that I had the note notwithstanding my denial. I challenged him to say if he had ever known me to prevaricate—what I did not wish to tell, I refused to, and suffered the penalty, but I was not in the habit of lying. He waved me out of the room, saying, “that will do—this is a matter between you and me.” Capt. Beltzhoover was then called down; he acknowledged the receipt of the note, and stated that I knew nothing of it.

JAN. 18, 1864.—For the past week all things with us have flown on smoothly. Scarcely a ripple appearing on the calm surface of the bitter waters of prison life; this is true, at least, as regards our immediate quarters. We know nothing of what walls and floors may hide from our view, doubtless there have many painful scenes transpired at the hospital, as numbers are dying daily. Almost every hour witnesses the exit of some freed spirit, which drops its chains and its bondage and under the pale flag of death’s unquestioned truce, soars away to that blessed land where “the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest,” and in every instance the haggard corpse, handled roughly by rude strangers and stowed quickly away in its rough pine box, is the dear form of “somebody’s darling, God only knows who.” There is a man among us who is looked upon as a traitor, and who is naturally regarded with peculiar hostility by his fellow prisoners. Every man’s hand is against him, and little things which would pass unnoticed from others are hotly resented from him. He is buffeted on all sides, there being no sympathy or forbearance for a spy in our midst. He came in collision the other day with a young scion of the chivalry, who let him feel the weight of his aristocratic fist, for which act the chivalry pines in a dungeon, and the traitor skulks around dodging everybody’s boots for fear of the kick which he deserves.

Several prisoners left here to-day for Rock Island. They went off in fine spirits. Any change is desirable, after long continued confinement in one place. I hope they will write back and let us hear something of their new quarters. We can form some idea of it by their saying it is better or worse than Gratiot. Col. Dawson writes me from Johnson’s Island, he is looking anxiously forward to an exchange.

JAN. 29, 1864.—On Tuesday the 19th, a man was released on oath and bond, who had been confined in prison for over seventeen months; his dull, joyous apathy on the occasion was like Bonnivard’s, who said:

“At last men came to set me free.

I asked not why, and recked not where,

It was at length the same to me,

Fettered or fetterless to be—

I learned to love despair.”

On Wednesday the tramp of time was noiseless, leaving the clatter of no event to echo down the corridors of coming years. We slept, eat and yawned; yawned, eat and slept, and thus through the heavy hours, until Thursday noon we crept, then the Feds came in and raised a stir shearing off our buttons, it was comical; some made a pretense of resistence, but it was no use. The Government must have “the last button on Gabe’s coat.” It passed off in pretty jolly style, but I confess it looked like shearing sheep, or picking geese, neither of which comparison is a very sweet unction with which to salve our wounded vanity. One says we slip around in our buttonless coats like peacocks robbed of their gayest feathers,” another says “we are Bonapartes stripped of our kingdoms,” while another says, “nay, we are suns shorn of our beams.” Our keepers were not ungentlemanly in performing the act, which was required by an order from a higher sphere. It took several days to complete the work, and we had a good many laughs while it was going forward. Sources of amusement are so exceedingly scarce, we would fain make the best of whatever is presented even though the joke is enjoyed at a heavy expense. Friday was my day to cook. I flattered myself that I reflected great credit on the old darkies whom I had seen “bile the kittle.” I think I can make as big a dinner out of pickled pork, stale bread and a little coffee as any Dinah that ever presided over a kitchen fire. On Saturday I had a letter from Alton, telling me of the unmannerly departure from that prison of two of my old company, W. Parker, and Stephen Kerrick, who left without giving notice, returning thanks, or saying “good-bye.” The friends whose hospitality they had been enjoying, were much exasperated at their ungrateful conduct, and would, if they could find them, force them to come back and finish their visit; but the blundering clowns did not even leave word where they were going. So the interesting Alton family will have to pocket their chagrin, and submit as best they may. At our house things work differently. On the same day I heard the news,

Capt. Clinton Burbridge was sent to the penitentiary in Jefferson City Dec. 18, 1864 with a two year sentence by military commission.

Clinton Burbridge was taken from his lock-up and transferred to a dungeon. Mr. B. is a citizen of Louisiana, Mo., he is a high toned honorable gentleman, thoroughly imbued with Southern fire, which will flash out in spite of chains and dungeons. He cannot teach his proud spirit to bow and submit tamely to a prisoner’s doom, although he bruises his own wings as he beats against the cage. If he would cringe, and flatter, and lick the feet of his oppressors, it would be just to their taste; they would make a prison hero of him, but unfortunately he is made of sterner stuff, and will be true to his manhood though he rot in a dungeon.

I continue to receive letters from home and friends, they do not think I will be exchanged and are anxious that steps should be taken for my release. Any move in that direction will be taken without my approval, until I have satisfactory evidence of the hopelessness of an exchange. When such shall be the case, I am not so in love with prison life, as to prefer it to the society of home. It is no benefit to the South for me to lie in prison unless I am counted against a Yankee, on the other side, if I am not so counted I am “hors de combat” any way, and my family have claims which demand attention when I can no longer serve my country. Thirty eight officers left here this morning for Camp Chase, but transportation not being provided they were sent back from the Provost’s office, and will now, not be off before next week.

They were considerably disappointed, as they all seem anxious for a change of some kind, no matter if it is from one prison to another. However they will have to honor old Gratiot with their presence a few days longer, and listen to the interesting lectures of Capt. Masterson.

One of our Lieutenants fell into the sink to-day, and had to be drawn out with ropes, and several attempts were made before his friends succeeded in extricating him from his miserable situation—having remained in some ten or fifteen minutes, and the filth was between five and six feet deep. Some think he went down on an exploring expedition for the purpose of finding a way by which to escape, but it seems he was unsuccessful—no subterraneous passage being visible, and even if he had, it strikes me the remedy was worse than the disease.

Alton PrisonALTON, ILLS., Saturday January 30, 1864.—I had little idea when I laid aside my pen last night in Gratiot, that it would be resumed again in Alton, but thus the fates have ordered and prisoners are only footballs for destiny, kicked here, there and everywhere, just as those in authority may decide. Our transfer was unexpected, up to two hours before we moved. Col. Priest, myself and some twenty-six others, were notified in the afternoon to prepare for change, which we did by packing up, and then going round and bidding our friends “good bye.” We left old “Alma Mater,” who by the way has been something of a step mother, at three, but did not reach our present quarters before dark; immediately on our arrival we were carefully searched, person and baggage, but I was fortunate enough to smuggle my book through wrapped in a shirt, which I honestly exhibited, but which looked too beggarly to invite scrutiny. Thirty-two of us occupy a room eighteen feet square; some have bunks, others take the floor. I have seen my brother and several other acquaintances, all well and doing as well as circumstances will permit. John says they have some pretty tough times, some of the men are treated shockingly, but it is usually the result of a hasty or impudent act, or speech on the part of the prisoner; if a man will strictly obey orders and forbear comment, he is generally safe.

