★ ★  Butler, Benjamin F. - Military Governor of LA

Benjamin Franklin Butler

Butler 1.jpg

Born: November 5, 1818

Birthplace: Deerfield, New Hampshire

Father: Captain John Butler 1786 – 1822

Mother: Charlotte Ellison 1792 – 1870
(Buried: Hildreth Family Cemetery, Lowell, Massachusetts)​

Wife: Sarah Jones Hildreth 1816 – 1876
(Buried: Hildreth Family Cemetery, Lowell, Massachusetts)​

Married: May 16, 1844 in Dracut, Massachusetts


Blanche Butler Ames 1847 – 1939​
(Buried: Hildreth Family Cemetery, Lowell, Massachusetts)​
Paul Butler 1852 – 1918​
(Buried: Hildreth Family Cemetery, Lowell, Massachusetts)​
Ben – Israel Butler 1855 – 1881​
(Buried: Hildreth Family Cemetery, Lowell, Massachusetts)​



1838: Graduated from Waterville College​

Occupation before War:

Attorney in Lowell, Massachusetts​
1850: Supporter of the Compromise of 1850​
1853: Massachusetts State Representative​
1853: Delegate to Massachusetts State Constitution Convention​
1859: Massachusetts State Senator​
1859: Unsuccessful Democratic Candidate Governor of Massachusetts​
1860: Delegate to Democratic Party National Convention​
1860: Supporter of Jefferson Davis for Democratic Nomination​
1860: Supporter of John C. Breckinridge for President​
1860: Recommended to President Buchanan he arrest South Carolina Delegation on charges of treason​

Civil War Career:

1861: Brigadier General of Union Army Volunteer Infantry​
1861: Ordered his men to restore rail service between Annapolis and Washington, D.C.​
1861: Threatened he would arrest Maryland legislature if they voted for Secession Butler seized the Great Seal of Maryland​
1861: Occupied Baltimore Maryland with his soldiers​
1861 – 1865: Major General of Union Army Volunteers​
1861: Commander of Fort Monroe in Department of Virginia​
1861: Directed first union expedition to Ship Island​
1862: Successfully led Command at Capture of New Orleans, Louisiana​
1862: Military Governor of Louisiana​
1862: Imposed strict quarantines introduced program for garbage​
1862: Issued General Order Number 26​
1862: Censored all newspapers in New Orleans, Louisiana​
1862: Ordered the execution of William B. Mumford​
1862: Ordered Seizure of $800,000.00 deposited in office of Dutch​
1862: Imprisoned French Champagne Magnate Charles Heidsieck​
1862: Formed first African American Regiment 1st Louisiana Native Guard​
1862: Recalled as Governor in December by President Lincoln​
Sought revenge against Secretary of State William Seward he felt was the one who was responsible for his recall​
1863: Commander of Department of Virginia and North Carolina​
1864 – 1865: Commander Army of the James​
1864: Union Army Commander Battle of Chaffin’s Farm Virginia​
1864: Awarded Soldiers the Butler Medal for their role at battle​
1864: Participated in the Bermuda Hundred Attack​
1864: Was Considered for Vice President of United States​
President Lincoln issued General Order No 1 relieving Butler of Command and ordering him to Lowell Massachusetts​
1865: Informed of his recall by General Grant
1865: Got a hearing before Joint Congressional Committee on Conduct of the War​
1865: Retained until November that he might as Military Prosecutor for Confederate President Jefferson Davis​

Occupation after War:

1865: Tried to get a position in Lincoln Administration​
1866 – 1879: President National Home for Disabled Soldiers​
1867 – 1875: United States Congressman from Massachusetts​
1868: House Manager to conduct impeachment of Pres. Johnson​
1871 – 1873: Congressional Chairman for revision of the laws​
1871 – 1872: Unsuccessful Candidate Nomination for Governor​
1872: Investor in Diamond Hoax of 1872​
1871: Author of Initial Version Civil Rights Act of 1871​
1873 – 1875: Congressional Chairman of Judiciary Committee​
1875: Proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1875​
1877 – 1879: United States Congressman from Massachusetts​
1878: Unsuccessful Independent Candidate for Governor​
Founder of Wamesit Power Company & United States Cartridge Co.​
Owner of Confiscated Farms in Norfolk Virginia making Cooperatives​
Sponsor of Scholarship for African Americans Phillips Andover Academy​
Served on the Board of National Home for Disabled Soldiers​
1883 – 1884: Governor of Massachusetts​
1884: Unsuccessful Greenback Anti – Monopolist Presidential Candidate​

Died: January 11, 1893

Place of Death: Washington D.C.

