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 Posted: Wed Sep 12th, 2012 02:10 pm
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Mark
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I am curious to see what the general consensus is regarding MG Ben Butler--not only as a commander but also as a politician (I think it is impossible to separate the two). When I first starting studying the Civil War, I found that I was 'supposed' to despise him as a bumbling political general. Now I am certain that there is much more to him than that.

Mark



 Posted: Sun Sep 16th, 2012 04:57 pm
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I think his nickname pretty much sums it up



 Posted: Sun Sep 16th, 2012 05:16 pm
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Bama-

  Which one of his nicknames?  ;)



 Posted: Sun Sep 16th, 2012 07:47 pm
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I was about to ask the same thing (I like Spoons myself)... and please explain why you think that sums him up.

Mark



 Posted: Sat Jun 1st, 2013 11:56 pm
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One nickname was 'Beast'



 Posted: Sun Jun 2nd, 2013 08:30 pm
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I didn't know Matthew Calbraith Buttle was a politician. Hmmm, well looking on Kerry Webb's US Civil War
Generals
(http://grapevine.com.au/~kwebb/Generals.html) it says that his post war career included a stint as a US Senator. And he held TWO Major General ranks, one in the Confederate army during the war and one as a US Major General of Volunteers during the Spanish American war. Looking him up in The Encylopedia of the American Civil War it does say he was eleceted to the SC state legislature in 1860. So I guess he was a politician before the war too.

Seriously, I know you meant Benjamin Butler, but as I was flipping through the aforementioned encyclopedia to get to him I came across Major General Matthew C. Butler and had to run with it a little. One of those cases of a known name but a little or unknown one at the same time.

I think you have to consider Butler's successes in the field and his term as military governor of New Orleans when you consider a consensus regarding him. I don't think Beast or Spoons, although fitting nicknames, actually say it all as if you stop to consider both you have to consider what military position he was in when they were assigned. Both may be said to originate from his time as the military governor of New Orleans (although Spoons may have been awarded after he left New Orleans it does stem from that period in his military career). He also seems to have earned another nickname during this period. "Picayune" Butler which Douglas Lee Gibboney in his Scandals of the Civil War claims the people of New Orleans called him after a black barber whom they suggested was really his father.

When you consider Butler I have to think he is better known as the military governor of New Orleans than he is as a field commander. Particularly because of his General Orders, No. 28. That controversial order sparked protests both in the North and South for what it implied, and rightly so. As British papers implied, this order could easily be interpreted as giving Federal troops carte blanche to rape any woman who showed contempt for Federal officers and troops. It's not written as such, it's written to say that if the women of New Orleans continued to show contempt for Federal soldiers and officers then they would be treated "as a woman of the town plying her avocation." In other words thy would be treated as if they were prostitutes.

Even after leaving New Orleans he couldn't fully escape scandal, though he could apparently escape getting caught. Gibboney mentions in his book how Stanton tried to plant a spies in Butler's command to gather evidence against him following rumors of his supposed profiteering. Instead Butler found the spy and had them arrested and that appears to have been the end of Stanton's attempt to gain evidence. Was he really profiteering as the rumors suggest or was this a feud between him and Stanton and Stanton tried something on the sly? Don't know, either way this is a scandal for Butler.

As a field commander Butler could only claim a few victories, if even that. His failures seem to more outweigh his victories. And what victories he did have you have to ask if they were his victories or if they were someone else's as they seem to have been joint Army/Navy operations.



 Posted: Sun Jun 2nd, 2013 10:54 pm
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Hellcat-

  General Benjamin Franklin Butler earned a special enmity from southerners for his General Order Number 28, issued in New Orleans in May of 1862.

http://confederatemuseum.com/sites/default/files/POT%20PICTURE.jpg

  The infamous: "Womens' Order" promised to punish southern women for: "Showing contempt" for Union soldiers. But it was left to the Union soldiers to decide what constituted: "Contempt."

  Here is a defense (as well as an explanation) of the order and how it could be interpreted:

Benjamin Butler's Woman's Order

  As explained here, southern women could have been incarcerated for a number of offenses, such as: "Crossing streets" to avoid Union soldiers, or: "Fleeing rooms" when they showed up. In at least one case, women were arrested for leaving a church when some soldiers arrived. The order threatened to treat the women who offended as prostitutes: "Plying their avocation," but it seems illogical that they would be practicng that profession by avoiding potential customers.

