An officer on General Butler's staff, residing constantly, while in New Orleans, under his roof, having had direct personal observation of him during the entire progress of the "Ship-Island Expedition," may perhaps be pardoned for putting on record in this magazine some characteristic traits of the man whom this war has brought so prominently, not only before our own people, but also the people of Europe.
In the execution of this task I shall confine myself to the mention of incidents of his administration at New Orleans, and the relation of the inside history (the history of motive and cause) of many of his public acts which elicited from the European press and the enemies of the Union in our own land the bitterest abuse,--believing that in so doing I offer stronger proof of the injustice of their attacks than I could possibly furnish by any attempt to argue them down. And that the patience of my readers may not be unnecessarily taxed, I shall proceed without further introduction to the consideration of OUR GENERAL in New Orleans.
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One of the first difficulties which General Butler found in the way of the restoration of the national authority in that city was the attitude of the foreign consuls. Under the leadership of Mr. George Coppell, who was acting for the British Government in the absence of the consul, Mr. Muir, they tacitly declared an offensive and defensive war of the guerrilla stamp against every step or order for the promotion of loyal sentiment or the inculcation of a belief in the strength of our Government. Nothing excited greater hostility abroad than the General's treatment of these gentlemen, and in nothing has he been more admired by his loyal countrymen than in his complete discomfiture of them.
I have noticed this little episode in the history of the Rebellion simply with the view of showing, that, while officially he met their combined attacks with "war to the knife," his personal intercourse with them was friendly and pleasant.
After the consuls had apparently abandoned their unsuccessful alliance in despair, Mr. Coppell, who had never yet met the General, expressed, through the commander of Her Britannic Majesty's frigate Rinaldo, a desire for an introduction to him.
The General received Mr. Coppell with marked cordiality, and was, I think, pleased with his appearance; at all events, from that time until we left the city Mr. Coppell was frequently at the office, oftentimes by invitation of the General, and nothing ever occurred to disturb the harmony of their personal relations.
On one occasion they were discussing the French and English statutes prohibiting the subjects of those powers from holding slaves. A large number of French and English subjects were living in open violation of this prohibition in New Orleans, and the General remarked to Mr. Coppell that he had a great mind to heap coals of fire on the heads of his friends across the Atlantic by enforcing their laws. Mr. Coppell with eager enthusiasm applauded the project, and urged the General to carry it into effect.
The Spanish Government was represented in New Orleans by Don Juan Callejon. Early in the summer the strictness of our quarantine of vessels from Cuba produced some ill feeling on his part, which manifested itself in the refusal of a clean bill of health to the steamer Roanoke, about to leave New Orleans for Havana. In response to a request from the General, Don Juan called immediately at the office; but owing to the unfortunate circumstance of his entire ignorance of the English language, and the consequent necessity of conversing through the medium of an interpreter, a serious misunderstanding ensued, and the General, supposing the Consul to be contemptuously setting our Government at defiance, threatened to send him out of the country; but afterwards learning that their difference had arisen purely from misinterpretation, and that Senor Callejon had proved himself a patriot and hero in his country's service, the General, with the honest admiration which one brave man always feels toward another, took especial pains to render their intercourse, both official and personal, as agreeable as might be. And to show the Spanish consul that in the matter of quarantine he was inspired by no dislike toward his Government, he placed more rigid restrictions, if possible, on American vessels from infected ports than on the vessels of Spain.
To Senor Ruiz, the acting consul of the Republic of Mexico, who had the singular consular virtue of sympathizing warmly with the free North, the General's attentions were something more sincere than the hackneyed "assurances of distinguished consideration" so necessary to diplomatic correspondence and intercourse.
Indeed, I doubt if any of the foreign commercial agents at New Orleans would claim that they ever had cause to complain against General Butler on account of any personal grievance.
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Probably nothing in the history of General Butler's administration in New Orleans drew from the foes of free government in every land such unmeasured execration as the celebrated "Order No. 28," relating to the conduct of women in the street, and I wish to give the most decided testimony upon this subject. That something was necessary to be done to stop the insults to which we were continually subjected by the other sex, I presume no one who is well informed as to their frequency and humiliating character will for a moment doubt. Upon our arrival in the city I flattered myself that such demonstrations would excite in me no sentiment more serious than pity for the childishness that prompted them; but I confess, that, after a day or two, the sneers and contortions of countenance, the angry withholding of the dress from contact with my person, and the abrupt departure from the sidewalk to the middle of the street to avoid even passing the hated uniform, were too much for my philosophy, and gave me a sense of humiliation more painful than I can express. And yet the insults I received were slight, compared to those offered to many of our officers and men.