JAN. 31, 1864.—Discover that our change is very decidedly for the worse, this is a much harder place than Gratiot—it is almost impossible to sleep on account of the rats, which run over us all through the night; it is hard to tell which are the thickest—rats or men, there are over two thousand of the latter, and many of them entered for the war; in some of the buildings it is difficult to turn around. There is much sickness; the small-pox is prevailing, and many are dying daily. Some are allowed to cook their own rations, but the balance have to eat in the dining room, which is a fair representation of that hell hole, Fort Delaware.

Frost was returned to Gratiot Street Prison March 6, 1864

Paradox of Captain George D Brooke

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.

See more on Annie Fickle in the Gratiot Women and Children’s prisoner list and corresponding Prisoner Notes

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.

Prison Journal – Oct – Nov 1863

Gratiot Street Prison

“Camp and Prison Journal”

by Griffin Frost

The journal of Captain Griffin Frost was written throughout the war, much of it while Frost was a prisoner at Gratiot Street Prison and Alton Prison and is one of the very few published primary sources available on Gratiot. He published it in 1867 in response to the outcry against southern treatment of prisoners in places like Andersonville. Frost hoped to make it clear that northern treatment of prisoners was just as bad as southern. In this perspective the book was a failure for though deathrates were comparable in northern and southern prisons, the conditions in Gratiot were entirely unlike those in Andersonville, something that becomes immediately and abundantly clear when reading his narrative.

Frost was a newspaper editor and may have rewritten or enhanced some portions of his journal before publication. The portions that leap out in this regard are the occasional pro-southern/anti-northern mini-rants he indulges in which stand out jarringly at times from the flow of the rest of the narrative. On the other hand, Frost was a writer and he was bored with the tedium of prison life so may have unleashed his writing exuberance at times in his journal. He clearly is a skilled writer and writes a lively, interesting tale even in short entries. His information about events taking place around him is not always correct–something that may surprise a reader taking a journal written at the time as being a wholly reliable source. But Frost was limited by his perspective and the information he got and so sometimes reports as fact things that were only rumor. Annotations throughout will try to clarify these moments.

Points in Frost’s writing that grate most on the present-day reader (or so one hopes) are his occasional racial comments. They are harsh and wholly insulting yet will be included here without editing as they do reveal an important aspect of the times and the thought processes that needs to be faced squarely and not glossed over. Try to view these passages in their historical context yet also be aware they do not represent the views of all people at that time, yet by the some token were shared by a number of people from both sides of the conflict.

Though Frost’s narrative covers his entire wartime experience, only those portions that take place in Gratiot or Alton will be presented on this website.

Buy a reprint of Frost’s full book from:

Available from Camp Pope Bookshop

reprint no longer available, but check Camp Pope’s inventory of other fine books

and check their other Missouri-related publications

October – November 1863

OCT. 23, 1863.—We were notified this morning that we would leave for St. Louis in a few hours, and ordered to hold ourselves in readiness. The news was highly agreeable, and the order gladly obeyed. We were satisfied that no change could be for the worse.

This is one example of those cases where Gratiot was referred to as McDowell’s College–see the Gratiot FAQ for more information.

At two o’clock we were more than ready, jumped aboard the cars and were off for St. Louis, where we arrived about two hours ago; found the march from the depot very tiresome, on account of the mud. Vacation having expired, we find ourselves once more matriculated at McDowell’s College, and it may be our lot to become useful members of the society. Our case is not so clear this time; if we had only held out a little longer we would have been in a better fix, or else gone back through the lines; now we must make the best of it and watch the chances.

OCT. 24, 1863.—Occupied a portion of my time to-day in writing to my wife, from whom I have not heard for six months; amused myself awhile with watching the Southern ladies who, I am told, are as true and patriotic as ever. Found two or three old acquaintances who were here when I left. Prison life seems more of a tread mill than ever.

OCT. 25, 1863.—Nothing of interest to-day—lonesome, very lonesome. Saw my capture, arrival, &c., noticed in the Republican. Wrote to my brother, at Alton, who was captured at Helena during the exercises of our Fourth of July celebration at that place. I don’t “take much stock in the Fourth” any more, it “went back on us.” Went to lower quarters this evening, to hear a sermon from a Boston man, did not expect any good from that source, but thought we’d try him, any way, for variety. He opened his exercises by reading the parable of the prodigal son. We saw his application, he would make us prodigals, and ask us to return to the bosom of Father Abraham, and not wishing to be recruited for that service, especially on the Sabbath, we sought the retirement of our own quarters. If he had spoken as an ambassador from Heaven leaving it to us, and our own judgments, to regulate our political affairs, respect for the court which he represented would have commanded a hearing, but he must not roll up the cross in the stars and stripes, and expect us to see “the flag” printed on the face of God, before we can worship him. Man can draw no veil between us and our Creator.

OCT. 27, 1863.—We had a most affecting scene in prison yesterday. A young man named Nichols, is sentenced to be hung next Friday. His sister came to see him, the interview was heart rending. The poor fellow had ministers with him all the evening, it is to be hoped they were faithful, and fed him with the pure bread of life. There are none so ready but they need the aid of spiritual comfort at such a time, and woe unto the hand that should offer them husks. Nichols no doubt, is a sinner, like the rest of us, but he thought he was right in fighting the enemy in his own way. Bushwhacking is the mode of warfare practiced in Missouri by both parties, but any candid man must acknowledge that the Federals have been the worst and most destructive. Look at the long list of men butchered in cold blood: Jim Lasly and two others, as they were coming home one Sunday, from church—Lasly dying in his wife’s arms; Col. Owens, Frisby McCullough, and hundreds of others, shot down like dogs, when they were helpless prisoners, many of them, as Lasly and his fellow victims, having taken no part in the war. These things will come up when we see the hand so red with innocent blood, daring to pretend to lift itself in vengeance.

Some twenty-two officers left here to-day, on parole, for Camp Chase, Ohio. Several ladies were on the street to see them off and wish them well. Saw Mrs. Meredith from the window—she looked as kind as ever, and was still assisting the needy. Angels yet do walk the earth.

