General Butler Biography


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, February 6, 1864

Harper's Weekly was the most popular newspaper during the Civil War, and was read by millions of Americans across the country. Today, these priceless treasures serve as a resource for those interested in learning more about the war.

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General Grant

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Butler Biography

General Butler Biography

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[FEBRUARY 6, 1864.


"Be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the thanks of Congress be and they hereby are presented to Major-General ULYSSES S. GRANT, and through him to the officers and soldiers who have fought under his command during the rebellion, for their gallantry and good conduct in the battles in which they have been engaged; and that the President of the United States be requested to cause a GOLD MEDAL to be struck, with suitable emblems, devices, and inscriptions, to be presented to Major-General GRANT.

"Section 2. And be it further resolved, That, when the said MEDAL shall have been struck, the President shall cause a copy of this joint resolution to be engrossed on parchment, and shall transmit the same, together with the said MEDAL, to Major-General GRANT, to be presented to him in the name of the people of the United States of America.

"Section 3. And be it further resolved, That a sufficient sum of money to carry this resolution into effect is hereby appropriated out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated."

[Passed without opposition in both Houses: Approved by the President and the Country.]



OWING to some delay in the transmission of the advance sheets of Mr. CHARLES DICKENS'S paper, we are obliged to omit, in the present Number, the continuation of the story, "A WHITE a HAND AND A BLACK THUMB." The story will be continued in our next Number, and will be regularly published until its completion.]


THE correspondence of the State Department, now published, shows how industrious Secretary Seward has been. The two most interesting points in it, of course, are the question of the English rebel rams and the French conquest of Mexico. Mr. Seward treats the first with firmness, ability, and skill. The sailing of the rams would have been undoubtedly a cause of war; for, as Mr. Seward well and plainly says to Mr. Adams, on the 5th of October, 1863: "The resistance of foreign aggression by all the means in our power, and at the hazard, if need be, of the national life itself, is the one point of policy on which the American people seem to be unanimous, and in complete harmony with the President." It was doubtless the continued success of our arms, supported by the most unflinching statement of this truth by Mr. Adams, which brought from Lord Russell, on the 8th of September, 1863, the extremely curt and crisp announcement that the rams would not sail. Throughout the correspondence Mr. Adams appears in the best light: prompt, calm, sagacious, persistent; nor has Lord Russell the least reason to congratulate himself upon any advantage in argument, comprehension, or temper.

The treatment of the Mexican question with France required of Mr. Seward not only firmness but adroitness. For, counting upon our defeat, Louis Napoleon has conquered and is occupying Mexico. It is step already taken. His dilemma is obvious: how to remain with safety, or how to retreat with honor. Our question is not less embarrassing: how to assert our traditional policy so as to persuade him that he had better withdraw. It is not an easy task. The Secretary states our policy thus: The United States have no right nor wish to interfere in the war between France and Mexico; but they believe that free institutions in the nations around them are essential to their own safety, and if France should adopt an adverse policy there would be great risk of serious collision between her and this country. On the 23d of October, 1863, Mr. Seward writes that this Government does not consider the war in Mexico ended, nor the Mexican Government with which it has friendly relations overthrown. Therefore it can not entertain any question of a new Government, but will recognize he sovereignty and independence of the Mexican people in whatever form that people may choose, in the exercise of an absolute freedom, to manifest them.

This is rather foggy. Does it mean that if they choose to manifest them in the form of an Austrian empire upheld by French bayonets that it will recognize it? Or does it mean that the choice of an empire will be regarded as proof that absolute freedom of election has not been exercised? Or is it left purposely foggy? It is not satisfactory, and is very probably not meant to be.

We wish that Mr. Seward could have omitted one or two phrases in the French correspondence, and that, without losing the tone of diplomatic courtesy, he could have avoided all taint of obsequiousness. Surely there was no need of saying that Louis Napoleon assumed the reins of empire in France "in obedience to her voice," because the empire was notoriously a coup d'etat. If his subsequent election was the result of an absolute freedom of choice, Mr. Seward can not refuse to acknowledge the same thing in Mexico, and recognize Maximilian as assuming the reins of empire "in obedience to her voice." Then, is it quite worthy the Secretary of State to present to Spain the continued enjoyment of slavery in Cuba as the reward of

friendship for the United States? If we had no other inducement to offer her, wouldn't it be better to take the risk of her hostility?