This condition of affairs continued about two weeks, until it became positively intolerable.
Young officers, too gallant, and too deeply imbued with the American respect for woman, to resent, by word or deed, the indignity, would come to the General with their cheeks crimson with shame and the effort to repress their just indignation, and beg him to take some measure for the suppression of the evil.
Most men would have seen no other solution of the difficulty than the arrest and punishment of a few of the offenders as a warning to the rest. But General Butler foresaw, what was afterwards proved in the case of Mrs. Larue, that the arrest of women would invariably provoke a street-disturbance, which might lead to bloodshed; he, therefore, remembering an old ordinance of the city of London, republished it in the form of the General Order which has gained so universal a celebrity.
Mr. Monroe, who was mayor of the city at the time of its capture, came in a paroxysm of anger to protest against the order as a libel on every lady in New Orleans.
The General, with perfect good-nature, went over every word of it with him, explaining its origin and its intent, and demonstrating beyond doubt that it simply gave the female population of the city the opportunity to choose in which of the two categories they would be classed,--ladies or "common women,"--and assured the Mayor, that, above all, his idea was to promulgate such an order as would execute itself, and prevent the very thing which the Rebels have since charged upon him,--"a war upon women."
Three times Mr. Monroe left the General with the firm conviction that the act was perfectly proper; but, instigated by crafty and able conspirators, of whom the ruling spirit was Mr. Pierre Soule, he repeatedly returned with fresh attacks on the General's administration, and especially on this order, until, the General's patience being exhausted, he said to him,--"Mr. Mayor, you have played with me long enough. Your case is settled. The boat leaves for Fort Jackson this afternoon, and you must be ready to take passage on her at four o'clock."
I never witnessed greater forbearance than the General displayed in his treatment of the Mayor; indeed, I was at the time quite indignant that he allowed him such liberty of speech and action.
One word more about "Order No. 28." General Beauregard's fierce anger, and his horrible construction of its provisions, intended for effect on his troops, will be well remembered by my readers. It may not be uninteresting to them to know that Beauregard's sister in New Orleans, when asked her opinion of the order, answered,--"I have no interest in or objection to it; it does not apply to me." Is it difficult to guess to which class she belonged?
Can I say anything stronger in vindication of the propriety of this order, or of the General's sagacity in issuing it, than that the first twenty-four hours after its promulgation witnessed a complete, and, it seemed to us who were there, almost miraculous, change in the deportment of the ladies of the Crescent City? If success is the test of merit, then was it one of the most meritorious acts of the war.
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The severity with which General Butler punished crimes against the Government that he was determined should be respected, or against the poor and oppressed, was of course in the Confederacy and in Europe denounced as the most fiendish cruelty, and he was characterized as a man whose every impulse was prompted by the most brutal passions.
I do not expect the people of the South to believe my statement, that I never met a man of greater generosity and kindness of heart, or one more pleased to do an act of clemency; but I think the loyal reader will find in the following illustrations of these traits evidence of its truth.
Among the Rebel soldiers who were captured at the surrender of Fort Jackson, in April, 1862, were four men who, with the remainder of the garrison, were paroled as prisoners of war, but were soon after discovered in an attempt to organize a company, of which they were elected officers, with the view of crossing our lines by force and rejoining the Rebel army, and upon their own confession were convicted and sentenced to be shot,--the only expiation known to the rules of civilized warfare for so flagrant a violation of the parole.
During the interval between their conviction and the day appointed for their execution, I had occasion to see them frequently, and was strongly impressed with the idea that they had sinned in ignorance of the magnitude of their offence, and that a commutation of the death-penalty would be of more benefit than injury to our cause. As the day of their death rapidly drew near, and I observed their agonized despair of a reprieve, and their earnest, sincere efforts to prepare for a fate they deemed inevitable, I determined to make an urgent appeal to the General for their lives.
On the afternoon previous to the day of their expected execution, I went to the General's room and implored him to relent toward the unhappy men.
The General, in a kind, but apparently decided manner, met my urgent request by referring to the proofs of their guilt, and the necessity of the severest punishment as an example to others.
I was well aware of the futility of attempting to reason with the astute lawyer, who had all the law on his side, and twenty years' experience at the bar in cases where he had met every argument that ingenuity could devise; so, avoiding his reasoning, I appealed directly to his feelings. In this I was most earnestly and efficiently aided by one of his household, whose heart and influence were always on the side of tenderness and mercy.