OCT. 29, 1863.—My room mate came in yesterday evening, and said he had just received cheering news. We asked what it was, when he remarked that he was sentenced to be shot, and the order gone to Washington for the President’s approval. He has been removed to the strong room. Jasper Hill, from Chillicothe, is also locked up, and Mr. Gentry, from Shelby county, is ornamented with a ball and chain, for knocking a man down who insulted him.

OCT. 30, 1863.—Dull as ever—same thing over and over, Snowing hard all day—no ladies on the street. Ninety-two prisoners left for Camp Morton, Ind., and, bad as the weather was, they went off cheerfully as all Southern soldiers do. Young Nichols, I suppose, is quietly slumbering in his grave, as this was the day for his execution. If all, guilty of the same, or even worse offences, among the ranks of those who tried and punished him, were to share a like fate, there would be weeping and wailing in many a household; but mad party fanaticism was never known to mete out equal justice.

Mr. Waukley, the prison clerk, was arrested to-day on the charge of having carried out a letter to Mrs. Clifford—a prisoner’s wife. We have quite a number wearing balls and chains—they are very fashionable this season.

Jasper Hill and William Sebring, after escaping the following summer, went to Canada and took part in the Confederate secret service attempt to free the prisoners at Camp Douglas in Chicago along with such notables as Thomas H. Hines and John B. Castleman.

Capt. Hill and Lieut. Sebring, of the strong rooms, are making the best of it—are in good spirits. They are not allowed to communicate with any one, but we believe they manage to get all the news. Four Federal deserters arrived to-day.

NOV. 3, 1863.—It is bright to-day, but it rained all day yesterday—the Heavens weeping I suppose, over the way the election was going; the Radical destructives had it nearly all their own way. Missouri is completely subjugated—has no more power than a chained and muzzled dog, while the swine are rooting up everything. It is reported that secret arrangements were being made for the release of Gen. Morgan, from the Ohio penitentiary, when a traitor gave information and defeated the plan. We enjoy two blessings to-day—God’s clear sunshine, and a glimpse of the ladies as they pass.

NOV. 4, 1863.—Had a letter from my brother at Alton; they are writing and urging him to take the oath, but the boy has not come to that yet. Bravo for John! I like his grit.

Received a note from my friend Capt. Hill, in the lock up, who says he is sentenced to be shot for violating the rules and regulations of war; he remarked that “the jig is nearly up,” as the priests visited him this morning, and concludes with,

“Let all things wag as they will,

I’ll be gay and happy still.”

From Lieut. Sebring, locked up for the same offense, I have not heard; but a young Federal, they say is to be shot next Friday for desertion, and other grave crimes. Twelve o’clock, night—Went to bed four hours ago, but find it impossible to sleep on account of chintz, or what is commonly called bed bugs. The night being warm they came out from their holes and opened upon us with their pikes. We fell into line as soon as possible, at the same time throwing out skirmishers on the right and left wings, with instructions to return the fire at every opportunity, which was done with a hearty good will. After fighting them some ten or fifteen minutes their line gave way in the centre, and all we did not kill, beat a hasty retreat. Some of them showed themselves several times afterwards, but our sharp shooters were on the look out, and at the sight of every blood-sucker they would commence hurrahing for Jeff Davis, when all who escaped the fire would be off for their holes instanter. And now, as everything seems to be quiet once more, we will again seek our couch and try and go to sleep. So good night to all.

NOV. 7, 1863.—The young Federal under sentence of death, has been pardoned, as we expected; half his offenses would have shot a whole company of us Rebs, though I judge he is as good as any of his gang. Found an old letter to-day which I received while in the South, from Miss Sallie Freeman. A portion of it reads thus:

“You leave us to return to the tented field. We dislike very much to part with you, but our country’s call demands it. It is to preserve unsullied the liberties and institutions of our beloved South that you have left your home. May God bless you—and all the brave sons engaged in this noble and patriotic enterprise. And may peace with wide spreading wings, soon perch upon our banner, when you can return to the home and friends that await you, crowned with victory. Your cause is one of justice and humanity, and in the maintainance of consistent virtue, you will not fail to have, at all times, the sunlight of divine favor upon your deeds of valor. Go then, and remember you have with you our prayers, our sympathies, our confidence—and

“Strike, for your altars and your fires,

Strike, till the last armed foe expires,

Strike, for the green graves of your sires,

God—Missouri—and the sunny South.”

Samuel Clifford, who went by several aliases, was killed in 1870 by a former Gratiot prisoner–Mosely–who had became a county sheriff. Clifford had come to kill him but the sheriff was a bit quicker. Both Federal authorities and his fellow Confederate prisoners in numerous accounts concurred when they said that Clifford was the meanest man they had ever met. One of the Federal soldiers Clifford attacked this day in Nov. 1863 died of his injuries.

NOV. 8, 1863.—Another long, tedious day has gone; passed the time as usual, looking at the ladies, and promenading the hall. Six more prisoners brought in—two Feds and two Rebs—the Feds were put in one of the lock-up rooms where Clifford is confined. This Clifford is an awful chap, he escaped from here last summer in open daylight, but was retaken in Illinois and brought back. This evening he got to quarreling with some Feds, and pitched into them and gave them a complete threshing, after which the belligerent individual was invited into the dungeon. I don’t know how the poor fellows will fare that are in with him, but perhaps if they give him no offence, he will give them no trouble.

NOV. 9.—Some thirty five more prisoners from the Southwest, among them three officers from Frost’s and Shelby’s brigade, arrived at Gratiot last night, and after undergoing the pleasing little ceremony of being searched, were sent to quarters. It was amusing to see sergeant Roe, an old Irishman, performing the search, the business was new to him. He would go to the prisoners, and instead of running his hands in their pockets, would stand off and ask them if they had any money or knives, saying that “he never put his hands into a gentleman’s pocket, and did not like to do it sure,” but Capt. Masterson happened to see him, and went to him and gave him some instructions, after which the old fellow could search a prisoner as well as any of them. When he came to the blankets he was very anxious to know if they had any “Whistling Dick” wrapped in them? I suppose he was thinking of the “Whistling Dick” that gave them so much trouble at Vicksburg.