  Here is a different view of the order and its effectiveness:

General Butler and the Women - NYTimes.com

  The one positive good that General Butler did was not appreciated by either side at the time. By improving roads around the city (To facilitate military traffic), he reduced the number of places that mosquitoes could breed, and thus lowered the number of cases of tropical diseases in the area. The connection of the mosquitoes to the diseases was not understood at that time.

Last edited on Sun Jun 2nd, 2013 11:19 pm by Texas Defender



 Posted: Mon Jun 3rd, 2013 01:29 am
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Actually, TD, he apparently did that twice. According to the entry in The Encyclopedia of the American Civil War after his defeat at Beauregard's hands which forced him to fall back to Bermuda Hundred, Butler's men were gradually detailed to Grant and Butler himself returned to administrative duties. During this period he cleaned up Norfolk to prevent yellow fever outbreaks.

On the subject of yellow fever in New Orleans it appears, according to the article, that he went beyond the road ways. According to the article:

Butler's iron-fisted civic control prevented the usual outbreak of yellow fever. Butler ordered ships arriving from infected ports quarantined. He enforced rules of cleanliness and organized wagons to pick up and dispose refuse.

Gibboney's Scandals of the Civil War says this of the subject:

To prevent the malaria which plagud the port in the summer, he instituted a comprehensive city sanitation program and banned entry of ships coming from locales where the disease was active.

Now I don't know enough about malaria or yellow fever to know if it's a communicable infectious disease. I don't even know if malaria and yellow fever are the same thing or separate diseases. I've always understood they are the same thing and are transmitted through mosquito bites, which wasn't discovered until the 20th century. So I don't know if the quarantines were of any use, though with what they may have known about the disease at the time the quarantine was not a wasted effort. Certainly the efforts at sanitation weren't wasted.

On the subject of the womens order there is absolutely no way I am going to defend Butler for that. As I said in my first post it could be interpreted as giving Federal soldiers carte blanche to rape the women of New Orleans. There is no where in General Orders, No. 28 which says anything of that nature, that's just an interpretation. But as you say, what constitutes contempt is decided by the soldiers and they would also be the ones to decide how they could treat any woman they decided was acting in a contemptible way.



 Posted: Mon Jun 3rd, 2013 02:24 am
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Hellcat-

  Malaria and yellow fever are different diseases, though both are spread through the bites of mosquitoes.

Malaria - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Yellow fever - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  Besides reducing the mosquito population, the sanitation methods you described above would also have been useful in preventing epidemics of diseases caused by bacteria, such as typhus and cholera. So, it seems that I should give General Butler some credit for that.

 

Last edited on Mon Jun 3rd, 2013 02:37 am by Texas Defender



 Posted: Mon Jun 3rd, 2013 03:32 am
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But that's the thing. The places where one may want to give him credit are places where he's in an administrative position, not a field command. Remer what I said about considering him meaning considering him as both his successes in the field and as a military governor. The places where one may want to give him any credit seem to be when he's in an administrative position, not a field position.

Last edited on Mon Jun 3rd, 2013 04:23 am by Hellcat



 Posted: Mon Jun 3rd, 2013 05:13 am
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Hellcat-

  I would regard General Benjamin Butler's performance as a commander in the field as: "Abysmal." But, as you said, his: "Talents" lay elsewhere.

  From the Union standpoint, one additional thing that General Butler might deserve: "Credit" for is helping to ensure that Maryland did not secede from the Union. (Loyalties in the state were divided). In May of 1861 (The month after the riots in Baltimore), General Butler threatened the city of Baltimore with destruction. He soon occupied the city and declared martial law.

  The mayor of Baltimore, city council members, and other politicians were arrested and sent to be imprisoned at Ft. McHenry. (They were held for varied lengths of time). From the beginning of hostilities, Mr. Lincoln's policy toward Maryland was well stated by General Nathaniel Banks, who said: "The secessionist leaders- the enemies of the people- were replaced and loyal men were assigned to their duties. That made Maryland a loyal state." From that point on, these: "Loyal men" ran the state government and could suppress any dissent.
Baltimore in the Civil War :: Baltimore.org

  A few days after prominent citizens of Baltimore was arrested, so was a militia captain named John Merryman. A writ of habeas corpus was written. It was ignored, but that is another story.

Last edited on Mon Jun 3rd, 2013 06:06 am by Texas Defender



 Posted: Mon Jun 3rd, 2013 07:10 pm
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Of the border states Maryland was the one that was, I'd say, almost always assured of being put under martial law simply because of DC. Especially after Virginia seceded. Even if Butler had not put Baltimore under martial law I would expect someone else would have still done so. It's unlikely that the Lincoln Administration would have allowed DC to be surrounded by enemy territory or even abandon the city. So while I do agree that he gets credit for keeping the state in the Union, I believe that Lincoln would have found someone else to do so had Butler not initiated that.

