Benjamin F. Butler

Butler, Benjamin Franklin (1818–93, American politician and Union general in the Civil War)

Benjamin Franklin Butler, 1818–93, American politician and Union general in the Civil War, b. Deerfield, N.H. He moved to Lowell, Mass., as a youth and later practiced law there and in Boston. He was elected to the state legislature in 1852 and 1858 and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1859 and 1860. Butler was a Democrat but a strong Unionist. At the beginning of the Civil War his contingent of Massachusetts militia was one of the first to reach Washington. He restored order (May, 1861) in secessionist Baltimore and was given command at Fort Monroe. He commanded the troops that accompanied Admiral Farragut in taking New Orleans and was made military governor of the city. There his highhanded rule (May–Dec., 1862) infuriated the people of New Orleans and the South and earned him the name "Beast." The government, severely criticized both at home and abroad for his actions, finally removed him. In May, 1864, as commander of the Army of the James, Butler was defeated by Beauregard at Drewry's Bluff and was bottled up at Bermuda Hundred until Grant crossed the James in June. After he failed to take Fort Fisher in Dec., 1864, he was removed from active command. From 1867 to 1875 Butler, by then a rabid radical Republican, was in Congress. He was one of the House managers who conducted the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson, and he ardently advocated the party's Reconstruction policy. He was said to have great influence with President Grant. Butler was (1877–79) an independent Greenbacker in Congress. After several unsuccessful attempts to secure the governorship of Massachusetts, he was elected by the Greenbackers and Democrats in 1882. In 1884 he received the nominations of the Anti-Monopoly and Greenback parties for President. Regarded by many as an unprincipled demagogue of great ability, Butler aroused intense antagonisms and was nearly always in controversy.

See his autobiography (1892); biographies by R. S. Holzman (1954), H. L. Trefousse (1957), R. S. West, Jr. (1965), and H. P. Wash, Jr. (1969).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Benjamin F. Butler: Selected full-text books and articles

Ben Butler: The South Called Him Beast! By Hans L. Trefousse Twayne Publishers, 1957
Black Troops, White Commanders, and Freedmen during the Civil War By Howard C. Westwood Southern Illinois University Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Benjamin Butler's Enlistment of Black Troops in New Orleans in 1862"
Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama By Gideon Welles; Albert Mordell Twayne Publishers, 1959
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Benjamin F. Butler begins on p. 146
FREE! Autobiography of Seventy Years By George F. Hoar C. Scribner's Sons, vol.1, 1903
Librarian’s tip: Chap. XXIV "Benjamin F. Butler"
People and Politics Observed by a Massachusetts Editor By Solomon Bulkley Griffin Little, Brown, and Co., 1923
Librarian’s tip: Chap. XXX "When Benjamin F. Butler Became Governor"
Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage By Lloyd Paul Stryker Macmillan, 1929
Librarian’s tip: Chap. XLI "Benjamin F. Butler" and Chap. LXXI "Butler Opens for the Prosecution"
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