[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 16

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of New Orleans

by
John Kendall

published by The Lewis Publishing Company,
Chicago and New York, 1922

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 18

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p274 Chapter XVII
Butler in New Orleans

Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, as commander of the Army of the Gulf, was in command at New Orleans from May 1 to December 15, 1862. In that period of less than eight months he contrived to make himself the best-hated man in all the annals of the community. Butler's announced theory was that New Orleans was a conquered city, inhabited by rebels, who must be made to pay the full penalty of their crimes. The rigor of his administration was much applauded by certain elements in the North, but with the passage of years a less favorable verdict has been pronounced upon his work. "The selection of such a man for such a command," says John Fiske, "was a needless, though unintentional, insult to the conquered city," and he characterizes Butler as "an unscrupulous politician, bent upon money-making and intrigue."1

Butler landed in the city on the afternoon of May 1. Anticipating the action, the Federal fleet was stationed before the city in such positions that the heavy guns commanded all the principal thoroughfares, and could, with their fire, sweep them from end to end in case of any hostile demonstration of the part of the population. The transports then moved up the river to the foot of Julia Street, where the men disembarked. They fell into line on the levee in the presence of a crowd, mainly composed of negroes. After some delay, the command was given to march. They advanced along Julia Street to St. Charles and thence to Canal. It was almost dark when they reached their destination — the great, grim, roofless, granite Customhouse — where they were to bivouac for the night. Butler accompanied the troops on foot. He had six regiments of infantry and one section of howitzers. The artillery was posted in positions to command the approaches to the building. A great concourse of people lined the route to see the invaders pass. They maintained a stolid silence. Butler, after seeing his men established in their quarters, returned to the fleet and passed the night on board the "Mississippi."

Early the following morning, he came ashore, and entering a carriage which awaited at the landing, was driven rapidly to the St. Charles Hotel, where he proposed to establish his quarters. He was accompanied by an escort of mounted soldiers. The vehicle came to a halt outside of the ladies' entrance on Common Street. A staff officer hurried into the building in search of the proprietor, Mr. Hildreth. Hildreth was absent, but his son was found on the premises, and to him was communicated Butler's demand that rooms be prepared for himself and his staff. Young Hildreth replied that the hotel was closed, and all of its employees dismissed; he could not therefore receive guests. Butler's response was, that he would take possession and run the building with his own men. Leaving the carriage, he ascended to the second floor, where he picked out the apartments that he needed.

The news of his presence was quickly known throughout the city. A large crowd collected outside of the hotel and began to shout derisively. Butler appeared at one of the windows and looked down on the vociferating p275mob. He was accompanied by Ex-Recorder Summers, who had returned to the city that morning under escort of the troops, and now proposed to stay at the hotel. At the sight of this unpopular personage the behavior of the crowd grew threatening. A strong body of Federal troops was accordingly ordered up from the Customhouse, with instructions to disperse the crowd. In doing this several arrests were made. Among those taken into custody was Col. Daniel Edwards, owner of a large brass foundry, and a prominent citizen; and a young man named Outlaw. They were locked up in jail all night. The following morning they were arraigned before Butler. Edwards was accused of using the word "traitor," presumably with reference to the General; but when he explained that it was really directed towards Summers, he was suffered to depart. But young Outlaw was sent to Fort Jackson, under a sentence of hard labor. He was the first of a procession of citizens whom Butler was to send thither.

Mayor Monroe was summoned to the hotel on the afternoon of May 2, but was unable to obey the order immediately. A request to General Juge, to continue the work of preserving the peace with his Foreign Legion, elicited the curt reply, that the city was in General Butler's hands, and he might see to the maintenance of order himself. Butler promptly took this matter in hand. He appointed Capt. Jonas H. French to be provost marshal, and Major Joseph M. Bell to be provost judge. These officers at once waited upon Mayor Monroe and requested to have the keys of the prisons turned over to them. Their demeanor was courteous and considerate, as, indeed, was that of most of the officers of the Federal army at all times, with the exception of Butler and a class which had been commissioned from civil life. The regular army officers generally showed a desire to conciliate the people, and especially the officials of the city.

