Part 4 — The Administration of General Butler, 1862

By Larry Lowenthal

Formed on deck in sight of the bitter, resentful crowd, the soldiers of the 31st loaded their muskets, being sure to hold the balls up in full view before dropping them down the barrel “so that they can see we are loaded with balls and mean business.” [Shaftoe diary, May 1, 1862] Company by company, they disembarked and confronted the seething mob, many in it wearing portions of Confederate uniforms and spitting curses and threats, punctuated by cheers for Jeff Davis or hometown favorite General Beauregard. (One has to wonder why so many active and demonstrably partisan men were not in uniform; a psychologist might theorize that they were overcompensating.) Accompanied by the regimental band playing patriotic tunes and under strict orders not to yield to provocation, the 31st Mass. marched through the streets of the Queen City. “Squads of mounted men on the flanks and in the rear did all in their power to keep the mob back . . . On our flanks especially were we hooted and jeered, some of the boys would get as close to us as they could and while keeping step with us would sing or whistle the Bonnie Blue Flag, or I wish I was in Dixie . . .” [Young recollections, 25] In deep twilight they reached the Custom House, a massive five-story granite building originally planned by Beauregard, but still lacking a roof. One soldier saw its incomplete state as “a proof of southern enterprise,” although it was constructed with federal funds [Hawkes letters, May 4, 1862].  Here the 31st came to rest, using the second floor as quarters, except for one company that stayed on the sidewalk as guards. Butler and his wife set up home in the St. Charles Hotel, guarded by members of the 31st.

Brigadier General Benjamin Franklin Butler

Brigadier General Benjamin Franklin Butler

Many in the crowd strained to catch a glimpse of their conqueror, who had gained considerable notoriety even before he arrived. The General, inflamed by reports of a riotous mob and desecration of the flag, was prepared to rule harshly. These reports would have reminded him of Baltimore, almost exactly a year earlier. Moreover, we should keep in mind that most northerners saw the South as an inherently violent place. They noted incidents such as the brutal attack on a defenseless Massachusetts Senator Sumner on the floor of the Senate several years before, which was widely applauded in the South, as well as the southern penchant for fighting duels and the intrinsic violence of the slave system, of which millions had recently read in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. True, a northerner such as John Brown had committed violent acts, but they could be dismissed as the work of a crank, not a central element of the culture. In this frame of mind, Butler launched his rule by issuing a stern proclamation setting out the conditions under which the turbulent city would be administered.

Gen. Butler's HQ in New Orleans (Image Library of Congress)

Gen. Butler’s HQ in New Orleans
(Image Library of Congress)

The company that guarded Gen. Butler at the St. Charles occupied what was formerly the Bar Room, described colorfully by one of the soldiers:

It is large, of circular form, a marble counter runs around about one half — this is the bar. It was also [a] kind of general auction room. There are several stands and I have the testimony of a “resident” that on two stated days every week there was an auction of “niggers” held here, at which time liquor and blood flowed freely. So you can think, of your boy as sleeping on the very spot where souls were formerly struck off to the highest bidder. The room is lighted by gas, and with plenty of water in an adjoining room, it seems rather preferable to laying in the sand. [Hawkes letters, May 23, 1862]

In his general orders, McClellan had expressed the hope that Butler could station his men across the river in Algiers and keep them out of the big city. Presumably he was worried that they would succumb to the multitudinous temptations the city offered, and he had reason to fear disease and the ever-present possibility that the sight of blue-coated soldiers could provoke a riot. He also believed that strong Union sentiment would come to the surface and make it possible to govern the city without overt military interference. It was true that in 1860 a considerable part of the Louisiana population had been Unionists or people who sought compromise short of secession; however the activist new governor Moore, had maneuvered the state into secession, and once that faction took control Union feelings were steadily suppressed. Under these conditions, Butler quartered most of his troops in New Orleans, although he maintained outposts all around, including the captured forts. He attempted to work through the existing city administration, but it proved incapable or unwilling to carry out his requests. Thus, step by step, he established a personal dictatorship in the captured city. In all of this, as he said in his memoirs, “I never received any direction or intimation from Washington or anywhere else how I should conduct the expedition or carry on the administration of the government . . . .” [Butler’s Book, 386]

Even Butler’s numerous critics acknowledged his extraordinary capacity for work, and while his strategic sense might be debatable, no one questioned his organizational ability. In the absence of guidance and organized opposition, he set about running the territory under his control according to his own principles. Economic disruption had left many inhabitants on the edge of starvation, and Butler found ways, some of them blunt, to feed the populace. Consistent with the policies he had espoused in Massachusetts, he made the rich, who he blamed for starting the war, pay for the support of the lower classes, which bore its consequences. When his troops entered the city, a common taunt from the jeering crowd was “Yellow Jack will get you,” referring to endemic yellow fever. Northern soldiers would have no resistance, so the snarled threats had a fearful basis. Butler had conducted a personal study of the disease, and although its cause remained unknown, he concluded that its progress was related to filthy conditions. With minimal help from the local government, he made the city cleaner than it had been in decades. He used the occasion to land another jab at West Point, saying that “[sanitary] science is not taught” there, although “the want of its proper application to the troops in the field kills more men than are killed by bullets . . . .” [Butler’s Book, 412]

Butler in New Orleans (Image Library of Congress)

Butler in New Orleans
(Image Library of Congress)

Any men who objected to Butler’s rule always had the option of joining the Confederate Army, or at least the Home Guard. But as one member of the 31st observed: “Especially were those fellows who wore the Confederate uniforms most insulting. Many of them had deserted their regiments while en route from the city, while others had belonged to the Home Guards, and had hid themselves away in their Homes during the surrender, and now came forth full of that bravado which is always to be found in cowards.” [Young recollections, 26] The high-born women were a different matter. They remained unrestrained in their vituperation, constantly insulting or spitting on Union officers, throwing waste on them from their balconies, or making conspicuous gestures of contempt, such as ostentatiously getting off streetcars when federal soldiers boarded. This behavior quickly became intolerable to the northern officers, and after hearing their complaints, Butler devised another of his imaginative, indirect solutions. As he said, it was hardly possible to pursue the women into their boudoirs or drag them through the streets; instead he issued the famed “Woman Order,” (Department of the Gulf General Order No. 28) dated May 15, 1862:

As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans, in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall, by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the U.S., she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.

 This provoked instant outrage, some of it staged, throughout the South and among certain elements in England. It appeared that Butler was assaulting the central myth of southern (white) womanhood by declaring that they were all prostitutes. Southern propaganda played up this interpretation to the fullest extent, trying to renew patriotism in the aftermath of several damaging defeats. In fact, as Butler explained, proper behavior toward prostitutes was to ignore them, and his proclamation indeed seemed to bring a rapid decline in offensive incidents. There was no reconciliation, but a chilly modus viviendi now prevailed. Butler’s subtle approach to the problem earned him the indelible alliterative nickname “The Beast,” as in Benjamin “the Beast” Butler. He had a thick skin on some parts of his person and probably found this amusing.

According to one account, another unflattering nickname came about through actions of the 31st Mass. Some members of Company K were stationed at the Adams House hotel, and promptly “began to investigate the cupboards and closets to see if the former inmates had left anything behind that could be converted into cash . . . .” [Young recollections, 28] They discovered some spoons with the hotel monogram which they sold to a pawn shop and converted to “several canteens of whiskey.” Later, the “old Jew” who ran the shop testified that Butler’s soldiers had brought the spoons there, but he could hardly know which regiment they belonged to. This report somehow became transformed into an allegation that the general himself had stolen or confiscated the spoons. He probably found the nickname “Spoons Butler” less amusing, as it highlighted the persistent accusations that he and brother Andrew Jackson Butler had enriched themselves through private transactions during their tenure in Louisiana. [The soldiers may have believed this account, but it is not the most common or likely explanation of how the nickname “Spoons” originated; see, for example, Hearn, 222-23.]

In his initial report to the Secretary of War after the fall of New Orleans, Butler asserted that “Mobile is ours whenever we choose, and can better wait.” [to Stanton, May 8, 1862; Marshall, I:428]  However, the general and Flag Officer Farragut found that they lacked the strength to divert for the capture of another port. Farragut was eager to disentangle from the sticky situation he had got himself into at New Orleans and wanted to open up more of the Mississippi before his colleagues further north could do so. He moved upriver and occupied the state capital of Baton Rouge. Butler sent a force of 1500 (including the 30th Mass., but not the 31st), under Gen. Thomas Williams, a regular army officer. The combined force came up before the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg in late June, accompanied by Porter’s mortar fleet. Naval guns could not be elevated enough to batter Vicksburg, high on a bluff; nor were the mortars effective. Lacking either naval or ground forces sufficient to take the position, Farragut decided on June 28 to run past the fort as he had done below New Orleans. Once again he succeeded, in another dress rehearsal for his final exploit at Mobile late in the war that earned him lasting fame (and a superb statue in New York City by the famed sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens).

Gen. Thomas Williams (Image Library of Congress)

Gen. Thomas Williams
(Image Library of Congress)

Having accomplished that, with risk and loss, Farragut found that his overall position was scarcely improved. Butler, true to character, devised a scheme to dig a channel that would divert the Mississippi into a new course — the sort of thing it did regularly of its own accord — that would leave Vicksburg inland and inconsequential. Using slaves who had escaped or been taken from surrounding plantations, Williams began this labor. It was not an inherently bad idea, and General Grant later adopted it; but the river defeated the plan by dropping to an unusually low level. Williams commenced another canal, this time using his own troops, as well as plantation labor. Described as a “martinet” with little concern for his men, he drove them brutally, amassing a casualty list that would have been considered severe if it had occurred in battle. [Winters, 108-109] One of the suffering regiments was the 9th Conn., a largely Irish unit that Butler had taken in hand at Camp Chase when it appeared unmanageable to authorities in its own state. Having been molded into an effective organization, many of its members found final rest in unmarked graves hastily dug in the Mississippi mud.

