HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF,
New Orleans, May 8, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to report my further operations since my dispatch of the 29th ultimo.
I commenced the disembarkation of my men on May 1; when I took formal possession of New Orleans.
The Twenty-first Indiana was landed at Algiers, a small town on the right bank of the river, opposite New Orleans, at the inner terminus of the New Orleans and Opelousas Railroad. All the rolling stock of the road has been seized, and the road is now running under my direction, only for the purpose of bringing in provisions to the city. That regiment under Colonel McMillan, on the 5th of May was sent to Brashear, 80 miles (the whole length of the railway), and Berwick Bay, and there captured two brass 6-pounder field guns, With ammunition for the same, some 1,500 pounds of powder, and some other ordnance stores, and dispersed a military organization there forming, captured and brought off two citizens who persisted in insulting our troops.
There are now no Confederate forces on the right or western bank of the Mississippi within possible reaching distance of which I have any intelligence.
The remainder of my troops which I had been able to take with me by means of any transportation which I had, to wit, Thirtieth and Thirty-first Massachusetts, Fourth Wisconsin and Sixth Michigan, Ninth and Twelfth Connecticut, with Manning's and Everett's Fifth and Sixth Massachusetts Batteries, and Holcomb's Second Vermont Battery, and two companies of cavalry, I landed in the city proper, posting and quartering them at the custom-house, city hall, mint, and Lafayette Square. I thought it necessary to make so large a display of force in the city. I found it very turbulent and unruly, completely under the control of the mob; no man on either side daring to act independently for fear of open violence and assassination. On landing we were saluted with cheers for Jeff. Davis and Beauregard. This has been checked, and the last man that was heard to call for cheers for the rebel chief has been sentenced by the provost judge to three months' hard labor at Fort Jackson, which sentence is being executed. No assassinations have been made of any United States soldiers, with the exception of a soldier of the Ninth Connecticut, who had left his camp without orders in the night and was found dead the next morning in an obscure street, having probably been engaged in a drunken brawl.
My officers and myself now walk in any part of the city where occasion calls by day or night, without guard, obstruction, or annoyance. There is, however, here a violent, strong, and unruly mob; that can only be kept under by fear.
On the 5th instant I sent Brigadier-General Phelps, with the Ninth and Twelfth Connecticut and Manning's battery, to take possession of the rebel works on the north side of the city, which run from the river to the marshes of Lake Pontchartrain, about 7 miles above the city. I could make no earlier movement, because all the steamers captured and in repair were claimed by the Navy, and were used either in towing their supply ships or tugging off the Rhode Island, which had gone on shore and detained us all three days. This point, in the judgment of the engineers on both sides, is a most defensible one on the northerly side, had been fortified by the rebels with heavy earthworks, and can be maintained with a few regiments against any force, however large, that may be brought against it.
The sloop-of-war Portsmouth and the gunboat Iroquois are anchored so as to enfilade the front of the embankments which were abandoned by the rebels. These can easily be put in defensible condition, although before the arrival of the army and after the evacuation by the enemy, who spiked the guns, a party from the advanced gunboats landed and burned the gun-carriages, which we must supply from those captured at the customhouse.
All the rolling stock of the Jackson Railroad was carried away by the retreating General Lovell, and he has cut the road 14 miles above the city. I am now taking measures to possess ourselves of the whole road to Manchac Pass. The fleet have gone up the river as far as Baton Rouge. The flag-officer started yesterday, and I have sent two regiments to accompany him and make any landing necessary.
The projected expedition from Vicksburg to Jackson, of which I spoke in my last dispatch, has become nugatory, because I am reliably informed from different sources that Beauregard has fallen back upon Jackson with his whole army, and is there concentrating his means of defense. My spies inform me that he is suffering greatly for want of food; that his army is daily becoming demoralized and leaving him.
As soon as all necessary points can be occupied here and my instructions carried out as regards Mobile, I will endeavour to march upon his rear with all the force I can spare consistently with reasonable safety of this point.
As in case of defeat he must retreat upon us, it will be perceived that I must be prepared to meet the débris of his army, or indeed, as he has ample rolling stock (the Telegraph says 13 miles of cars), he may precipitate any amount of force upon me at any moment; for which we will try to be ready. I have caused Forts Pike and Wood, the defenses of Lake Pontchartrain, to be occupied by detachments of the Seventh Vermont and Eighth New Hampshire Regiments. I have not yet occupied either the Chalmette, Tower Dupré, or Battery Bienvenue. Our boats hold the lake, and these are only defenses from exterior enemies; are in no need to occupy them at present. The same observation will apply to Fort Livingston.
I have the honor to inclose copies of a proclamation and the several general orders necessary in the administration of the affairs of so large a city.* The order most questionable is the one in regard to cotton and sugar, No. 22; but it has had a most salutary effect. Both cotton and sugar are now being sent for to be brought into this market, and the burning through the adjacent country has ceased.
My action in regard to provisions was made absolutely necessary by the starvation which was falling upon the "just and the unjust," and as the class of workmen and mechanics on whom it is pressing most heavily, I am persuaded, are well disposed to the Union, I may have to take other measures to feed these.
It will become necessary for me to use the utmost severity in rooting out the various rebel secret associations here, which overawe the Union men, and give expression to the feelings of the mob by assassination and murder, and usurping the functions of government when a government was here pretended to. I propose to make some brilliant examples.
I take leave to suggest whether it might not be well to send to this point or Mobile a large force by which to operate on the rebel rear, so as To cut him off completely.
I send this dispatch by Colonel Deming, a gentleman known to you, who is possessed of my confidence, and will present to you some matters of interest more at length than could be done in this form of communication. I desire, however, to add urgently to anything he may say that there is an immediate necessity for a paymaster here. As well for the spirit, health, and comfort of the troops, I have established the strictest quarantine at the proper point (the quarantine grounds), and hope to preserve the present good health of my command. I hope my action will meet the approval of the President and the Department of War. Much of it has been done in the emergencies called for by a new and untried state of things, when promptness and movement were more desirable than deliberation. I await with anxiety instructions from the Department for my guidance in the future.
I have the honor to be, most respectfully, your obedient servant,
BENJ. F. BUTLER,
The SECRETARY OF WAR.
* See “Correspondence, etc.,” post.
SOURCE: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 6 (Serial No. 6), p. 506-8