In the evening Monroe, accompanied by Pierre Soulé and the members of the City Council, repaired to the St. Charles, to confer with Butler as to his intentions with regard to the city. The General received them in full uniform, wearing his sword and pistols, and surrounded by members of his staff. He opened the proceedings with an address in which he characterized the people of New Orleans as "rebels." This word was not well received. Soulé, on behalf of the city officials, registered an eloquent protest against its use. A sharp controversy developed between him and Butler. At the end of the discussion, Butler produced copies of a proclamation which he had prepared, putting the city under martial law. The provisions of this document were stringent. All persons in arms against the United States, except the Foreign Legion, were to surrender forthwith; all flags except that of the United States, were to be removed; all arms must be given up, and all well-disposed persons must take the oath of allegiance to the United States. All persons in the Confederate service who surrendered were assured of good treatment, insofar as the exigencies of the public service permitted; and the people in general were urged to resume their usual vocations. All rights of property were declared inviolate, subject only to the laws of the United States. All shops and places of amusement were to continue open as usual, nor were services in the churches to be disturbed. But keepers of public houses and drinking-places could not do business without first reporting themselves to the provost-marshal and obtaining his license; and, moreover, they would be held responsible for any disorders p276that might occur on their premises. The killing of a United States soldier would be deemed murder. Disorders of the peace and crimes of an aggravated sort would be dealt with by the military authorities, but other offenses would be referred to the municipal authorities, if they cared to act; and civil cases between party and party would be handled in the courts.

The original draft of the proclamation contained a clause prohibiting the use of Confederate money, but Soulé pointed out that this was the only currency in circulation, and that the order would therefore be impossible of execution. Butler thereupon modified it, with the understanding that the arrangement stood merely "till further orders."

By this proclamation the municipal authority, insofar as concerned the police power, was suspended. The mayor was informed that the control of the police would be restored to him when peace and order were fully assured. Butler justified this measure by stating that he knew that a secret society, with headquarters within a few hundred feet of the St. Charles, existed with the purpose of assassinating Federal soldiers, and that it was incumbent upon him to take the most elaborate precautions to protect his men from this, or similar, organizations. Needless to say, Monroe knew of no such organization. In all probability it existed only in the heated imagination of the refugees, who, like Summers, had spread through the fleet fantastic stories of the perils of life in New Orleans. At the close of the interview, Soulé, consulted with reference to the awkward position in which the civil power found itself under the proclamation, advised the mayor and the councilmen to resign. Monroe decided not to do so, believing that by retaining his office he might be useful in mitigating the harshness of military rule. The members of the Council came to a like determination.

Butler established his headquarters at the Customhouse, but made his home at the St. Charles. Thither he brought his wife. Artillery posted in the streets protected all the entrances. Another hotel, the Evans House, on Poydras Street, was seized and converted into a hospital for the Federal sick. The landing of troops went on briskly in New Orleans and in Algiers, under the direction of Gen. G. F. Shepley, who was appointed commandant in the city. Detachments were quartered in the squares in various parts of the city. The principal roads leading into New Orleans were picketed as far out as the crossing of the Jackson & Great Northern Railroad. The city was remarkably quiet. "Most of the stores have been closed since last Friday," remarked the Delta, on May 1, "and remain closed with few exceptions. The principal hotels are closed. [. . .] The barrooms have all been closed since last Friday. For some days there was great difficulty in passing the miserable currency we are cursed with, but thanks to the judicious measures taken by the authorities, confidence in it has been partially restored. The markets are still very meagerly furnished. [. . .] The movements in financial circles during the past week have been of the most restricted character ever witnessed in the Crescent City. The banks kept their doors open for a few hours daily to pay checks and to renew obligations, but they peremptorily refused to receive deposits or transact any other kind of business."

As all the machinery of benevolence worked out during the previous year for the relief of distress in the city, was thrown out of gear by General Butler's assumption of control, it was necessary to take measures p277at once to relieve the wants of a part of the population, which, as we have seen, was dependent upon charity for subsistence. This matter was brought to Butler's attention by Mayor Monroe. The latter recommended that arrangements be made to admit food to the city from Mobile and from points along the Mississippi immediately above New Orleans. Accordingly, on May 3 and 4, orders were issued to permit one steamer to bring in flour from Mobile, two steamers to go to the mouth of Red River and return with the supplies of food collected there by the governmental agents representing the city authorities; and the Opelousas Railroad was opened, under military control, with a view especially to the importation of live stock. These measures were, however, inadequate. Butler claimed that advantage was taken of these concessions to communicate with the Confederate army, and to send it food, medicines, and information. On this ground he refused to renew or extend the safeguards under which the vessels were operated. However, on May 9, he directed that a large quantity of provisions, including a thousand barrels of meat and sugar, which he found in Lafayette Square, on arriving in the city, be distributed to the destitute. This material had been accumulated by the Confederate officials and was intended for the use of the Southern army. At the same time he took occasion to criticize the City Council for its failure to provide for the needs of the population. This body, however, stripped of authority and without resources of any description, was in no position to do more than it had done — to bring the existing necessity to the attention of the commanding general. Butler, moreover, in General Order No. 25, attacked the wealthier classes for having, as he said, plundered the poorer and deprived them of the food which they themselves were enjoying in the greatest plenty, and appealed to the "men of New Orleans" not any longer to "uphold these flagrant wrongs, and by inaction suffer" themselves to be made "the serfs of these loafers." The violence of his language astonished the city, and accomplished no good effect. It was, however, a foretaste of much that was to come.