Though they may not have been aware, the 31st Mass. nearly suffered this miserable fate. Butler had over 15,000 troops in his division, but he soon learned that, after garrisoning outlying posts, providing for administrative functions, and allowing for sickness, he had relatively few effectives to send on new expeditions. On June 6, 1862, he informed Williams that he was about to send the 31st Mass., a Vermont regiment, and cavalry and artillery units. [Marshall, I:563; OR, Ser. I, v. XV, 25] Fortunately for the 31st, outside events soon caused Butler to reconsider. On June 10 he advised Secy. Stanton “By the news which has come . . . of the repulse of Gen. Banks [in the Shenandoah Valley] and the danger of the capital, now aided by exaggerated reports of the rout of the troops under General Mc Clellan, the city is so much moved that weakening my force here too much might possibly provoke a demonstration . . . . I have scarcely 3500 men in the city fit for duty, and to take away a good regiment would be hazardous.” [OR, Ser. I, v. XV, 465; Marshall, I:568] Tupper in the 31st Mass. was aware that the only regiments in the city were his, the 26th Mass., the 13th Conn., and the 12th Maine; with the 1st Maine Battery as the only artillery. [letter, July 22, 1862] If a private, even a well-informed one like Tupper, had this knowledge, it must have been known to the enemy as well. Butler had demonstrated that he did not hesitate to subject regiments he had personally organized to danger; indeed, he preferred and often requested New England troops. Fortuitous circumstances had spared dozens of men in the 31st Mass. from disease and death.

Increasingly worried about a threat to Baton Rouge, Butler ordered Williams to return from Vicksburg on July 16. Farragut likewise saw the futility of persisting and came back down river a week later. Thus the first campaign against the Confederate citadel ended in abject failure, pushing the problem into another year and a much more costly struggle. On the Confederate side, Major General Earl Van Dorn replaced Gen. Mansfield Lovell, who was being made the scapegoat for the loss of New Orleans. Van Dorn ordered Gen. John C. Breckinridge to retake Baton Rouge, and a substantial battle was fought on August 5, 1862, in which neither side covered itself with glory. The Confederates had counted on support from the ironclad ram Arkansas, but its regular commander was not present and the vessel needed major overhaul. It made a valiant effort to join the fray, but engine failure disabled it and it had to be destroyed, a severe blow to Confederate efforts to defend the waterways. [Maurice Melton. The Confederate Ironclads (Thomas Yoseloff, 1968), 138-141.] The Union force barely held on, but Butler withdrew from the city August 21. In the battle, the 30th Mass. was held in reserve, and the 31st was not present. General Williams was killed (one wonders whether he was shot from the front or behind) and former Vice-president Breckinridge suffered the loss of an arm. This was the man who Butler had, with some reluctance, supported for president in 1860. For all its immensity, the Civil War sometimes spun in a tight vortex.

Soon after the battle, some 350 sick and wounded men arrived from Baton Rouge. Asa Wheeler wrote “I was at the wharf when they were brought on shore — some were able to walk — others were conveyed on stretchers borne by 2 men to the different ambulances which were waiting for them.” [Wheeler diary, Aug. 7, 1862] Others were taken to the Marine Hospital, which “is filled (some 700) with sick brought from up the river — one of our boys who is on guard there was up to camp this morning. He describes it as the saddest place he was ever in, the men being literally wasted away from exposure &c., many having what is called the swamp fever.” [Hawkes letters, Aug. 16, 1862]

Also downriver came rebel prisoners:

There were some fifty of them and a hardy looking set of fellows. They were mostly Kentuckians and Louisianians with some Albamians [sic]. There were two or three of the former as rough specimens of humanity as ever I saw. Only a very few seemed glad to be captured, the rest had no hesitation in expressing their determination to fight us if they could get chance. When first brought down their clothing was filthy in the extreme — it was of all sorts, few having anything like a uniform. They received donations of clothing so as to be able to look quite respectable. [Hawkes letters, Aug. 16, 1862; emphasis in original]

If the North succeeded in its war aims, these men would be Hawkes’s fellow citizens, voting in the same elections and putting representatives in the same Congress.

Tupper, who was detached from the regiment as a brigade quartermaster clerk and had relatively free run of the city, saw the steamer Diana bring down a load of rebel prisoners from Baton Rouge:

             There are all sorts of looking fellows among them, gray-headed old rebels and young guerillas. No one had a full uniform. Some have a uniform coat & some pants & cap & all varieties of shirts, calico, etc. They seem to enjoy themselves first-rate & our boys are on good terms with them. They brought them their supper of coffee & hard bread while I was there. One prisoner hallooed “Fall in, rebels,” & they gathered around the rations laughing & joking. [letter, Aug. 16, 1862]

Tupper recounted a story that one reason the southerners lost at Baton Rouge was that they stopped to loot Yankee camps they had overrun because they had not been fed before going into battle, and that one dead rebel was found clutching a loaf of bread.

After about two weeks in the city, the 31st Mass. was replaced at the Custom House by the 13th Conn. and took up quarters at Annunciation Square. [Rich diary, May 15, 1862] Considering the misfortunes the regiment had endured early in its history, it was lucky to escape both the first Vicksburg campaign and the battle of Baton Rouge. Instead, it was occupied guarding a number of posts in and around New Orleans, escorting and protecting Unionists, performing a variety of provost marshal duties, and searching out those who were aiding the Confederacy. In conducting these diffuse activities, the men daily encountered complex social and economic situations that could hardly have been anticipated or taught in training. Probably accustomed to thinking of “The South” as a uniform bloc, they must have been astonished by the human diversity they observed. One of the most troublesome issues had to do with slaves. Despite Butler’s direct request for instructions, the Lincoln administration resolutely refused to take a firm public stand on the slavery issue. In Louisiana the difficulty was compounded by the actions of one of Butler’s favorite officers, Gen. John W. Phelps of Vermont.

Gen. John W. Phelps (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Gen. John W. Phelps
(Image Wikimedia Commons)

Phelps, was a passionate abolitionist and a former regular army officer, a combination of which he may have been the only representative, and it is a wonder how he survived in that environment. Butler had never met Phelps until they were stationed at Fortress Monroe, but came to respect him despite immense differences in temperament, appearance, and political attitude. He had acquired Phelps’s services by strong direct appeal. In requesting that the Vermonter be promoted to brigadier, he wrote: “although some of the regular officers will when applied to say that he is not in his right mind, the only evidence I have seen of it is a deep religious enthusiasm upon the subject of Slavery, which in my judgment does not unfit him to fight the battles of the North.” [to Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, July 23, 1861; Marshall, I:177]

Placed in command of Fort Parapet, a post on the river near Carrollton, approximately seven miles from downtown New Orleans, Phelps began to enact his abolitionist principles, encouraging slaves to desert and sometimes capturing them from plantations. He treated them as free labor, supported dependents at government expense, and began to train some of the men as soldiers, all without the authorization of Butler and certainly not the approval of the administration in Washington. This behavior irritated many other officers, among them Capt. Edward Page, Jr. of the 31st Mass., who was responsible for repairing a levee, preventing crimes by soldiers and slaves, and protecting Union sympathizers who had safeguards from Butler. He informed Butler that it was impossible to carry out these orders “if the soldiers from Camp Parapet are allowed to range the country, insult the planters, and entice negroes away from their plantations.” He added that “If on any of the Plantations here a negro is punished when he most deserves it, the fact becoming known at General Phelps’ camp, a party of soldiers are sent immediately to liberate them, and with orders to bring them to Camp.” Page gave several examples and concluded that “While, Sir, such acts are permitted, it is utterly impossible to call upon the negroes for any labor, as they say that they have only to go to the fort to be free, and are therefore very insolent to their masters.” Page also complained that Phelps had sent down 80 “contraband” women and children in the expectation that Page would feed them. [May 27, 1862; Marshall, I:524]

Butler displayed unusual patience as Phelps disregarded orders and suggestions. Eventually Butler ordered him to use some former slaves on a construction project. Phelps angrily objected, saying he was not going to become a slave-driver, and submitted his resignation. The commander did not accept this and refused to grant a leave of absence “in the face of an enemy,” but he forwarded the request to Washington, where it was approved. [Butler to Phelps, OR, Ser. I, v. XV, 536-37] Phelps’s stormy career ended back home in Brattleboro, VT.

At the time of his quarrel with Phelps, Butler shared and expounded the general opinion of white officers that the ex-slaves would make poor military material. The evolution of his thinking on that subject is a microcosm of the overall northern attitude, brought about largely by necessity. Butler’s first step in that direction was his adoption into federal service of the Native Guard, an organization of free blacks that had been accepted in prewar Louisiana, thus making it impossible for the South to argue that he was fomenting a slave uprising. Apparently trying to make this move less threatening, Butler noted that “the darkest of whom will be about the complexion of the late Mr. [Daniel] Webster.” [to Secy. Stanton, Sep. 1, 1862; Marshall, II:244 On another occasion Butler observed that most of these men were lighter than Pierre Soule, the Louisiana Creole former senator and minister to Spain, with whom Butler had many unpleasant interchanges early in his administration (West, 168)].  Federal officials accepted the Native Guard recruits’ word that they were freemen; nor would there have been any reliable means of checking their status had they wanted to. [Winters, 145]  Although conducted under special circumstances, this may represent the first recruitment of African-Americans into the Union Army. Years later, in a vastly different political climate, Butler made that claim in his autobiography: “the first regiment of colored troops ever mustered into the service of the United States during the War of the Rebellion.” [Butler’s Book, 493]  It is probably coincidental that the Emancipation Proclamation followed soon after and in any case did not take effect until January 1863. Butler followed by mustering two more African-American regiments. All of the recruits affirmed that they were free, which was physically true at that moment, but how they had attained that condition was not asked.

