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Why do people here hate Union Gen. Benjamin Butler? 

Blake Pontchartrain: The New Orleans N.O. It All

click to enlarge Gen. Benjamin Butler was given the nicknames 'Spoons,' 'Silver Spoons' and "Beast' while serving in New Orleans.

Gen. Benjamin Butler was given the nicknames 'Spoons,' 'Silver Spoons' and "Beast' while serving in New Orleans.

Hey Blake,

Why do people here hate Union Gen. Benjamin Butler? Didn't he fight for New Orleans?

Dear Reader,

  More than 150 years after Benjamin Butler came and left, New Orleanians still tell stories of the Civil War general, which shows how important — and infamous — he is in the city's history. As the military commander of New Orleans for nine months in 1862 during the Union occupation, Butler naturally was not a popular figure. But it's what he did once he had the job that made things even worse.

  Born in New Hampshire in 1818, Butler moved to Massachusetts and launched his political career as a state lawmaker before becoming a Union soldier and major general. On May 1, 1862, Union Admiral David Farragut, who had captured New Orleans just days earlier, turned over command of the city to Butler. According to historian John Kemp, as military governor, Butler brought order to the city but ruled with an iron fist. He and his administration were widely viewed as corrupt, particularly for stealing confiscated goods from homes — hence Butler's nicknames "Spoons" and "Silver Spoon." But it was his famous General Order No. 28 that earned him the nickname "Beast" among New Orleanians. In the order, Butler decreed that women who hurled insults at federal officers or soldiers would be regarded as prostitutes and prosecuted. He didn't win any fans with that decree.

  Despite his negatives, Butler was recognized in a positive way for organizing the public school system, instituting special taxes to benefit orphans and the poor, cleaning up the city and reducing the number of deaths from yellow fever. His service here ended in December 1862, and he later was elected governor of Massachusetts and served in Congress. He died in 1893.

  Another note about Butler comes from Kemp's book New Orleans: An Illustrated History. Kemp points out that it was Butler, whose father served under Gen. Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans, who coined the inscription that was added to the base of Jackson's statue in Jackson Square: "The Union must and shall be preserved."


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