The earnestness with which I urged the cause of the wretched prisoners excited in me an interest I was not before conscious of feeling, and I suddenly found myself almost unable to speak from the choking emotions which swelled up into my throat.
Beneath the General's argument for abstract justice, I thought, however, I discovered a warm sympathy for my distress, and I gathered encouragement.
In a few minutes an officer who had been in the room during our interview, and from whom the General desired to conceal his benevolent intention toward the men, took his leave. The General turned to me immediately, and, in a voice scarcely audible, said,--"Do not feel so badly, Captain; it shall be all right."
Not daring to trust my voice, I bowed my thanks and left the room, happy in the possession of so agreeable a secret.
The next morning, as I rode out to the spot assigned for the terrible tragedy, and gazed upon the silent, curious crowd that followed, and upon the four men sitting there upon those rough pine coffins, straining their eager eyes for one long last look at the glorious sun whose rising they were never again to see, I doubted if their happiness, when an hour hence they would be returning to the city with joyous anticipations of assured life, would be any more sincere than his,--"the American Haynau's,"--who, in his room at the St. Charles Hotel, rejoiced that he had been able to indulge the inclinations of his heart without detriment to the service.
In justice to others, I ought to add that a strong effort for the pardon of these prisoners was made by a number of the prominent residents of New Orleans.
It was in June of last year, I think, that a German bookseller named Keller was sent by General Butler to Ship Island for two years for exhibiting in his shop-window a human skeleton labelled "Chickahominy," claiming it to be the bones of some gallant soldier of the Union, army who had fallen in one of the disastrous battles in Virginia.
At his examination, Keller protested that he was a Union man, and had been imposed upon by some designing person who had taken advantage of his ignorance to make his shop the medium of displaying contempt and hatred of our cause by the revolting spectacle I have mentioned. It was proved, however, that Keller had said these were the bones of a Yankee. His defence may or may not have been true; but, at all events, he was apparently not an evil-disposed person, and I always believed the General punished the offence rather than the man.
After Keller had been on Ship Island some two or three months, his wife, a very modest, respectable little woman, came to me frequently with a piteous story of the suffering occasioned herself and her children by the prolonged absence of her husband, and begged me to intercede with the General for his pardon. Satisfied that the cause could suffer no injury by the return of the unfortunate man to his home, I promised to do my best to obtain his release. Accordingly, I took advantage of every favorable opportunity to drop a word in the hearing of the General for the benefit of poor Keller, who was pining away in his confinement at a rate that bade fair soon to render him as valuable a subject for anatomical research as the article he had exhibited in his shop-window.
At first my efforts met with very doubtful encouragement; but I was satisfied that the General's obduracy was caused by a conflict between his sense of public duty and his natural tendency toward forgiveness; so, fully assured that a few weeks would produce the desired result, I contented myself with merely recalling the ease to his memory whenever an opportunity offered.
Toward the last of October, being somewhat impatient at my tardy progress, I had just resolved to abandon my previous policy of waiting for time to do its work, and to make a vigorous onslaught upon the General's sympathies, when I learned that he had issued an order for Keller's release; and thus I was confirmed in my opinion that the General's heart was not proof against the claims of the unfortunate erring.
In the case of Mrs. Phillips, who was banished to Ship Island for her ghastly levity over the dead body of the gallant and lamented young De Kay, the General ordered a release after three months of exile, because he learned that her health was suffering in consequence of separation from her friends; and I doubt very much if she would have remained in duress three weeks, if the Rebel newspapers had not taunted the General so much, and threatened an expedition against the island for the purpose of rescuing the fair prisoner.
Mrs. Larue and Mrs. Cowen, the only other women who were imprisoned,--the former for openly distributing treasonable pamphlets in the street, thereby causing a riot, and the latter for publishing in a newspaper a card of defiance against the national authority,--after two weeks of punishment, were pardoned on the first intimation that they were suffering in health or comfort. Indeed, the General never desired the imprisonment of any person a single day beyond the time necessary for his correction, or longer than the requirements of justice demanded. I presume very few persons are aware that one of his last acts in New Orleans was to recommend to General Banks the pardon of all prisoners confined on mere political charges.
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On account of the great and increasing pressure on the General's time by the immense and miscellaneous crowd of visitors, it was found necessary to establish an office outside of his, where every unknown caller should state his business to the officer in charge, who would decide whether or not it was essential for the person to see the General.
