150 Years Ago This Week: Gen. Butler branded an outlaw

December 1862

In Washington on Saturday, Dec. 20, the Cabinet crisis moved into its second day. Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase tendered his resignation, to follow those of Secretary of State William Seward and his son Frederick, the assistant secretary of state, and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair’s offers to resign.

The disputes ended when President Lincoln refused to accept any of the resignations or Blair’s offer, and asked the four men to continue in their posts. They did, but the crisis left its mark on the administration.

In Mississippi, Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn’s Confederate force moved rapidly from Grenada and captured the advance supply base of Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant. The Southerners captured more than 1,500 Federal troops and destroyed more than $1.5 million in military supplies. To the north, Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest’s Confederate cavalry attacked railroads and fought skirmishes at Trenton and Humboldt. These military activities forced Gen. Grant to temporarily abandon his plans for an overland campaign on Vicksburg. He withdrew his army from Oxford to LaGrange, Tenn. This move also disrupted Gen. Grant’s plan to unite with Union forces under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman who was moving south on 100 transport vessels on the Mississippi from Memphis towards Vicksburg.

In Washington, President Lincoln anticipated the arrival of his Army of the Potomac commander, Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, to discuss post-Fredericksburg strategy. Lincoln issued an order congratulating the army for its bravery at Fredericksburg, and called the Federal defeat “an accident.”

In the South, President Jefferson Davis, on an inspection tour of his Confederate states, had reached Vicksburg on Dec. 22 and conferred with Lt. Gen. John Pemberton about the city’s defenses. He wrote to Maj. Gen. Theophilius Holmes that “it seems clearly developed that the enemy has two principal objects in view – to gain control of the Mississippi River, and the other to capture the capital of the Confederate States.” He added that, to prevent the Federals from controlling the river and “dismembering the Confederacy, we must mainly depend upon maintaining the points already occupied by defensive works: to-wit, Vicksburg and Port Hudson.”

Branding Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler a felon, an outlaw and a common enemy of mankind for his alleged tyrannical rule in New Orleans as military governor‚ and citing the intensely bitter feelings resulting from his tenure there, President Davis on Dec. 23 issued a proclamation that, if Gen. Butler was captured, he was not to be considered a military prisoner, but should be hanged immediately. Ironically, it was Butler who nominated Jefferson Davis for president of the U.S. in 1860.

Thursday, Christmas Day, 1862, brought no cessation of military activities. Gen. Sherman’s troops on the Mississippi approached Vicksburg; Gen. Morgan’s raiders fought Union troops in Kentucky; there was a skirmish near Warrenton. Other fighting took place in Tennessee, at Ripley, Miss., and between Martinsburg and Charleston in western Virginia.

In Washington, President and Mrs. Lincoln visited wounded soldiers in military hospitals. On Dec. 26, as Gen. Sherman’s troops disembarked from the boats near Steele’s Bayou, Miss., 38 Sioux Indians were hanged at Mankato, Minn., for their part in the Sioux uprising which cost more than 450 lives. Another was pardoned at the last minute.

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Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.