The men who are guarding us now are more like soldiers than those of last winter; these have seen some active service and know how to treat a prisoner, but the “Silver Greys” had never been in the field and some of them imagined that prisoners ought to be made to feel the lash on all occasions; and right well they knew how to use it, never letting an opportunity pass without exhibiting their valor in that way. Ladies, on errands of mercy, frequently visit our gloomy abode. Mrs. Choteau and Miss Rayburn came in to-day, with clothing, to be distributed among the needy. Miss Laura Elder sent me in some stationery of a superior quality. The weather having turned very cold, we shall have a dull time around the stove, as the bright faces of the fair ones, like dancing sunbeams, will not be seen flitting about the streets, the tender flowers will all be sheltered in the warm conservatories of home. We shall watch for their reappearance, as eagerly as children search for the early spring blossoms. Meantime we are all possessed of a literary streak, every one in the room is either reading or writing. Yesterday morning’s paper stated that Fort Sumter had fallen, and the old flag was waving where it was first brought down; but this morning they tell us the old Fort is true to her State. The Yankees find it hard to bamboozle her with their thundering arguments. They think their gab and guns ought to turn the world upside down, but Fort Sumter seems to be as impregnable as a nigger’s skull, or a Yankee’s charity bag. Clifford was released from his dungeon last night. They were afraid he would escape if left there much longer.

NOV. 10, 1863.—Three more prisoners from the Southwest were brought in last night. One of them told the prison clerk that he had tried at Rolla to get a parole, but was not successful, and would like to get one here. The clerk replied that paroling such men as him had “played out,” and asked him if he did not want to be exchanged, and go back and fight some more? He said no, he was tired of that, and thought the South was about played—at least things looked that way to him. He is just the kind of a man the South don’t want exchanged, he would do more harm than good; if all such were weeded out of the Confederacy, and stacked away in Northern barns, it would be the best thing that could happen. Seventy six more prisoners left here to-day for Camp Morton; each man drew two rations of bread and meat for the trip. Mr. M. B. Bransford, a gentleman whom we left a prisoner here last April, was released this morning unconditionally. It is the “best Government under the sun” surely, when it takes a man, and boards him that way for nothing. Misses Laura Elder and Dora Harrison, are registered on the prisoners’ book of thanks, for a basket of nice fruit, nuts, &c.

“Bright be their dreams, and blest their awaking.”

NOV. 11, 1863.—Several more unconditional releases to-day. Is Uncle Sam tired of extending his charitable hospitality, or are his household expenses too great to admit of such unnecessary expenditures? Retrenchment, Uncle, that’s the remedy, it would save you many millions if you would confine yourself to your own business entirely—many a man has been ruined by undertaking a job too big for his brains. More ladies have visited us bringing clothing for their friends, Our “Mail Boy, Bottle Neck,” left this evening with a heavy mail.

NOV. 12, 1863.—Received a box from home. Every prisoner knows how to interpret that. What a sensation it produces in our mess. With what eagerness we watch the opening; how we peep—here they come—pants, drawers, shirts, socks, handkerchiefs, &c.; they are the substantials. Now for the “chicken fixens”—fresh butter, baked chickens, nice biscuits, apples, apple butter, dried peaches, and so on. A letter came with the box, of course, but the Provost ain’t done hunting for contraband in that yet. All right—will be good when it comes. The weather is fine once more, and our dear friends are out again, tripping along the side-walks, or riding by in their carriages; occasionally they stop at the door, and sometimes come in with bundles for the prisoners.

Had another letter from John, at Alton; they are still writing him to take the oath. He tells them he’ll wait awhile; he is not ready just yet to face a dozen Confederate muskets as a deserter.

NOV. 13, 1863.—Good old Mrs. Meredith was in to-day, scattering benefits and receiving blessings. She brought me some stationery, from Miss A. E. Dean, another gentle friend, who pities the sighing of the prisoners. Surely St. Louis must be the treasure house of the Lord’s jewels, or at least the headquarters of one of the departments—though the enemy is in pretty heavy force here too. Got my letter from home; wife says the blacks are all with them yet, but the Rads are doing all they can to get them away; thinks by Christmas there will be none left in the county. She speaks highly of Gen. Schofield; also of the Provost Marshal, at Palmyra, but fears they will be removed, as they have too much soul for the Radical programme. We exchange greetings now and then by the “Bottle Neck Mail Boy.”

John Carlin had an odd and interesting war-time career, seeming to spend much of it being captured and escaping, which he did numerous times. He also escaped with Hill and Sebring in 1864 but died of a gunshot wound received when he was recaptured in Illinois near his home and that of his recent bride.

NOV. 14, 1863.—John C. Carlin, captured somewhere in Illinois, was brought in to-day, with a ball and chain attached to his leg. He was sent to Clifford’s lock-up; if they should fall out it will be Greek meeting Greek. Carlin is a son of an ex-Governor of Illinois, and as brave a fellow as ever contended for principle against his own interest; if the mass of the Democracy at the North had been possessed of his back bone, the country need not now have been groaning under a despotism; but dear as liberty is said to be, and much as it has been sung about, the almighty dollar can buy up its pretensions in more cases than national honor would like to acknowledge.

NOV. 15, 1863.—Another long, lonesome and gloomy day has passed, but not so gloomily to those outside, as to us who are incarcerated within the strong walls of Gratiot. We had preaching in the lower quarters, and all the officers were permitted to attend; most of us went down. A Catholic Priest officiated; he wore a long black robe—a short white one over that, and a scarf around his neck; all gave him a respectful hearing, but being a foreigner, his speech was broken, and we not being edified as we probably would have been if we could have understood all he said, found it impossible to follow the thread of his remarks, and so silently pursued the path of our own cogitations. I wondered if any of the passers by had any idea what was going on in the guarded prison. Of course not—they did not even turn their heads this way, but walked carelessly along as though all were as free as themselves. Then I thought, it is too true that “one half of the world knows not how the other half lives.”

No news of interest, only that the negroes of Missouri have been called on to enlist, and freedom promised to all who do so. Loyal men are to be paid three hundred dollars apiece for theirs; but it is no harm to “covet thy neighbor’s man servant” if he differs from thee in politics. O the beautiful consistency of the great moral idea “freedom to worship God” as we may dictate. If my conscience is to be in leading strings, and the divine right of private interpretation of scripture, usurped by a political party, give me the black robed priest from the cloister. I either hold my bible myself, or else commit it to worthier hands than those of the blood stained demagogue.

NOV. 16, 1863.—We are having a new style of regulations inaugurated on the pretence of retaliation. They say our authorities at Richmond, won’t let the Yankee women visit their prisoners, and so our ladies are denied admittance to Gratiot. Not allowed either to come in, or to send anything to their friends.

NOV. 17, 1863.—A prisoner escaped from the hospital last night, but before doing so, he played a very shabby trick on our old market woman. It seems his plans were all laid, and money alone was needed to put them into execution, and his only hope for success was to victimize poor old Mrs. Smith. So he asked her if she would not like to change green backs for gold. She was eager for the trade—brought him twenty-five dollars, which he was to take around among the prisoners and exchange for gold; he took the old creature’s money and left for parts unknown. It is to be hoped he will repay her with interest, when an opportunity arrives.