For a few weeks I had charge of this office, and nearly all my time was occupied in refusing passes outside of our lines. In a majority of instances, the applicants for the privilege of going into the Confederacy--many of them women--told the most sorrowful tales of destitution that could be relieved only by reaching their friends in the enemy's country; others urged, that a husband, a father, or a brother was enjoined by the physician to seek the country as the sole means of securing a return of health; in short, I was plied with every conceivable story of heart-rending woe and misery, related to induce the granting of passes, which the General, in consequence of the fact that in almost every instance where he had yielded to such importunities his confidence had been abused by the carrying of supplies and information to the Rebel army, had ordered me invariably to refuse. Ordinarily I succeeded in steeling my heart against these urgent entreaties; but occasionally some story, peculiarly harrowing in its details, seemed to demand a special effort in behalf of the applicant, and I would go to the General, and, in the desperation of my cause, exclaim,--
"General, you must see some of these people. I know, if you would only hear their stories, you would give them passes."
"You are entirely correct, Captain," he would reply. "I am sure I should; and that is precisely why I want you to see them for me."
And with this very doubtful satisfaction I would return to my desk, convinced that sensibility in a man who was allowed no discretion in its exercise was an entirely useless attribute, and that in future I would set my face as a flint against every appeal to my feelings.
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Since my return to the North, I have heard a number of gentlemen--former political associates of General Butler--compare his "marvellous conversion" (here they always look, and apparently mean to be, severely sarcastic) on the slavery-question with that of Saul of Tarsus to Christianity.
If the last two years of our history have failed to educate them up to the meaning of this war, I confess that I think them almost incorrigible; yet I cannot believe that even they, if they had had the experience which has placed not only General Butler, but almost every one of the twenty thousand men composing the old "Army of the Gulf," firmly on the side of freedom to all, of whatever complexion, could longer withstand the dictates of God and humanity.
Let me describe one or two of the scenes I witnessed in New Orleans, that opened our eyes to the true nature of human bondage. The following incident is the same so well told by the General himself to the committee of the New-York Chamber of Commerce, at the Fifth-Avenue Hotel, in January last, and which was then reported in full in the New-York "Times." One of my objects in repeating this story is to illustrate my implicit confidence--inspired by my knowledge of his character--in the General's humanity and championship of the weak and down-trodden.
Just previous to the arrival of General Banks in New Orleans I was appointed Deputy-Provost-Marshal of the city, and held the office for some days after he had assumed command. One day, during the last week of our stay in the South, a young woman of about twenty years called upon me to complain that her landlord had ordered her out of her house, because she was unable longer to pay the rent, and she wished me to authorise her to take possession of one of her father's houses that had been confiscated, he being a wealthy Rebel, then in the Confederacy, and actively engaged in the Rebellion.
The girl was a perfect blonde in complexion: her hair was of a very pretty, light shade of brown, and perfectly straight; her eyes a clear, honest gray; and her skin as delicate and fair as a child's. Her manner was modest and ingenuous, and her language indicated much intelligence.
Considering these circumstances, I think I was justified in wheeling around in my chair and indulging in an unequivocal stare of incredulous amazement, when in the course of conversation she dropped a remark about having been born a slave.
"Do you mean to tell me," said I, "that you have negro blood in your veins?" And I was conscious of a feeling of embarrassment at asking a question so apparently preposterous.
"Yes," she replied, and then related the history of her life, which I shall repeat as briefly as possible.
"My father," she commenced, "is Mr. Cox, formerly a judge of one of the courts in this city. He was very rich, and owned a great many houses here. There is one of them over there," she remarked, naively, pointing to a handsome residence opposite my office in Canal Street. "My mother was one of his slaves. When I was sufficiently grown, he placed me at school at the Mechanics' Institute Seminary, on Broadway, New York. I remained there until I was about fifteen years of age, when Mr. Cox came on to New York and took me from the school to a hotel, where he obliged me to live with him as his mistress; and to-day, at the age of twenty-one, I am the mother of a boy five years old who is my father's son. After remaining some time in New York, he took me to Cincinnati and other cities at the North, in all of which I continued to live with him as before. During this sojourn in the Free States, I induced him to give me a deed of manumission; but on our return to New Orleans he obtained it from me, and destroyed it. At this time I tried to break off the unnatural connection, whereupon he caused me to be publicly whipped in the streets of the city, and then obliged me to marry a colored man; and now he has run off, leaving me without the least provision against want or actual starvation, and I ask you to give me one of his houses that I may have a home for myself and three little children."
