Butler Relieved of Command; First Rebel Flag Captured

Wednesday, May 15, 1861

General Benjamin Butler, after having captured Baltimore without orders to do so, occupied Federal Hill without telling his superiors and pointed cannons at the business district, was tired. He had not slept for over 40 hours and turned in early the previous evening.1

Throughout the night, he was awoken by the arrival of a telegram, which informed him that a train had been captured at Harpers Ferry and more danger was thought imminent near Frederick (Monocacy). The commander of the small outpost asked Butler for reinforcements.

General Butler then wired General Scott (at 1:25am), informing him of the happenings, the request for more troops and that Harpers Ferry was not under his [Butler’s] Department.2

This was after Scott found out that Butler had seized Baltimore without orders and after Scott wrote Butler to find out what was going on.

Apparently, Butler also sent another telegram to Scott requesting him to “send us more detachments till further orders.” He also must have mentioned the proclamation (or Scott heard of it in some other way). At 2:17am, Scott replied to this missing communication. He rightfully complained that he had not heard from Butler in several days. He also asked if Butler still had men at the Relay House.

On the morning of the 15th, Butler was roused out of bed at 8:30am by the dispatch written the day before by General Scott:

“Your hazardous occupation of Baltimore was made without my knowledge, and, of course, without my approbation. It is a godsend that it is without conflict of arms. It is also reported that you have sent a detachment to Frederick; hut this is impossible. Not a word have I received from you as to either movement. Let me hear from you.”3

Butler later said the communication “if not appalling, was certainly amusing” and refused to reply to it right away. He also probably received the other telegram at the same time.

Though Butler claims to have “busied myself in taking charge of everything of warlike material in Baltimore,” he did find time to write a lengthy report to Scott, addressing most of Scott’s concerns. He told of how he took Baltimore, captured weapons, of his proclamation and how he expected the arrival of more troops.4 It’s not immediately clear when Scott received the report.

Also during this day, Major-General William Cadwallader was ordered to Baltimore by Scott. He was at the head of 1,000 Pennsylvania troops. Upon his arrival, Scott telegraphed that Cadwallader was to “halt there with them [the Pennsylvanians] and relieve Brigadier-General Butler in command of the Department of Annapolis.”

Scott so disapproved of Butler’s actions that he relieved him of his entire Department, putting Cadwallader in his place. Butler was ordered to Fortress Monroe, but would first stop at Washington.

Upon receiving the dismissal, Butler wrote a lengthy letter to Cadwallader explaining the condition of his Department. Though Scott was dismayed by Butler’s actions, President Lincoln appeared to be more of a fan. It was Lincoln that called Butler to the capital. He had a promotion in mind for the Brigadier. Butler would leave the next morning.5

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Johnston Ordered to Harpers Ferry

One of the highest ranking officers in the Confederate army, Joseph E. Johnston, had been in charge of forces in and around Richmond. Feeling that Harpers Ferry was about to be the starting point of the war, he was reassigned to take command of this most important town and arsenal.

By this time, regiments from Virginia, as well as Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi had converged on this camp. They had all been under Col. Thomas Jackson’s command, but he was merely a colonel. What they needed was a Brigadier General.

Johnston would leave in a few days to take the reigns from Jackson.6

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First Rebel Flag Captured

In Missouri, Captain Lyon had heard of a large lead mine near Potosi, about 70 miles south of St. Louis. He sent the Fifth Missouri Volunteers as an occupying force. When they arrived at the town, they seized arms, powder, the mine and administered an Oath of Allegiance to all but eight residents, who were then taken under arrest.

After their work was finished, they were informed of a large secessionist meeting in De Soto, 25 miles away, on their way back to St. Louis. A large States Rights flag was planned to be raised and there was a threat of trouble against the Union troops.

When the Fifth Missouri entered De Soto, the flag had not yet been run up. While the secessionists went into hiding, the Union troops looked for the flag. It was soon found, under the dress of a woman who was playing sick, lying upon a bed. They made her stand up and the flag fell out. This was probably the first secessionist flag taken during the Civil War.7



  1. Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences by Benjamin Butler. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p32. []
  3. Private and Official Correspondence Vol.1 by Benjamin Butler. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p29-30. []
  5. Private and Official Correspondence by Benjamin Butler. []
  6. Stonewall Jackson by James I Robertson, Jr. []
  7. General Nathaniel Lyon in Missouri in 1861 by James Peckham, 1866. []
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Butler Relieved of Command; First Rebel Flag Captured by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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