Civil War History: General Benjamin Franklin Butler

By Janice Schulz

Our latest installment in the Archives & Rare Books Library’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War focuses on Benjamin Butler, a controversial Union general whose command of New Orleans earned him the nickname, “The Beast.” As commander of Fortress Monroe, Butler coined the phrase “Contraband of War” to refer to slaves that had crossed over to Union territory and were retained by the Union Army. His successful protection of Baltimore and command of the Department of Eastern Virginia earned him the command of the Department of the Gulf, where he took control of the captured city of New Orleans early in 1862. But the accolades ended here, and the rest of his military career was marked with controversy and strife. Eventually he was relieved of his command in the Gulf and of his subsequent command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina.

Volumes of Butler's Private and Official Correspondence

Private and Official Correspondence of General Benjamin F. Butler

The article on Butler was researched and written almost entirely using materials from our Rare Books Collection, particularly Private and Official Correspondence of General Benjamin F. Butler, a five-volume set of correspondence to, from, and about Butler during the entire span of the Civil War. We have an impressive collection of rare books on the Civil War that can be used as primary source material for research projects. Of general interest are the ten-volume set Photographic History of the Civil War and Harper’s Weekly, which faithfully reported events throughout the war.  We also have subject-specific books such as those about General Butler. Our rare books can be found through the UC Libraries catalog,