Cause of Death: Bronchial Infection

Age at time of Death: 74 years old

Burial Place: Hildreth Family Cemetery, Lowell, Massachusetts
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Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016

Mark F. Jenkins

Member of the Year
Mar 31, 2012
Central Ohio
Is there a good, modern biography of Butler?

There's one by Dick Nolan, Benjamin Franklin Butler: The Dam nedest Yankee, but the biographer is unabashedly pro-Butler and doesn't give a very balanced account IMHO. Better is Chet Hearn's When the Devil Came Down to Dixie, but that's strongly concentrated on Butler's time in New Orleans rather than being an overall bio.

Richard S. West wrote one called Lincoln's Scapegoat General, but I have not read it. I've liked a couple of other books West wrote, though, so that might be worth looking into.

NH Civil War Gal

Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Feb 5, 2017
Deerfield, NH is only 25 miles from me. It is a beautiful but tiny village - no store or anything like that. I wonder now if I can find the house he was born in, if it still stands. The main little cluster of houses are from the 1700s. And there is a tiny cemetery over there, so I wonder if there are any Butler relatives buried there too. I shall snoop.

NH Civil War Gal

Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Feb 5, 2017
This is from an older web site - deerfieldnh.org

I was pleased to learn he was interested in mill workers and shortening their hours and making education a priority. I had always wondered what made the Amoskeag Mills start their schools for mill workers children, etc.

Benjamin Franklin Butler
originally published in the Bicentennial Book

Benjamin Franklin Butler was born in Deerfield November 5, 1818 at about four o'clock in the afternoon. His father was the youngest son of Zephaniah and Abigail, daughter of General Joseph Gilley. John Butler, Ben's father, was married to Sarah Batchelder of Deerfield, June 5, 1803. They had three girls, Polly True, horn June 8. 1804; Sally, born March 11, 1806 and Betsey Morrill, born January 9, 1808. Mrs. Sarah Butler died Feb. 23, 1809.- On July 21, 1811, John Butler married Charlotte Ellison. She bore him three children. The eldest, Charlotte, born May 13, 1812 died in August 1839. The second child, Andrew Jackson Butler was horn Feb. 13, 1815, and died Feb. 11, 1864. The third child, Benjamin Franklin Butler was born Nov. 5, 1818. Ben's father served his country under Bolivar. When Bolivar crossed the Cordilleras, his father returned to the West India Islands and, in order to refit, landed the island of St. Christopher (St. Kitts) one of the British Islands. While there he died of yellow fever. So did some of his crew and one of his officers.​

After Benjamin's father's death, his mothers and younger sister lived with his uncle Benjamin who had a small farm in Nottingham, NH. Young Ben was not very strong at the age of four which gave them great concern. As soon as he was old enough and physically able he was sent to school at Nottingham Square. He tells of living two miles from school and the last half of the distance was up a steep hill. (We call that the �Square Hill.�) The following winter, his uncle and mother provided a home for him in Deerfield with his Aunt Polly Dame; she was not really his aunt, but everyone called her aunt. His next school was at Deerfield Parade. Then in Ben's sixth year he went back to the Nottingham Square school carrying his dinner in a little package. Eventually, he came back to Deerfield Parade and attended the Academy which was between his home at Deerfield Parade and the Cemetery. His teacher was Mr. James Hersey, afterwards postmaster at Manchester, N.H.​
Ben received the best of all his educational training is his preparation for college at Lowell High School. He was a great reader and the subject of law was his specialty. His mother's earnest desire was for him to get an appointment at West Point of which Ben was very desirous. On account of his religious beliefs, it was decided that a Baptist College at Waterville, Maine would fulfill his mother's long cherished expectations of his becoming a clergyman. He was very fond of his mother. His maternal grandfather was Richard Ellison who had fought the battle of Boyne Water for King William, and had received some reward which enabled him and his wife to come to America. They were Scotch Presbyterians. They moved to Londonderry, later took up a farm at Northfield, on the Pemigewassett. It was here that he had several children, the youngest of whom was Ben Butler's mother. His grandfather and grandmother moved to Canada about the time his mother was married to John Butler. He tells us that they were respectable and honorable people, and were certainly long lived, for his mother's sister lived to exceed the age of one hundred and four years.​