These are blemishes in a very able and remarkable diplomatic correspondence.


THE "Life of General Butler," by Mr. Parton, will show the interested reader why Mr. Reverdy Johnson, who was sent to New Orleans to investigate the General's conduct of affairs, so constantly thwarted that most able and skillful officer, and so invariably favored the enemies of his country and Government. He has made a speech in the Senate of the United States, and incidentally drops the explanation. It is because he considers the rebels "proud and sensitive." That the pride of the Government of the United States requires that the rebellion be so subdued that it may not burst forth again does not seem to occur to him. That the loyal people of the land may be quite as "sensitive" as rebel slaveholders is a fact he has yet to learn.

Does Mr. Senator Reverdy Johnson really think that the time has not gone by for the ancient and foolish twaddle about the "high spirit," the "gentlemanly tone," the "pride," and the "sensitiveness," of men who sell their own and other people's children? That in every condition of society which is barbarous, and slavery is the distinctive sign of barbarism, there should be a certain heat and fierceness of feeling, is attested by universal experience. The chiefs are always impatient of control, dictatorial, self-indulgent, dogmatic. They use the club, the bowie-knife, or the pistol, upon the least occasion. But why should a man like Mr. Johnson, who has had the advantage of mingling with a society of which respect for human rights is a cardinal principle, permit himself to repeat these phrases which are now as ludicrous as they are obsolete? Does this worthy and belated Senator really think that Charles Stuart was a man of higher "pride" than John Hampden, or that Strafford was more "sensitive" than Pym? The Southern people, who are not rebel leaders, may be an honest folk; but tickling the "proud and sensitive" nerves of slave masters is not the business which the American people now has in hand.


OUR view of the rebel prospects has received most striking confirmation in the tone of all the public as well as private news lately received from the seat of insurrection. The Raleigh (North Carolina) Standard has, indeed, one very striking article, in which it sets forth the astounding fact that the rebel Congress is controlled by members from States which do not belong to the Confederacy. Representatives from Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, impose, according to the Standard, "odious and oppressive laws," which can no more be enforced upon the people of those States than upon those of New York or New England!

Here is representative government with a vengeance! Here is a paradise of the people for which it was worth while to break away from the "Yankee despotism!" The rebel Congress, composed as we have stated, decrees taxes, impressments, and conscriptions upon the people of North Carolina, for instance, which it can not enforce in half of what is called "the Confederacy;" and unless we suppose a higher than the average degree of devotion to the rebellion upon the part of North Carolina, it will be presently taking steps, as the Standard says, to "protect her children."

It is very plain, from testimony of many kinds, that the mind of the deluded and betrayed Southern population is beginning to awake. They see that the world has gone on without Southern cotton for three years. They see that the secession which was to bring them such peace and prosperity has brought them untold woe. They see that the European powers, which were sure to acknowledge them, turn a colder shoulder than ever. They see their domain contracting; their families starving or carried off; trade at an end; industry only supporting an army which feeds upon them, and into whose ranks they are forced. They see their slaves freed, escaping, and restive. They see their soil saturated with the blood of their own children; and they see opposed to them a nation constantly reinforcing its armies, prospering and active and resolved, holding out to the people of the South the hand of fellowship on such terms as no honorable men will persistently reject. How long is this likely to continue?

The hold of the leaders of the rebellion upon the people is very tenacious, and its tenure is Slavery. For however wretched and poor the whites may be, just in the degree of their ignorance will they be content, so long as there is a proscribed race below them. Remove the proscription and you destroy their contentment. Remove the proscription and they turn upon their leaders and ask, "What are we fighting for? Without Slavery what is Southern Independence worth? And with Slavery are we not the most unmitigatedly wretched of American citizens?"

The very presence of our armies will teach them to ask these questions. We know, and the rebel chiefs know, and the Copperhead allies know, that to such questions there can be but one answer, and that these men will gladly agree that the Slavery which has enthralled them, and in which they had and could have no proprietary interest, shall be destroyed and forever. Then we shall have peace, and not before.