With accustomed activism, Butler pursued other kinds of recruiting. As early as May 16 he had advised Stanton “I can enlist a Regiment or more here, if the Department think it desirable, of true and loyal men.” When he added archly “I do not think however that Governor Moore would commission the officers,” he undoubtedly was reminding the Secretary of his dispute with Massachusetts Governor Andrew over that issue and recalling his gibe that the governors of Massachusetts and Kentucky shared similar ideas. [Marshall, I:494; emphasis in original]  Granted permission, Butler quickly signed up underemployed whites, many of them foreigners, as well as former Confederates, including paroled veterans of the Fort Jackson and St. Philip garrisons. Standards were probably lowered, leading Tupper to write “they will let anybody out of Prison if they will enlist. More recruits have been got for the Louisiana Regiment out of prisons than palaces.” [letter, Aug. 12, 1862] In little more than three months, Butler recruited a full infantry regiment of avowedly loyal men and three companies of cavalry. He also filled the depleted ranks of the existing regiments, the 31st Mass. among them, with 1200 new men. [Butler to Stanton, Aug. 14, 1862; Marshall, II:191; Sep. 1, 1862; Marshall, II:244] Tupper thought that “These recruits, many of them make good soldiers, a good many of them have been in the Confederate service, but no reliance can be placed on them. They will desert, steal, & had better be in prison than anywhere else.” [letter, Aug. 12, 1862] Conspicuous among these New Orleans recruits were four men named Schill, aged 18, 19, 21, and 60, all signed up May 12, 1862 and placed in Company A. The three young ones are almost too close in age to be brothers, but the oldest may have been the father of some of them. While the three youths served to the end of their term, the old man died of disease in October 1863.

One positive result of the local recruiting was that the regiment obtained or improved a band, and Tupper was pleased to report that “every night they play in the square popular national airs.” [letter, June 24, 1862] Many local Irishmen replenished the ranks of the 9th Conn., perhaps reuniting with neighbors who had taken a different ship out of Cobh. [West, 168]

It seems that there was a deliberate push to improve the quality of regiments such as the 31st Mass. On May 25, in Butler’s first month in New Orleans, he sent Secretary Stanton a revealing exposition of his thinking on recruitment and health:

I am further inclined to believe that the idea that our men here cannot stand the climate, and therefore the negroes must be freed and armed as an acclimated force, admits of serious debate.

My command has been either here or on the way from Ship Island since the first of May, some of them on shipboard in the river since the 17th of April. All the deaths in the General Hospital in this city since we have been here are only 13 from all causes; two of these being accidental . . . From diseases at all peculiar to the climate I do not believe we have lost in the last thirty days one-fifth of one percent in the whole command, taking into account also the infirm and debilitated who ought never to have passed the surgeon’s examination and come here . . . [Marshall, I:520]

At that point he was still arguing against the need to employ black troops, but the key phrases may be those at the end. Butler was undoubtedly correct in asserting that in the eagerness to recruit, which might bring officer status to those who did so, many men slipped through who should not have been accepted. A letter published in the Springfield Republican during this period supports Butler’s position, though he was probably unaware of it:

But send us men and not moribund bodies. Better draft at once than send such recruits as were admitted into some of our late regiments. Let me differ from you a little, Messrs. Editors, on this point. You complain of unnecessary strictures in the examinations at Worcester, and say there is need of more leniency now that the number to draw from is so reduced. I doubt if you will find a surgeon or officer who has served six months in the army to support you. Had you seen the lists of discharged men from our regiment alone, you would have found it, in very many cases, existing before enlistment. No men with flat foot, hernias, stiff joints, or inclined to rheumatism should be received. They will not last six months. We might as well have 300,000 babies as to have that number made up of men whose organs and functions are not perfect. [Aug. 26, 1862 (dated Aug. 11) not signed, but attributed to Capt. Nettleton by Frederick Rice (letter Sep. 11, 1862); emphasis in original]

Judging by the results, Butler made a concerted effort to sort out those unable to serve, much as he had done to winnow the Massachusetts militia before the war began. In the months of May, June, and July 1862, 82 men were discharged for disability from the 31st Mass., the great majority in the period June 16-22, which makes it look like a systematic campaign. This total was by no means evenly distributed among the companies, with only two discharged from Company C but 16 from Company I, all on June 20 in what amounted to a major purge. It is possible that a ship was due to sail north at that time, which could return the sickly men to healthier climes. Among those discharged was probably the only resident of Cape Cod in the 31st Mass. Bearing a characteristic Cape Cod name, Ira Nickerson, a 44 year-old fisherman from Harwich, served only four months in Company K before being sent home on June 16. It is revealing that he was able to endure the harsh life of fishing, but serving in the army broke his health. Somewhat contradicting Butler’s assertions about overall good health, 18 men in the regiment died in those three months. Altogether, the regiment lost something in the range of 10% of its remaining strength in that period, so it is not surprising that local recruitment was an appealing prospect.

Another three men were removed from the ranks after being convicted by a judge of the provost court. This was made into an instructive ceremony on June 20:

Two men were drumed [sic] out of camp at dress parade. One of them was Old Sullivan, put and kept in irons for stabbing Capt. Lee at Pittsfield. The way the druming [sic] out was done was this. Four guards were in first file and two in next, one each side of the prisoners, and two more guards behind them at charge bayonets. The others were at a shoulder and then there were three. The procession marched down the line and back and over the lines, playing the Rogues March. There was a great crowd of people on three sides of the square to witness the scene. [Underwood diary, June 20, 1862]

This was repeated for another offender on June 22, and Underwood reports that a fourth undesirable was drummed out on July 3. [diary] . The two other than Sullivan were privates in Company I, one of whom was dismissed “for disobedience and recklessness.” [Rich diary, July 20, 1862]  Sullivan had been tried April 1, while the regiment was still on Ship Island. [Shaftoe diary, Apr. 1, 1862]  He had apparently been hauled in chains through all the regiment’s travels from Camp Seward to a public square in New Orleans. As noted previously, his identity remains uncertain, although it seems highly coincidental that a Michael Sullivan was reported as “discharged for disability” on June 21. The one day difference could be a simple clerical error, but the differing reason for leaving the regiment cannot be explained away as easily (unless he was discharged for mental instability, of which he showed signs when he committed his offense).

Earlier, some members of the 31st had been present for another, and more consequential, public spectacle. Butler had been infuriated on learning that the Union flag had been torn down at the mint and desecrated. He vowed to punish the offender and almost immediately after arriving in the city arrested William B. Mumford. After trial by a military tribunal on May 30, Mumford was sentenced to be hanged in the courtyard of the mint on June 7. Despite pleas from Mumford’s family and others, Butler, in an act of calculated vengeance, carried out the sentence. He thus demonstrated that he meant business and at the same time created another southern martyr. Tupper, with his strain of independent thinking, was unimpressed by the proceeding: “For my part, although I like to see the course of action which indicates the power & strength of our government, I don’t think Mumford ought to have been hung more than 10,000 others in the City . . . . This poor fellow who, in the excitement of the hour & urged on by a mob, tears down the flag when our army was not yet in the City, hung. I can’t see the justice of the thing.” [letter, June 9, 1862]

Rice’s sharp comment about “300,000 babies” was prompted by a subject much on the soldiers’ minds at that moment: recruitment. McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign and western battles such as Shiloh showed that the demands of war were insatiable beyond what anyone could have imagined in the bonnie Spring of 1861. To feed this human furnace, the Lincoln administration obtained legislation in July 1862 to call up 300,000 militiamen for up to nine months. At the same time, under an earlier law, the government was recruiting another 300,000 troops to serve for three years. The overall effect was mitigated somewhat by a formula that counted a long-term man as four nine-month men, so that the total called up at that time was considerably less than 600,000. By then the prewar militia had lost whatever flimsy organization it possessed, as the individuals or entire units most capable of active service had volunteered. Each state was thus assigned a quota based on population, and in Massachusetts at least that number was distributed among the counties and towns, also by population.

The subject was intensely interesting to the men of the 31st Mass., who would be serving alongside the recruits and might be acquainted personally with them, if any of the new Massachusetts regiments were assigned to the Department of the Gulf. There was also a current of envy and resentment because the new men were being offered bounties of varying amounts, which had not generally been the practice for the volunteer regiments. Veteran troops, as the 31st Mass. now were, held conflicting feelings toward the recruits—gratitude for the relief they would provide, mixed with a taint of anger that it had taken a combination of threats (conscription) and bribes (bounties) to propel them forward. While Rich and Norris took a certain pride in observing that Massachusetts, and the North in general, had not found it necessary to resort to conscription, Rice, characteristically, emphasized the opposite point. In early 1863 he wrote “The best news I’ve heard lately is the passage of the Conscription Act. I hope it’ll catch all those fellows that have been trying so hard to stay at home.” [Rich diary, Sep. 30, 1862; Norris letter Aug. 16, 1862; Rice letter, Mar. 15, 1863] Norris displayed the internal clash of opinions, as he often referred to the nine-month recruits as “$200 men.” [letter, Feb. 24, 1863]

Returning to the subject of conscription later in the year, Norris sounded almost as bellicose as Rice, with whom he was probably acquainted only slightly, if at all. By then conscription was fully in force and Norris had attained his 18th birthday. From this platform of greater maturity, he wrote:

You say that they are going to commence the draft again next Jan. and I hope they will, and I hope this time that they will take every able bodied man and put them right in the field, for now is the time when they are wanted the most. I don’t see what in time is the matter with the men of the North. Are they “cowards,” or what is it. I should think when they heard that there were men wanted that they would rise in one body and show some of the blood of their “Fore Fathers” and make one desperate strike, and I’ll wager this thing would be settled up in “short order,” but no they had rather stay at home and hear the news of their countrymen being shot down. [letter Nov. 7, 1863; emphasis in original]

Pvt. Tupper entered the discussion of recruitment with an astonishingly caustic remark: “To fool 100,000 more young, green patriots to take up arms to fight for slavery, Brigade Sutlers, & contractors for Army shoes is tough.” [letter, June 9, 1862] Subsequently he used the occasion to express his immense disdain for his home town of Hardwick, advising men from there to enlist: “I can’t imagine one single reason why they should want to stay in Hardwick. If I was out of the army I should want more than $100 bounty to keep me at Hardwick.” [letter Aug. 16, 1862] His father, Rev. Martyn Tupper, had been the first pastor of the breakaway First Calvinistic Society of Hardwick when it was formed in 1828. He remained in that post until 1835 but then returned to be reinstalled in 1852. [Paige, 215, 218] Though not born in Hardwick, James B. T. Tupper had spent nearly half his life there, a familiarity that left him singularly unimpressed. It seems apparent that he was one of those whose main incentive for enlisting was to get away from home. Conversely, military life made Thomas Norris appreciate his home town all the more: “I have got it into my head that Somerville is my home and I do not know how it will seem to live anywhere else, and I do not think that I shall ever have such a good home again as that one afforded me.” [letter, Dec. 2, 1863; emphasis in original]

In his frequent wandering around the ever-fascinating metropolis, Tupper developed an ability to discern subtle changes of mood. Like everyone, military or civilian, his antennae were constantly twitching to detect signs of how the struggle was progressing. At times he found indications that gave cause for hope, as when he wrote “New Orleans is getting to be quite a respectable city. The people consider Yankees just as good as anybody else, & as I walk along the street folks bow politely as though I was an old resident.” [letter, June 16, 1862] In a similar vein, he noted that “no man is afraid now to speak Union sentiments or raise the Union flag.” [letter, July 2, 1862] He was heartened by the number of Union flags he saw on July 4th and thought there would have been more if fabric had been available. Observing an enthusiastic Union meeting boosted his spirits, but watching the demonstration when 300 Confederates were exchanged had the opposite effect: “There was a large crowd on the levee & the ladies waved their handkerchiefs to the deluded rebels who go out to battle against their country.” [letter, Oct. 8, 1862] The year ended on a distinctly gloomy note, as news of the disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg appeared. Tupper was forced to concede that “The South have demonstrated their ability to maintain their independence, but we’ve got to keep on fighting, I suppose, till Old Abe gets out of office.” [letter, Dec. 23, 1862] The resigned, ambiguous tone of the concluding sentence is capable of various interpretations, none seemingly flattering to the administration.

