Civil War Prisoner Detained at Myrtle Street Prison

Edward McCafferty Pilcher
A Handsome Civil War Prisoner Detained at Myrtle Street Prison

During the Civil War years, St. Louis was a hub of activity due to its location on the rivers and the military training post and hospital at Jefferson Barracks. Although loyalties of the North and South often divided friends and family, this was not the case with the Pilcher family. All ten of the children born to Ezekiel and Louisa (Ballard) Pilcher – including two sets of twins – were loyal to the Union in which they or their husbands were serving; and were stead-fast believers in President Lincoln whom they had known in Springfield.

These facts were not new to me, but what I would learn about the youngest son this week came as quite a surprise. I had first seen Edward McCafferty Pilcher's handsome image about ten years into my research, and at that time knew little about him except that he was the youngest son and twin of Eleanor Foreman Pilcher. They were born in Springfield, Illinois on 07 Mar 1843, and sometime between 1858 (when their father died) and 1860 they came with their mother to St. Louis and in 1860 were boarding in the home of Gabriel Darlington, a police officer.

Over the years, I had made notations of Edward M. Pilcher serving with the 30th Missouri Volunteers, but his military service was not recorded in our family history and so I never applied for his records. Among the many letters that would come into my possession, there was very little mention of him aside from one notation made from Tom Moore in a letter he wrote his wife from Yazzoo Pass on the 26th of February, 1863. Apparently Tom's mother had not embraced his young bride, Clarissa, and to suppress rumors she had been circulating, her older brother Edward had been “bound over to keep the peace.”

From these small fragments I had been unable to draw much of an opinion about him but that he was a handsome peace keeper. Not until last week did I discover he had been arrested for desertion and taken to the Myrtle Street Prison on January 9th of 1863. This matter, I soon learned, was the typical action of a soldier who had left his regiment without proper leave.
Here I include the sworn statement of Joseph Porter dated the 12th of Jan 1863 from the St. Louis Head Quarters, Office of the Provost Marshall: “I reside at the Randall House* on Broadway, and was formerly a Lieutenant in Capt. Monroe's Company, 30th Vol. And resigned. I was mustered out of service last Thursday for account of sickness of About two months ago. Capt. Beck (also of the 30th Reg) requested me to get a guard and arrest a private in his Company named Edward M. Pilcher, who was going to desert. I got a guard and proceeded to the North M.R.R. Depot, and found Pilcher – dressed in citizens clothes and having a carpet sack in his hand – about to get on board the cars. I asked him if his name was Pilcher and if he belonged to the 30th Mo Vols. He replied in the affirmative to both questions. I then told him he was my prisoner. He replied that I would not arrest him alone. I whistled for my guard (who was stationed just around corner) they came up, and I arrested Pilcher and took him to Benton Barracks. I did not again see him until last Friday night. Saw him at Kate Graham's old saloon on Broadway, and pointed him out to officer Moran who immediately arrested him, and took him to the City Guard Head Quarters.”

The situation proceeded the following day with Edward's brother, Joseph Warren Pilcher and his sworn statement which was eventually followed up by a statement of their mother. “J.W. Pilcher Sworn resides on the corner of 16th and Cass Avenue. My brother Edward M. Pilcher who is now in the Myrtle Street Prison charged with desertion from the 30th Mo Vols. He was picked up in the street by a Police officer. I went to see him in Prison today & he told me that he was not mustered in the service, that he rec'd no bounty. I did not know that he was a deserter, if I had known that he had deserted, I would have taken him back to his regiment. I am certain that he did not know he was counted as a deserter. He has not “good hard sense.” he is subject to “fits” some times. I do not think that he is a fit subject for a solider. I do not like to say that about my brother, but that is my honest opinion of the boy. He is 18 or 19 years old. My mother told me that he joined the regiment contrary to her wishes.”

The misunderstanding was further clarified by his mother Louisa who was sent bearing yet another letter, this one to Colonel George E. Leighton, Provost Marshall. Dated January 20th from Head Quarters, Department of Missouri it reads: “Colonel, The bearer Mrs. Pilcher represents that her son Edward M. Pilcher was enlisted in Capt. Beck's Co. 30th Mo Vol Inf. & was sworn in by the recruiting officer but has never been mustered in. The records here have been examined and his name is not on the rolls of the regiment. He has never drawn any pay, and, I think, is not a soldier. The Med Director cannot give him a cert. Of disability because he has never been mustered in. His mother says he is weakminded and unfit for the duties of a soldier that he put on his Brothers uniform went on the street & was arrested. Is now in Myrtle St. Prison. Will you hear her statement and if proper, release him.”

According to the Rolls of Prisoners, Edward had been released that same day. Fortunately he had been detained less than a month, for this two-and-one-half story brick structure situated at the corner of Fifth and Myrtle Streets had once been the slave pen used by Bernard Lynch for his “Negroes” and was most likely over-crowded and extremely cold during this winter month.

Though records state that Edward had married Mary Jane Dwyer on 20 Aug 1862 in St. Louis, no military records exist to indicate she had come to his aid during his confinement. Perhaps, like many, she had moved out of the city and had been unable to go to him. That they remained married for at least five years is supported by the birth of their two daughters: Caroline, born in 1865, and Rose in 1867 – who sadly, died as infants. Nothing further has been found regarding Mary though I might speculate she died at a young age since Edward was again married on 08 Oct 1872 to Sarah C. Tice of Fulton Co., Pennsylvania. They resided in St. Louis where Edward died at the age of 40 years, 11 mos and 12 days on 21 Feb 1884. He was laid to rest in St. Peters Cemetery.

Handsome, without question. Weak-minded? Perhaps. Hopefully there will be further research which will reveal more fully the character of Edward who was undoubtedly trusted and loved by his Pilcher family.

  • Photo of Edward M. Pilcher – circa 1870; P. Davidson-Peters Collection
  • Document Image of Myrtle Street Prison Prisoner Roll - Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the American Civil War, compiled 1890 - 1912, documenting the period 1861; Record Group 94; NARA Catalog ID#300398
  • *Kennedy's 1860 St. Louis Directory list the following: Catharine Graham, saloon, r. 334 Broadway, r. same; Randle House, (Randle & Gillham, props.), 272 Broadway; Pilcher Joseph W., (Edward's brother) carpenter, r. Ns. Montgomery b. 9th and Broadway; Pilcher Archibald M., (Edward's brother) carpenter, r. Ws. 10th b. W. Brooklyn and Webster; Darlington Gabriel D., policeman, r. 392 Broadway (also where Edward, his mother and other children had boarded); Myrtle Street Prison - 57 South 5th St.
  • Edward's Burial at St. Peters Cemetery presented at PDP's Moore & Pilcher website

1 comment:

Nancy Roser said...

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