John Rutter Brooke

brooke-1John Rutter Brooke was born July 21, 1838, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, and began his military career on April 20, 1861 when he entered service as a captain of volunteers in the 4th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Despite all of the training and preparation for battle, just on the eve of the Battle of First Bull Run while the rest of Union Army was moved toward that fateful field, the 4th Pennsylvania marched for home, the regiment’s term of service having expired.

Brooke was mustered out of service but again offering his services to the commonwealth, he was appointed colonel of the 53rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in November 1861, and his regiment proceeded to Washington soon after. The colonel took part in the Peninsula Campaign and was in temporary command of a brigade of Maj. General Edwin Sumner’s Second Corps at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Back in command of his regiment at Fredericksburg, Brooke was appointed as commander of the Fourth Brigade, First Division, Second Corps, which he led during the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg campaigns. The Fourth Brigade was involved with the rest of the division in the desperate fighting in the wheatfield, known later as the “whirlpool”, where Col. Brooke was seriously wounded in the left ankle.

Having sufficiently recovered from his injury, Brooke returned to his brigade in time for the Overland Campaign of 1864. For distinguished service at the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, his long delayed appointment as brigadier general was finally awarded to rank from May 12, 1864. Critically wounded at Cold Harbor in June, he returned to duty in September but was considered to be too incapacitated to return to field service. General Brooke served on court-martial duty until April 1865 when he was given command of the Second Provisional Division in the Department of the Shenandoah under his old corps commander, General Winfield S. Hancock. General Brooke was breveted Major General of Volunteers for his services, the rank he held when mustered out of service in August 1865.

Not satisfied with civilian employment, Brooke sought appointment to the Regular Army and on July 28, 1866, he received the rank of lieutenant colonel of the 37th United States Infantry. Brooke’s next promotion occurred in 1879 when he was appointed full colonel. Colonel Brooke served with the 37th Infantry on several posts and moved on to other assignments. Promoted to brigadier general in 1888, the rank of major general followed in 1897 just before the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.

Gen. Brooke, ca. 1898-1900 (Generals in Blue)

Gen. Brooke, ca. 1898-1900
(Generals in Blue)

General Brooke was put in command of the U.S. Army camp established at Chickamauga National Military Park near Ogelthorpe, Georgia. Here volunteer regiments trained and were organized into the I and III Corps, before transport to Florida and eventually Cuba. Regrettably, overcrowding, inadequate clean water and poor sanitation, and disease spread by insects caused a high rate of illness among the volunteers. The general sought every relief possible through the Quartermaster and Medical Departments and the situation began to slowly improve after several months. Shortly thereafter, Brooke was assigned to a field command and took part in the army campaign in Puerto Rico under General Nelson A. Miles, his fellow Civil War commander with whom he enjoyed a good relationship. His corps landed at Arroyo and began the drive into the island interior. Brooke’s column had reached Guayama when news arrived that the armistice between the United States and Spain had been signed, so the general saw little fighting. He was appointed military governor of Puerto Rico and to the same post in Cuba after evacuation of the islands by Spain. Brooke’s final command was in the Department of the East with his headquarters in Philadelphia.

Gen. Brooke in 1913 (Report of PA Commission)

Gen. Brooke in 1913
(Report of PA Commission)

General Brooke retired from army service on July 21, 1902, at the ripe old age of 64. He quietly spent his remaining years at his home in Philadelphia though remained active with fellow veterans of the Society of the Army of the Potomac and the Grand Army of The Republic, the official organization of honorably discharged Union veterans. The general attended the 1913 Anniversary Celebration at Gettysburg and was honored to speak as the chosen representative on behalf of the Union veterans in attendance at the Great Reunion during the “Military Day” ceremonies on July 2. The general reminded his audience, composed of Union and Confederate veterans, that Gettysburg was “the battle which assured the maintenance of the Great Republic. Many battles were fought after Gettysburg, and it was not until upon the plains of Appomattox the union of states was assured, but Gettysburg was the turning point of the war.”

General Brooke died in Philadelphia on September 5, 1926, and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery next to his wife Mary L. Stearns, who had passed away in Philadelphia in 1921. General John Rutter Brooke was the next to last survivor of the 583 Union generals of full rank from the Civil War.

author: John Heiser, Company C, 53rd PVI, February 2005