When the Civil War began, Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts quickly volunteered his services to the Union cause. As a brigadier-general of the Massachusetts militia, he led forces which secured Baltimore for the Union in May 1861 and, as a major-general, captured Forts Hatteras and Clark in North Carolina in August 1861. He coined the term â€œcontrabandâ€? to designate escaped slaves who crossed Union lines to safety.
Butlerâ€™s most famous (or infamous) connection with the war was his controversial tenure as commander of the occupation forces in New Orleans in 1862. He seized the posh St. Charles Hotel as his initial headquarters, confiscated $800,000 from the Dutch consulate (which he insisted had been intended for purchase of Confederate war supplies), hanged a man for taking a Union flag down from a flagpole, and inflicted other strictures that caused New Orleans residents to label him â€œBeast,â€? â€œBrute,â€? and â€œSpoonsâ€? (for his alleged tendency to steal silverware). The regulation that raised the most public opposition was his â€œWoman Order,â€? which stipulated that women who insulted Union soldiers would be treated as prostitutes. In December 1862, he was replaced by General Nathaniel Banks.
This Harperâ€™s Weekly cartoon takes a very different view of Butlerâ€™s tenure in New Orleans than did most Southerners. Here, a hardworking Butler, who has cleaned up the captured Confederate city, is warmly welcomed back to Washington by President Abraham Lincoln.
In late 1863, Butler was given the command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina. In October 1864, he was sent to New York City to prevent or control election riots. Criticized for his inability in the field, Butler retired from the army and returned to Massachusetts in December 1864. After the war, Butler served as a congressman, governor of Massachusetts, and the presidential nominee of the Greenback-Labor party in 1884.