Butler was greatly annoyed by the behavior of the women of New Orleans, who made a point of wearing Confederate colors on their hats and dresses, of playing or singing Southern songs when Federal troops were within hearing, and of manifesting their dislike by withdrawing from omnibus, street car, or church pew whenever Federal officers entered these places. Butler's official spokesman, Parton, says that they pretended nausea whenever Federal soldiers were near, ostentatiously drew aside their skirts when passing them, as though the slightest contact were contamination, and even took to the roadway in order to avoid too near approach to the unwelcome passer‑by.2 This description is no doubt exaggerated, but even so, these actions did not call for very severe chastisement. On May 15, however, Butler issued the infamous Order No. 28: "As officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insult from women calling themselves the 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 mere gesture or movement insult, or show contempt for any officers or soldiers of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman about town plying her vocation." Butler's apologist claims p278that the immediate occasion of the publication of this order was the act of "a beast of a woman" who spat in the faces of two officers "who were walking peacefully along the street."3

The consequences of the sort were unexpected and various. President Davis outlawed Butler and put a price upon his head. In the British Parliament Lord Palmerston denounced it as "infamous." Secretary Seward felt called upon to apologize to the British chargé in Washington for a phraseology which could be mistaken or perverted." Unquestionably, it put the women of New Orleans completely at the mercy of the military. It made any common soldier the judge of any woman; on his complaint she was liable under the city ordinances to arrest, detention overnight in jail, and a fine of $5, to be inflicted the following day. Mayor Monroe felt it his duty to record a vigorous protest. He wrote at once to Butler. The order, he said, "is of a character so astonishing that I cannot, holding the office of chief magistrate of this city, chargeable with its peace and dignity, suffer it to be promulgated in our presence without protesting against the threat it contains, which has already aroused the passions of our people, and must exasperate them to a degree beyond control. [. . .] Your officers and soldiers are permitted by the terms of this order to place any construction they may please upon the conduct of our wives and daughters, and upon such construction, to offer them atrocious insults. The peace of the city and the safety of your officers and soldiers from harm or insult have, I affirm, and successfully secured to an extent enabling them to move through our streets almost unnoticed, according to the understanding and agreement entered into between yourself and the city authorities. I did not, however, anticipate a war upon women and children, who, so far as I am aware, have only manifested their displeasure at the occupation of the city by those whom they believe to be their enemies, and I will never undertake to be responsible for the peace of New Orleans while such an edict, which infuriates our citizens, remains in force. To give a license to the officers and soldiers of your command to commit outrages, such as are indicated in your order, upon defenseless women, is, in my judgment, a reproach to the civilization, not to say the Christianity, of the age, in whose name I make this protest."


[image ALT: A photograph of a corner of the courtyard of a building of at least 3 stories; the upper stories have plain wooden railings, and many small doors give onto the walkway behind them, as well as onto the ground floor. In the central area of the courtyard, which is paved with what appears to be flagstone, there is a small horizontal wooden contraption of two fitted beams with six round holes. It is the courtyard of the old Spanish prison of New Orleans; the contraption is the stocks.]

Courtyard of the Spanish Calaboza,
in New Orleans, Showing the Stocks

Butler's only reply was to issue an order relieving "John T. Monroe, late mayor of New Orleans" from "all responsibility for the peace of the city," and committing him to Fort Jackson until further orders. This order was delivered by the provost-marshal, who took Monroe into custody. The prisoner, when arraigned before the General, remonstrated against the order of imprisonment. Butler replied that if Monroe could no longer control "the passions of the people of New Orleans," it was necessary to put someone in charge who could. Parton says that Butler explained the order with great care, and to Monroe's entire satisfaction, whereupon the latter wrote a note retracting his previous communication. "This communication," he wrote, "having been sent under a mistake of fact, and being improper in language, I desire to apologize for same and to withdraw it." Monroe was then relieved from arrest.

As soon as Monroe had an opportunity to reflect upon the situation, however, he seems to have felt that he had acted hastily in accepting Butler's interpretation of the order. He therefore that evening dispatched p279his secretary, Marion Baker, to the Customhouse with another note, expressing his desire to retract the endorsement which he had made on his previous letter, and requesting the return thereof. Butler replied that " no lady will take any notice of a strange gentleman, and a fortiori of a stranger, in such form as to attract attention. Common women do," repeated the essential part of his order. "I shall not, as I have not," he concluded, "abate a single word of that order; it was well considered. If obeyed, it will protect the true and modest woman from all possible insult. The others will take care of themselves."