Strange and improbable as this story appeared, I remembered, as it progressed, that I had heard it from Governor Shepley, who, as well as General Butler, had investigated it, and learned that it was not only true in every particular, but was perfectly familiar to the citizens of New Orleans, by whom Judge Cox had been elected to administer JUSTICE.
The clerks of my office, most of whom were old residents of the city, were well informed in the facts of the case, and attested the truth of the girl's story.
I was exceedingly perplexed, and knew not what to do in the matter; but after some thought I answered her thus:--
"This Department has changed rulers, and I know nothing of the policy of the new commander. If General Butler were still in authority, I should not hesitate a moment to grant your request,--for, even if I should commit an error of judgment, I am perfectly certain he would overlook it, and applaud the humane impulse that prompted the act; but General Banks might be less indulgent, and make very serious trouble with me for taking a step he would perhaps regard as unwarrantable."
I still hesitated, undecided how to act, when suddenly a happy thought struck me, and, turning to the girl, I added,--
"To-day is Thursday; next Tuesday I leave this city with General Butler for a land where, thank God! such wrongs as yours cannot exist; and, as General Banks is deeply engrossed in the immediate business at head-quarters, he will hardly hear of my action before the ship leaves,--so I am going to give you the house."
I am sure the kind-hearted reader will find no fault with me that I took particular pains to select one of the largest of her father's houses, (it contained forty rooms,) when she told me that she wanted to let the apartments as a means of support to herself and her children.
My only regret in the case was that Mr. Cox had not been considerate enough to leave a carriage and pair of bays on my hands, that I might have had the satisfaction of enabling his daughter to disport herself about the city in a style corresponding to her importance as a member of so wealthy and respectable a family.
And this story that I have just told reminds me of another, similar in many respects.
One Sunday morning, late last summer, as I came down-stairs to the breakfast-room, I was surprised to find a large number of persons assembled in the library.
When I reached the door, a member of the Staff took me by the arm, and drew me into the room toward a young and delicate mulatto girl who was standing against the opposite wall, with the meek, patient bearing of her race, so expressive of the system of repression to which they have been so long subjected.
Drawing down the border of her dress, my conductor showed me a sight more revolting than I trust ever again to behold.
The poor girl's back was flayed until the quivering flesh resembled a fresh beefsteak scorched on a gridiron. With a cold chill creeping through my veins, I turned away from the sickening spectacle, and for an explanation of the affair scanned the various persons about the room.
In the centre of the group, at his writing-table, sat the General. His head rested on his hand, and he was evidently endeavoring to fix his attention upon the remarks of a tall, swarthy-looking man who stood opposite, and who, I soon discovered, was the owner of the girl, and was attempting a defence of the foul outrage he had committed upon the unresisting and helpless person of his unfortunate victim, who stood smarting, but silent, under the dreadful pain inflicted by the brutal lash.
By the side of the slaveholder stood our Adjutant-General, his face livid with almost irrepressible rage, and his fists tight-clenched, as if to violently restrain himself from visiting the guilty wretch with summary and retributive justice. Disposed about the room, in various attitudes, but all exhibiting in their countenances the same mingling of horror and indignation, were other members of the Staff,--while, near the door, stood three or four house-servants, who were witnesses in the case.
To the charge of having administered the inhuman castigation, Landry (the owner of the girl) pleaded guilty, but urged in extenuation that the girl had dared to make an effort for that freedom which her instincts, drawn from the veins of her abuser, had taught her was the God-given right of all who possess the germ of immortality, no matter what the color of the casket in which it is hidden.
I say "drawn from the veins of her abuser," because she declared she was his daughter,--and every one in the room, looking upon the man and woman confronting each other, confessed that the resemblance justified the assertion.
After the conclusion of all the evidence in the case, the General continued in the same position as before, and remained for some time apparently lost in abstraction. I shall never forget the singular expression on his face.
I had been accustomed to see him in a storm of passion at any instance of oppression or flagrant injustice; but on this occasion he was too deeply affected to obtain relief in the usual way.
His whole air was one of dejection, almost listlessness; his indignation too intense, and his anger too stern, to find expression even in his countenance.
