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Butler’s Rule in New Orleans.


October of 1862

From The Missouri Democrat, Sunday, October 5, 1862.


The Banks, Schools and Hospitals—Reverdy Johnson in the role of Mediator—Pierre Soule Hears the Truth.

To the Editor of the N. Y. Tribune:

SIR:–In this morning’s Tribune you publish some interesting particulars with regard to the occupation of New Orleans by Gen. Butler.  Having just arrived from a five months’ sojourn in that city, after enjoying frequent intercourse with the Union officers there, I think I can add materially to the history.

I went to New Orleans with a very strong dislike to General Butler, politically and personally.  I had known him for twenty years, but known him only as a lawyer advocating almost any cause for pay, and a politician seeking successes by intrigue.  I had heard also from a friend who heard it, that he chuckled even while on his way to Baltimore, “I go into this thing as a speculation; I will make it pay.”  So I looked upon him as a military adventurer only, inspired more by selfishness than patriotism.  Then he was a slave of slavery; what was he worth in a war against the masters?

I have come from this Department convinced that Gen. Butler, if not the predestined chief of our armies, is at least just the man to break the back of rebellious New Orleans.

It is notorious that, long before he arrived there, he saw that “the nigger,” as a representative of dollars, had ceased to be the winning card, and that emancipation was the trump thenceforward.

He began at New Orleans as if he comprehended the situation.  He said to the Mayor and his Council, “Go on, gentlemen; I will see how well we work together.”  He straightway issued an order which highly incensed all the aristocracy of traitors.  The city authorities called upon him, when he had available but 1,400 men, and said to him, in effect, “General, your order is considered outrageous; unless you revoke it instantly, we cannot longer be responsible for the good conduct of the citizens.”  “Then I will be responsible from this instant!” replied Butler, with emphasis; “you, Mr. Mayor, are assigned to Fort Lafayette; you, Aldermen, will be conveyed to Fort Pickens; I will run this city myself!”  And he appointed a Mayor and Board of his own, and established a loyal Government.

He summoned the bankers and said to them:  “Here!  I want you to call in and destroy every scrap of rebel shinplasters which these poor people have been obliged to receive from you as an equivalent for their deposits, and issue in their place good bills, for the redemption of which your personal property is hereby held responsible.”  They protested:  “We cannot do it.  General; our resources are not sufficient.”  “Bring me a statement of your assets and liabilities,” he replied; “I will see if you can do it, and if you lie to me about your property, you go to Fort Warren until after the war.”

“Well, gentlemen,” he said, after looking over their papers, “I am by profession a lawyer, but I was for two years Chairman of the Committee on Banks and Corporations in the Massachusetts Legislature, which profited me; after a careful examination of the condition of these banks, I have come to the conclusion that they can be run; therefore they must be run; if you will do it and take care of your depositors, go ahead; if not, get out of the way—I shall take charge of them myself.”  Of course they adopted legitimate habits, and continued.

The sick at Quarantine were suffering for want of medical aid.  Army surgeons could not be spared.  So he sent Secession doctors and surgeons, and said to them:  “See here!  I know that you are infernal rebels, every one of you, but go down and take care of my sick; if a man suffers through your inattention or treachery, by ——— I will hang you higher than Haman.”

He went among the schools; they were poisoned by rebel teachers, and the children were instructed to sing Jeff. Davis songs and insult the Union soldiers.  He seized the teachers and shut them up, and sent to New England for a regiment of school-mistresses.

The sending of Reverdy Johnson to New Orleans was peculiarly unfortunate.  He went ostensibly to settle misunderstandings which had arisen between Gen. Butler and foreign cotton-owners, but, on his arrival there, became the recognized friend and counsel of the rich rebels against Gen. Butler and the government.  He mitigated penalties, it is said, and remitted fines in numerous instances, it is known.  He accepted the hospitalities of the most notorious rebels, and had their unqualified confidence to the end.  He and Gen. Butler had not spoken to each other, on account of a personal quarrel, for three years, which would seem to add to the inappropriateness of his appointment, but which did not at all prevent official intercourse.  His patronage of the rebel aristocracy made him extremely odious to the Union officers and army, and the citizens who did not wish to see the Government compromised.

Pierre Soule—well known as having been a Senator from Louisiana and Minister to Spain under Pierce, and now a notorious rebel—made himself most obnoxious by his officious interference with the Union Government.  One day, after an extra effort for some rebel scheme, he called for an interview with General Butler.  It was my good fortune to be in the room, and I certainly shall never forget the remarkable scene.  Soule was dignified, cold, polite as usual; Butler received him most civilly, rising and taking his hand as he approached.  Soule commenced what sounded like a set speech.  “General Butler,” he said with an air of deep seriousness, “I regret to find yourself and myself upon different roads.  We have been acquainted for fifteen years; for ten years we have been intimate friends.  We have differed sometimes with regards to details, but have agreed always upon great questions of policy.  Why need we differ now?  We met at Charleston to save the Union from the fanaticism of the North.  We preferred different candidates—you Breckinridge, I Douglas; but our political principles were identical.”

“There!—not another word!” shouted Butler, with an imperative gesture, as he sprang to his feet—for as the conspirator proceeded he had been evidently warming to the interruption—“not another word, you hypocrite!  You lied to me at Charleston!  I shall never forget how basely you lied!  I held private interviews with you there as a gentleman and a friend—you deceived and you deserted me!  You, Pierre Soule, and those who acted with you, said you would stand by me to the last in a fair and legal fight for Southern rights; that you would stand by our Northern Democracy.  You know how false you proved!  I want to hear no new professions.  Leave the room instantly!  And, by —! if you ever call me your friend again, I will give you a ball and chain in Fort Pickens; and if you do not cease your treasonable plottings against the life of the Union, I will have you hung from these windows!”

The vehemence of General Butler was terrible, and the occasional undisguised oath that flashed here and there, did not add mildness to the denunciation.  Before his fury Soule was speechless.  His usual self-possession had forsaken him, and he tried in vain to recover himself to reply.  He looked as if he had made his last speech on earth, as, flushed and crestfallen, trembling and guilty, he bowed under the storm of just imprecations and skulked away.

Since his occupation there, Gen. Butler has fed, from United States stores in the hands of his quartermasters, some 30,000 poor people daily—rebel and Union, white and black.  The people of the North, and the people of New Orleans even, generally suppose that this hospitality has been indulged in at some cost to the government.  This is an error.  At the end of every month Gen. Butler calls upon the Quartermasters for the expenses in feeding the poor.  A bill is returned accordingly.  Gen. Butler makes out a list of a few rich secessionists, and publishes it in the Delta, as follows:

The undersigned persons will call at these headquarters and pay the tax annexed to their names for the support of the poor of the city:

Peter Wilmer                    $3,000
George A. Toutant      $20,000
M. Jackson                       $5,000

&c.  That is all, and instead of costing the nation, there are now $200,000 in the Contingent Treasury.

WASHINGTON, D. C., Sept. 30, 1862.