Monroe's answer was to send Butler a copy of his first letter.

Again the mayor was put under arrest; further explanations at the Customhouse culminated in his release. The following day was Sunday, and the General's office was closed. Nevertheless, Mayor Monroe and a large number of his friends felt that it was necessary to have a clearer understanding of the situation, and presented themselves at the St. Charles. They were refused admission, but with the intimation that p280they could call the following morning, at headquarters. In the meantime Butler had unearthed what he regarded as a conspiracy involving Monroe. Several paroled Confederate soldiers had formed what they termed the "Monroe Guards," and were planning to make their escape from New Orleans, and rejoin the forces under Lovell. Alarmed at the possibility of a widespread agitation of the sort, Butler now resolved to suppress the city administration, and substitute for the civil authorities some of his own officers. Accordingly, when on Monday morning Monroe, accompanied by the chief of police, Kennedy, judge of one of the city courts, Secretary Baker, and several other prominent citizens, presented themselves at the Customhouse, he received them with charges of neglect of duty, insubordination, and obstruction. He said that the whole power and means of the city administration were being used to send provisions to Lovell's troops, to raise money for the support of Confederate agents in the city, and to place impediments in the way of the sanitation of the city. The alleged conspiracy for which six men had been examined, found guilty, and now lay under sentence of death, was significant from the fact that the organization bore the mayor's name. He then ordered that the mayor, the chief of police, Judge Kennedy, and Secretary Baker be immediately transported to Fort Jackson. Monroe was subsequently removed to Fort Pickens, where he remained till the end of the war. Baker's offense was that he has "assisted in the composition of the letter" of the mayor. The chief of police was condemned because, when asked if he sustained the mayor, he answered in the affirmative. Kennedy refused to answer a similar question, because, as he said, a simple affirmative or a simple negative would not cover the position which he took. The other persons in the party were dismissed without punishment.

The executive part of the city government thus being abolished, Gen. George F. Shepley was appointed acting mayor, and the functions of chief of police were taken over by Captain French, the provost marshal. Shepley was from Maine, and had figured there conspicuously as a member of the National democracy, the same party with which Butler was affiliated. He had been a warm personal friend of President Jefferson Davis, and when the latter was travelling through New England, some years before, had entertained him hospitably. Shepley and Butler were reported not to be on good terms. It was said that they had quarrelled on several occasions, chiefly as a result of jealousies dating back to the very inception of the expedition against New Orleans. Rumors were rife of a personal encounter between the two at Ship Island, in which Butler appears to have come off second best. Shepley's appointment first to be commandant in the city, and then to be acting mayor, was, rightly or wrongly, attributed to Butler's desire to conciliate a man of whom he stood in some fear. On the whole, his administration as mayor, which lasted only one month, was characterized by mildness and dignity. Occasional manifestations of a different spirit were considered by the people as intended for political effect.4

The character of the business transacted under Shepley's administration, and in general, under the other military appointees who followed him at intervals of a month or two during the remainder of the year 1862, may be gathered from a description written by the correspondent p281of the New York Times, who spent a day with the new mayor, and watched him at work. "The first thing brought to the general's notice by the attendant clerks was a petition from the sheriff of New Orleans for the relief of certain prisoners. A tall, shrewish woman now entered and asked for an order to make a tenant pay rent. Next came a woman, child in arms, detailing her sufferings, her husband having been impressed into the Confederate service. An old and very respectable gentleman desired a pass for the family of a mother, six children and four servants to Baton Rouge. A committee appeared desiring work on the streets for the poor men who had been in rebel service; petition instantly granted if the parties named would take the oath of allegiance. A gentleman appears who wishes to get an order to repair a building occupied by United States troops as a hospital; he was waved out with impatience. Merchants now crowd in with all kinds of questions regarding business matters. An officer of the navy obtrudes his gold-laced cuff and places a letter on the table from Commodore Porter; it is opened, read, and answer dictated in a moment. A man now presents himself who says his negro, who has been absent several days, said he was forcibly retained in the National lines; General Shepley rises from his seat, his eyes flash; he replies, mildly, but firmly that he don't [sic] believe the negro's story, and demands a responsible white man for a witness, the complainant leaving precipitately. Old gentleman in an undertone asks a favor; it is granted, and old gentleman goes off delighted. An old lady in black now comes in with a little negro girl, following in the rear, carrying her work-bag. Old lady seats herself on the lounge and the little negro girl crouches on the carpet at her feet. General Shepley gets up and speaks to the old lady; she says something, points at the contraband, gets some answer that is satisfactory — for exit old lady, little negro, and work-bag. A delegation of merchants now appears, who have some conversation about the currency. A city official makes a report about cleaning the streets. [. . .] A committee is now announced. It is headed by the president of the Union Association, and is composed of its prominent members. They present a petition to the General, requesting certain municipal reforms. [. . .] Five long hours the audiences continue, and only end to enable the General to resume new duties at his military headquarters at the Customhouse."5

