Beast Butler Goes Too Far

In 1861, New Orleans was an international city. Some two dozen consuls were posted in the Crescent City representing their governments. Gen. Butler first encountered problems when he tried to confiscate gold and hard currency held by a bank. The bank had hidden the gold and currency with one of the consuls. Many of the banks had hidden their hard currency, knowing Gen. Butler would seize it and leave their depositors without funds. The French consul refused to produce a key to his vault. The U.S. soldiers seized him, undressed him until they found the key. Within the vault, they found $800,000 in Mexican silver. Gen. Butler won this battle, but the French consul was just starting to fight.

The British Militia

About that time Gen, Butler was addressing a different situation. Before the Union soldiers had arrived in April, the British consul had organized a militia force composed of some 60 English citizens. When the city fell without a fight, the British militia disbanded. But, they sent their weapons and uniforms to Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, the favorite son of New Orleans. In late May, annoyed by this donation. Gen. Butler insisted the British militia turn out with all their weapons and uniforms. Any Englishman who did not appear with his weapon and uniform would be forced to leave the city or be arrested. These 60 or so English citizens were prosperous men of standing. They did not care to be threatened simply for defending their adopted home and then for helping their neighbors.

The Wrath of the Consuls

The British Consul, George Coppell, protested. The Consul told the general he was violating international law. Butler did not care for the English. Many Americans still retained their distaste for the former colonizers. Butler challenged Coppell’s credentials as Consul. Gen. Butler arrested three Englishmen and sent them to the prison at Ft. Jackson. Ft. Jackson was an open air fort, infested with mosquitos. Mr. Coppell then communicated the problem to the British Foreign Minister in Washington, D.C., Lord Lyons.

Within days, Beast Butler was engaged in verbal wars with the Dutch and Greek Consuls. Gen. Butler now found himself very unpopular with his government back in Washington. A fight with the Spanish over some freight in a Spanish ship soon followed. The General issued Gen. Order No. 40, threatening to arrest any person, meaning U.S. citizen or not, who held property belonging to the Confederate States of America.

That order was quickly followed by Gen. Order No. 41 in mid-June, 1862. This order required all persons in the city to swear an oath of loyalty to the U.S. In a special paragraph for foreigners, this order required foreign born persons to swear an oath that they had not assisted any enemy of the U.S. The General knew he had supreme power in the city. He intended to use it. The consuls were infuriated. They raised a ruckus which eventually forced Gen. Butler from his position of supreme power.

Clara Solomon was equally aghast at General Order No. 41. She was, however, thrilled when family friend, D.G. Duncan was released from prison at Ft. Jackson. He was freed with no more explanation than when he was first arrested weeks before. She fretted again at the lack of letters from her pa in Virginia.

Sources:

Chester G. Hearn, When the Devil Came Down to Dixie (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1997), pp. 142-165.

Elliott Ashkenazi , ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 8, 410-411.

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