Born in Deerfield, New Hampshire on 5 November 1818, Butler (see Plate A2) graduated from Colby College in Maine in 1> -v Returning to Lowell, he was admitted to the bar in 1840 ;md pi acm e i < riniinal law as well as entering politics. He was elected to the Massachusetts legislature in 1853 and again in 1859, serving as a representative to the Democratic Convention. He endorsed Southern rights. _ . * : ■ r r of the extreme States' Rights candidate, John C-Breckinridgc.
Despite this position, Butler - a brigadier-general m ihcMassachusetts militia before the war - led his 8th M^- -- Regiment to
Washington in 1861, There, on M.r — a major general of volunteers, more to indicate - pon for putting down the Southern "rebellion" than sa a »znnonv to his abilities. Sent to Fortress Monroe, B that was defeated at Big Bethel (lOJune). the iirM i the war.
"I regret that he has not as much capacity for handling troops judiciously in the field as he lias for 'managing' his superiors and kicking out his subordinates", wrote Brig.Gen. Joseph R.Hawley, who later served under Butler, "Yet I wish that some of our accomplished soldiers had some of his peculiar traits, & Ins knowledge of men & things generally crowded into their somewhat narrow professional minds/'
While at Monroe, Butler ruled that slaves who escaped to Union lines did not have to be returned to their owners, since their use aided the Confederates and diev were thus "contraband oi war". Such sinuous legal reasoning was typical of the man; one of his officers would write, "Butler is sharp, shrewd, able, without conscience or modesty - overbearing, A bad man to have against you in a criminal case." Another Of his officers
called him astute, quick-witted, unscrupulous, and audacious. Some of his actions at Monroe were certainly questionable. He sold trade permits to civilians who did business in his department, lie received kickbacks from Northern firms that sold farm implements and other goods to Southern companies that could pay in cotton. Some of this cotton may have been shipped north in army transports, loaded by army troops and stevedores.
hi August 1861 Butler was sent with a force to take Hatteras inlet, which he did successfully. In May 1862 he commanded the troops that took over New Orleans after die US Navy forced its surrender. There he ruled that women who
Benjamin Butter had been involved in the Massachusetts militia before the war, but his main interests lay in politics. It was his considerable Democrat power base in New England which brought him appointment as a major-genera), but he proved a poor commander. It was only after the 1S64 presidential election, however, when the Republicans were safely in office and the Confederacy appeared doomed, that the government felt safe in dismissing him. Note the oak leaf embroidery on his collar, a personal affectation.
BELOW This engraving from a photograph shows Butler wearing another heavily embroidered uniform, recalling that worn by Winfield Scott. Always a political animal, and widely suspected of corruption, Butler made friends with the press correspondents accompanying the army, being especially helpful to those who gave him favorable coverage. However, a positive consequence of his self-seeking character was that he also made sure that his soldiers were on his side by expediting mail to and from the front, as well as aiding the U5 Sanitary Commission and US Christian Commission in their work for the troops - his commands were noted for having among the best, most forward hospital facilities.
insulted Union officers were to be treated as women of the nig lit plying their trade. The South was deeply insulted bv this order, and actually placed a price on Butler's head. There, too, he gained the nickname of "Spoons Butler", it being said that he stole silver spoons, as well as other personal property, for his own benefit. Such allegations were not proved, but he was relieved of command thert* in December 1862.
In 1864 Butler was named commander of a new Army of the fames, made up of several corps drawn from the deep South. This was intended Lo land at Bermuda Hundred and take Richmond from the south. In fact Confederate forces managed to entreiich in his front, and those works, coupled with his indecision, halted his force as if he had been corked in a bottle. He then led a force against Fort Fisher, the last fort in the Confederacy to defend an Atlantic Coast port; this attempt failed after his plan to explode a ship full of powder did not level the fort as expected, lie was recalled to New York in November 1864, and in January 1865 he was forced to resign his commission.
After Butler was gone the army appointed a commission to look into charges of corruption against him. The report they produced indicated that Butler was indeed involved in such activities, but nothing happened as a result.
Changing Iiis affiliation to Republican» Butler was elected to Congress between 1866 and 1875 and again in 1878 (this time as a "Greenbacker), and was elected governor in 1882. He was the: Green backer presidential candidate in 1884, and died in Washington, DC on 11 January 1893,
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