Never have I seen that peculiar look but on three or four occasions similar to the one I am narrating, when I knew he was pondering upon the baleful curse that had cast its withering blight upon all around, until the manhood and humanity were crushed out of the people, and outrages such as the above were looked upon with complacency, and the perpetrators treated as respected and worthy citizens,--and that he was realizing the great truth, that, however man might endeavor to guide this war to the advantage of a favorite idea or sagacious policy, the Almighty was directing it surely and steadily for the purification of our country from this greatest of national sins.
But to return to my story. After sitting in the mood which I have described at such length, the General again turned to the prisoner, and said, in a quiet, subdued tone of voice,--
"Mr. Landry, I dare not trust myself to decide to-day what punishment would be meet for your offence, for I am in that state of mind that I fear I might exceed the strict demands of justice. I shall therefore place you under guard for the present, until I conclude upon your sentence."
A few days after, a number of influential citizens having represented to the General that Mr. Landry was not only a "high-toned gentleman," but a person of unusual "AMIABILITY" of character, and was consequently entitled to no small degree of leniency, he answered, that, in consideration of the prisoner's "high-toned" character, and especially of his "amiability," of which he had seen so remarkable a proof, he had determined to meet their views, and therefore ordered that Landry give a deed of manumission to the girl, and pay a fine of five hundred dollars, to be placed in the hands of a trustee for her benefit.
It is the passing through such scenes as I have described, and the contemplation of the condition to which Slavery has reduced society at the South, combined with a natural inclination to espouse the cause of the oppressed, that has placed General Butler in the front rank of the "Champions of Freedom."
I remember, so long ago as last July, his turning to me, after reading the story of our sad reverses in Virginia, and remarking that he believed God was directing the issues of the war for a great purpose, and that only in so far as we followed His guidance should we be successful. I have heard him repeat this in effect several times since, and have seen the conviction growing within his mind deeper and deeper, as events proved its correctness, down to the present time.
And yet an Episcopal clergyman of New York told me, the other evening, that General Butler was an Atheist.
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General Butler's forbearance and kindness of heart are, I think, well illustrated in the true history of his controversy with General Phelps last summer, in regard to the employment of negroes coming within our lines. His position on that question was at that time somewhat misunderstood. Indeed, a gentleman observed to me only a short time since, referring to General Butler's allowing General Phelps to resign, "General Butler served General Phelps just right."
"So he did," I replied; "but you and I probably differ some in our ideas of right and wrong."
The case, in brief, was this.
General Phelps--as good a man, as honest and whole-souled a patriot, and as brave and thorough a soldier as there is in the service--was in command at Carrolton,--our principal line of defence. The negroes escaping from the plantations had gathered about his camp to the number of many hundreds. General Phelps almost immediately initiated steps toward making them soldiers. The residents, greatly alarmed, or affecting to be, lest they should soon be the victims of an ungovernable armed mob, addressed the most urgent remonstrances to General Butler against General Phelps's proceedings. The General was much perplexed; the Government had not yet indicated any policy on this important subject, and although I am satisfied his sympathies were with General Phelps, (the alacrity with which he soon after organized negro regiments is the best evidence of this,) he did not feel justified in officially approving his course. Determined to avoid anything like a bitter opposition to a measure that his head and heart both told him was intrinsically right, he sought for a means of compromise. Circumstances soon furnished the opportunity.
The enemy was threatening the city with speedy attack, and it was deemed of the highest importance to cut away the thick growth of trees in front of Carrolton for nearly a mile. The General at once ordered General Phelps to set his negro brigade at this work, and in the order was particular to quote General Phelps's own opinion, previously delivered, on the necessity of the project. General Phelps, who was determined that the negroes should be soldiers or nothing, evasively declined obeying the order. General Butler then wrote him a letter presenting fresh arguments, showing how essential it was that the soldiers, who would soon be obliged to defend the city, should be spared as far as possible from unusual fatigue-duty, and inclosed a peremptory order for the performance of the work by the negroes. By the same messenger he also sent a confidential letter, which I wrote at his dictation, in which, in terms of the warmest friendship and honest appreciation of General Phelps's exalted courage, sincere patriotism, and other noble qualities, he begged him not to place himself in an attitude of hostility to his commanding officer. A more delicate, generous, or considerate letter I never read; but it was of no avail. General Phelps persisted in his refusal to obey, and tendered his resignation. What did General Butler do?
He would have been justified in the arrest and court-martial of General Phelps, and few men could resist so good an opportunity to assert their authority; but he knew that General Phelps had been for years the victim of the Slave Power, until his mind had become so absorbed in detestation of the institution that he was conscientiously and inexorably opposed to the slightest step that could even remotely be construed as assisting in its support. Moreover, General Butler's esteem for General Phelps was deep and sincere; and those who know the General well will readily understand how repugnant to his nature is the abrupt change from warm friendship to open hostility.
