HEADQUARTERS,Annapolis, April 24, 1861.
DEAR SIR: After leaving you with Mr. Felton at Philadelphia, I proceeded with the remnant of my command, one regiment having been sent through Baltimore, of whose sad mishaps you have heard, and two others being at Fortress Monroe, leaving with me but an imperfectly armed regiment of 800 men to execute the suggestions so happily made by you to Governor Curtin – to occupy and hold Annapolis and open a communication from thence to Washington via the Junction.
Upon my arrival I found Captain Blake, the superintendent of the Naval School, considerably alarmed for the safety of the frigate Constitution, moored off the Academy as a practice ship, and having a crew of but thirty men. Appreciating at once the necessity of having the ship to cover our connections, as well as a strong desire to keep Old Ironsides out of the hands of those who would be but too happy to raise their Confederate flag upon the Constitution as the first ship of their hoped-for navy, I at once came alongside, and giving the assistance of my whole command as well to guard the ship as to hoist out her guns, I was happy to see her afloat outside the bar ready to do good service. I put on board of her to guard her from an attempt at surprise, 125 of my best men, and 25 more men to work her guns, upon which service they are still absent. Sunday afternoon, in towing out the frigate, one of her men fell overboard, and while drifting to pick him up the steamer Maryland, a steam ferry-boat upon which was my command, ran aground, where she lay till Monday night at 12 o'clock, in spite of the most persevering efforts to move her. Monday morning about 8 o'clock the Seventh Regiment (New York) came up and I joined them, and landed at the Navy School, against the protest of Governor Hicks, copy of which I inclose.1 I had an interview with the Governor of Maryland and the city authorities of Annapolis, in which I learned that the company of the Annapolis and Elk Cliff [Ridge] Railroad had taken up the rails upon their roads for the purpose of preventing passage of the troops to Washington; and further, that no possible means of transport could be had here. I immediately determined to seize upon the rolling-stock of the railroad and to march on Washington, repairing the track as we marched. I found in my regiment a number of persons competent as well to build a railroad as to run it, and with the engines and cars, means of subsistence could be brought along without any danger of fatiguing the men who were marching. I communicated this plan to Colonel Lefferts, of the Seventh Regiment (New York), and directed him to detail two companies to take and hold the depot and property in it, so that the engines might not be disabled by detaching parts of them indispensable for use, during the night. I detailed a sufficient force of engine men to put the train in order to start at an early hour on Tuesday morning, believing the whole matter arranged, and left with a steam-tug to get off my troops in the middle of the night at high tide and bring them up to the wharf This was successfully done, and on landing in the morning about 6 o'clock I found that my order to Colonel Lefferts had not been executed, and received from him a communication marked A, and forwarded herewith.2
Of the reasons for and propriety of this action on the part of the council of officers of the Seventh Regiment I have no opinions to express. The result of it was that we lost a day in opening communication with Washington. Upon landing I immediately detailed two companies of Eighth Massachusetts Regiment and took possession of the depot, giving a certified inventory of the property taken. These companies, assisted by the road-men that I had detailed, proceeded up the track and repaired [it] for about four miles, when they encamped for the night. In the morning, after a consultation, Colonel Lefferts marched with his regiment, together with the remainder of Colonel Munroe's regiment, along the railroad toward Washington, making the track as they went, and I have the honor to report that full communication is open between Annapolis and the Junction, and I believe through to Washington, but of that fact I hope to assure you before closing this report. I should have gone forward myself with this to see it through, but the troops after [I] returned arrived, and it seemed more necessary that I should remain to move the troops forward, as I have done. Please find list of troops that have arrived and left Annapolis up to the present time. They are all unprovided with camp equipage and small stores, which will be necessary for their health. I was somewhat surprised to hear from Captain Stedman that you had appointed General Kline [Keim] to take my place here without any intimation to me of such appointment. It would be personally agreeable to me to be sent forward after I have so arranged the matters of detail that the post which Massachusetts men have won shall be retained. My attention was early called to the state of the defenses of this post, and I found them so defective against an interior enemy that a point which entirely commands Fort Madison and the town can be held upon the opposite side of the river; and indeed the mobs were actually to bring a battery there to annoy the Constitution on the day on which we took her out. Professor Lockwood has therefore made a survey of the place, and in accordance with his suggestions I have caused the hill to be occupied by 600 men from the Sixth New York Regiment, with two howitzers. I have also retained the battalion of rifles, Captain Devens, to aid holding the Academy, all the young gentlemen being withdrawn from this place. These, I believe, will be sufficient for the defense of the place until some guns for sea-coast defense shall be brought here. I have not thought best to hurry the troops forward on the instant, as they might not be able to stand the march, as the weather is very warm. They will, however, be sent forward without delay. We are without intelligence from Washington for three days, but I have an arrangement with the telegraph company which I hope will [restore] communication. Colonel Keyes, Captain Blake, and [Professor] Lockwood all agree in the propriety of this movement, considering the great importance of this post. I have the honor further to report the Harriet Lane lying below the bar, and the steamer Maryland, with two guns, also plying in the bay; I think a sufficient force to preserve our water passage. I have also the honor to inclose a memoranda* of some points betwixt Annapolis and Washington, being a duplicate of one which I propose to furnish to General Scott.
Trusting that my conduct may meet your approbation, I am, very respectfully, your servant,
B. F. B[UTLER].
1 See Vol. II, p. 586.
2 See p. 1272.
3 Not found.
SOURCE: Jessie Ames Marshall, Editor, Private and Official Correspondence of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler During the Period of the Civil War, Volume 1: April 1860 – June 1862, p. 32-5; The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 51, Part 1 (Serial No.107 ), p. 1273-5