Butler, Benjamin F.


Major General Butler, commanding Dept. of Virginia, informs NY Gov. Morgan that NY Vols. captain chose to resign rather than face court martial for liquor purchases!


Type: Letter
Description: (1818-1893) US Major General, Mass. politician, lawyer, and businessman, best known as “political” Civil War Union Army general and for leadership role in impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. Colorful and often controversial figure on national stage and on Massachusetts political scene, served 5 terms in House of Representative before elected Mass. governor 1882. Successful trial lawyer, served in Mass. legislature as antiwar Democrat.

Appointed Major General Vols., noted for lack of military skill and controversial command in New Orleans which brought him wide dislike in the South and “The Beast” epithet. While in command at Fort Monroe, Butler declined to return fugitive slaves who had come within his lines to their owners, arguing that Virginians considered them to be chattel property, and that they could not appeal to 1850 Fugitive Slave Law because of Virginia’s secession: “I am under no constitutional obligations to a foreign country which Virginia now claims to be,” he said. Also, slaves used as laborers for building fortifications and other military activities could be considered contraband of war. Lincoln and his Cabinet decided to support Butler’s stance and It was later made standard Union Army policy to not return fugitive slaves, policy soon extended to Union Navy.

His commands marred by financial and logistical dealings across enemy lines, some of which may have taken place with his knowledge and to his financial benefit. Dismissed from Union Army after his failures in First Battle of Fort Fisher, soon elected Mass. US Rep. A Radical Republican, considered President Johnson’s Reconstruction agenda too weak, advocated harsher punishments of former Confederate leaders and stronger stance on civil rights reform. Early proponent of impeaching President Johnson, after Johnson was impeached early 1868, served as lead prosecutor among House-appointed impeachment managers in ultimately narrowly failed trial. Additionally, as Chairman of House Committee on Reconstruction, Butler authored Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and coauthored landmark Civil Rights Act of 1875. Butler was often at odds with more conservative members of Massachusetts political establishment and feuds with GOP politicians led to his being denied nominations for governorship 1858-80. Returning to Democratic fold, won governorship 1882 with Democratic and Greenback Party support, ran for president 1884 on Greenback Party and Anti-Monopoly Party tickets.

War-dated LS, 3pps (folded sheet, docketed on 4th page) 12- 1/2 x 8 as Major General Commanding, Headquarters Dept. of Virginia, August 16 1861, to Governor Edwin D. Morgan of New York. Butler informs Morgan that he has learned that Capt. McNutt, late of 2nd Regt., NY Vols, is an applicant for new commission in State Volunteers. Butler forwards true copy of “…liquor furnished to himself and his men during 21 days by a single sutler. For this I gave him his choice, -to be court martialed, or to resign. He chose the latter.” Apparently that was not the end of McNutt’s service. Joseph G. McNutt (1833-1914) would serve with the 6th NY Vol. Infantry and 12th NY Vol. Infantry, ending service as a colonel! Document shows Capt. McNutt having spent, from July 10-31, 1861, $60.42 mostly for liquor (brandy, gin, beer, wine, rum and miscellaneous “drinks”, among other goods), some 50 line items for 3 weeks!

On the same day this letter written, President Lincoln declared inhabitants of the Confederate States to be in state of insurrection and forbade all commercial intercourse as unlawful.

Condition: Very good, fold splits carefully repaired.

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