But to recur to my question,--What did General Butler do? He simply forwarded General Phelps's resignation to Washington, with the earnest request that the Government would proclaim some policy in regard to the contrabands, and shortly after, learning that the story of an intended attack on the city at that time was a canard, allowed the matter to drop. When, a little later, the enrolment of negroes in the United States' service was in order, where were they so promptly enlisted and equipped as in the grand old "Department of the Gulf"?
Reading the other day the retaliatory resolutions of the Rebel Congress recalled to my mind the terrible earnestness with which the General declared in New Orleans, "For every one of my black soldiers who may be murdered by their captors, two Rebel soldiers shall hang." And I know he meant it.
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The London "Times" has said that General Butler is a "monster of cruelty," devoid of every sentiment of benevolence or tenderness, and the cry has been taken up and echoed by the press of Continental Europe. Perhaps he is; but the thirty-four thousand poor people of New Orleans whom he fed every day refuse to believe it. I could wish that some of these libellers of his humanity had been in New Orleans to see the character of the crowd that thronged his office from morning till night. There were persons of almost every condition and color,--the great majority being poor and wretched men and women, who brought their every grief and trouble to lay at the feet of the man whom they believed possessed of the power and the will to redress every wrong and heal every sorrow. Was it surprising? Did it look as though they feared his fierce anger and his cruel wrath? Was it not rather the humble testimony of their instinct that he whose first and every act in their city was for the amelioration of suffering was the one to whom they should apply for relief in every woe? And what patience he exhibited under this great and increasing addition to his official cares! Unless the complaint or request were frivolous or disloyal, he always listened respectfully, and then applied the remedy to the wrong, or carefully explained the means suited to the relief of the distress, and the proper course for obtaining it.
Shortly after our arrival in New Orleans, the Sisters in charge of the Orphan Asylum of St. Elizabeth called upon the General and represented that institution as in a state of literal destitution from lack of provisions and the money with which to procure them. This unfortunate condition of suffering was one of the legitimate consequences of active Secession, and no one could be held responsible for it but the leaders of the Rebellion. But the General did not stop to discuss the question of responsibility; he knew that here were several hundred children who were crying for bread, and with characteristic promptitude gave them an order on the Chief Commissary for a very large amount of stores,--to be charged to his personal account,--adding a sum of five hundred dollars in money from his pocket.
The Convent of the Sacred Heart, near New Orleans, owed its continued existence almost entirely to his individual charities; and the same may be said of all the benevolent institutions in and about the city.
I have rarely seen him more angry than when he discovered that a committee of the City Council, who held, as trustees, the Touro Fund, left by its generous donor for the support of orphans, had outraged their trust by applying a large amount of the legacy to the purchase of munitions of war for the Rebellion. He had them brought under guard to the office, and, unable to restrain his contempt for the dishonor of the act, expressed his opinion in terms that must have scathed them fearfully, unless their sensibilities were utterly callous. He then sent them to Fort Pickens, there to remain until every cent of the money they had so wantonly diverted from its legitimate purpose should be repaid.
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One of the most striking of the General's traits is the quick comprehension which enables him to meet almost any question with a ready and commonly a witty reply.
During the earlier period of our occupation of New Orleans, persons were constantly applying to him to give them an order to search within our lines for runaway negroes; and it is a good illustration of the assurance of our enemies, that in a majority of cases the persons so applying were avowed traitors. The following is a fair sample of the conversation that would follow such an application.
"General, I wish you would give me an order to search for my negro," the visitor would commence.
"Have you lost your horse?" the General would ask, in reply.
"Have you lost your mule?" the General would add.
"No, Sir," the applicant for the order would answer, looking exceedingly puzzled at such unusual questions.
"Well, Sir, if you had lost your horse or your mule, would you come and ask me to neglect my duty to the Government for the purpose of assisting you to catch them?"
"Of course not," the visitor would reply, with increasing astonishment.
"Then why should you expect me to employ myself in hunting after any other article of your property?"
And with this comforting and practical application of the Dred-Scott decision, the ex-owner of the fugitive slave would take his departure, a wiser, and, I doubt not, a sadder man.
