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Major General Benjamin "The Beast" Butler

One of the major problems that confronted by Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler on his occupation of New Orleans in April of 1862, was the abuse his soldiers endured from patriotic Confederate women. Bitterly resentful of the Union occupation, whenever any of Butler's men were present they would contemptuously gather in their skirts, cross streets, flee rooms, cast hateful glances, or make derisive comments. Some sang spirited renditions of "The Bonnie Blue Flag" and other Confederate songs, or spat on soldiers' uniforms, while teaching their children to do the same. One woman emptied a chamber pot on Capt. David C. Farragut from her window shortly after the mayor surrendered the city to him.

The women hoped their actions would force a retaliatory incident serious enough to incite paroled Confederates to revolt against the occupation troops. Butler's men showed remarkable restraint against the insults, but he realized that it was only a matter of time until one of them, pressed too far, would arrest some female belligerent. Undoubtedly the men of New Orleans would attempt a rescue, and Butler feared his small force would be overcome. He dealt with the problem on May 15 by issuing General Orders No. 28, carefully worded to be self-enforcing:

" As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subjected to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans, in return for the most scrupulous noninterference 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 United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation."

Except for a few isolated incidents, the insults stopped abruptly when the women learned they would be treated as common whores for demeaning a man wearing a U.S. army uniform. A few who persisted were arrested and imprisoned on Ship Island, notably Mrs. Philip Philips, who was confined from 30 June until mid-September for laughing when the funeral procession of a Federal officer was passing her house.

The "Woman's Order" provoked criticism throughout the Confederacy and in Europe from people who considered his proclamation an unpardonable affront to womanhood. In defense of the order he emphasized the restraint his soldiers had shown civilians in New Orleans. Nevertheless, the infamous order excited indignation and personal animosity toward Butler. Many felt his nickname, "Beast" Butler, was well deserved.

Immediately upon learning of General Orders No. 28, John T. Monroe, Mayor of New Orleans, wrote a scathing letter to General Butler decrying the order. Strangely, almost as soon as it was written, Monroe retracted it and issued an apology. However, one who did not issue an apology was Jefferson Davis. President Davis issued a "Proclamation" branding Butler and his officers as nothing more than outlaws that would be hanged if captured. 

Source: "Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War" Edited by Patricia L. Faust


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