Major General John Rutter Brooke became Commander-in-Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States in 1905, succeeding Major General David McMurtrie Gregg. He had served with distinction in both the War of the Rebellion and the Spanish-American War. General Brooke was a native of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania and the son of William Brooke and Martha Rutter. Born July 21, 1838, he was educated at Freeland Seminary and Bolmars School in West Chester.
With the outbreak of the Civil War John R. Brooke enlisted and was commissioned a Captain in the 4th Pennsylvania Infantry. He said his father's last words to him as he left his home in Pottstown, Pennsylvania were, Good by John. Don't get shot in the back. The 4th Pennsylvania was a three-month regiment, which gained a bad reputation by disbanding and returning home just before the first battle of Bull Run. Captain Brooke re-enlisted on November 7, 1861, and was commissioned Colonel of the 53rd Pennsylvania Infantry. He remained in command of the 53rd Pennsylvania until May 12, 1864. His command of the 53rd placed him in the thick of action in many of the major battles of the Civil War. Brooke's regiment was part of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 2nd Army Corps. Originally stationed in Washington D.C. in March 1862, the regiment joined the rest of the Army of the Potomac in the siege of Yorktown and the Peninsula Campaign. Describing the action at Fair Oaks, Virginia on June 1, 1862, Colonel Brooke wrote, After standing for a long time in line without having been advised that the enemy was about to attack us, and the forest being so dense that nothing could be seen at a short distance, a desperate assault was made on our line by what appeared to me to be a large force. This was my first real battle during that war. My whole mind was concentrated on the question as to whether my men would stand. They did stand; they repulsed the assault, and not only that, but five successive assaults were made, all of which were repulsed, and the regiment then advanced, and, to use a very technical term "cleaned them out" in our front. You can well imagine a young man in command of a regiment, having present 900 men, feeling a thrill. Colonel Brooke was wounded in this engagement, but not seriously.
From July 4 to August 18, 1862, Col. Brooke commanded the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 2nd Army Corps until relieved by Major General William H. French at Newport News. Returning to command of his regiment Colonel Brooke fought at the Second Battle of Bull Run and then again assumed command of the 3rd Brigade, a position he held during the campaign and Battle of Antietam. Following the Battle of Antietam, Brooke led a special detachment of five regiments of infantry, three of cavalry and two batteries of artillery, which served as the advance units in a reconnaissance commanded by Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, from Harpers Ferry to Charlestown, Virginia. Colonel Brooke then returned to the command of his regiment leading it and the 27th Connecticut at the Battle of Fredericksburg. He participated in the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 1, 2, and 3, 1863 and was in action at the Battle of Gettysburg.
At Gettysburg, Colonel Brooke, who was in command of the 4th Brigade (consisting of the 27th Connecticut, the 2nd Delaware, 64th New York, 53rd Pennsylvania and the 145th Pennsylvania) wrote, when the Third Army Corps had been engaged for some time, and the enemy had succeeded in practically driving it back, the 1st division of the Second Corps was ordered to the left to stay the advance of the enemy in the vicinity of the wheat field which lay in front of Little Round Top. Three brigades of the division were in my front, my brigade then being the fourth of that division. The division commander ordered me forward. In fact from the time we left the position we had occupied to make this movement to the end of that day's battle, we were in rapid motion. Passing into the wheat field I found our line standing on a crest near the western edge of it fighting the enemy, who seemed strongly posted. My brigade pressed through this line and attacked the enemy in the rocks and timber driving them out of their position and off that part of the field. My brigade was not alone in this. Zook's [Brigadier General Samuel K. Zook], the 3rd brigade, was on my right, and went forward with mine, Zook having fallen dead before this period of the fight was reached. The passage through that wheat field, and through the rocks and timber beyond, you can well imagine was a most thrilling moment.