The question of the currency to which the writer above quoted refers as the subject of conference between Shepley and the merchants of the city, was a serious one. About the middle of May the large amount of paper money in circulation was beginning to occasion embarrassment. The newspapers report plenty of food and other necessaries available, but only at very high prices. The people had been compelled to receive the paper, but tradesmen were now again beginning to refuse it. The Ccili therefore adopted resolutions requiring every person who had issued "shinplasters," notes, etc., to submit a sworn statement of such issues up to May 6; such persons to make with the city treasurer deposits of securities ample to offset those outstanding amounts; and also to surrender the plates from which all such "money" had been printed. The plates were thereupon publicly destroyed by the chairman of the Finance Committee. The names of all parties who complied with these regulations were printed in the newspapers, with a statement of the p282amount of "money" which each had issued, and of the deposit made with the city to cover it. The city attorney, under direction of the Council, took steps to prosecute those who thereafter issued notes or checks of any kind. Steps were also taken by the Council to authorize the city to issue city notes, signed by the treasurer and comptroller, to a total equal in amount and of denominations similar to those issued by individuals. With these the individual issues were to be gradually taken up.6 By October 28, 1862, $1,435,104 in such city notes had been issued; but the benefit to the business community seems not to have been very great from any of these measures. The effect of the Council's measures to guarantee the private issues was naturally reflected in a partial restoration of their value, but this advance did not last long. Butler on May 21 issued an order prohibiting the further circulation of Confederate notes. This order was intended to compel the banks to resume payment of their own bills in kind or in specie, or in United States notes. This order had been anticipated, but its immediate effect was merely to introduce a new element of confusion into a situation which was already sufficiently complex.

Shepley was, under the terms of the order appointing him, to hold office "until such time as the people should elect a loyal citizen of New Orleans to the mayoralty." The council had already anticipated the necessity of holding an election, in view of the fact that Mayor Monroe, at the moment of his deposition, had but a few weeks more of his regular term to serve. The first Monday in June was accordingly selected as the date for holding the election. Shepley's order had the effect of determining the qualifications of the candidate who would be permitted, if elected, to assume control of the city government. Moreover, he issued an order continuing in effect all of the city laws and ordinances which might not be found inconsistent with the laws of the United States and the orders of the commanding general.

On May 28th, however, all the machinery of the civil government, which had apparently been working smoothly and satisfactorily, was upset by an order signed by Shepley, but approved by Butler, removing the entire membership of the council from office. Part of the council had completed serving the term for which it had been elected; the remainder was ejected on the ground that the members had failed to take the prescribed oath of allegiance, and therefore could not, under Butler's proclamation, continue to hold office under the United States Government. Shepley's order contained the following provisions: "Believing that the inconvenience incident to a temporary suspension of legislative power will be slight as compared with the evils which have hitherto been consequent upon excessive and frequently corrupt legislation, these vacancies will not be filled till such a time as there will be a sufficient number of the citizens of New Orleans loyal to their country and their constitution to entitle them to the rights of self-government."

In place of the governmental machinery thus removed, two bureaux were instituted. One of these, the Bureau of Finance, consisted of three persons, one serving as chairman, who were named by the military authority. The duties assumed by this bureau were those which, under the charter of 1856 and the other laws of the city, had been performed by the various committees of the City Council on Finance, Police, Fire, p283Judiciary, Claims, Education and Health. The other was the Bureau of Street and Landings. It also consisted of three members, one of whom, named by the commandant, was to serve as chairman. Its functions included those of the Council Committees on Workhouse, Streets and Landings, Prisons, House of Refuge, etc. The chairmen, in addition to their duties as presiding officer, were empowered to appoint the necessary clerks, etc., to carry on the city business, but their compensation was to be determined by the members sitting together. The offices of these bureaus were opened in the City Hall. E. H. Durell was appointed chairman of the Bureau of Finance, and Julian Neville of the Bureau of Streets and Landings. This form of government remained in existence down to March, 1865. It was, in fact, a mere shadow of the military power, and during the early stages of its existence had no authority other than that possessed by the committees of the council which it displaced; that is, its functions were limited to the collection of data, the formulations of recommendations, and the execution of such of its plans as acquired legal force through the approbation of the military officials. This limited power gradually extended itself. In time the bureaux acquired by common consent practically all the functions of a normal city government, but to the very end these were always exercised with the understanding that all ordinances were subject without notice to cancellation or modification by the commanding general in charge of the city.

