Butler Takes Baltimore Without Orders; Sherman’s Dreadful Predictions

Monday, May 13, 1861

Union General Benjamin Butler wasn’t ordered to march into Baltimore and occupy Federal Hill. However, he also wasn’t explicitly ordered not to.

When he and his men occupied Relay Station just south of the city, he became more than a little wary of the Secessionist happenings within its limits. After sending a scout to ascertain such happenings, he was convinced that there were “military stores” in Baltimore and that they were to be sent to Harpers Ferry to aid the Rebels. He wrote to General Scott and then, on this date, received his replies via Scott’s private secretary, Col. Schuyler Hamilton.1

The first of two dispatches from Scott told of “several Tons of Gunpowder” stored in a church near Baltimore & Fayette Streets. The second told Butler that the identities of the parties who had attempted to supply the troops in Harpers Ferry with guns, clothes and bread could be discovered “on inquiry.”2

Butler made mention of these dispatches in his May 15th report, claiming that he then acted “in obedience to verbal directions, received from the War Department through Mr. Harriman [Hamilton?].” Though the “verbal directions” didn’t actually direct Butler to do anything more than (perhaps) make a few arrests and seize some gun powder, the General gathered 500 men from the Sixth Massachusetts, who had recovered from the Baltimore Riots, 450 men from the Eighth New York and two pieces of artillery. They boarded trains and, by 6pm, arrived at the Camden Street depot. A violent thunderstorm and torrents of rain drenched the men as they detrained and quickly marched six blocks to Federal Hill, an eminence which overlooked the harbor and the business district.3

While the men were setting up camp and fortifying, word spread through the city and to Mayor George Brown, who wrote to Butler at 8:30pm. “As the sudden arrival of such a force will create much surprise in the Community,” Brown warned Butler, and then requested to know “whether you propose that it shall remain at the Camden Station, so that the Police may be notified and proper precaution may be taken to prevent any disturbance of the peace.” The memories of the April 19th Baltimore Riots were still fresh and stinging. By this time, however, Butler had already left the station and would not receive Brown’s note until the next morning.4

As the two pieces of artillery were pointed at Baltimore’s business district, Butler wrote to Fort McHenry, positioned close by, southeast of Federal Hill:

“I Have taken possession of Baltimore. My troops are on Federal Hill, which I can hold with the aid of my artillery. If I am attacked to-night, please open upon Monument Square with your mortars. I will keep the hill fully lighted with fires during the night so that you may know where we are and not hit us.”5

Around midnight, rumors of a secessionist attack on the United States recruiting office spread to Federal Hill. Butler called his men to arms where they stood in the rain waiting for orders to attack, should the rumor prove itself true. It did not.

The rumors turned out to be a secessionist ruse. While the recruiting office was being relatively unharmed, the Baltimore Police plundered nearly 500 arms, shipping them outside of the city for safe-keeping. As dawn broke over Baltimore, the secessionists had, for the time being, successfully fooled Butler. 6

Nevertheless, a Union force was now occupying Baltimore. Butler had acted without orders and without even informing Washington of his actions. Later, he admitted that he had longed to take Baltimore. These vague directions given by Scott via Hamilton were merely an excuse. Butler wrote that he “promised my old comrades of the Sixth Regiment, with whom I had served for many years, that I would march them through Baltimore and revenge the cowardly attack made upon them on the 19th of April.”

He also admitted that he “had the strongest possible suspicion that if I asked General Scott for orders to occupy Baltimore he would refuse them.” This was all in the future, however. Butler’s occupation of Baltimore had just begun.7


Sherman Reveals His Heart to a Dear Southern Friend

William Tecumseh Sherman had struck up a friendship with David French Boyd when they were both on the staff of Louisiana State Seminary.

“We are now by Declaration of the Confederate Congress and by act of our own constituted authorities enemies,” Sherman wrote Boyd after viewing the bloodletting on the streets of St. Louis, “and I can not yet realize the fact.” How quickly could two dear friends become enemies.

Continuing, Sherman asserted “that I individually would not do any human being a wrong, take from him a cent, or molest any of his rights or property, and yet I admit fully the fact that Lincoln was bound to call on the country to rally and save our constitution and government.”

Sherman had not responded to Lincoln’s call for troops. He thought that if he had, he might by this time, be a Major-General. “But my feelings prompted me to forbear and the consequence is my family and friends are almost cold to me,” he lamented, adding, “they feel and say that I have failed at the critical moment of my life.”

Then Sherman waxed philosophical and poetic: “It may be I am but a chip on the whirling tide of time destined to be cast on the shore as a worthless weed.”

“I have no doubt a hundred thousand disciplined men will be in Louisiana by Christmas next,” Sherman continued. Boyd was still in Louisiana contemplating his next move. “The Mississippi River will be a grand theater of war, but not till the present masses are well disciplined. It is horrible to contemplate but it cannot be avoided.”

In closing, Sherman assured his colleague and comrade: “No matter what happens I will always consider you my personal friend, and you shall ever be welcome to my roof.”

As history has shown us, Sherman became General Sherman. David French Boyd would go South. This was the last letter between these two friends until after the war.8

  1. Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences by Benjamin Franklin Butler. His autobiography is, like all autobiographies, self-serving and filled with justifications. However, some truth can be easily extracted here and there. []
  2. Private and Official Correspondence of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, Volume 1 edited by Jessie Ames Marshall []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p29. []
  4. Private and Official Correspondence of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, Volume 1 edited by Jessie Ames Marshall []
  5. Private and Official Correspondence of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, Volume 1 edited by Jessie Ames Marshall []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p29. []
  7. Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences by Benjamin Franklin Butler. []
  8. Sherman to Boyd, May 13, 1861, from General W.T. Sherman as College President: a Collection of Letters, edited by Walter L. Flemming, 1912. []
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Butler Takes Baltimore Without Orders; Sherman’s Dreadful Predictions by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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