Thanks to Battlefield.org for the use of the Butler Photo
The American Civil War is full of wonderfully bizarre characters, the reason for this is because it was very much a “citizens” war in many aspects. While the career soldiers and West Point graduates did play a massive role in the conflict, countless men were put in a command that had little to no military experience at all. These “political appointments” as they were called were given command simply because of who they knew and how much money they had. Of course, many political appointments served admirably and effectively, but what is the fun in learning about those guys? Today, we will learn about one of the most reviled Generals to ever serve during the war, Benjamin “Beast” Butler.
Ben Butler was born in New Hampshire but spent most of his young life in Massachusetts. Growing up in an upper-middle-class family, Butler lived comfortably and was given many opportunities to succeed in life. As an adult, he chose to become a lawyer and was quite the successful trial attorney in his home state. When the clouds of war began to form before the Civil War, Butler used his political connections as a lawyer to secure an appointment as commander of the Eighth Massachusetts Militia. It was as the commander of the Eighth that Butler made his first of many decisions that angered many. Butler seized the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and also seized the capitol building, this was a bold strategy because Maryland was a slave-holding border state, and many of the politicians in the country wanted to join the Confederacy. Butler’s actions are actually credited with derailing the possibility of Maryland’s secession, so for the north, this was a brilliant move. But, Butler had shown his willingness to spit in the face of the southern people, and for a people obsessed with formal niceties this would only get worse.
Butler rose quickly in the Union Army because of his performance early in the war, and his political connections. He eventually was given the command of the garrison of New Orleans in the spring of 1862 after the critical Confederate city fell into Union hands. Butler and his men were, of course, hated by the citizens of New Orleans, with the Southern Belles of the town showing the most contempt. The Union soldiers in New Orleans were routinely insulted and even spat upon by the ladies of the city. Many soldiers also claimed that the women of the town were infamous for waiting for a passion soldier below before they emptied their chamber pots out the window. Apparently, throwing shit on a soldier is not very lady-like, and Butler sought to put an end to such behavior. Butler’s idea was to insult the southern people right where it hurt, their pride.
What followed was one of the most brilliant and insulting orders of the entire war. General Butler issued his General Orders Number 28 which read as follows:
“HDQRS. DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF
New Orleans, May 15, 1862.
As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.
By command of Major-General Butler:”
For those of you who need a translator, allow me. Since the United States soldiers assigned to the city of New Orleans have been insulted by women, who call themselves ladies time and again, the General in charge has ordered a stop to all activity. If a woman is found to abuse a soldier in any way, they will be considered a lady of the city and be charged with plying her advocation. In short, Butler said any woman that insulted his men was a hooker and would be considered trying to lure a John to have sex with them. Brilliant! The people of New Orleans were sooo pissed, it’s hard to explain in words just how angry they were. The behavior changed though, and the men of the Union Army were no longer treated outwardly like dirt. A local merchant in New Orleans though made himself quite rich with an idea, he used General Butler’s face as the bottom of his new chamberpot, and they were bought by the thousands so the ladies and gentlemen of New Orleans could piss on the Union General at their own pleasure and convenience.