The remaining events of Butler's administration can here be given only in outline. Most important were in connection with offenses against the military law. No distinction was made in handling men and women arrested under charges of this sort. Women were taken into custody on charges of concealing arms, singing "rebel" songs, wearing the "rebel" colors, attending or aiding the "rebel" sick, corresponding with the enemy, sending comforts to Confederate soldiers, receiving and concealing property, such as blankets, clothing, etc., intended for their use; circulating the news of "rebel" victories; receiving letters from "rebels" in arms; abusing slaves; speaking disparagingly of the commanding general or other Federal officers, etc. All of these prisoners, gentle and simple, were handled in the same way. They were marched to the Custom House under military guard, exposed to the comment of the crowd. They were there interrogated, usually by the commanding general, and the matter summarily disposed of. A few of the most notorious of these cases may be instanced. Miss Rowena Florance was arrested on a charge of concealing arms; the arms were three swords of honor which had been placed in her care by General Twiggs when he left the city prior to the advent of the Federal army. Mrs. Cohen, taken into custody for wearing red and white ribbons — red and white were the colors of the Confederacy — was remanded to a woman's prison opened by Butler on Canal Street, under the command of Captain Stafford, where she saw no white person except her jailer. Mrs. Phillip Phillips, accused of having laughed while the funeral of a Federal officer was passing her residence, was sentenced to two years' detention at Ship Island. She was released after serving a part of her sentence, but not until the state of her health became alarming.

Many prominent men were arrested on equally flimsy pretexts. Dr. Warren Stone, a distinguished philanthropist and scientist, was sent to Fort St. Philip. President Mazureau of the Southern Rights Association was imprisoned on a charge that this organization — which included many p284of the most respected citizens of New Orleans, and which, moreover, passed out of existence when the Federal occupied the city — aimed to promote its objects by intimidation and assassination. Mazureau was judge of one of the most important courts in the city; his arrest threw into confusion the whole machinery of justice. Pierre Soulé scorned to ask the nature of the offense for which he was arrested. He was imprisoned at Fort Lafayette. Many arrests were made of persons who refused to take the oath of allegiance prescribed by Butler. Many who escaped imprisonment were heavily fined. Dr. W. N. Mercer, a distinguished physician and banker, was stripped of virtually the whole of a large fortune in this way.

These cases, where not handled by Butler in person, were turned over to a military commission of five Federal officers appointed "for the trial of all high crimes and misdemeanors which by the laws of any state in the Union, or by the laws of the United States, or the law martial, are punishable with death or imprisonment for a long term of years." It was complained at the time that the members of this court were militia officers unfamiliar with the laws, military or civil, which they undertook to execute. Encouragement was given to the negroes to inform against their masters. Negroes so informing were promised their freedom. Butler was soon able to boast that by this device he had a "spy in every household." Their testimony was accepted without question in the trial of all cases. In addition, a corps of spies and detectives was maintained. Repeated instances of domiciliary visits in search of arms, doors broken down, wardrobes rifled and peaceable citizens arrested on charges of interfering with the military in the discharge of their duty, are recorded in the newspapers of the day. Several tradesmen were punished for refusing to sell to Federal soldiers. Vendors of music were arrested for having in their possession works dedicated to Southern heroes, or supposed to be of a disloyal tendency. All stores where arms were offered for sale were seized. The houses of men absent in the Confederate service were confiscated and turned over to Federal officers for their use. Butler himself took possession of the splendid home of General Twiggs. Persons who had once been in the Confederate service, though long since discharged, and persons who had sold goods to the Confederate government were liable to arrest, and in some cases suffered confiscation of property as well as terms of imprisonment. Newspapers which offended in any way were suppressed for periods more or less long.

The most sensational episode of Butler's administration was the execution of Mumford for having torn down the Federal flag at the Mint on April 27th. He was hanged on June 7, 1862, from a scaffold erected in front of the building which had been the scene of his offense. Butler's justification of the deed was that Mumford was a gambler and undesirable citizen; that it was freely said in the city that the execution would be prevented by force, if necessary; that he himself was menaced with assassination if the sentence were carried out; that mercy in the premises would have been construed only as an element of weakness, and finally, that had Mumford not been put to death, the mob would have got the upper hand in the city, temporarily at least.7 As a matter of fact, he seems to have made up his mind to hang Mumford from the moment when he first heard of his act. His remark to Farragut on p285the "Hartford" seems conclusive on this point.8 The city could not believe that Butler could inflict so dire a penalty for an offense of apparently so little importance, especially in view of the fact that it had been committed in advance of the Federal occupation of the city. A large crowd assembled in front of the Mint on the day appointed for the execution, expecting that at the last moment a reprieve would be granted. A strong detachment of infantry, with fixed bayonets, formed in a hollow square around the scaffold. The prisoner, whose calm, undaunted demeanor extorted the admiration even of his enemies, arrived handcuffed in an ambulance. Mumford was a handsome man of about 42 years of age. On this occasion he wore a suit of white clothes. He ascended the scaffold with a firm, unfaltering step. There he engaged in conversation for a few moments with a clergyman who had been permitted to attend. Stafford, who held a commission as captain in a negro regiment, then read the sentence in a loud voice. Mumford made a brief address, acknowledging and justifying his offense. A deep groan ascended from the multitude as the drop fell. Stafford ordered the drums to beat. The crowd then dispersed in silence.

