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Keywords:Butler, General Butler, New Orleans
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Date modified22-Apr-14 18:22
04894 - Major General Benjamin Butler ; 'Beast Butler' [LC-DIG-cwpb-04894]

04894 - Major General Benjamin Butler ; 'Beast Butler' [LC-DIG-cwpb-04894]

I declare Benjamin F. Butler to be treated as "... an outlaw and common enemy of mankind, and that in the event of his capture the officer in command of the capturing force do cause him to be immediately executed by hanging." Jefferson Davis, President C.S.A.

Davis' proclamation came as a result of Gen. Benjamin Butler's service as the military governor of New Orleans, LA in 1862. During his six month appointment he became known as the "Beast of New Orleans". Butler's most controversial Order stated that any lady who showed contempt for Union soldiers would be "treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation."


The idea that respectable women could be treated as a prostitute, created an uproar not only in the South but actually crossed the ocean to France and Great Britain.

However, it can be argued that Butler's true blow against the South came as commander of Fort Monroe, VA. On May 25, 1861, three slaves tasked with building Confederate defense batteries, arrived at the Fort seeking asylum. Instead of returning the slaves as required by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, he let them stay. Butler justified his action by classifying the men as "contraband of war".

Before he was a powerful Massachusetts Senator, Butler was an attorney. Butler argued that if Virginia considered herself a foreign power, he was not under any obligation to return the slaves. Furthermore, his decision brought the concept that slaves were a military asset to the attention of the American public.

Confiscation may not have meant full freedom, nevertheless, the news of Butler's decision spread. The next day eight slaves arrived at Fort Monroe requesting "contraband" status. By the hour, more and more slaves arrived. Within two days, over 55 people had arrived from 3 months to 85 years of age. As the flood of people arrived, a contraband camp had to be set up to house them. As the news became known, other contraband camps were developed around other Union forts.

In September of 1861, the Navy ordered that "persons of color, commonly known as contrabands" to by paid for their labor. The Army, three weeks later did the same. In October of 1862, the United States Colored Troops (USCT) fought in their first skirmish.

In 1865, Butler, impressed by the bravery of the USCT that fought in his command, commissioned the Butler Medal or Colored Troops Medal. He presented the solid silver Medal to nearly 200 African American Union soldiers.