But I do agree about his position as a field commander. I can only think of two places where he could be claimed to be victorious. Forts Hatteras and Clark and the Fall of New Orleans. But as I pointed out earlier, I'd question if those are his victories because they were joint Army-Navy operations



 Posted: Tue Jun 4th, 2013 12:25 am
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Hellcat-

  I completely agree that Mr. Lincoln would have occupied Maryland in any event. He could not allow WDC to be cut off from the rest of Union territory, and he needed to keep the railroad links intact for the use of Union troops.

  I cannot give General Benjamin Butler much, if any, credit, for Union victories in 1861 at Forts Hatteras and Clark or in 1862 in the operation to capture New Orleans. In the case of the forts in North Carolina, the operation to take them was under the control of the Navy and led by Flag Officer Silas Stringham. It was he who argued that the Union must occupy the inlets, instead of just trying to block them off.

  Flag Officer Stringham was effective in bombarding the Confederates by continually moving his ships. He also could outrange the guns of the defenders. The Confederates were low on ammunition and had problems getting reinforcements. The landings by Union troops were pretty much a disaster in the beginning. It was the continual pressure by the Union naval forces that made the forts indefensible.

  In the case of the Battle of New Orleans, the operation was conceived and ably carried out by then Flag Officer David G. Farragut. The victory was due to Farragut's ships breaking the river barriers, passing the forts, and defeating the CSA ships that opposed them. General Butler's troops were mainly along for the purpose of being an occupying force when Farragut's ships reached the docks of the city and forced its surrender. Confederate General Mansfield Lovell had recognized that he could not sucessfully defend the city and had abandoned it.The victory was mainly due to Flag Officer Farragut's belief that he could successfully pass the CSA forts, and his energetic execution of his operation to prove it.

Last edited on Tue Jun 4th, 2013 12:52 am by Texas Defender



 Posted: Tue Jun 4th, 2013 01:24 am
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And that's my point, TD. Both cases Butler could claim a victory. BUT if you look at it in both cases it looks like there was really no need for Butler's troops other than to occupy once the Navy had done it's job. Though ironically the occupying force was more in danger from it's own side than from enemy fire in the first instance as some of Butler's men, moving in to hold one of the forts during the battle after the Confederates retreated from it, came under fire from Stringham's ships.

Actually Stingham's strategy is of note as it was used again against Port Royal and brought into question the value of fixed forts against naval guns. Which itself is ironic as we certainly were developing fixed forts during the Endicott period. Though the guns were more rifled cannon mounted in something a bit more like a turret.



 Posted: Thu Jun 6th, 2013 03:45 am
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Ok, with the recent talk on Butler, particularly on
his performance as a field commander vs as an administrator, I hit one of my favorite sites and perused their collection of Harper's Weekly. Given the most recent discussion between myself and TD, here's the September 14, 1861 article on the Battle of Forts Hatteras and Clark (aka Battle of Hatteras Inlet)
THE CAPTURE OF HATTERAS
FORTS.

WE illustrate on pages 584 and 585 the DEPARTURE OF GENERAL BUTLER'S EXPEDITION AGAINST HATTERAS, and on the preceding page we give a View of the BOMBARDMENT, and Portraits of GENERAL BUTLER AND COMMODORE STRINGHAM.

The following account of this brilliant affair is from the report of the special reporter of the Herald :

Minnesota, Commodore Stringham; Wabash, Captain Mercer; the gun-boats Pawnee, Captain Rowan; Monticello, Commander Gillis, and the Harriet Lane, Captain Faunce, with the transports Adelaide and George Peabody, conveying troops to the number of about a thousand, left Fortress Monroe last Monday, and reached the rendezvous off Hatteras Inlet, fifteen miles below Cape Hatteras, on Tuesday morning, the Minnesota and Wabash coming in in the afternoon, and the Cumberland joined the fleet the same day.

Preparations were immediately made to land the troops the following morning, at which time the transports ran near the beach, two miles north of the Inlet, and, covered by the Monticello, Harriet Lane, and Pawnee, about three hundred men were landed through a heavy surf, the force consisting of Captain Larned's company of regular artillery, Captain Jardine's company Ninth New York, two companies of the Twentieth New York, with Colonel Weber and Lieutenant-Colonel Heiss; a detachment of marines from the frigates, under command of Majors Doughty and Shuttleworth, and a detachment of sailors from the Pawnee, under Lieutenants Crosby and Blue, with Drs. King and Jones.