Another singular circumstance occurred at the hospital last night. Two men—one a Confederate, the other a Federal, died, and were laid out side by side. This morning when the dead room was entered, the body of the Fed was found to be terribly mutilated by the rats, while his neighbor was sleeping quietly and undisturbed. What cause could have produced the difference? Most probably the nature of the disease, or medicine employed, but the curious fact has been the occasion of a good many queer remarks by the way of comment.

2nd Lt. Thomas G. Clinton, Burbridges, Co. B. captured in Little Rock Sept. 10, 1863. Died Nov. 18, 1863.

NOV. 18, 1863.—A great many deaths have occurred lately among the prisoners; some were taken off very suddenly. Lieut. Clinton left our quarters yesterday morning for the hospital, and this morning was a corpse. I went with Capt. Burns to see him—the work of death was done. We walked around the hospital, and I was surprised to find as much order and neatness, and as good provision for the comfort of the sick. They have a small library furnished by the ladies of St. Louis—those daughters of mercy—turn where we will, we see the seeds of their good works springing up, and bearing fruit for heaven, and gliding in and out like the pure air of the gentle zephyr, is the professed Sister of Charity, a nameless creature, and yet “a thing of beauty, and a joy forever.” How little we appreciate in the daily routine and drudgery of life, the elements of good at work about us. If our senses were not too blunted to perceive it, there is a grand sublimity hedging us in on every side.

NOV. 20, 1863.—Eighty-five more prisoners left for Camp Morton. That point is becoming quite a fashionable place of resort for our Southern gentry. I am not posted with regard to the accommodations; but my experience is not favorable in crowded hotels, nor particularly happy in the Northern states any way; the Philadelphia ladies left a serious impression on my mind. We have an addition of four Confederate officers newly arrived; Gratiot is not so popular as formerly. John writes me again from Alton, he is doing finely; a Federal Lieutenant has presented him with an overcoat, which he thinks will ensure his comfort for the winter. John is somewhat of a philosopher; he thinks a man usually has his luck in his own hands, and harsh treatment either North or South, is the result of unruly conduct on the part of the prisoner. A man must not expect the fare of a parlor boarder in a military prison; but if he will observe his duty as a prisoner, submitting to regulations made by others, not trying to dictate, nor caviling or snarling, but cheerfully making the best of everything, his manhood will have but little to complain of. John hates a simpering, whining, would-be sensational male prisoner, he leaves pitiful yarns for women to tell. Maj. Brasher, in one of his letters used the word “Hessian” which proving offensive in certain circles, his Majorship was taken down among the privates. Mr. Gentry from Shelby county, Mo., has been released. Several of the boys in the lower quarters tried to release themselves, but their guardians thought it not advisable, and for a change are allowing them the use of a lock-up, with half rations of bread and water; their adventurous spirits will no doubt be weakened considerably before they get out.

Some of these changes to the building were the result of an inspection that suggested ventilation would be improved by replacing solid doors with barred doors.

NOV. 21, 1863.—Carpenters and blacksmiths have been busy all day, putting iron bars to our windows, and iron gratings to the doors leading into the hall. Guess after this, we will all be in a lock-up. Robert Shultz, from Palmyra, Mo., came to see us to day. He is a prisoner, but has the position of Steward in the Branch Hospital, and gets along first rate. Troops are leaving here for Springfield, Ill.; the “Old Harry” is to pay out there somewhere, and I suppose these fellows are due. We can’t get the straight of it, but a Fed tells us, the Copperheads are resisting the arrest of some deserters. Some poor dupes I suppose, who went to fight for the Union, but didn’t bargain for the nigger too. My brother Dan. and son are fighting for the Union also, I wonder how the Ethiopian digests on their stomachs. Some of our fellow citizen prisoners, leave for the sunny South to-morrow, on banishment; several ladies I am told, leave home under similar circumstances. How could any one criticise this kind paternal government which condescends even to persecute women? There are not many countries where the governing classes would stoop so low. It must be “higher law,” intellect, and great moral ideas, which sway them.

NOV. 23, 1863.—Been busy cooking all day, and find it very fatigueing. Our mess consists of twelve, and we cook by turns, we try to imitate what we have seen at home as nearly as our means will allow, and sometimes we get up a really inviting meal. Col. Priest received his charges and specifications to day; he has been called out before the Provost, a number of times, but they are very tedious in conducting the business of trials. I presume my case will be commenced soon; it cannot differ much from Col. P’s, as we were taken together. No particulars from the Illinois troubles. Ladies been passing all day; always give us a pleasant smile which seems to say “God bless you, how we sympathize with you in your unfortunate situation.” Our iron gratings were completed to day, and I suppose we will be locked up to night.

Both Gratiot prison ledgers and other military records show Brasher as a Captain at this time–Capt. Ezra M. Brasher, 2nd Mo. Cav. He was a major in the Missouri State Guard, 2nd Regt. Inf.

NOV. 24, 1863.—Nothing of interest has transpired in Gratiot to day. Our quarters are unusually dull. The chaps down stairs, however, seem to be pretty gay. Maj. Brasher is stirring things around since he has been down there. He writes as follows:

LOWER QUARTERS, U. S. Prison, Nov. 24, 1863.

Dear FROST:—I am getting along nicely; having a lively time. We have organized a Battallion of five Companies, which I have the honor of representing. We have officers’ drill; company drill, and dress parade, every day. Exercising vigorously for the health of the command. You ought to come down and see us, and hear the very important General Orders read before the dress parade. We style ourselves the “Enraged Missouri Mules.” If you get any news for me let me know immediately and oblige

Your Obedient Servt.,


P. S. The following is one of the General Orders read before the Brigade this afternoon, while on dress parade.

HEAD QUARTERS, Enraged Mo., Mules,}

Nov. 24, 1863.}

The Colonel commanding, seizes this opportunity to thank his veteran soldiers for the glorious services they have rendered their country in defence of their rights, their liberties and their honors, and takes pleasure in thanking them for the gallantry displayed on the 22d inst., in the charge on the Under Mining Set; though the battle raged for some time, and our noble battalion was in the hottest of the contest, not a man wavered, but all stood at their posts like heroes. The casualties of the enemy were two killed and several wounded. Our loss none. By order of

E. M. BRASHER, Col. Commanding.

R. G. ROBERTSON, Adjt. E. M. M.

The above seems to be a complimentary address, instead of a General Order as stated. I am at a loss to understand the nature of the gallant charge alluded to, unless they were after rats.

Capt. Hill has received a letter from his father, who has prominent men at work in his behalf, and he hopes they will succeed in getting his sentence changed from death to some milder form of punishment. The Captain is in good spirits.