Sickness of varying severity seemed widespread, though Butler may have been correct in claiming that it was not “at all peculiar to the climate,” such as the dread yellow fever. Much of the illness was probably due to unfamiliar water and food, which were even less clean than what the men were accustomed to. Within their first month in New Orleans, one soldier in the 31st reported that “The hot weather and bad water begin to have a bad effect on the troops. Quite a number are sick and complaining.” [Rich diary, May 27, 1862] The army had confiscated the St. Charles Hotel for use as a hospital. Its physical elegance remained, but the atmosphere was greatly altered:

The surroundings of the hospital were not conducive to a rapid building up. In every ward and room lay strong men reduced to skeletons, with not a vestige of color in their faces, and wild cries of those in delirium rang through the corridors. The percentage of deaths must have been large. Every day, the dead were carried out preceded by the Corporal’s Guard as escort. There was an indescribable sadness in their measured tread and the dull roll of the muffled drums as they passed down the street to the lone burial ground.

Among the incidents of hospital life was one that many comrades cannot fail to remember. Two angels in mortal form and habiliments made daily visits to the hospital, dispensing without favor, wine, jellies, fruit and other delicacies. I refer to Mrs. Augusta M. Richards and her daughter Carol. They were northern ladies from Massachusetts, long residents of the south, and among the few who welcomed the Union forces to New Orleans. These two women, doing angel’s work, were constant in their attention to the federal sick. They sat by the dying, bathed his brow, read and spoke words of cheer, took the last message of love and affection to wife, mother, sister or friend, and finally closed the eyes of the patriot dead. They wrote hundreds of “last messages” from which they received grateful answers. One day, they appeared with unusually bright and smiling faces bearing a large sized bundle containing handkerchiefs, knit stockings and other useful articles donated by fair ladies at the north, for distribution among the soldiers. Attached to the articles were happily worded missives, signed by the loyal souls who wished they could fight with sword and gun instead of thread and needle. [Hallett narrative]

SanComLater Hallett added that “Mrs. Richards was not a woman of wealth and it is gratifying to know that the Government, hearing of her work and usefulness, bestowed on her a pension, which was of great help in her declining years. She died at Malden, Mass., November, 1888.” Hallett was present when “Sergeant William Patch of G company, in a moment of delirium, jumped from the fourth-story to the court below and was instantly killed. Patch was a bright fellow and his unnatural death a great affliction to his parents, who are honored residents of the City of Homes [Springfield].”

Butler had his reasons for arguing that his men could tolerate the Louisiana climate. Some of it may have been wishful thinking: although it is true that most of the men in the 31st Mass. survived, there is no doubt that it was a difficult adjustment. Corp. Hawkes testified that “It is not the extreme intensity of the heat that is so prostrating, but ‘tis so continuous. Clad in woolen coats buttoned up to the chin and burdened furthermore with belt and cartridge box containing ‘forty rounds’ I wonder not that we sweat, but that we have not entirely dissolved.” [Camp Morewood, July 18, 1862; emphasis in original. Camp Morewood was located at Annunciation Square. It was named for a woman in Pittsfield, Sarah A. Morewood. An entry in the Knight diary, Feb. 8, 1862, records that “The Pittsfield Company had a flag presented to them today by Mrs. Morewood.”]

Hawkes, who came from the hill town of Charlemont, was then about 24 years old. His father had died, and he had a close relationship with his mother, to whom most of his letters were addressed. He made no effort to conceal his desire to be with her again. Two shiploads of ice had arrived for the soldiers in late June, [Wheeler diary, June 27, 1862], but on a steamy day in August, Hawkes found spiritual refreshment by writing “Upon such a sweltering day as this I think ‘with longing heart and strong desire’ Oh! for a draught of water from the spring on the old homestead, then let me spread my blanket under that large maple out near Mr. Taylor’s and after a good nap I would call over and see mother a little while.” [Aug. 16, 1862]

When James Sullivan Fisherdick of Ware died on June 9, Tupper commented “He was a large, fine looking man—6 feet, 2 or 3 inches—good figure. All who have died of our company have been from the head of the company.” He added that “His constitution [was] impaired by a severe attack of measles at Camp Seward, weakened by continued diarrhea, couldn’t stand the Mississippi water, the heat & the damp, unhealthy nights.” [letter, June 9, 1862] This seems to confirm that, as has been often observed, strong, healthy farm boys fared poorly in the army.   Contrary to what might expect, city men, who had developed greater immunity from their wider range of human contacts, had a better chance of survival.

*  *  *

A critical point in the history of the 31st Mass. arrived in late August 1862, when the regiment was divided. Five companies (A through E) were sent to occupy Fort Jackson, three (F, G, and I) were dispatched to Fort Pike, relieving part of the 13th Maine, and the remaining two to Kennerville, just west of New Orleans. (Fort Pike was a small prewar work that guarded an entrance to Lake Pontchartrain.) Dividing a regiment in this way had been common in the prewar army, scattered at a multitude of frontier outposts, but was not customary in the enormous volunteer armies of the Civil War. There was an undeniable military need to station troops at these places, and it is true that none of them required a full regiment; yet it is likely that other considerations were present in General Butler’s mind. The smoldering controversies with Governor Andrew, never completely resolved, flared up anew, though far removed from their source.

Colonel Oliver P. Gooding

Colonel Oliver P. Gooding

When the regiment left Massachusetts, it was under the command of Col. Oliver P. Gooding of Indiana, who had been a 1st lieutenant in the regular army. Probably he had been selected by the War Department, and it is unlikely that Governor Andrew knew him. However, the fact that he was not a Butler appointee was in his favor, while it was unlikely that Butler was impressed by the fact that Gooding was a graduate of the Military Academy. Butler, for his part, had chosen Charles M. Whelden as Lt. Col., with the implicit promise that he would be named colonel at the appropriate time. Both Gooding and Whelden were on the Mississippi on its southward journey, but since Butler was conspicuously present, neither had much chance to exercise authority.

Under the virtual truce that Butler and Andrew agreed and which allowed the Western Bay State Regiment to depart Massachusetts, Butler had conceded that the governor would commission the officers. Because this was done at the last moment, many men who held army commissions at Butler’s request left without having received a state commission or being sure that they would. Whelden himself fell into this category; he had been mustered as Lt. Col. on Nov. 25, 1861, by an army mustering officer. [L. Frederick Rice to Gov. Frederick T. Greenhalge, May 1, 1894; Ser. II, Box 2, f13] After the regiment departed, its convoluted travels meant that mail service was irregular, so that some commissions were not delivered until weeks later. More troublesome, those who had not received commissions could not be certain whether their commission had simply been delayed or whether the governor was refusing to issue one. Well into the Summer of 1862, men who had performed as officers since Camp Seward were learning that they did not hold valid commissions. This left them with the choice of resigning, finding a staff position, or accepting a commission in a new regiment such as the 1st Louisiana. It does not appear that any chose to drop back into enlisted ranks. [An Appendix showing officer turnover should be compiled.] Even the original surgeon, Frank A. Cady of Pittsfield, failed to receive a commission and resigned when the regiment left Massachusetts. Those who were forced to leave the 31st created vacancies that had to be filled by reshuffling officers or promoting sergeants. This prolonged instability surely impaired the regiment’s efficiency and added another burden on the enlisted men who were trying to become soldiers under circumstances that were already difficult, but that was not the governor’s paramount consideration.

