Friday, April 3, 2009

Beast Butler Asks A Favor

“Beast Butler” Asks a Favor
A letter is presented here dated April 11, 1867 from former Major General Benjamin F. Butler to John Work Garrett, president of the B&O Railroad Company. Butler, a politically appointed Massachusetts general, occupied Baltimore in May 1861 thus quelling continued southern resistance under a heavy military force. With occupation troops stationed all along the B&O’s lines between Washington and Baltimore, no doubt Garrett and Butler became well acquainted with one another in the opening months of the Civil War. Later while in command of New Orleans he issued General Order No. 28 after some provocation by the citizens which stated that if any woman should insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and shall be held liable to be treated as a "woman of the town plying her avocation", i.e., a prostitute. This order provoked protests both in the North and the South, and also abroad, particularly in England and France, and it was doubtless the cause of his removal from command of the Department of the Gulf on December 17, 1862. He was nicknamed "Beast Butler," and "Spoons," for his alleged habit of pilfering the silverware of Southern homes in which he stayed. Not all bad, Butler was an unrepentant abolitionist and post-war civil rights activist.

In the post war years Butler was elected a Republican Member of Congress and also assumed the presidency of an agency authorized by Congress that established and oversaw “The National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers” known colloquially as the “Old Soldier’s Home.”

In this interesting letter Butler writes to Garrett requesting that he “…aid this noble charity, who are only maimed and disabled soldiers…” by providing passenger fares for them at half the published rate. Butler continued to make his case by telling Garrett that his “…well known liberality and public spirit…” as well as the fact that the B&O received such “…liberal compensation during the War…and much protection…” for its movement of troops should certainly consider taking the case of the “…maimed relics of the Army of the Republic.” Who could resist such a request! Unfortunately we don’t know Garrett’s answer but given the compelling nature of this letter, Butler’s position in the House of Representatives and other evidence of his charity, my guess is that John Work Garrett wrote back a resounding “yes!”

Courtney B. Wilson
Executive Director
Former Congressman Benjamin F. Butler

B&O Railroad President John Work Garrett