We have an oddity in our room, a prisoner from Cape Girardeau, one of those long drawling fellows, that talk through the nose. He says: “T-h-i-s i-s t-h-e fi-r-s-t t-i-m-e I e-v-e-r w-a-s i-n p-r-i-s-o-n, a-n-d I d-o-n’-t l-i-k-e i-t n-e-i-t-h-e-r, I d-o-n’-t, I h-a-d r-a-t-h-e-r b-e a-t h-o-m-e w-i-t-h t-h-e o-l-d w-o-m-a-n. We don’t blame him.

NOV. 25, 1863.—The Military Commission is turning off its work pretty rapidly the last few days; quite a number of prisoners were notified this evening to be ready to-morrow to leave for Alton to serve out their sentences. Col. Priest has had his trial, but has not received his sentence. Several releases on oath and bond have taken place. We are thinning out, as business is being dispatched, only to make room for others, as they are constantly arriving. The great ball at the Lindell Hotel comes off to-night. Shoulder straps and brass buttons I suppose will shine in all their splendor.

NOV. 26, 1863.—Thanksgiving day. Well let those thank who are prospering; as for me, I have no political occasion at this time, and shall not “bow myself in the house of Rimmon.” The papers are out in full blast with a big victory achieved by Grant over Bragg in Tennessee. Whether true or false, the story is valuable, for it will fire up the dead coals of patriotic enthusiasm, and furnish the Yankees with a new theme for self glorification. The Lord will receive a grand report. Alexander, Cæser, Bonaparte; &c., will stand around and scratch their heads when they hear the news. All Heaven will be astonished, unless somebody telegraphs South for the truth. The sentenced men were not removed to Alton; left over out of respect to the day. Inside of Gratiot, where the day does not dawn, we are dull, lonesome, and sleepy; moping gloomily away the bitter hours of the Yankee holiday.

NOV. 29, 1863.—Was out to day for examination. In the prisoner’s room at the Provost’s office, I found the following lines penciled upon the wall:

“Oh, for liberty, that my gallant steed

May carry me to the battle field—

There I can fight; I’ll never yield!

Then away, away, to the battle field.

Dark and crimson is the tide,

Forms are scattered far and wide,

Death and victory will be won—

I’m a prisoner, I’m undone!”

Maj. Brasher has gotten back to his old quarters, and I presume after this, will be more guarded in wording his letters, having felt the force of their extreme sensibility, he will be particularly careful not to make any allusion to the “Hessians.”

NOV. 28, 1863.—The weather has turned freezing cold, and many of the prisoners are suffering for want of sufficient clothing. Mrs. Choteau and Miss Rayburn were allowed to bring in some overcoats, pants, &c., for distribution among the most needy. Capt. Burns, the prison keeper, is a perfect gentleman. An act of his to-day manifested the true spirit of chivalry. Mrs. Soward, wife of Judge Soward, of Canton, Mo., not succeeding in procuring a pass at the Provost’s came on to the prison, when Capt. Burns invited her to his house, and sent for the Judge, who was delighted; had quite a pleasant interview, and is full of gratitude toward the gallant Captain. Twelve new arrivals; four officers added to our quarters. The men who have received their sentences have left for Alton to serve out their doom, some at hard labor during the war, others in solitary confinement. Grant’s victory is confirmed. Bragg in full retreat. Gen. Morgan, with six officers, has escaped from prison in Ohio. Morgan is a brave, dashing officer, one of the high souled sons of old Kentucky—may success attend him.

NOV. 29, 1863.—It has been a cold disagreeable day, and we have kept rather close to the fire. Nothing called for comment, except a lady in passing the prison, threw us a kiss, and was seen by the sergeant, who ordered her to keep her hands to herself; she told him she would use them as she pleased, and throw kisses whenever she passed, if it suited her. He made some reply which we did not hear. Shortly afterward an old Irishman came along and touched his hat to us, the sergeant saw him also and asked, “who he was bowing to?” Paddy said, “he was going down street.” Sergeant “didn’t ask where he was going, but who he was bowing to?” “O, my hat was falling off, and I was pulling it on.” The petulant official seeing he could make nothing off the son of the Emerald Isle, allowed him to pass on.

NOV. 30, 1863.—Had a letter to day from my sister in Ohio, she tells me that our old mother has had a paralytic stroke and was helpless and unconscious for over two days. She thinks I will never see her again. I fear it will be so, as there is but little hope of her living until the close of the war, and no prospect of my seeing her before. Old Mrs. Meredith has been permitted to visit the prison again. She brought in clothing for the needy. More prisoners constantly arriving. Another letter from John, he is still urged to take the oath, but maintains a stoical indifference; will act on his own judgment. My wife writes insisting on the same course for me. Think I will see my trial out first, any way. Have received my charges and specifications from the Provost Marshal. The following are the charges:

“Entering, on or about the 30th day of September, A. D. 1863, the lines of the regularly authorized military forces of the United States, and within the State of Missouri, and without ever having surrendered himself to the nearest military post, or to any of the military forces of the United States, and did travel and lurk about within the State of Missouri, until arrested, on or about the 18th day of October, A. D. 1863, at the county of Ray, and State of Missouri, in violation of the laws of war and General Order, No. 86, of the Department of Missouri.”

Robert Payne Byrd by Kenneth Byrd

Robert Payne Byrd

by Kenneth Byrd

During the 1850 Federal census taken for District No. 8, Stewart County, TN, Robert Payne Byrd was still living at home with his parents and sisters. His older brother, William Carroll Byrd, had left for Wayne County, MO by that time. Sometime between the 1850 census and his marriage to Mary Catherine Callaway in Arcadia, Iron County, MO on September 25, 1857, Robert Payne Byrd had moved to Missouri. His older brother, William Carroll, lived close-by, near Brunot in Wayne (later Iron) County.

Sometime after his marriage, Robert Payne Byrd moved to Fredericktown, in Liberty Township of Madison County, MO; he and his wife Catherine were listed as living here in the Federal census taken on June 14, 1860 (page 55, dwelling #400, family #400). Interestingly, he apparently gave his place of birth as Kentucky rather than the correct Tennessee. His older brother William Carroll Byrd, living near Brunot in now Iron County, MO also gave his place of birth as Kentucky in the 1860 census — perhaps a reflection of the increasing tensions between the Federal government and traditional slave states during this time?