Charles M. Wheldon

Charles M. Wheldon

The full story remained hidden for 30 years and emerged through a series of accidents and the intervention of regimental historian, L. Frederick Rice. His investigations revealed a story that, while sordid in many respects, is essential to understanding the singular history of the 31st Mass. It turned out that Andrew had indeed issued a commission to Col. Whelden and sent it forward to Col. Gooding, thus reinforcing Gooding’s position as commander. The colonel had previously approved Whelden’s commission, but in the interval between that and the actual receipt of the commission he decided that “I made a great mistake.” [Gooding to Andrew, Aug. 4, 1862; Ser. II, Box 2, f14] According to Gooding, Whelden, as soon as he learned that his commission was being forwarded, began to agitate to issue commissions to all the other officers Butler had appointed. Moreover, he stirred up this discord in the face of the enemy, while the regiment was preparing to assault Fort St. Philip. Actions that Gooding regarded as insubordination continued: “He has neither qualified himself nor supported me as he agreed to. He has always induced Gen. Butler to detach him from the Reg’t whilst I was in command, and finally induced him to detach me that he might command.” [ibid., emphasis in original] Whelden demonstrably did not like to be in the same place as Gooding and resisted taking orders from him. Another factor that may have influenced the troubled relationship is that Whelden was 13 years older than his designated superior. Gooding further asserted that “The L’t Col’s moral character is perfectly black. If you wish particulars and proof of the same, they shall be forthcoming.” [ibid., emphasis in original]

Several officers in the 31st were so appalled by Whelden’s conduct that they took the extraordinary step of sending a petition to Governor Andrew, in which they asserted:

1st. That we are satisfied, after full trial, that L’t Col. C. M. Whelden is an unsuitable man to command the Reg’t.
2nd. That Col. O. P. Gooding is thoroughly qualified for command, and is an acceptable and brave officer.
3rd. That we firmly believe that the interests of the Reg’t and of the service would be greatly advanced by the removal of L’t Col. Whelden from the Reg’t.
4th. That under no circumstances would we willingly enter the field under command of L’t Col. Whelden.
5th. That L’t Col. Whelden has endeavored to create and foster among the officers a feeling of enmity toward Col. Gooding, to force him (Col. G.) into resignation; and in rear of Fort St. Philip, when a land attack on the fort seemed imminent, he raised the question of Commissions among the Officers, to create trouble in the face of the enemy. [to Gov. John A. Andrew, Sep. 24, 1862; Ser. II, Box 2, f14 (emphasis in original)]

This letter was signed by officers commanding nine of the ten companies (one 1st lieutenant, the others captains) and even by the regimental surgeon, adjutant, and chaplain. Most of these men had either been appointed by Butler or had voluntarily recruited for his regiment, yet they addressed Butler’s bitter enemy rather than the general, who was still their overall commander. It was an astonishing act even by the standards of the volunteer regiments and testifies to the extreme strain they were feeling. One officer who did not sign was Capt. Conant, who Butler had trusted with several special assignments (but who was not a company commander). Gooding referred to him as one of Butler’s “favorites” and refused to recommend him for a commission. Conant remained nevertheless, perhaps on Butler’s staff, and did not resign until late 1863.

Gooding had received Whelden’s commission, but since he and Whelden were in separate locations, as usual, he never forwarded it. Instead, he returned the vital document to the governor, saying that Andrew could issue it on his own account, but not with Gooding’s recommendation. It was only in the 1890s, after Butler and Andrew had departed the scene, that Whelden learned that his commission had actually been sent. That forms part of the strange epilogue of the 31st Mass. Another curious feature of the whole deplorable episode is that Butler seems to have tried on more than one occasion to arrest Gooding or remove him from the 31st by other means, but when confronted by Gooding hesitated to take the final step. Since Butler rarely appeared reluctant to exert his authority in other situations, particularly in his administration of New Orleans, his caution in this case is noteworthy. It may provide a revealing example in the larger issue of the relations between civilian “political” officers and regulars. Volunteer generals did not, as Winfield Scott had feared, command regular troops, who were few in number anyway, but they did end up commanding regular officers who had been assigned to volunteer units, usually accompanied by a dramatic leap in rank. Yet men like Butler seemed hesitant to remove or punish such officers, and this became a factor when he commanded the Army of the James late in the war and suffered failure that destroyed much of whatever military reputation he had built earlier.

The best Butler could do under the circumstances was to separate Gooding and Whelden, placing them respectively in charge of Fort Jackson and Fort Pike, and hope that some opportunity would present itself to unify the regiment under Whelden. It may be true, however, that Butler retained some fear of entrusting the regiment to Whelden, who lacked field experience. Whelden was capable of drilling troops and marching them through the streets of New Orleans, but those were not sufficient qualifications for field command, as had been amply demonstrated by then. Another striking aspect of this controversy is that almost no written record survives, other than the state documents that surfaced in the 1890s. Gooding reports conferring with Butler, and since the two men were usually not in the same locale, one would expect that there was correspondence. However, in examining the published collection of Butler’s Civil War correspondence, the names Gooding and Whelden do not appear in this context. This void reinforces the impression that correspondence unfavorable to Butler has been edited out, leaving only material that portrays him in a good light. This was most likely done in Butler’s lifetime, since it is unlikely that his editor would have taken it upon herself to delete valuable documents.

Their bold petition made the attitude of most of the officers readily apparent; the feelings of the enlisted men are more difficult to discern. Many of the officers sought to remain aloof from the men, but so many points of contact existed that secrets were almost impossible to hold. Considering that wild rumors of every sort flourished like hothouse plants, chances of concealing genuine information were almost nil. Corp. Joshua Hawkes was sometimes a clerk and probably had occasion to overhear officer conversations. That he was aware something was amiss is shown in a letter of September 28, 1862: “Col. Gooding has not been with the Regiment since our company went to Annunciation Square — some trouble somewhere. I do not know what though Col. & Lt. Col. never agreed very well.” [emphasis in original] By the end of the year, Hawkes was fully acquainted with the situation:

Col. Whelden has been mustered out of the service and is going home. Cols. O. P. Gooding and Whelden have always been at logger-heads, the cause of which I will explain . . . . Col. Gooding was commissioned by Gov. Andrew and is an Andrew man, while Whelden is a Butler man and a fellow-mason. They had a flare-up at the City and Whelden swore he would never act under Col. Gooding, so to humor Whelden the Regiment has been divided. Col. Gooding is not a man of peculiarly attractive manners — though the ladies say he is — but a man of much military ability. Better fitted for the position than Gen. Dudley, formerly Col. of the 30th.” [Hawkes letter, Dec. 20, 1862]

Hawkes probably reflects the mixed feelings the men had toward their competing colonels. When Gooding departed for Fort Jackson, he wrote “so the Regiment is now in command of Lt. Col. Whelden, whom we like much better than the Col.” [letter, June 30, 1862] Whelden was less demanding and shared the background of most of the men. By contrast, Gooding

. . . being a thorough military man things have to be about up to square now. There is I assure you a vast difference in officers between those bred in the military life and those taken from the walks of civil life. Col. Gooding being a graduate of West Point and belonging to the Regular Army he wishes to make us equal in discipline and drill to Regulars. He has the kind of stern, severe way with him, so that his reprimand is by no means a gentle one, nor do you desire its repetition. [Ibid., Oct. 18, 1862]

Howell, however, had developed a grudging respect for Gooding: “[He] has again sworn off on drinking and we are well satisfied with him. We know him to be brave and every man would follow him to the cannons mouth without a word.” [Letter, Aug. 10, 1862]

Probably the most balanced summation is provided by Frederick Rice, especially interesting in view of his persistent efforts as regimental historian three decades later to do belated justice to Whelden:

Col. Gooding has faults; serious ones. He is passionate, and quick tempered; will swear at the men and officers when excited, and has drank more than was good for him. At the same time, he knows his duty as an Officer, and to him the Regiment is indebted for all it is.

Lieut. Col. Whelden has never agreed with him. Before reaching Ship Island they had a falling out, and have never since pulled the same way. Col. Whelden’s sole aim appears to be to ingratiate himself with Gen. Butler. He is ignorant of some of the simplest parts of a soldier’s duty and almost totally so of Batallion [sic] movements, but at the same time one of the most conceited beings I ever knew. By his influence with Gen. Butler, Col. Gooding was detached and sent to Fort Jackson, where he had a falling out with Lieut. Col. [Alpha B.] Farr of the 26th Mass. (much such another man as Col. Whelden) and had charges of drunkeness [sic] and misconduct preferred against him by Col. Farr, whom he had placed under arrest. These charges were triumphantly refuted, but nevertheless, Col. Gooding has been kept away from us. Under Col. Whelden’s administration we have had an opportunity to contrast him with Col. Gooding, and the result has been that Col. Gooding’s faults have in comparison dwindled into insignificance, while his good traits have magnified themselves so that if the privates were to be asked tomorrow whether they would prefer to continue under Col. Whelden or have Col. Gooding back, they would 9 out of every 10, unhesitatingly call for Col. Gooding, although at the time he was detached, there was a very hard feeling against him on account of his severity.

I will also state a circumstance showing how the officers feel. About the first of August a petition was sent to Gen. Butler, praying that Col. Gooding might be returned to the Reg. This was signed by every officer but two in the Reg. I may add that Col. Gooding, different from Col. Whelden, can be taught something and can see where he has made a mistake. He has entirely stopped drinking. Will not even taste wine in lemonade. He at first had a feeling that as Massachusetts men, the officers did not feel cordial toward him, an Indiannian [sic], but the petition before referred to has shown him to the contrary. If we ever get him back, he will be a very different man, and unless we are very much mistaken will if he has an opportunity, gain for the Regiment an enviable reputation. [Rice letter, Brown’s Mill, La. on Pearl River, Sep. 11, 1862; emphasis in original. Rice refers to a petition to Butler in August, which has not been found, whereas the petition that survives in the state archives was sent to Andrew in September.]

Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew

Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew

Not for the first time, the men in the ranks had been disappointed in their supposed superiors. By and large they deserve credit for remaining  devoted in the midst of dissension, which was an avoidable hardship added to those such as the climate, sickness, poor food, and the constant need for caution in dealing with the local population that were inevitable in their situation. Nor can most of the junior officers be blamed for having to grapple with the consequences of a dispute they had not created. Although the immediate protagonists might have adjusted their differences, they too were victims of the furious conflict between Gov. Andrew and Gen. Butler. Both of those men share blame, but the main fault seems to lie with Andrew for insisting on prerogatives that may have been legally justifiable, but which interfered with military efficiency. He could have overlooked pride and accepted Butler’s appointments, as did the governors of four other New England states. At a still higher level, the underlying cause of the controversy can be attributed to the Lincoln administration, which characteristically sought to please everyone and shied away from making difficult decisions.

Lt. Howell expressed the rage that those officers who hungered for action and were eager to make a name for themselves felt at the division and isolation of the regiment. In unsparing terms, he referred to the Fort Jackson assignment as “penance for sin against Gen. Butler simply because we as a regt. would not repudiate Col. Gooding whom the Gen. dislikes and curry to Whelden whom we all despise. Gen. Butler used his almighty power to tear us all in pieces and send us off in fragments never again to form a complete Regt. to be put in the field unless the War Dept. interferes.” [Letter to sister, Aug. 30, 1862]

The Dudley situation, mentioned by Hawkes, is also interesting. At an earlier stage, Butler had sought to place Nathan A. M. Dudley, a Massachusetts native then a captain in the 10th Infantry (regular), in command of the Western Bay State Regiment. [Feb. 1862; Marshall I:350]  Instead, Dudley was given command of the sister Eastern Bay State Regiment, replacing Jonas French, a Butler favorite. In the kind of comment that survives in the record of Butler’s wartime correspondence, a friend wrote “. . . I see that French was obliged to give up his position at last. What a thick hide Governor Andrew’s bullock must have . . . .” [Richard Fay to Butler, Apr. 28, 1862; Marshall, I:391]  Butler was able to retain French’s services by making him provost marshal in Louisiana. Similarly, although Whelden returned home for a time, Butler was able to bring him back as provost marshal in later commands he held. Dudley was promoted to temporary ranks as high as major general and commanded a brigade and later a corps, with mixed success. After the war he reverted to his permanent rank in the regular army and served on the frontier, where he was involved in many personal controversies before regaining the rank of general and retiring.

