Benjamin Franklin Butler

Benjamin Franklin Butler was born in Deerfield, New Hampshire, on November 5, 1818. Although diminutive in stature and having a cast in one eye, he was aggressive, dynamic, and resourceful. After the death of his father, his mother operated a boarding house in Lowell, Massachusetts. Young Butler went to Colby College in Maine, graduating in 1838. He returned to Lowell, taught school, was admitted to the bar in 1840, and soon built a large criminal practice with offices in Boston and Lowell. He was elected as a Democrat to the Massachusetts house of representatives in 1853 and to the state senate in 1859. The following year Butler was a delegate to the Democratic convention which met in Charleston, where he voted fifty-seven consecutive times to nominate Jefferson Davis for President of the United States. Butler later joined with other seceders from the Baltimore convention in backing the extreme States' Rights candidate, John C. Breckinridge. Before the decade was out, however, Butler was one of the foremost Republican Radicals to howl for the head of Andrew Johnson, whose fall from favor was occasioned by his soft policy toward such men as Davis and Breckinridge. As a brigadier general of the Massachusetts militia, Butler entered the war in dramatic fashion: five days after the bombardment of Sumter he lifted the blockade of Washington with the 8th Massachusetts. He was the first volunteer major general appointed by Lincoln (to rank from May 16, 1861), and although his military exploits were not such as to earn him a place beside Napoleon and Marlborough, in other respects his contributions to the Union cause were little short of monumental. Badly defeated in the action at Big Bethel while in command of Fort Monroe, Butler was the first to apply the term "con-traband-of-war" to slaves of Southern masters who fled into the Union lines. In August, Butler commanded the successful amphibious attack on Hatteras Inlet and the following May entered New Orleans with his troops—the city had already surrendered to the fleet under Admiral David G. Farragut. Appointed military governor, Butler's subsequent conduct of office was controversial. He was vilified in the South and declared an outlaw by President Davis and was even accused of stealing the silverware from the house in which he made his headquarters. That he governed effectively and performed useful service is impossible to deny, but that he lined his own pockets and those of his family and friends seems equally evident. He was removed in December, 1862, but was given command of the Army of the James in 1863. This army consisted of two corps which U. S. Grant intended to employ as a part of the over-all strategy of the 1864 campaign. Butler's ineptness resulted in his entire force being bottled up at Bermuda Hundred by a greatly inferior force under the Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard. After some service in New York City in November, 1864, Butler was ordered by Grant to return home and await orders in January, 1865. He resigned his commission on November 30. Elected to Congress as a Republican in 1866, Butler served until 1875, meantime, as noted above, taking a prominent part in the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868. Loathed by conservative Democrats and Republicans alike in Massachusetts, Butler repeatedly ran for governor of the state from 1871 until 1882, when he was finally elected. In 1878 he was elected once again to Congress, this time as a Greenbacker—the third of his political affiliations. He was presidential candidate of this party in 1884. General Butler died in Washington, D. C, on January 11, 1893, and was buried in his wife's family cemetery in Lowell. His daughter married General Adelbert Ames.

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Reference:  Generals in Blue.  Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner.  Louisiana State University Press.  Baton Rouge.