During an interview between the General and the Reverend Doctor Leacock, (Rector of Grace Church in New Orleans, and one of the three Episcopal clergymen who refused to read the prayer for the President, and were therefore sent North as prisoners, under my charge,) in which the General urged upon the Doctor his views on the injurious influence of disloyalty in the pulpit, sustaining his argument by prolific quotations from Scripture, recited with an accuracy and appositeness that few theologians could exceed, the Doctor replied,--
"But, General, your insisting upon the taking of the oath of allegiance is causing half of my church-members to perjure themselves."
"If that is the case, I am glad I have not had the spiritual charge of your church for the last nine years," (just the term of Dr. Leacock's pastorate,) the General answered, promptly.
After a lengthy conversation, the Doctor finally asked,--
"Well, General, are you going to shut up the churches?"
"No, Sir, I am more likely to shut up the ministers," he replied.
To the casual observer this would appear but a brilliant repartee, while, in fact, it was significant as indicative of a sagacious policy. Closing the churches would have given warrant to the charge of interference with the observances of religion. So careful was the General to avoid anything of this nature, that, in every instance where a clergyman was removed from his church, the very next Sunday found his pulpit occupied by a loyal minister.
As a great many excellent Churchmen have misunderstood the cause of the arrest of clergymen in New Orleans, I think I must add a word of explanation. The ministers so arrested were of the Episcopal denomination, in which the rector is required to read a liturgy prescribed by the General Convention. In this liturgy occurs "a prayer for the President of the United States," and its omission in their reading of the service was clearly an overt act of disloyalty, in that it was by unmistakable implication a declaration that they did not recognize the authority of the President of the United States; and it is a fact not generally known, that this omission in the service was supplied by the minister's regularly announcing, "A few moments will now be spent in silent prayer." Who can doubt the character and burden of this voiceless petition, when it is understood that it was the successor to an audible appeal--which General Butler suppressed--to Heaven for Jefferson Davis and the success of his cause?
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Another of the General's strongest characteristics is his firm faith, his ardent hopefulness. Never have I known him despondent as to the final result of this war. He believes it to be a struggle for principle and right, and therefore his confidence in the ultimate success of our arms never falters. Frequently disheartened myself at our apparent ill-fortune, I have listened to his cheerful predictions and expressions of unflagging trust, and have come away strengthened and confident.
After our return to the North, an ex-mayor of Chicago was introduced to the General at the St. Nicholas Hotel in New York. It was just at a time when our cause looked very gloomy. The Mayor was evidently much depressed by the indications of national misfortune, and in a tone of great despondency asked the General,--
"Do you believe we shall ever get through this war successfully?"
"Yes, Sir," the General answered, very decidedly.
"Well, but how?" asked the Mayor.
"God knows, I don't; but I know He does, so I am satisfied," the General replied.
And in this reply was contained an admirable expression of that earnest faith in the inevitable triumph of good over evil which forms so prominent a part of his nature.
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In this short sketch I have either entirely avoided or merely hinted at the traits which have given General Butler a world-wide distinction. His wonderful energy, his sagacity, his courage, his great executive and administrative ability, and, more than all, the marvellous comprehension, which, at the firing of the first gun at Fort Sumter, enabled him to grasp the subject of this Rebellion in all its magnitude and bearings, and in the means and measures for its suppression, are attributes made familiar to the world as "household words" by his unprecedented administration in New Orleans.
The story of the years of experience crowded into those eight short months of our sojourn in that city is worthy the pen of our country's ablest historian, and would fill volumes.
To relate all the instances of General Butler's kindness and generosity, his forbearance and magnanimity, while in New Orleans, would require more than all the space between the covers of the "Atlantic."
I have undertaken the grateful task of recording some of the more prominent scenes, where he displayed the kindly, genial traits so utterly inconsistent with the indiscriminate charges of cruelty, injustice, and wrong, preferred by his enemies,--traits that have inexpressibly endeared their possessor to every officer and soldier in his late army. Said an officer, but just returned from New Orleans, to me a few days since,--"I have heard of the infatuation of the Army of the Potomac to its earlier leader, but I do not believe their devotion is near so deep and earnest as that of the faithful men who followed General Butler from New England and the Northwest, through the campaign of New Orleans."
Not one of us who have been closely associated with him but watches with intense interest for the opportunity to arrive when he shall prove himself to be (as every one of us believes him to be) among the foremost of those predestined to lead our country through its baptism of blood and fire to a higher and grander destiny and glory than the most ardent dared even to hope for before the war.
Happy then shall I be, if in these few pages I have conveyed to the indulgent readers of this article some idea of the inner life and character of OUR GENERAL.
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