Hawkes was a keen observer of character, although his perceptions are slanted by his strong religious sensibility. He found that the captain of his company (C), John W. Lee, associated with his men more than some other officers, particularly those with a military background, and even wondered whether Lee might be “too lenient”. [letter, June 30, 1862]  Lee had obviously recovered from being stabbed at Camp Seward, as Hawkes later noted that the captain “is as fat as a pig and as good natured a captain as any in the Regiment.” [letter, Sep. 15, 1862] Nevertheless, though “I like him as a Captain very well.” Hawkes fretted that Lee, who had been a clergyman in civilian life “never speaks to his men of any hereafter. I do not wish to judge any man, but Rev. J. W. Lee, M. E. Minister, and Capt. J. W. Lee in New Orleans are two different men.” [July 19, 1862]  Lee came from the neighboring town of Buckland, so Hawkes may have been acquainted with him before the war. Hawkes was unimpressed with the regimental chaplain, 26 year-old Francis Chubbuck of Pittsfield, commenting acidly that “Our Chaplain is at the City running around with the women.” [Oct. 18, 1862; emphasis in original]

Howell had become disillusioned with Chubbuck while the regiment was still stationed in New Orleans:

             Our chaplain thinks his preaching does no good (an opinion which is well founded I think) and therefore does not preach to us any more. None of the men like to hear him so he simply stays at the hospital, comforts the sick and buries the dead. When I see a man as intelligent as he is doing so little for his country, not as much as the poorest private for he is utterly worthless to our Regt. I tell you Bell it sets my old ministerial dreams all askew. [Letter, Aug. 10, 1862]

Dr. Bidwell confirms that Chubbuck stayed at the hospital and spent much of his time conducting funerals, as does Tupper. [Bidwell, “Our Chaplain: His work at New Orleans, and His Little Romance”; Tupper letter, Dec. 15, 1862]

In preparation for garrisoning Fort Jackson, Lt. Col. Frank S. Hesseltine of the 13th Maine inspected the post, and his report was transmitted by his superior, Brig. Gen. Neal Dow. A Maine resident, Dow was, like Phelps, an officer with a strongly delineated personality and went the Vermonter one better by being both an abolitionist and a prohibitionist. Hesseltine, though not an artillery officer, determined that:

             The burning of the citadel and the demolition of its walls, which are at present in progress, give the fort an appearance of confusion and ruin that does not really exist. I am surprised to notice the small amount of actual damage that the works have sustained by the severe bombardment to which it has been exposed.

            The ramparts are encumbered in many places with rubbish which may easily be cleared away, and the parapets are somewhat injured by neglect and abrasion in several places. The scarp-walls have been slightly injured in a few places by shot and shell, but no material damage has been sustained by them . . . . Five guns only were dismounted during the bombardment, and these may easily be put in position, as the injury is to the carriage only, and that only trifling in amount. In a word, the principal difficulty with the fort is slovenliness, as at Fort Saint Philip, apparently of long standing, and this I am endeavoring to correct as speedily as possible. [OR, Ser. I, v. XV, 523]

Considering that the forts were hardly in a superb state of maintenance before the attack, Hesseltine’s report provides further evidence that Porter’s mortars by no means reduced them to rubble.

The companies that arrived at Fort Jackson thus found that “everything wore a desolate, forsaken, dusty look, and soon men were detailed to go to cleaning up the rubbish, removing broken bricks, painting and repainting gun carriages, as well as the piles of shells and cannon balls that were piled in heaps around each gun.” Wheeler said there were 85 guns of various descriptions in the fort. [diary, Aug. 31, Sep. 9, 1862. In his report Hesseltine counted a diverse assortment of 75 artillery pieces and noted that “most of the guns are of too short range to oppose modern artillery.” It is possible that more guns were collected before the 31st Mass. arrived.]  For Hawkes, the most striking feature of the fort (understandably) were the alligators: “The moat is literally filled with alligators who reign supreme, it being a penal offense to molest them as they consume the refuse, &c.” [letter, Sep. 1, 1862] Howell, angry at being there at all, summarized, “This Fort which cost us so much powder and shell is situated in the most pestiferous swamp one can imagine. Alligators, Bull-frogs and all sorts of varmints abound fever & ague is equaled in abundance only by the musquetoes.” [sic] [letter, Aug. 30, 1862; emphasis in original]

If alligators were the dominant wildlife at Fort Jackson, at Fort Pike it was mosquitoes. Richard Underwood reached the fort during the day on August 20 and at first rejoiced at the cool sea breeze. Night brought a different impression, as he reported the following morning:

21st — I feel most dead this morning. The mosquitoes bit so I fixed my bar, and as soon as I had got laid down, the mosquitoes came by the millions, and some of the small ones worked through, and then the large ones would put their bills through, and those already in would pull them through. It was like sleeping in a bee hive. I could not sleep, so I spread my blanket over my face, but that made me so warm that I could not sleep. In the morning, I found towards a peck of mosquitoes in my bar. [diary, Aug. 21, 1862]

Smoke and nets (bars) had no effect on the mosquitoes, which were capable of biting through woolen uniform pants.

Writing years later and influenced by the style of popular humorists such as Mark Twain and Artemus Ward, a soldier gave humorous treatment to an experience that probably seemed less funny at the time:

We lost our best blood at the Fort. The mosquito reigned supreme, there. Our first night there made a deep impression on us, and in fact we were all covered with impressions the next morning. The grass had been mowed that day and we thought it would make nice beds, so filled our ticks with it. Our slumbers were much disturbed, and curses loud, and as deep as the articles of war allowed, broke the stillness of the night air,- our soft beds were one mass of skeeters and they were hungry. We were the fattest looking set of men in the morn – Had the Prodigal’s Calf seen us he would have bellowed in shame – Some had faces swelled so badly as to nearly close their eyes. We were all a cheeky looking lot. [George Goodwin recollections]

In his report Lt. Col. Hesseltine had observed “I think of nothing further which ‘remains to be done’ for the defense of the fort but the thorough drill in artillery of the infantry force now there.” [OR, Ser. I, v. XV, 524] Because no artillery unit had been assigned to Fort Jackson, an infantry company was detailed to learn how to manage the big guns. Company D was chosen for this service, and they probably found it to their liking, not only because of the novelty, but because it relieved them from guard duty. During their training they lived in barracks on the parapet, a position that would have been untenable if the fort had come under attack. [Knight diary, Sep. 5, 1862; The Color Bearer (Sgt. Clary), 55]  Sgt. Clary reported that the outer walls had been little damaged by Porter’s bombardment, though interior buildings such as the officers’ barracks had been damaged pretty severely. It is not recorded who conducted the artillery instruction; presumably Col. Gooding, who would have acquired training in that art at West Point. Daily existence for the troops at Fort Jackson thus came to resemble that of the men who garrisoned the coastal defense forts before the war, with the significant exception that most of those forts were closer to the cities they defended. New Orleans was too far for day trips without passes, so Fort Jackson, constructed mostly on “made” land, was a lonely, dreary place; but it was possible to make shorter outings in the vicinity to acquire oranges or shoot alligators. These excursions came to a sudden end when yellow fever made its first appearance, after which no one was permitted to go beyond the quarantine station. “‘Good bye’ to the orange groves and the pleasant sails up the Mississippi,” lamented Francis Knight. [Knight diary Sep. 5, Sep. 20, 1862]

Regimental Colors of the 31st Mass. The

Regimental Colors of the 31st Mass. The “Western Bay State Regt.” also had a flag presented by Gen. Butler at Pittsfield.

One diversion was the presentation of regimental colors on Sunday, September 19. [Fairbank diary, Sep. 19, 1862] Governor Andrew had sent these out not long before, a noteworthy delay, since stories of men dying as they held flags aloft already figured prominently in the heroic folklore of the war. Butler, if he even knew of their arrival, was probably not eager to publicize a gift sent by the man who had done everything possible to obstruct him. If the flags had passed through New Orleans at all, he forwarded them to Fort Jackson, reasoning that that was where the bulk of the regiment was stationed. There Col. Gooding took the opportunity to strengthen his credentials with the men — giving “a neat little speech” in the words of Joshua W. Hawkes. [Hawkes letters, Nov. 16, 1862]

Fort Pike was a brick work belonging to the Third System. Louisiana militia had occupied it a few days after taking the larger forts on the Mississippi, and Union gunboats arrived three days after Butler entered New Orleans. Access to the fort was difficult: “There is no solid ground near the Fort, nothing but Swamp. The only chance that we have to walk outside the Fort is on a shell road, built across the swamp to the other side of the point on which the Fort is situated.” [Rice letter, Oct. 12, 1862]  Lacking the endless pageant of river traffic that enlivened life at Fort Jackson, the men at Fort Pike must have felt even more isolated. One diversion took place when Gen. Butler came out in his yacht on October 6 to show that he had not forgotten Fort Pike, but perhaps also to conduct some personal business. According to Sgt. William H. Rich, the fort was capable of mounting 50 guns, but only 12 were mounted when they arrived; the others had been disabled by the Confederates. During their time there, the companies of the 31st remounted some guns with new or repaired carriages and generally made them serviceable. In the early months of 1863 they began firing practice and ranging the guns.

