Alexander Johann Sutorius was born in Guienne, Switzerland on May 7, 1837. He emigrated to the United States in 1854, arriving in New York on the ship Samuel B. Fox from Havre de Grace on April 10th. He used his middle name, Johann, on the ship’s passenger list, and like many young men, claimed to be older than he was.
A few months later, as many immigrants did, he enlisted into the army while still in New York. Captain Palmer enlisted him into the Field & Staff of the Regiment of Mounted Rifles as a musician on September 15, 8154. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’8” tall, with hazel eyes, brown hair and a dark complexion.
Military service definitely agreed with Alexander. By the time he re-enlisted four years later, he was the regiment’s chief bugler. Lieutenant Dabney Maury re-enlisted him on September 1, 1859 at Fort Union, New Mexico.
Promotions came quickly for Sutorius with the outbreak of the war. He was promoted to regimental quartermaster sergeant during the fighting in New Mexico, then to sergeant major of the regiment on July17, 1862. He replaced former sergeant major Charles Meinhold, who was promoted to second lieutenant in Company M. At the end of the year, he accompanied the remnants of the regiment on its march eastward to Memphis, TN
Sergeant Major Sutorius was discharged to receive an appointment as a second lieutenant in Company E, 3rd U.S. Cavalry on April 22, 1863 at Memphis, TN. He would spend much of the rest of his career in this company.
Second Lieutenant Sutorius was appointed regimental adjutant on October 1, 1863. The duties must have been familiar, given the amount of time he’d spent on the regimental staff. The regiment had its busiest day of the war on the 26th near Tuscumbia, AL, fighting three distinct engagements on the same day. Sutorius received a brevet promotion to first lieutenant for gallant and meritorious service in action for his services during that day’s fighting on November 15, 1863. He remained in this position during the regiment’s campaigns during the rest of the war in Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri and Arkansas.
Lieutenant Sutorius remained the adjutant after the war, and was promoted to first lieutenant October 9, 1865. The regiment continued to serve in Arkansas until April 1866, when it was ordered to New Mexico. After accompanying the regiment on its march west, he returned to the east briefly to claim his bride. Lieutenant Sutorius married Mercy Tompkins, a native of New York and Daughter of the American Revolution fourteen years his junior, on August 19, 1866. They eventually had four children, Camille, Ford, Francis Alexis and Frances Eugenia.
In New Mexico, Lieutenant Sutorius relinquished the position of adjutant on May 29, 1867 to become the Regimental Commisary of Stores. He continued in this position until October 3d of the same year, when he became the Regimental Quartermaster. During this time, while the regiment was spread across New Mexico, Lieutenant Sutorius served primarily at Fort Craig and Fort Sumner.
On December 1, 1868, he finally left the regimental headquarters to return to Company E. During his time on the regimental staff, Sutorius held every position excepting only major and regimental commander. On May 6th of the following year, he was promoted to captain and command of the company.
He and the company served in Arizona Territory at Camp Verde and Fort McDowell before they were transferred to Fort Sanders, Wyoming Territory in March 1872. During the next four years, he served in Nebraska and Wyoming Territory, commanding at various times Fort Sanders, Sidney Barracks and Camp Sheridan, Nebraska.
Like many of the cavalry officers on the frontier, Captain Sutorius and the 3rd Cavalry were part of General Sheridan’s Centennial Campaign in 1876 to subdue the Indians. The 3rd Cavalry was part of the force under General Crook. Captain Sutorius led Company E well at the battle of the Rosebud on June 17, 1876, but his career ended abruptly only a month later.
On July 22nd, Captain Sutorius was charged with drunkenness on duty while in charge of the regiment’s pickets in the field. The charges read as follows:
“Charge. Drunkenness on duty in violation of the 38th Article of War.
Specification. In this that he, Captain Alexander Sutoriu, 3d U.S. Cavalry, being officer in charge of the pickets of the 3rd Cavalry, a portion of the Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition, in the field, was so much under the influence of intoxicating liquors as to be unfit for proper performance of his duty. This when an attack by hostile Indians might at any moment be expected in the camp of Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition, on Middle Goose Ck, Wy. On or about 22d day of July 1876.” (Robinson, pg 383)
The regimental commander, Colonel William B. Royall, forwarded the charges to General Crook requesting an immediate trial. Crook acquiesced, and the court martial started in the field just two days after the offense. Among those included in the court was Frederick Van Vliet, a former Civil War comrade who also still served in the regiment. Sutorius was found guilty, and dismissed from the service on September 25, 1876.
Captain Sutorius was far from the only army officer to have issues with alcohol on the frontier, in garrison or in the field, and the court martial and punishment appear to be very rapid and severe. This most likely in reaction to the disaster at Little Big Horn the month before and rumors of heavy alcohol use by various members of Custer’s force. Many officers, including general officers, were known to “like their tea,” and I have found nothing to indicate Sutorius had been anything but a model soldier to that point in his career. It seems unlikely that he would be anything different given his long service on the regimental staff at the whim of the commander. Colonel Royall had only served with the regiment since the previous December.
Regardless, Sutorius’ army career was over. He returned to New York with his family, where he lived the rest of his life. He worked as a storekeeper in Manhattan, according to the 1890 and 1900 Census.
Alexander John Sutorius died May 19, 1905 in New York City.
Carroll and Price, Roll Call on the Little Big Horn, pg 158.
Chamberlain, Joshua L., ed. New York University: Its History, Influences, Equipment and Characteristics, Vol. 2. Boston: R. Herndon Company, 1903.
Clan of Tomkyns, Descendants of Girls, Volume III. Accessed online: no author or reference data available.
Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States, pgs 625, 937
Henry, Military Record of Civilian Appointments to the U.S. Army, Vol. 2, pg 343.
Register of Enlistments, National Archives.
Post Returns, National Archives.
Regimental Returns, National Archives.
Robinson, Charles M. III. The Diaries of John Gregory Bourke, Volume I. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2003.
U.S. Army Register, 1876