The gun-boats swept the beach and neighboring copse of scrub oaks. All the boats being swamped and bilged in the surf, no more men could be thrown ashore. Meanwhile, the Minnesota and Wabash—the latter with the Cumberland in tow—steamed up to the front of one of the rebel batteries and took their position at long range.

At ten o'clock the Wabash fired the first gun, the eleven-inch shell striking near the battery and bursting with tremendous force. The battery, which was of sand, covered with turf and mounting five long thirty-twos, instantly returned the fire, the shot falling short. The Minnesota and Cumberland immediately opened fire and rained nine and eleven inch shells into and about it. The fire was terrific, and soon the battery's responses were few and far between, save when the frigates suspended fire for a while to get a new position, when the enemy's fire was most spirited.

No damage was sustained by our ships, and when they again took their position the cannonading was intensely hot, the shells dropping in the enemy's works or falling on the ramparts, exploding in death-dealing fragments, and carrying death and destruction with them. The small wooden structures about the fort were torn and perforated with flying shells. At eleven o'clock the immense flag-staff was shot away and the rebel flag came down, but the fire was still continued by them. At twelve o'clock the Susquehanna steamed in, and, dropping her boats astern, opened an effective fire. The cannonading on our part was incessant, and the air was alive with the hum and explosion of flying shells; but the enemy did not return the fire with any regularity, the battery being too hot for them, from the explosion of shells that dropped in at the rate of about half a dozen a minute.

The enemy ceased firing a little before two, and after a few more shells had been thrown in the Commodore signalized to cease firing.

The troops had meantime advanced to within a short distance of the fort, and before we ceased firing some of our men got in and raised the Stars and Stripes. The place was too hot for the men, but the flag was left waving. Coxswain Benjamin Sweares, of the Pawnee's first cutter, stood for some time on the ramparts waving the flaw amidst a flight of shells.

When the firing ceased the fort was occupied in force, and held afterward.

The Monticello had proceeded ahead of the land force to protect them, and had reached the Inlet when a large fort of an octagon shape, to the rear and right of the small battery, mounting ten thirty-twos and four eight-inch guns, which had till then been silent, opened on her with eight guns, at short range. At the same instant she got aground, and stuck fast, the enemy pouring in a fire hot and heavy, which the Monticello replied to with shell sharply. For fifty minutes she held her own, and finally getting off the ground she came out, having been shot through and through by seven eight-inch shell, one going below the water-line. She fired fifty-five shell in fifty minutes, and partially silenced the battery. She withdrew at dusk for repairs, with one or two men slightly bruised, but none killed or wounded.

The escape of the vessel and crew was miraculous. Until this time we supposed the day was ours; but the unexpected opening of the large battery rather changed the aspect of affairs. Things did not look cheerful at dark. We had men ashore who were probably in need of provisions, and in case of a night attack no assistance could be sent them from the Harriet Lane.

As we lay close in shore we saw the bright bivouac fires on the beach with groups of men about them. The night passed without an alarm, the enemy, as we have since learned, lying on their arms all night, expecting an attack.

At early daybreak on Thursday the men went to quarters in the fleet, and at a quarter past eight, the vessels having borne down nearer than the previous day's position, the action began, the Susquehanna opening the day's work by a shell from one of the eleven-inch guns. The Minnesota and Wabash joined in immediately, and again the hum of shell and their explosion were heard. They fired nearly half an hour before the battery responded, when it answered briskly. Our fire was more correct than on the previous day. The range had been obtained, and nearly every shot went into the battery, throwing up clouds of sand and exploding with terrific effect.

At twenty-five minutes past ten the Harriet Lane opened fire, and soon after the Cumberland came in from the offing and joined in the attack. The Harriet Lane, with her rifled guns, did good execution, several projectiles from the eight-inch shell going into the battery, and one going directly through the ramparts. The fire was so hot that all of the enemy that could do so got into a bomb-proof in the middle of the battery.

Finally, at five minutes past eleven A.M., an eleven-inch shell having pierced the bomb-proof through a ventilator and exploded inside, near the magazine, the enemy gave up the fight and raised over the ramparts a white flag.

General Butler went into the Inlet, and landed at the fort, and demanded an unconditional surrender.

Commodore Barron, Assistant Secretary of the Confederate Navy, asked that the officers be allowed to march out with side-arms, and the men be permitted to return to their homes after surrendering their arms. These terms were pronounced inadmissible by General Butler, and finally the force was surrendered without condition.


Check here for the September 14, 1861 issue to see the images mentioned above: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/civil-war-fort-hatteras-battle.htm



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