J. F. H. Claiborne (Image Wikimedia Commons)

J. F. H. Claiborne (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Forays into the countryside from Fort Pike were not primarily recreational. A company was sent up the Pearl River to Pearlington, on the Mississippi side, to take machinery and lumber from a steam mill. Later, another detachment set off to capture cattle from a man on Bayou Bonfouca, north of Lake Pontchartrain, who had been supplying the rebels, and loaded 150 cattle on the steamer J. M. Brown. On other occasions, troops were sent out to seize cattle, wood, and slaves, and they raised schooners at Bonfouca that had been sunk to keep them from falling into federal hands. Eventually these incursions attracted the attention of guerrillas, and there were several exchanges of fire, including artillery, but no serious injuries to the 31st. [Underwood diary, Sep. –Nov. 1862. Capt. George S. Darling submitted an account of a skirmish Nov. 26, 1862, included in Rice letters, Nov. 26, 1862. The Rich diary contains an account of these activities.]

During one of these raids early in 1863 Capt. Darling was wounded in an attack on the J.M. Brown. Lt. Rice was conspicuously unimpressed by this disaster: “Capt. Darling’s wound don’t amount to anything, though it probably itches somewhat and he makes more fuss over it than if he had lost his head. It was a mere scratch about three inches above the knee, and just an inch and quarter long, as he himself ascertained by carefull measurement.” [letter, Jan. 22, 1863]

The men at Fort Pike became involved with the enigmatic personage of Col. John F. H. Claiborne, the wealthy and intellectual owner of a nearby plantation. He professed to be a Unionist, though he had been a colonel in the Mississippi militia and had a son who was a Confederate officer. Claiborne provided valuable information, as well as cattle and other goods to the Union forces and in return was allowed to sell cotton in New Orleans, undoubtedly at a large profit (around this time Tupper, who was in a position to know, reported that cotton was selling at $100 a bale). [Rich diary, Sep. 6, Oct. 7, 1862, etc.; Claiborne correspondence; Tupper letter, July 22, 1862.]

ForagingOn some of these forays the men loaded their haversacks with oranges and sweet potatoes. This fell within the bounds of acceptable foraging; but although both sides issued stern pronouncements about plundering and on occasion made a conspicuous example of some culprit, the practice was overlooked more often than not. Pillaging on both sides of an indefinite front line gradually impoverished the rural population in what had been a region of abundance. It is true that the North might have been marginally capable of feeding its troops by local purchases or shipments from outside, but the men obviously were going to prefer fresh pork or chicken, however clumsily butchered and prepared, to dried beans and canned meat. It may also be true that the number of men the North sent to Louisiana was not much greater than those who left to serve the Confederacy, so that there was not a huge net population increase; but war is a destructive business, and the repeated disruptions of the growing cycle and the supply chain greatly reduced the quantity of food that was available in many locations. Butler established “free labor” plantations that mitigated shortages to some degree, though they required soldiers to protect them and were subject to various abuses.

One of the major duties of the two companies stationed at Kennerville was patrolling the railroad line to Jackson. This need to roam about the countryside brought them into revealing contact with a variety of inhabitants, both black and white. George Young of Company K told of a chance encounter that affected him deeply, leaving an impression that was still potent when he wrote his recollections more than 20 years later. One day (he does not provide a date, though from the description it must have been Summer, not long after his company arrived there in August), he and a companion set off on a typical foraging expedition, “as we had nothing in the way of rations left but hardtack and coffee and a little Salt Hoss.” They came upon a cornfield cultivated by what Young labeled “white trash,” a term already in routine usage. “These families,” he explained, “generally had a log house and a small patch of land away back in the rear of the Plantations, and as their place was always hard to get at from the River and consequently of very little value financially, they were allowed by common consent to stay there as long as they didn’t interfere with the Niggers.” They were thus tolerated squatters or proto-sharecroppers.

Alerted by one of the “yaller dogs” that were ubiquitous on the homesteads of poor whites and blacks alike, a girl who had been cultivating a garden ran into the house screaming “Ma–the Yanks have arriv!” Young and his unnamed companion found a family consisting of a woman of about 45 and children—two girls and three or four boys—ranging in age from 16 to about three. No man was in evidence, but the woman was wearing a pastel dress, not mourning, so Young deduced that her husband was off somewhere serving the Confederacy. All were in terror until Young was able to persuade them that the intruders were only interested in purchasing some food. Relieved and amazed that the enemy soldiers could “talk so easy to poor folks,” the housewife sent children off to collect various edibles and began to prepare a meal for the two soldiers. “The woman’s kindness, although there was no polish about it, touched me in a tender spot,” Young conceded. “I could hardly keep the tears of gratitude back, for there was a frankness and sincerity about her invitation such as I never expected to get and such also, as it seemed to me, that was far above the circumstances in life in which she was placed.”

When Young insisted that the family join them, the woman exclaimed “Wa’al if you don’t beat all,” but she feared “you’ll think we don’t know how to behave at table for the boys never would behave at table when their Pa was to home.” However, the children nearly embarrassed the guests by bowing their heads for grace, which the Yanks had not thought to do. One would not have expected a woman in these circumstances to be literate, but she promised to exchange letters with Young, and he apparently received at least one letter from her, although he could not produce it at the time he was writing his recollections. This unanticipated meeting, its intensity heightened by the fact that Young had not seen anything resembling normal family life for many months, led him to question the whole point of the war: “I thought to myself if all the Rebels are as kind and as good as this gentle hearted woman, how can we justify ourselves in their sight. What excuse can we make to them for robbing them of their husbands, sons and brothers, and for taking away their only means of making a living[?]” [Recollections, 46-52] Young might have concluded that this war was launched by men who cared about abstractions more than people.

A later expedition out of Kennerville led to serious combat, followed by a desperate struggle to avoid capture. On December 10 a detachment led by 1st Lt. Nelson F. Bond of Ware was ordered to relieve part of a Maine company at Desert (pron. Des Sair) Station on the Jackson railroad. According to Tupper, who was familiar with the rail line due to his work for the quartermaster, this station was located near Frenier, on the neck of land west of Lake Pontchartrain only five to ten miles from the Mississippi. It is surprising to find guerillas operating so close to Union posts. Bond had been transferred and promoted to Co. K from Co. D only days before, and it was said that his old company were “all down-hearted at the change.” [Fairbank diary, Dec. 2, 1862]  Failing to find a boat, the 24-man detachment slogged overland and through swamps and bayous, so that they were exhausted by the time they arrived at the station late in the afternoon. Bond then overlooked regulations and allowed his men to settle in and start preparing dinner before setting out pickets. In addition to their physical condition and the gathering dusk, he was probably thinking of the impression he was making on unfamiliar men in the one company with a noticeably divergent background.

Nelson F. Bond

Nelson F. Bond

Bond’s oversight was quickly punished, as a much larger Confederate force appeared before the cooking fires were even blazing. Part of the unit took cover and fired at the rebels, but only half had serviceable guns, as the others had been soaked when a canoe overturned on the outward journey. After some of Bond’s men were wounded, it became apparent that the situation was hopeless, and he ordered the rest to scatter and try to make their way back to safety. This began an extraordinary ordeal, as these men, with no food or camp equipment, tried to evade capture through woods and swamps in persistently cold weather. Bond and a private were the last men to get back to their original camp, arriving after 72 hours lost in the swamp and 80 hours with no food other than sucking on cane sugar. During this time the lieutenant was wearing slippers, as his feet were severely swollen when he arrived at Desert Station, and he had immediately taken off his boots. Five of the party were captured, including John E. McCarthy, who was seriously wounded. Sgt. Lewis T. Wade, left to die by the Confederates but rescued by local residents, died of his wounds at the Marine Hospital, and Emil Drach (pron. Drake) was instantly killed, the first member of the 31st to die in combat. Three quite detailed narratives of this action survive, and each gives a noticeably different account of how Drach died. [Nelson F. Bond, “Affair at Des Sair Station,” (letter Dec. 14, 1862); John E. McCarthy, “Affair at Des Sair Station”; Jeremiah McGraith, “Affair at Des Sair Station”] News of the encounter was initially disbelieved, and although Capt. Allen went out with a rescue party it was far too late to recover any of the missing men. [Norris letter, Dec. 17, 1862]

Although only one of innumerable Civil War skirmishes, this made a deep impression, at least on Companies H and K, as it was the first time the regiment had lost men in action. McGraith placed much of the blame on the Maine party, who had left their post and begun walking back on the tracks, where they met the men of the 31st six miles from the station. He feels that if they had waited until relieved the Confederates would not have been able to lay an ambush. In a larger sense the incident illustrates the risks in sending small parties to guard inaccessible posts, thereby placing them “in harm’s way” in a phrase overused to the point of triteness in our time, since the enemy could always collect a large enough force to overwhelm them.

Because of his detail to quartermaster duties, James Tupper assumed a highly responsible position for a private as conductor on a government railroad. This assignment has no direct bearing on the history of the 31st Mass. but fills in some interesting detail on an otherwise obscure chapter of the history of Civil War military railroads. The government had contracted with a private company to run one train a day to carry military stores and troops over the so-called New Orleans & Carrollton & Jefferson & Lake Pontchartrain R.R. Tupper described the route, with which he was intimately familiar from his daily travels:

Leaving the city, the road runs through Jefferson City, containing many fine residences of New Orleans merchants, by Camp Lewis where the “Reserve Brigade” under acting Brig. Gen. Payne [sic: Paine] is stationed, to Carrollton about 6 miles. From there it strikes through the swamps where the tall cypress trees grow & alligators thrive, to the lake 6 miles further. Here is a wharf where boats come from Ship Island & unload & take in stores. About halfway from Carrollton to the Lake there is a ridge of high ground called Metairie Ridge. Here is a race course with its large amphitheater now occupied by the 3 companies of regulars which for a while were encamped in Annunciation Square. Camp Williams, where acting Brig. Gen. Dudley’s brigade consisting of the 1st Louisiana, the 30th Mass., 7th Vt., & 6th Mich. regiments, Reads Cavalry Co., the 6th Mass. battery & the 1st Maine battery, is about a mile from Metairie Ridge. A force of contrabands under Capt. Brown of the Pioneer Corps are engaged in building a railroad from the Ridge to Camp Williams & Camp Parapet on the river where Col. & acting Brig. Gen. Cahill’s brigade is stationed. We shall run around there when it is finished.

