Sunday, May 31, 2020

Major-General Benjamin F. Butler to Edwin M. Stanton, May 16, 1862

New Orleans, May 16, 1862.
Secretary of War:

SIR: Since my dispatch of May 8* I received information that a large amount of specie was concealed in the liquor store of one Am Couturee, who claims to be consul for the Netherlands.

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The necessity having now passed which led me to allow the temporary use of Confederate notes, I have ordered them suppressed in ten days from to-day. Please see General Orders, No. 29, to that effect. I beg leave to call your attention to the subject of opening the port of New Orleans. No measure could tend more to change the entire feelings and relations of the people here than this. If not opened to foreign ships and ports, why not with the Northern ports? Have we not a right as against aliens to carry our own products from one part of our own country to the other?

Nothing has tended so much to the quiet acquiescence of the well-disposed people here to the rule of the United States as the opening, which I have done, of postal facilities North and with Europe, under proper restrictions. It was a measure which seemed to me so essential and so relieved the mercantile portion of the community that I have allowed it, and shall so do until further orders from the Department.

Upon the same ground I have the honor to urge the opening of the port of New Orleans at least to the limited extent above mentioned. As a question of the supply of food it is vital. A different state of things exists here from every other point taken before during the war, with the exception of Baltimore. Here is a community, large and wealthy, living and substantially quietly submitting to, if they all do not relish, our Government.

We need their products; they need ours. If we wish to bind them to us more strongly than can be done by the bayonet, let them again feel the beneficence of the United States Government as they have seen and are now feeling its power. Specially will this affect favorably the numerous and honestly conducting foreign residents residing here. How does this city now differ from Baltimore in June last, save that it is occupied by a smaller force and is more orderly? In the matter of trade, importation and exportation, I cannot distinguish the two.

It was found absolutely necessary to take some measures in addition to those taken by the city government to relieve the immediate sufferings of the poor people from hunger. I accordingly took the action set forth in General Orders, No. 25. Its effect has been to diminish much suffering and aid in bringing back the citizens to a sense of duty.

I forward also copies of General Orders, 27, 28, 29, which will explain themselves. No. 28 became an absolute necessity from the outrageous conduct of the secession women here, who took every means of insulting my soldiers and inflaming the mob.

Here I am happy to add that within the city of New Orleans the first instance of wrong or injury done by any soldier to any man or woman or any instance of plunder above a petty theft yet remains to be reported to me. There is an instance of gross outrage and plunder on the part of some of the Wisconsin regiment at Kenner, some 12 miles above here, while on the march to possess ourselves of the Jackson Railroad, who when they return will be most exemplarily punished. I must send home some of my transport ships in ballast by the terms of their charter. In accordance with the terms of my order No. 22 I have caused to be bought a very considerable quantity of sugar, but as yet very little cotton. This has gone very far to reassure the planters and factors. They are sending their agents everywhere into the interior to endeavor to stop the burning of the crops.

Nobody can be better aware than myself that I have no right to buy this property with the money of the United States, even if I had any of it, which I have not. But I have bought it with my own money and upon my individual credit. The articles are sugar, rosin, and turpentine. I have sent these as ballast in the several transport ships, which otherwise would have to be sent to Ship Island for sand. These articles will be worth more in New York and Boston than I paid for them here through my agents. If the Government choose to take them and reimburse me for them I am content. If not, I am quite content to keep them and pay the Government a reasonable freight. Whatever may be done the Government will save by the transaction. I only desire that neither motives nor action shall be misunderstood.

I have sent General Williams, with two regiments and a light battery, to accompany the flag-officer up the river to occupy or land and aid in taking any point where resistance may be offered. Baton Rouge has already surrendered and the flag is raised over it. The machines from the Arsenal for making arms are removed to a distance, but where they cannot be at present used. The naval forces with General Williams have gone above Natchez, and the gunboats are proceeding to Vicksburg, which the rebels are endeavoring to fortify, but I do not believe, from all I learn, with any success. The flag-officer is aground just below Natchez in the Hartford, and I have dispatched two boats to light him off.

I should have sent more troops with General Williams, but it was impossible to get transportation for them. The rebels had burned and disabled every boat that they did not hide, and then their machinists refused to work on their repair.

By dint of the most urgent measures I have compelled repairs, so that I am now getting some transportation, and have sent a boat to Fort Pickens for General Arnold, of which I understand him to be in the utmost need. I have sent into the various bayous and have succeeded in digging out of the bushes several steamers; one or two very good ones.

Colonel McMillan, of the Twenty-first Indiana Regiment, on Monday last, in a little creek leading out of Berwick Bay, some 80 miles from here, succeeded with an ox-cart in cutting out the rebel steamer Fox, loaded with 15 tons of powder and a large quantity of quicksilver, medicines, and stores. The steamer was formerly the G. W. Whitman, of New York, and has succeeded in running the blockade four times.

Colonel McMillan is now engaged in scouring the bayous and lagoons through which the rebels have been supplied with ammunition, causing large quantities to be destroyed and capturing some where the pursuit is quick enough. In no other way can the same amount of distress be brought upon the rebel army, as they are much in want of ammunition, and we are intercepting all supplies. A very large amount of ordnance and ordnance stores have been captured here and are now being cared for and inventoried.

Large numbers of Union men—Americans, Germans, and French—have desired to enlist in our service. I have directed the regiments to fill themselves up with these recruits. I can enlist a regiment or more here, if the Department think it desirable, of true and loyal men. I do not think, however, that Governor Moore would commission the officers. Such a corps being desirable, would it not be possible to have an independent organization, with commissions from the President. These troops would be very useful in manning the forts at Pontchartrain and down the river, which are fearfully unhealthy. They might have a company or two of Northern soldiers for instructors and for fear of possible accident.

I shall have the transportation ready for a movement on Mobile as soon as the flag-officer returns from up the river. I am engaged in arranging for it. I will get the transportation, so as to go across the lake by the inside route.

I have endeavored in several ways to get communication with General Buell, so as to co-operate with him, but as yet have failed. Although I am not by the terms of my instructions enjoined to penetrate the interior, yet I shall do so at once, if the public service can be aided.

General Lovell, when he retreated from this city, took with him to Camp Moore between 8,000 and 9,000 men. He is 80 miles away, and such is the height of the water that it is nearly impossible to march, he having gone on the railroad and taken all his rolling stock with him. More than one-half of that army has left him, and perhaps one-third has returned to this city, put on citizens' clothes, and are quiet. I think General Lovell is doing as well as he can for the present. A defeat could hardly disorganize his forces more rapidly.

I trust my requisitions will be promptly forwarded, especially for food and mosquito-nets, which are a prime necessity.

The city council have endeavored to excite the French population here and to act by resolution upon the arrival of the French war steamer Catina as to induce the belief that there was some understanding between themselves and the French Government.

I append copy of letter to the council upon that subject, marked L; also copy of letter to the French consul as to spoliations at Kenner, marked M.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

BENJ. F. BUTLER,              
Major-General, Commanding.

† For portion of the letter here omitted and which relates to seizures of the specie referred to and complications with other consuls, see inclosures to letter from the Secretary of state to Hon. Reverdy Johnson, June 10, 1862, Series III, Vol. 2.


[Inclosure L.]

[Inclosure M.]

SOURCE: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 15 (Serial No. 21), p. 422-4. For inclosures see p. 425-7.

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