Before Ben's first year at college was over, he decided to change his course to chemistry. During the winter, when college was closed for eight weeks, Ben would teach in other schools to help with his expenditures. After his graduation, he studied law in the office of William Smith Esq. a New Hampshire lawyer of considerable learning. Ben's brother gave him a small gray saddle horse, and nearly every night of the week he got his relaxation by riding. The rest of his time was spent in study of law. In 1839 a vacancy occurred in a small Academy in the town of Dracut not far from Lowell. The trustees asked Ben to take charge of the school. He taught there for a specified time and then not being able to forget his study of law he went back to Lowell to practice in the Police Courts, visiting Superior Court as often as possible. It was during Ben's legal career that he met Sarah Hildreth. In 1843 they became engaged and were married on the 16th of May in 1844 in St. Anne's Church in Lowell, Mass. by the Rector Rev. Dr. Edson. They had four children; Paul the eldest who died in April 1850 at the age of four years and ten months; a daughter, Blanche, born in 1847, a son Paul born in 1852, and a son Ben Israel, born in 1854 who departed this life on the first day of Sept. 1881, the day he was to have gone into partnership with his father, Benjamin F. Butler, in the practice of law in Boston, Mass.​

Ben's wife accompanied him in every expedition of the war of the Rebellion and made for him a home wherever he was stationed in command. She joined him at Annapolis, Fortress Monroe, and Ship Island for the attack on New Orleans; and in 1864 she went with him to the field, and was present with him during most of the campaign of that year. After the war was over he had a great interest in the mills at Lowell and the laboring people who had gathered from the states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. He states there were no purer, no better body of citizens ever come together. To the credit of the owners of those mills, it is just to say that humane, philanthropic and far-sighted economic business regulations were made, and that provisions were established that education should be furnished for the children and the advantages of religious instruction given to all. The great men of Lowell knew that good morals were the prime qualifications of good working people. Ben Butler lived in favor of the laboring class such as shortening the number of hours of work and developing a strong feeling for American citizenship. He had a deep concern for their health, a keen desire to increase their comfort, and so it was that Massachusetts set the example for many changes in the mills of our country and the bread of life was produced for the working class. We honor Benjamin F. Butler for his part in promoting better conditions in the mills of our United States.​

In 1882 Ben Butler was elected Governor of Massachusetts by the Democrats. In 1884 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency. He died at Washington, D.C. January 11, 1893.​


NH Civil War Gal

Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Feb 5, 2017
And I guess this was a favorite saying of Ben's:

Although he sympathized with the South, Butler stated "I was always a friend of southern rights but an enemy of southern wrongs" and sought to serve in the Union Army.


Forum Host
Nov 27, 2018
Chattanooga, Tennessee
I have never seen a happy smile upon his face. The man was controversial, and as @Northern Light pointed out above in corresponding with Governor Hicks, and also Magruder in Hampton, he reveals a prized subtlety of persuasion and position with his manners. In studying the first year of the war I believed Lincoln had found 'his man', so to speak. Later on, I kept thinking, "Gee, what happened to Butler?"

John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
The unlovely Ben (and friend) in the late 1840s, when he was at least reasonably presentable. He did not age well.

[From the collections of the Mass. Historical Society.]​
That 'wandering' left eye was no help at all. He also had an unfortunate body shape: a barrel-like torso, while his arms and legs were quite thin. He was not a large man.

He was a great champion of the poor and downtrodden: both native born and immigrants, and based his political career largely on their interests, and in opposition to the "codfish aristocracy" of New England (he came to hold the southern "cavalier aristocracy" in similar contempt). He represented the Irish militia companies when they were disbanded by the Knownothing governor in 1853. He often represented the workers in cases against management. He was also a brilliant defense attorney, who would do almost anything to defend his clients -- he knew all the loopholes and "technicalities." He often defended the poor pro bono, but charged the rich hefty fees --and they paid them, knowing he was worth it.

It is not really accurate to say he was ever "pro-slavery." Prewar it held little interest for him, and he recognized the reality of the constitutional protections of the institution. He turned strongly anti-slavery after seeing first-hand it's effects, and recognizing it's key role in bringing about secession.

For my money, West's Lincoln's Scapegoat General, though over 50 years old, is the best Butler bio.

NH Civil War Gal

Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Feb 5, 2017
In the NH Statehouse there is a portrait of Butler, among a number of others, and a big brass plaque stating that at the end of his life, he was 7 million dollars to the good that he was never able to account for. He was a wily old guy.