Butler's relations with the business men of New Orleans would supply material for a long and curious chapter. It will be remembered that the banks suspended specie payments some time before the Federals attacked the city and thereafter issued only Confederate notes. On May 27th Butler outlawed these notes. This action, though intended to hurt the banks, did not really accomplish this end, but recoiled upon the population in general. The banks had means to dispose of the notes without serious loss. They were permitted to send agents into the Confederacy under safeguards from Butler, sometimes to settle their balances with the banks there, and at other times to solicit the return of specie, etc.; in this way it was easily possible for them to dispose of their Confederate money. No such recourse, however, was open to the ordinary citizen, who was left with whatever sums he had been unable to exchange for articles of permanent value.

In May Butler called before him the presidents of all the New Orleans banks and accused them of having connived at the destruction of the 15,000 bales of cotton, burned just previous to the arrival of the Federal fleet. This cotton, he said, was a security of their creditors and should have been saved for their benefit. He also taxed them with having shipped their specie into the Confederacy. For these offenses he threatened them with death. The Citizens' Bank and the New Orleans banks had retained their specie; the former was in a position to recover it within twenty-four hours. The action of which Butler complained had been taken in September, 1861, under compulsion from the Confederate officers, who did not wish that the money should remain in New Orleans to fall into the enemy's hands. The banks therefore could only agree to send their agents into the Confederate lines and demand the return of the cash. They undertook to do this with the understanding that, if returned, the money should be placed in their vaults for the benefit of their creditors and stockholders. The Confederate authorities, however, would not consent to the proposed arrangement, except insofar as to promise that the money should be faithfully guarded and returned p286to the banks at the end of the war, or when they regained control of New Orleans. The Bank of America, however, actually recovered its specie by shipping it in barrels labeled "mess pork" from a point in Northern Louisiana, where it had been deposited.

Butler made several efforts to depreciate the notes of the banks which were not able to recover their specie. But in these he was not successful. Their currency continued to circulate on a par with that of the other banks.

Butler has been much criticized on account of the activities of his brother, A. J. Butler, who followed his distinguished relative to New Orleans. The latter, called Colonel, though he had no official connection with the army, is said to have made between one and two million dollars in less than seven months, apparently mainly in trafficking with the enemy. A series of confidential letters addressed to Secretary Chase by one of his agents in New Orleans gives details as to the manner in which these operations were carried on. Government vessels were used both on the Mississippi and on Lake Pontchartrain to deliver articles, especially salt, of which the Confederacy stood in great need, and for which large prices had been obtained. This money was then invested in cotton, which could be bought cheap in the Confederacy, but commanded large prices in New Orleans. It was believed in the army that several of the leading officers on duty in New Orleans were engaged in this business. How far Butler was involved is not exactly known, but it seems unlikely that these operations could be carried on without his knowledge and approval.9

Butler in later years took great credit for his work in New Orleans in cleaning up the streets and in feeding the poor. There seems to have been some foundation for the former boast.10 One of the reasons which were given for the suppression of the City Council was its failure to co‑operate efficiently in Butler's attempt to cleanse the city. Early in June Butler appointed Colonel Thorp acting city supervisor and set 2,000 men to work, in gangs of twenty-five, all over the city. To pay these men and also to defray the expense of feeding the dependent poor, he levied two assessments upon the richer classes of the city, the first in August, the second in December. His victims were particularly the cotton factors who six months before the advent of the Federals had signed a circular letter addressed to the cotton planters of the state, advising them not to ship the staple into New Orleans. Butler tried to have these men issue another circular, urging upon the planters a precisely contrary course; but only one man would consent to sign it. The remainder were now assessed in varying sums. The other class which Butler taxed was the subscribers to the city bond issue of February, 1862. They were assessed 25 per cent of the amount of that load which they had underwritten. From these two sources an amount in excess of $300,000 was collected. The assessments were promptly paid, as the alternative was arrest and imprisonment at hard labor. In December the assessment was repeated, so that these unfortunate individuals were required to pay, in all, 50 per cent of their subscriptions. One man had to pay $100,000, another $75,000, and several from $20,000 to $25,000.º p287This, in addition to the loss of the original investment, for the city was never in a position to take up its bonds.