MR. PARTON'S "Life of General Butler" is a very valuable contribution to the history of the war, because it is so vivid a portraiture of the most remarkable man, upon the whole, that the war has developed. When the struggle began it was natural to suppose that the Yankee genius would show itself in prompt and daring action, in a perfect equality to every unexpected occasion, and a general readiness, wit, and practical wisdom, which are always associated with the Yankee name. But certainly there has been a profound disappointment in this expectation. Sturdy, steady, patient heroism we have seen, and clear principle and unshrinking resolution, but the typical Yankee traits have been nowhere so plainly and constantly exhibited as in the career of General Butler.

in the winter of 1860-'61 he saw that the war was coming, and, parting with his late political allies, went home to prepare to fight them as traitors and rebels. He apprehended the scope of the struggle, and from the moment he occupied Annapolis until that in which he is intrusted with the settlement of the question of exchange of prisoners, his shrewd insight, his self-possession, his various knowledge, his mother-wit, and his good-humored heroism, have enabled him to meet every kind of difficulty, and solve it with a success so brilliant, that the public confidence in his genius and resources is profound and general.

The earlier parts of his military career in Maryland are very interesting, and are related with great spirit by Mr. Parton. That gentleman does not spare the military plans and conceptions of General Scott, and it is certainly amusing to read that while that General was maturing a grand programme for capturing Baltimore (as his successor did afterward, for bagging the whole rebellion), by which four columns of three thousand men each were to move simultaneously upon the city, General Butler advanced into the environs with a few companies, halted them, trotted with his staff into the city, and Baltimore was taken. It has been held from that moment. The solemn snubbing administered to General Butler from head-quarters at Washington read, under the circumstances, like chapters from Gil Blas. The worship and cant of "strategy" had already begun.

The capture of Baltimore was characteristic of General Butler's method. It is the application of common sense, heroism, and perception to the case in hand. His disposition of the practical question of slavery, as he met it at Fort Monroe, was another striking illustration. The slaves in his eye were "contraband of war;" thus, as Theodore Winthrop said, slavery was abolished by an epigram.

But the occupation and government of New Orleans is the most signal event in his history. Has the war produced another man who could have done that work? Whether with rebels, or conditional Union men, or slaves, or slaveholders, or foreign consuls; with sea-captains, silly women, Bank presidents, mayors, common councils, and merchants; with questions of law, of precedent, domestic, international, and foreign, of the most stern and summary justice or the wisest forbearance—he carries the same high humor, copious resource, and inexorable decision; so that there is no way left for rebels, who are baffled by him at every turn and in every wile, but to call him Beast, and set a price upon his head. Mr. Parton very plainly intimates that General Butler's decisive way of dealing with all rebels, and rebel accomplices, in New Orleans, tended to a disturbance of the equanimity of our foreign relations, which Mr. Seward was assiduously striving to maintain, and that the Secretary of State was really the cause of General Butler's removal from the Department of the Gulf. General Banks followed him, to try the policy of conciliation, which almost cost us Louisiana. That was a policy which General Butler never approved from the outbreak of the rebellion, for he was profoundly persuaded that in trying to tickle tigers you run tremendous risks. General Banks did not persevere, and Louisiana has been retained.

From his previous intimacy with the leaders of the rebellion General Butler has always comprehended the significance of the war. He knew it was a radical struggle in which one principle or the other must prevail. The leaders he knew to be daring and desperate. The people he knew to be deluded; and probably no man is less surprised than he by the course the war has taken. Of all our conspicuous actors in the struggle no one has thrown himself into it more heartily, intelligibly, and unreservedly; and although he is yet scarcely in the prime of life, the copious and delightful biography of Mr. Parton shows General Butler to be already one of the most original characters in our history.


THE new rebel conscription law, without which the insurgent armies can not be reinforced, makes Jefferson Davis as absolute a Dictator as ever Robespierre was in France. The Macon Telegraph in Georgia plainly exposes the scheme. By the law of Mr. Brown every able-bodied man in the Confederacy, including the rebel President, Senators, Governors, and Judges is to be impressed into the service. Then if the lame, and blind, and superannuated are not enough to do the work necessary for the support of the army, men are to be detailed from the army for the purpose.