All this occurred in the evening of the 2nd of July. On the 3rd, after the rebel fire, which has been frequently spoken of-ceased, we expected the advance of their infantry to an assault. The movement forward of that column of about 16,000 men was very majestic. The plowing of lanes through the mass by our artillery was plainly seen, as was also the closing of these gaps by the contraction of their front, and when they came to close quarters with our infantry, their men dropped like leaves in Autumn. They pressed back a portion of our line and passed within to encounter a majority of Doubleday's division, who rose up from the ground and confronted them. Looking back they found that the line on either side of the gap made by their advance had closed in. They were actually and entirely surrounded. I was engaged during that assault, and, under the orders of General Hancock, I had moved forward and wheeled to the right to attack the advancing column on the flank. Before I could reach the point I observed a heavy column of troops moving out from our lines evidently with the intention of attacking this assaulting column. I immediately wheeled to the left and attacked the brigade of the enemy, which was deployed on the right of their assault, but I saw it all, and in all the histories of war I doubt whether there was any more thrilling moment than that which came under my observation during the assault made by General Longstreet on July 3rd 1863 at Gettysburg. Colonel Brooke sustained a wound at Gettysburg, but it was not of such a nature as to prevent him from continuing to lead his troops.
Colonel Brooke and his brigade and the other units making up the Army of the Potomac took up the pursuit of General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, participating in engagements at Banks Ford and Throughfare Gap as well as Auburn Mills and Bristow Station. During 1864, Colonel Brooke was active in the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5, 6, and 7 and in skirmishes on the Po River on May 9 and 10. On May 12, he was commissioned Brigadier General of Volunteers. On June 3, he was severely wounded in the assault at Cold Harbor and carried from the field. His wounds were so severe (he was shot in the chest) that he was not able to return to full duty until March 11, 1865. He was given command of a provisional Division of the Army of the Shenandoah (subsequently known as the 2nd Division, District of West Virginia) until August 10, 1865. He was then on leave and serving on court martial duty at Annapolis, Maryland to February 1, 1866 when he resigned from the Volunteer Army.
On July 28, 1867, John R. Brooke was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel of the 37th Infantry in the regular Army of the United States and transferred two years later to the Third Infantry, which he commanded until 1888. He was promoted Colonel, March 20, 1879, Brigadier General, April 6, 1888, and Major General, May 22, 1897. He commanded the Department of the Platte from May 5, 1888 to May 16, 1895 and the Department of Dakota from May 18, 1895 to April 10, 1897. During the next several years he commanded the Department of Missouri and the Department of the Lakes.
With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, General Brooke assumed command of the provisional Army Corps at Camp Thomas, Georgia and on May 17, 1898 took command of the 1st Army Corps and the Department of the Gulf. He commanded the invasion of Puerto Rico on July 31, 1898, landing at Arroyo. He advanced to Guayama, where he engaged units of the Spanish Army and proceeded to Cayey, which he was about to assault, when word came to him of the declaration of an armistice. After the departure of the Spanish he was appointed Military Governor of Puerto Rico and served from August 30 1898 to December 5, 1898. General Brooke was then transferred to Cuba where he served as Governor General from December 28, 1898 to December 20, 1899. Following his tour of duty in the Caribbean, General Brooke was detailed as Commander of the Department of the East in the United States from May 10, 1900 to July 21, 1902 when he retired from the Army.
On March 13, 1882, John R. Brooke applied for membership as a Companion of the First Class in the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States through the Commandery of Pennsylvania. On May 2, 1882, he was assigned Insignia Number 2434. General Brooke subsequently transferred to the Commandery of Nebraska, then that of New York and finally, on December 4, 1902, (with his retirement and move to Rosemont, Pennsylvania,) he transferred back to the Commandery of Pennsylvania. On May 4, 1904, General Brooke was elected Commander of the Pennsylvania Commandery, succeeding General Gregg. His opponents in the election were Generals Galusha Pennypacker and James A. Beaver. The following year, he again succeeded General Gregg by being elected Commander-in-Chief of the Loyal Legion. General Brook served two years as Commander-in-Chief retiring in 1907.
General Brooke was twice married, first to Louisa Roberts, who died in 1867, and secondly, to Mary Stearns. By his first marriage, he had two sons, William Brooke and Louis R. Brooke. His son William, later a Colonel in the U.S. Army was also a Companion, belonging to the Illinois Commandery with Insignia Number 10356. General Brooke died in Frankford, Pennsylvania on September 5, 1926 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. G.C. Craig wrote of General Brooke, He had the best voice for a commander I ever heard. In the spring of 1864 our brigade was encamped near Brandy Station, in the extreme front as a picket support. Whenever he had the brigade out on drill we could hear his commands from the picket line almost as distinctly as if we were on the drill ground a half-mile off. At the Wilderness I remember we could hear his commands above the din of battle when we could hear no one else except our company officers. General Brooke was succeeded at the conclusion of this term of office as Commander-in-Chief by Major General Grenville Mellen Dodge.
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