 We make one run a day on our train starting from Camp Williams or Metairie Ridge in the morning & reach the city about 10 a.m. We leave the city at 3:30 p.m. & run sometimes only to the Ridge & sometimes to the lake just to accommodate. I come back to the city every night on the regular trains which run every hour between here & Carrollton. I leave the city at 7 o’clock in the morning take the government train out to Camp Williams & back to the city & come back at 7 o’clock in the evening from Carrollton. By that arrangement I spend the night in the city. I have to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning & it is 8 in the evening by the time I have ate my supper & when not on the road, I have to be receiving freight so you see I am kept pretty busy. [Letter, Sep. 27, 1862]

On December 20, 1862, Col. Whelden assembled the companies at Fort Pike for a farewell address. It was said that he was “very much affected at parting.” [Underwood diary] As they all knew by then, he had resigned because his patron, General Butler, had been replaced, removing any lingering hope that Whelden might someday command the 31st Mass. Butler was being removed not because of military failings, nor because of the “woman order,” nor because of any measures he had taken with regard to slavery, nor because of his complex personal and official financial dealings. His primary offense lay in the almost constant clashes he had with foreign consuls at New Orleans. To him (and he uncovered substantial evidence in support of his position), these men were local profiteers who wrapped themselves in foreign flags in order to support the Confederacy. The aggrieved consuls complained to their foreign governments, most of whom were to some degree sympathetic to the South and who then registered objections in Washington. Secretary of State Seward lived in mortal terror of becoming involved in a foreign war, especially with Great Britain, and thus “The Beast” was sacrificed. It was an ironic twist, as Butler had hoped to stay in Seward’s good graces by naming the reception camp at Pittsfield in his honor, but in the end attributed his downfall mainly to him.

Gen. Nathaniel Prentiss Banks (Image Library of Congress)

Gen. Nathaniel Prentiss Banks
(Image Library of Congress)

The whole affair was another bungled operation by the administration, as Butler’s replacement, Nathaniel P. Banks, was sent out partly to get him away from the East (and possibly further away from a potential campaign for the presidency), while no new position had been prepared for Butler, making it appear that he and his policies were discredited. Butler had discounted earlier rumors that Banks would replace him, a notable failure of his intelligence apparatus in Washington, and it was only when Banks arrived that Butler learned definitely that he had been removed. Moreover, it immediately became apparent that Banks brought no new assignment for Butler. The administration had thus succeeded in making Butler a sympathetic figure, no easy task. A large segment of the northern populace admired the firm policy he had pursued in New Orleans and were not happy to see the government seeming to cave in to southerners and their foreign sympathizers.

The portion of the 31st at Fort Jackson saluted the seven steamers bringing Banks’s expedition as it passed on December 16. Banks was aboard the North Star, first in line. He was accompanied by a sizable contingent of “nine month” troops, many from Massachusetts. These men had responded to Lincoln’s call for 300,000 relatively short-term volunteers to maintain Union strength while the new conscription law was bringing in men to serve for a longer term.

It made me feel good all over to see these big steamers running up the Mississippi freighted with some more of the hardy sons of New England. It was exhilerating [sic] — the boys literally lined the parapet and the band played “Hail Columbia” and the other national airs as the steamers steamed by, which were greeted with cheers from the boys on ship. [Hawkes letter, Dec. 16, 1862]

As they watched the troop ships pass, observers in the 31st Mass. would have been surprised to learn that several former members of their regiment were on board. They were men who had been discharged for health reasons but had recovered enough to rejoin the army. Eight men who had previously served in the 31st enlisted in nine-month regiments, primarily the 46th and 49th Mass. The former was sent to North Carolina, but the 49th, which had been organized at Pittsfield and drew from some of the same territory as the 31st, was assigned to the Department of the Gulf, creating the possibility of encounters with old comrades.

Six more steamers passed on the following two days. The well-remembered Mississippi was part of this parade, and Hawkes remarked with heavy-handed humor “The old craft looked natural as life, wonder if she has forgotten her old habit of running on to sand bars.” [letter, Jan. 1, 1863] Banks would thus start out with more men than Butler had ever commanded in the Department of the Gulf. After the recall of the Vicksburg expedition, Butler had never had sufficient strength to launch a major campaign. The largest he authorized was an expedition under Weitzel into the “Lafourche country” west of New Orleans and south of Baton Rouge in October. With Butler’s backing Weitzel had been jumped from lieutenant to general, one of the most rapid advances in American military history, but his advances on the ground were more measured. So many of Butler’s forces were scattered at outposts, or on sick call, that he would not have been able to muster a large offensive even had he wished to. At the battle of Baton Rouge, a large proportion of the Union troops who defended the town crawled out of their sick beds to do so.


Reception for the Departing General Butler (from Harper’s Weekly)

Butler and Banks felt no mutual affection, despite the fact that both had risen from humble origins. Banks had started out as a bobbin boy in a textile factory and was still sometimes referred to in those terms, whether admiringly or not. (The South with its caste system would not have been impressed.) As “political generals” from the same state, they were bound to be rivals; moreover, their political affiliation was opposite. Considering his ample grounds for resentment, Butler made a genuine effort to inform his replacement about the situation he was inheriting. He departed after issuing a farewell address to the soldiers in his department on December 15, 1862. In a final testimonial to Butler’s rule, Jefferson Davis published a proclamation declaring him a felon and an outlaw.

Much of this floated over the heads of the enlisted men at Fort Jackson, who focused instead on a surprisingly lavish Christmas festival. By then the original Puritan hostility to Christmas was fading, and even the highly religious J.W. Hawkes was not offended:

 We had a holiday Christmas and a first rate dinner. Let me describe. We had for dinner baked pork—a pig weighing 95—baked beef, plenty of nice potatoes, bread, butter and apple sauce. We got some boards and made a table the whole length of the casemates so the whole Company sat down. Lieut. Andrews sent down two gallons of whiskey to the boys and the Captain bought two more so all that wished had a drink before dinner. The Capt’s wife was present and all had a good time, well satisfied with the dinner. After roll call they had two pails of hot flip. There was plenty of liquor in camp that day and plenty of men that were “more than half tight” yet by order of the Col. no man was to be put into the guard house for anything he might do on that day. [letter, Jan. 1, 1863]

Hawkes added that Capt. Lee “does not find much time to drill his company now that his wife is here.” The captain’s “mulatto girl” Maggie told him that “they are as loving as a couple just married.”

Hawkes, who had known the Lees at home, had a much more charitable opinion than Howell, who had not:

Two ministers in our Regt viz Capt Lee & Lieut Morse, both left a Methodist pulpit to enter the army, can now drink whiskey and swear to perfection to say nothing of their visits to disreputable houses. Their hypocrasy [sic] disgusts me. The Capts wife is here now and he is old “Peaches & Cream” to her ministerial. [letter to his sister Clara, Jan. 1, 1863]

In a confidential letter home Lt. Rice confirmed Howell’s sentiments:

             Lieut. Morse is a minister by profession, and if he isn’t a better preacher than soldier, I don’t want to have to hear him. You know my ideas of what is proper for a minister to do are pretty liberal; some would call them loose, and yet I have seen some things in him that I cannot reconcile my mind to believe consistent with his former sacred calling. [letter, Mar. 15, 1863]

Despite any misgivings Hawkes may have had about his captain, Hawkes acknowledged that “It really seems good to see a woman from the North and I almost imagine myself there again.” [letter, Jan. 1, 1863] He held an extremely low opinion of southern womanhood in general:

 I venture to say that there are very few virtuous women above the age of 15. Every man has as many white mistresses as he can afford and if a slave owner plenty that are not as white. The wife finds out the husband’s unfaithfulness, so she is bound to have revenge in the same coin. There are very few federal officers that did not find a “Cousin” while at the city last summer. I could tell some rather scandalous stories about some officers in this Reg’t but you might not credit them, and they might leak out in some way. These “Southern Cousins” are some how very enticing! [letter, Jan. 13, 1863; emphasis in original]

He went on to describe how the men found it demeaning to spend time guarding plantations where a pretty wife or daughter resided. Hawkes’s sentiments are not surprising in one with his puritanical strain, but they must have been based almost entirely on hearsay. It is quite unlikely that a person of his temperament had much personal interaction with the opposite sex during his few weeks in New Orleans or at the isolated post of Fort Jackson. Frederick Rice, with a more worldly perspective, reported “I have made a few and very few friends with the N.O. ladies, one or two secesh ones, too. The sex at large, however, though far from friendly, are very careful since the publication of the famous ‘No. 28’ how they insult the Federal soldiers in the streets.”  He added that “if the men of N.O. had the pluck of the women and their sentiments, we shouldn’t stay there 48 hours.” [letter, Sep. 11, 1862]

At the close of Butler’s administration, which coincided closely with the end of the year 1862, the 31st Mass. had not yet seen major combat. Its only losses in action had been the two men killed at Desert Station, while other regiments in the same brigade had participated in battles such as Baton Rouge. This situation was galling to officers like Nettleton and Rice, who blamed it on the Butler-Andrew feud as it played out in the conflict between Whelden and Gooding. Butler had attributed holding back the 31st to purely military considerations, but knew better than to put the other factor on record even if he had it in mind. Once he sailed northward to an urgent but fruitless meeting with Lincoln, none of this mattered any longer in Louisiana. At the end of 1862, the 31st was still divided into three sections, but there were signs that the new year would bring change.

One thought on “Part 4 — The Administration of General Butler, 1862

  1. I think the attempt by Gen. Phelps to arm formerly enslaved black men deserves a closer look. On July 30, Phelps requested from Butler “arms, accoutrements, clothing, camp and garrison equipage, etc., for three regiments of Africans, which I propose to raise for the defense…” This was the first official attempt to recruit African Americans into the Union Army. Butler refused the request, citing lack of direction from the Lincoln administration (which was concerned that several border states might secede, if the Union began arming ex-slaves) and his own prejudicial belief that blacks were “horrified of firearms” and would never make good soldiers. Butler ordered Phelps to use his black recruits as free labor, cutting trees, building fortifications, and such. Phelps went livid upon receiving Butler’s order, replying, “I must state that while I am willing to prepare African regiments for the defense of the government against assailants, I am not willing to become the mere slave driver which you propose.” Phelps then resigned his commission and, after some back and forth with Butler, went home to Vermont. This was the beginning of an evolution in Butler’s thinking about using soldiers of African descent.

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