Tensions increased as war broke out between North and South; Missouri became the focus of both Confederate and Federal efforts to consolidate their respective territories. An early battle in Missouri occurred at Fredericktown, in Madison County, MO on October 21, 1861 between Missouri State Guards forces led by Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson and Federal soldiers directed by Colonel Joseph B. Plummer (under overall command of new Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant stationed in Cairo, Illinois). After the battle, Federal soldiers — led by the 1st Indiana Cavalry — angry at not having been warned by locals in Fredericktown about the ambush successfully executed against them that day, took out their anger on the civilian populace and burned about 12 houses. In addition, all stores in Fredericktown were looted and damaged by rampaging Federal soldiers. Local Negroes, both slave and freemen, were taken away by the vindictive Yankees. What actual impact all of this had on Robert Payne and Catherine Byrd is currently not known; they were undoubtedly aware that Payne’s older brother, William Carroll Byrd, had lost all of his livestock to foraging Federal soldiers sent to Brunot during August, 1861 by then Colonel U.S. Grant in order to punish Southern sympathizers.

Another critical factor in Payne deciding to join the Confederate Army may have been the implementation of a series of General Orders by the Federal commanders in Missouri: in June of 1862, General John M. Schofield ordered that a fine of $5,000 be levied on Southern sympathizers for every Federal soldier or pro-Union citizen killed in their vicinity. Then, on July 22, 1862, General Schofield issued General Order No. 19 which ordered all able-bodied Missourians to report for service in the Federal army within six days — thus effectively forcing any neutral Missourians to choose between the Union and the Confederacy. All the above were possible influences on Robert Payne Byrd and his subsequent actions described below.

Apparently Robert Payne and Catherine Byrd owned property in the town of Ironton, Iron County, MO as indicated by an Iron County land deed dated July 14, 1862. As recorded in this deed, Payne and Catherine Byrd sold lot No. 5 in block No. 38 of Ironton to a certain Jacob Howel (sic) for the amount of $50. Shortly after that, Robert Payne Byrd traveled south from Ironton to Oregon County, MO where, according to his CSA service records, he was enlisted in Company F of Colonel James White’s 3rd (later 9th) Missouri Infantry, CSA on August 2, 1862 by T.H. Turner. This enlistment may have taken place at CSA Camp Brewer in Oregon County under the aegis of the following members of Co. F: Captain Thomas Lashley, 1st Lieutenant Daniel Lorenius (Lanius?), 2nd Lieutenant John M Pease, and 3rd Lieutenant Abner Hancock — this info from the CSA pension of Pvt. Richard Callison described below.

According to Jerry Ponder, the author of The 9th Missouri Infantry Regiment, C.S.A. and the 12th Missouri Infantry Regiment, C.S.A. (1996), recruitment likely occurred at headquarters established at Fort Currentview on the Missouri – Arkansas border at Pitman Ferry. Again according to Jerry Ponder, a confusing situation arose when Lieutenant-Colonel Willis M. Ponder resigned from White’s 3rd/9th Missouri Infantry during March, 1862 and formed another regiment of his own during July of 1862 — it appears likely that Robert Payne Byrd was in this unit, also called the 9th Missouri Infantry, commanded by Willis M. Ponder. Active training and drills took place at Camp Shaver, near Pocahontas, Randolph County, Arkansas. Ponder’s 9th Missouri Infantry then moved to Izard County, Arkansas during September, 1862 for additional training. During reorganization at Yellville, Arkansas on November 14, 1862, Ponder’s 9th Missouri Infantry was redesignated the 12th Missouri Infantry, C.S.A. A composite muster roll for this unit given by Jerry Ponder (1996) lists Private R.P. Byrd in Co. F, Ponder’s 12th Missouri Infantry; in the same company is listed Captain D.J. Lanius and Privates Richardson Collison (sic) and Jacob Howell — probably the same person who bought the lot in Ironton from Payne and Catherine Byrd. Pvt.

Robert Payne Byrd, Co. F, White’s 9th and/or Ponder’s 12th Missouri Infantry may have participated in the bloody Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas on December 7, 1862 — his Confederate service records are not clear on this account. It is known, however, that one of the men listed as belonging to his Company F, Pvt. Richard Callison, was badly wounded on that day according to his Missouri State Confederate Pension documents: “I received a gunshot wound in the battle of Prairie Grove, Ark……in my left arm between the wrist and elbow, which fractured one of the bones of my forearm.” Don Montgomery’s history of the Battle of Prairie Grove (1996) describes Lieutenant-Colonel Willis Ponder’s 9th Missouri Infantry as part of Parson’s Brigade in Major-General Thomas C. Hindman’s Army of the Trans-Mississippi. Brigadier General Mosby M. Parson’s brigade was within the 3rd Division of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, commanded by Brigadier General Daniel M. Frost. On December 7, 1862, Ponder’s 9th Missouri Infantry had approximately 476 men, armed with an assortment of different rifled and smooth-bore muskets.

Parson’s Brigade was deployed between Roane’s and Shaver’s Brigades on the western end of the Prairie Grove battlefield to counter the attack of Federal Brigadier General James G. Blunt; this onslaught began at approximately 3:00 p.m. in the vicinity of the Morton House. The 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th Missouri Infantries in Parson’s Brigade met the Federals head-on and not only stopped their advance, but pushed them down the hill into the hayfield below. Federal artillery support proved the difference as the shattered Rebel lines withdrew back to the wooded hill crest they came from. Wounded men from both sides who had crawled inside haystacks were burnt alive by shells that had been fired into them. Michael Banasik, in his book Embattled Arkansas, the Prairie Grove Campaign of 1862 (1996), describes Ponder’s 9th Missouri Infantry, along with Steen’s and Pindall’s men, charging across Morton’s hayfield towards the Yankee artillery thusly: “….twelve guns, double shotted with grape and canister, swept great holes through the Rebel column. Parsons’ men staggered back like drunken men, then rallied and pushed on again. The Federal cannons fired. They belched forth death and destruction to their compact ranks a second time. Again they wavered, but only for a moment. Men mad with powdered whiskey and the sight of blood filled the depleted ranks and came on again. Again the command “Fire!” Steen’s men would not stop, but Ponder’s command faltered.”

