B is for Beast Butler
Welcome to day two of the challenge. I had intended to write about “butternut” today, where the term came from and other innovative ways southerners coped with shortages brought on by the blockade, but something reminded me of “Beast” Butler. He was an interesting character who gained international attention with his infamous Order 28.
Butler was a lawyer and politician before the war. Through sheer luck, he advanced to a major general rank and with the best luck ever, was assigned to take New Orleans. The city fell to overwhelming forces, but mainly due to Admiral Farragut’s naval bombardment without much of a fight.
I’m taking the following from diaries of citizens who lived there at the time. Once occupied, it was not uncommon for Union officers who had taken pretty black mistresses into the homes of wealthy citizens and allow the girls to take anything that caught their fancy, and they fancied a lot.
One woman with five children whose husband had been killed and was, therefore, left alone with just a few servants was invaded by a swarm of Union soldiers who ransacked her home. What they couldn’t steal, they destroyed. She asked what her children were going to do if they took all their clothes and she had no money to replace them. “Ain’t I got a wife and younguns at home myself?” a soldier replied.
Loot by the trainload made its way north.
Farragut landed and put up the United States flag at the Mint, causing a riot in which the flag was torn down. William Mumford was foolish enough to brag he had been in on the desecration and had a scrap of it to prove his actions. He was arrested and sentenced to die. Butler had him executed in front of the Mint with the furious crowd looking down the barrels of cannons the general was more than ready to use on them if they twitched. Tempers were already treetop high. None of this helped quell the situation.
To Butler’s credit, he allowed the man to make a speech before he was executed. Mumford said he did it out of patriotism and was sorely worried about his wife and children. Butler said he would see to it they were cared for if necessary. After the war, he paid off her mortgage and helped her find a job.
The women crossed the street so they wouldn’t have to pass close to soldiers, spat on them, and conveniently emptied chamber pots on ones passing beneath their windows. The final straw was when of them dumped her pot on Admiral Farragut.
Butler issued Order 28 “that if any woman should insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and shall be held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.” She could be considered a common prostitute and treated as such, arrested, fined, and imprisoned.
The order garnered so much outrage even European newspapers raised the roof over it.
Diarists recorded asking for an explanation of “show contempt” and were told if they looked away, turned their back, refused to speak to, or did anything to show disdain they were in violation. One wrote if she so much as moved her skirts to keep them from getting tromped on by passing soldiers, she might be treated as a common woman. She stopped going out in public except for church.
The diary of Sarah Morgan has some good information about the occupation of Louisiana.
Butler made his point and there were no more chamber pot attacks. Ladies had to content themselves with putting portraits of Butler in the bottoms of their pots. Some enterprising manufacturers found a ready market for the Butler Chamber Pots.
Even the churches were highly regulated. They were not allowed to pray for the Confederacy. The Episcopal churches were closed and their three ministers arrested and sent to New York with a military escort. Several clergymen were arrested for refusing to pray for President Lincoln.
General Butler’s brother Andrew set up shop in the St. Charles Hotel where he ran a very profitable and illegal business. According to Herbert Asbury in his book The French Quarter, Butler issued two orders. One, all gambling was stopped and the military shut down every gambling house. Two, a private order, pay a hefty license fee to Jonas French the head of the provost police and take Andrew Butler on as a silent partner.
Butler would allow people to leave New Orleans, but only with personal possessions. Anything of value was confiscated. When a woman with a permit to leave was searched and they found her 38-piece silver service, Butler confiscated it, thus earning him the name “Spoons” Butler to go along with the “Beast” Butler Order 28 earned him. Apparently valuables and family silver are not personal possessions.
He rigged the Confiscation Act of 1862 to seize cotton and resell it, profiting greatly.
Butler controlled all the newspapers and demanded everything be cleared through him first. When the Commercial Bulletin editor William Seymour asked Butler what he would do if they ignored him, Butler responded, “I am the military governor of this state — the supreme power — you cannot disregard my order, Sir. By God, he that sins against me, sins against the Holy Ghost.” Seymour published a favorable obituary of his father, who had been killed serving in the Confederate army in Virginia, prompting Butler to confiscate the newspaper and imprison Seymour for three months.
George Devol, a real deal gambler and author of 40 Years A Gambler On The Mississippi, was imprisoned for a year for showing some Union officers how to play three-card monte. Butler confiscated his string of race horses he ran at Oakland and according to Devol, Andrew Butler shipped them across Lake Ponchartrain to sell to the Confederates where they brought a premium price.
Andrew had been selling to the Confederate army for some time and making huge profits. Few doubt that Gen. Butler knew and approved his brother’s profiteering and going so far as to railroad an honest Federal policeman who had complained about their actions. Butler had the man sent to prison for a year on false charges to shut him up.
Butler seized $800,000 that had been deposited in the Dutch consul and imprisoned the French champagne magnate Charles Heidsieck. He particularly focused on Great Britain’s George Coppell and suspended him for refusal to cooperate with the Union. Butler accused Coppell of giving aid to the Confederate cause.
Reverdy Johnson of the Secretary of State’s office came to New Orleans to investigate complaints against Butler by foreign consuls. Keep in mind there were a lot of foreign consuls in New Orleans because of the cotton and sugar trade and proximity to the coast. President Lincoln ordered Butler to restore a sugar shipment claimed by Europeans, but Butler undermined the order, by imposing a strict quarantine to protect against yellow fever. His quarantine did help the yellow fever outbreak, but his orders were also conveniently timed and delayed foreign commerce. Lincoln might ignore all the other complaints against Butler and his brother, they were actually quite popular with a lot of northerners who wanted the south punished and punished severely, but he could not afford to make enemies of foreign powers he wanted to stay out of the war.
General Banks replaced him and ordered his brother out as well, but the damage was done and the Butlers were rich. New Orleans was not the only focus of his greed, but enough for today.
Grant wrote regarding Butler: “Whilst the army was holding Lee in Richmond and Petersburg, I found … [Lee] … was receiving supplies, either through the inefficiency or permission of [an] officer selected by General Butler … from Norfolk (Virginia) through the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal.”
The sixty-page report on Butler’s treasonous activities was buried after Lincoln’s assassination. He returned to law and politics after the war.
On the credit side, Butler supported civil rights for emancipated slaves, women’s suffrage, and an eight hour day for workers.
Wow, I guess it was just as well he only oversaw New Orleans!
Hey, AJ. Oh, no. He was so popular with the northern radicals for what he had done in NO Lincoln couldn’t remove him. He just moved on to different pastures.
Thanks again for stopping by.