Another assessment was levied upon those merchants who had profited by blockade-running previous to Butler's arrival. The opportune capture of the "Fox," on May 10, 1862, put in Butler's hand letters and business papers which enabled him to identify several of the firms engaged in this business. He compelled them to choose between imprisonment and the payment of such sums as in his judgment the profits from their business justified. The houses thus attacked employed attorneys; an effort was made to convince Butler that his action was extra-legal, the property involved having been placed outside of the jurisdiction of the United States, and the business of blockade running having a recognize status in international law; but without avail. Among the citizens who were compelled to contribute to Butler's war chest were P. H. Kennedy & Co., who paid over $7,000; Avendano Brothers, $25,000; Mr. Wogan, $19,000; Mr. Plaisan, $11,000, and a number of other smaller sums.

These operations ultimately brought Butler into collision with the foreign consuls. Soon after his arrival he learned that $800,000 had been deposited with the Dutch consul, Couturié, by the Citizens' Bank. The sum was in specie and intended to cover the interest on certain bonds of the State of Louisiana owned by Hope & Co., brokers, of Amsterdam. Butler refused to credit the statement of the bankers as to the destination of this money. He sent an officer and a file of soldiers to the consulate, where they seized and searched the person of the consul, took his keys from his pocket and removed the money from his vault to the Custom House. Couturié thereupon struck his consular ensign and forwarded a statement of the incident to his ambassador in Washington. Seward, of course, disavowed the act, and the money was ultimately restored.

Another somewhat similar seizure was contemplated in the French consulate, but the soldiers sent to effect it were greeted at the door by De Clouet, commander of the French frigate "Milan," then in port, who forbade them to enter. Butler was thus unable to put hands on the cash stored at the consulate, but required the consul to agree to retain the money on deposit until its ownership could be settled in Washington by conversations between the French minister and the American Department of State.

Still another case was an attempted seizure of sugar purchased by certain foreign residents of New Orleans on their own account in the regular course of trade previous to the capture of the city. Butler believed that the transaction was intended to furnish to the Confederate authorities in Europe money with which to buy arms, etc. The consuls made an energetic protest against the projected seizure. These cases were taken up, with many others, by Reverdy Johnson, a commissioner sent from Washington to New Orleans for the purpose, and were decided adversely to Butler.

The complaints which reached Washington regarding Butler's conduct in these instances, and especially with reference to Order No. 28, finally determined the administration to remove him from the command of the Department of the Gulf.11 Gen. N. P. Banks, who was selected p288as his successor, arrived in New Orleans on December 14, 1862. On December 15th Butler issued a farewell order to his troops, and on the 16th he formally surrendered the command to Banks. He did not depart at once, but lingered in the city till the 24th, and then sailed for New York. He left behind an address to the people of New Orleans, which was thoroughly in accord with his previous official utterances. In it he dwelt on the evils of slavery and its disastrous effects upon the slave-owning population of the South and reiterated a favorite theory that the war was "a war of the aristocrats against the middling man, — of the rich against the poor — a war of the landowner against the laborer." This was Butler's idea of adding insult to injury.12


The Author's Notes:

1 "The Mississippi Valley in the Civil War," p129.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Parton, General Butler in New Orleans, p325.

[decorative delimiter]

3 Parton, op. cit., 325‑326.

[decorative delimiter]

4 Times, August-September, 1880, passim.

[decorative delimiter]

5 Quoted in Parton, pp591, 592.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Picayune, May 13, 1862.

[decorative delimiter]

7 Parton, "Butler in New Orleans," pp346, 347.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Kautz, "Incidents of the Occupation of New Orleans," Century Magazine, July, 1886, p457.

[decorative delimiter]

9 Dennison to Chase, Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1902, II, pp321‑336.

[decorative delimiter]

10 "He was the best scavenger we have ever had." — Southworth, "Beauty and Booty," p182.

[decorative delimiter]

11 Rhodes, "History of the United States," IV, 93, note. Rhodes says that Butler's recall was due to Seward, whose intervention was inspired by the protests of the French Minister, Mercier.

[decorative delimiter]

12 In the foregoing description of Butler's career in New Orleans I have relied very largely upon the series of articles entitled "Two Decades in Louisiana," in the New Orleans Times, for 1880, passim. The newspapers of 1862 contain little of value. With regard to Butler's career in New Orleans, see "Private and Official Correspondence of General Benjamin F. Butler," privately printed, 1917; especially III, 32 (execution of Mumford); III, 99 (The Woman Order); V, 242 (charges against Butler in connection with the administration in New Orleans).


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 11 May 13