GratiotNot only was Pvt. Robert Payne Byrd’s comrade, Pvt. Richard Callison, likely wounded at this time, but also Co. F’s Captain Thomas Lashley; Captain Lashley later died of his wounds at Little Rock, AR on January 20, 1863. Confederate casualties at the battle of Prairie Grove, December 7, 1862 have been estimated at 204 killed, 872 wounded, and 407 missing (total of 1,483); Federal casualties were 175 killed, 808 wounded, and 250 missing (total of 1,233). Both sides described hungry pigs devouring the dead and not-yet dead/wounded on the battlefield after the guns ceased firing. If actually present that day, Pvt. Robert Payne Byrd was one of the fortunate participants. Sometime after the battle of Prairie Grove, Payne Byrd apparently went AWOL, and according to his CSA service record, was captured by Federal soldiers somewhere in Oregon County, MO on January 28, 1863. His service records also state that he was then sent to Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis, MO, from West Plains, Howell County, MO on February 3, 1863. He arrived in St. Louis and was received at Gratiot Prison on February 8, 1863. On February 11, 1863, Pvt. Robert Payne Byrd was “examined” by Federal Colonel (?) M.V.G. Strong and a Captain A. Olsen (?) there at Gratiot Prison as a POW. This interrogation document is on microfilm at the National Archives and reads as follows:

NOTE: underlined italics denote handwriting.

R.P. Byrd
Madison Co.
“Pr of War”
Pri. Miss. Reg. CSA
Febr 2
Pris of War for Exchange
April 14 (unintelligible)
Sent to Washington
Aprl 2/13 (?)
Exd Feb 11, 1863
M.V.G. Strong Capt (unintelligible)
“Pr of War”
Not willing to be exchanged.

Examination of R.P. Byrd of Madison County, Missouri.
Taken the 11th day of February, 1863.
Confined at Gratiot Street Prison.
Taken by M.V.G. Strong (signature in his apparent handwriting)
Capt. A.A. Olsen (?) (signature in his apparent handwriting)

Statement of R.P. Byrd, a Prisoner at the Gratiot Street Prison, St. Louis, made the 11th day of February, 1863.

My age is 30 years.
I live in Madison County, Missouri.
I was born in Calaway County.
I was captured in Oregon County on or about the 29th day of January, 1863.
The cause of my surrendering had been with Col. White, Hindman’s command. I joined him voluntarily (sic).
I was in arms against the United States, and was a [rank] Private in Capt. Ashley’s* Company, White’s Regiment. I was (blank space here) sworn into the Rebel service about the 6th day of July, 1862 by D. Lanius in Oregon County, Missouri for 3 years or during the War.

When surrendered, I was first taken to West Plains and remained there 5 days. Houston and Rolla 1 day and was not examined there by (blank space here) and was sent to Gratiot Prison about the 3 day of February, 1863.

I never took the oath of allegiance to the United States, about the (blank space here) day of (blank space here) 186 (blank space here).

Subscribed by the Prisoner, the day first named, in my presence.

Payne Byrd (signature in his apparent handwriting)
M.V.G. Strong (signature in his apparent handwriting)
Capt. (unintelligible) (signature in his apparent handwriting)

{*KEB note: probably Captain Lashley as per Richard Callison MO CSA pension documents}

The Prisoner makes additional statements as follows, in answer to questions:

1. How many times have you been in arms during the rebellion?
2. What commanders have you served under?
Col. White.
3. What battles or skirmishes have you been in?
4. Did you have arms, or were you out on picket, or what part did you take in the action?
Gun. Been on Picket duty once.
5. Have you ever furnished arms, or ammunition, horse, provisions, or any kind of supplies to any rebels? State when, where and how often.
6. Was there any rebel camp near you, that you did not give notice of to the U.S. troops?
7. Have you ever been with any one taking or pressing horses, arms, or other property?
8. Are you enrolled in the E.M.M. — loyal or disloyal?
9. Are you a southern sympathiser?
I am not. (first answer of “Not as much as I was.” crossed out)
10. Do you sincerely desire to have the southern people put down in this war, and the authority of the U.S. Government over them restored?
Yes, I do.
11. How many slaves have you?
12. Have you a wife — how many children.
Yes. None.
13. What is your occupation?
14. What relatives have you in the rebellion?
None that I know of.
15. Have you ever been in any Rebel camp? If so, whose — when — where — and how long? What did you do? Did you leave it, or were you captured in it?
Yes. White’s. July 1862. Different Places. Seven months. Soldier. I left it, became disatisfied (sic) with the laws of the Southern Confederacy. I do not want to be exchanged. Willing to take the Oath, & give a Bond for $1000. Not willing to enroll.

Payne Byrd (signature in his apparent handwriting)

At least some of Pvt. Robert Payne Byrd’s answers in the examination document above are likely examples of what Michael Fellman, author of Inside War, the Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War (1989), describes as “survival lies” that were used on both sides during the chaos in Missouri between 1861-1865. Payne may have been telling his interrogators what he thought they wanted to hear with hopefully no punishment meted out to him for his answers. His crossed out “Not as much as I was” answer to question No. 9 above suggests there was indeed some coercion by his Federal captors. His answer of being born in Callaway County may have been an attempt to shield his parents back in Stewart County, TN which was then actively occupied by Federal troops stationed nearby at both Ft. Henry and Ft. Donelson. Similarly, he may have been trying to protect his older brother, Pvt. George Wesley Byrd who had served in Co. B (Taylor’s) of the 1st Tennessee Artillery, CSA at Ft. Henry on February 6, 1862.

Another possibility for the place Byrd was sent when he contracted small pox is given in The Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis (1899), which says:

The quarantine establishment answers as a quarantine and small-pox hospital, and is located on a tract of land of about fifty-four acres, which tract is on the west bank of the Mississippi River, about one and one-half miles below Jefferson Barracks. It was purchased by the city in 1856 for a quarantine ground… At the extreme west end of these grounds is a cemetery which was used up to 1877 as a burial place for the pauper dead of the city and the patients who died in the hospital on the grounds.–D. H. Rule

The last notation on his CSA service records states that Pvt. Robert P. Boyd (sic), Co. F, White’s Regt. appears on a monthly report of Gratiot Prison from March 1 to 31, 1863. The last notation reads: “Where captured — Oregon Co. MO. When captured — Jan. 28, 1863. Received — Feb. 8, 1863. Discharged — Mar. 6, 1863. Remarks — Small Pox Hospital.” As best as can be determined at the time of this writing, Payne Byrd contracted smallpox and was removed to the so-called Small Pox Island (McPike’s Island) in the middle of the Mississippi River and offshore from the Alton, Illinois POW camp. It is assumed he died there and was buried in a mass grave with other CSA POWs who died from smallpox at that time. No records yet found indicate exactly when he died or where. Interestingly, the Bible belonging to his father, John Wesley “Jack” Byrd, back in Stewart Co. TN records his death as being on April 7, 1864. The exact date and place of Pvt. Robert Payne Byrd’s death is still unknown to any of his current relatives.

May 12, 1998 – by Kenneth E. Byrd, Indianapolis, IN

For more of Robert Payne Byrd’s story, genealogy, and family history information visit this webpage