But who is to detail them? The worthy President of the Confederacy! Thus he has it all in his own hands. He is to detail the governors, judges, merchants, farmers, senators! A more ludicrous plan was never proposed. It virtually puts the power over every person and all property into the hands of one irresponsible man. We commend this last stroke to the profound consideration of the foreign and domestic gentlemen who are fond of contrasting the far-reaching sagacity of the Southern statesman with the puerile plans of Lincoln's minions.


BEFORE the last Presidential election there were certain papers and orators who used to inform us that if we did not vote for Mr. Breckinridge, or if Mr. Lincoln were elected, the grass would grow in the city of New York. Mr. Lincoln was elected, but the grass has not yet started, except in the Central Park.

Now that another election approaches the same papers are beginning the same tune. If Mr. Lincoln is voted for this time blood is to flow, and the election is to end in universal massacre. Would people know how to avoid such terrible consequences, ask the wiseacres, vote for our candidate!

It does not seem to occur to these astute politicians that an election carried under any threat of this kind is simply the end of Government, and the failure of the Democratic principle. If we can avoid civil war only by voting for one man the election is a farce, and the one man would do us all a signal service if he quietly took possession of the Government without the form of an election.

These Bourbon gentlemen, who learn nothing from events, can not see that the game of carrying elections by terror is, for the present at least, ended. When the leaders, now in rebellion, used to shake their heads solemnly and say that if they could not have their own way "the South" would be compelled to dissolve the Union, the nation used to surrender, and they graciously permitted the Union to continue. Their organs at the North were so well broken to this kind of tactics that they can not emancipate themselves, and are beginning, in the old way, to threaten the horrors that will befall us if we elect a President who pleases us.

There are certain old dogs in Italy which, long after they have lost their voices, still open their mouths fiercely and go through all the forms of barking. But they were never known to frighten any body.


THE many friends and former enthusiasts for Alexander Smith will be surprised by the limpid purity and simplicity of style with which he has written a book of essays in the character of a placid old man in the placid old village of "Dreamthorp" (J. E. Tilton & Co., Boston), which gives the title to the book, which is most neatly printed and bound. There are twelve most pleasant, gossiping essays, not like Bacon's or Emerson's or Montaigne's, but ripe and quiet and sunny, and a great deal more genial and agreeable than the Rev. Mr. Boyd's. "Dreamthorp" is a charming book for the cars, or a frosty evening by the fire, or a summer day in the country. It still seems quite impossible that the author of a "Life Drama" should have written "Dreamthorp," but we are inclined to think that the liking for the latter will be more permanent and genuine.

In the "Life of William H. Prescott," by George Ticknor (Ticknor & Fields), we have a sumptuous quarto; a work typographically exquisite and unique in American book-making; the printers being Welch, Bigelow, & Co., at the University Press, Cambridge. It is the life of an amiable scholar and gentleman, whose misfortune in the practical loss of sight not only did not sour his natural kindliness of nature, but kindled his ambition, so that, devoting himself to historical composition, he became a famous author. It is a purely literary life, and is certainly very interesting, enriched with many letters from distinguished men of the time, and abounding in that personal anecdote and gossip, which, while they amuse the reader, most clearly illustrate the subject of the memoir. Fortunate in all but his partial blindness, in family, friends, worldly ease, he leaned to the soft, polished, conservative side of life; and throughout the tale you move in a society as select as the book is sumptuous. There is the rustle of silks and satins, the exchange of perfumed compliments and billet-doux; the steady stream of mutual incense on every hand; drawing-rooms, courts, high society; until cold winds, poverty, and the battle of life, seem simply incredible. Mr. Ticknor's long and entire intimacy with Mr. Prescott peculiarly fitted him for writing the life, the successive events of which he has apparently most faithfully narrated. It would have been pleasant to find that Mr. Prescott had the heroism of a great scholar; that he did not shrink from contact with public affairs at a time when no man of influence and talent should have refused to give his heartiest sympathy and service, after his kind, to his country; and to discover that he was never deluded by the dull indifference to human welfare which calls itself conservatism. But every scholar can not be Milton or Languet; and Prescott's gay, genial, and graceful nature, fitted (Next Page)





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