General Butler Misses His Wife, Does Not Plan an Attack

Sunday, August 25, 1861

General Benjamin Butler, in the years following the Civil War, took credit for the conception of an attack upon Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. It was, said Butler, his idea, his plan and everything moved at his discretion. What the General left out of his Memoirs, however, was his desire in late August to see his wife.

Butler dearly loved and missed her. His letters home are full of sweet, beautiful longing. “I had no idea how necessary you were to me,” wrote Butler on this date, “now with a regular routine of duty I miss you so very much.” Bubbling over with emotion, General Butler expressed disdain at Washington ignoring a leave of absence he requested in order to see his beloved. “I am sick of this inaction and delay,” he wrote his wife, “and as yet I cannot get leave of absence to come home.”

His wife had visited Fortress Monroe, staying with him for a time, and now, when he returned to his quarters at the fort, sat at his table or went anywhere they had been together, he lamented to her that finding “you everywhere gone when you ought to be present, and the mind continually and involuntarily expecting you, makes life very dreary.” He resolved that he “must either leave Fortress Monroe for other scenes where you have not been or come home — that is certain.”

He assured her that he would be “home in time to advise you about Blanche’s school. She cannot at the present time go to Georgetown, but a week or two may change all.”

His closing showed his tenderness: “Kiss the children for me. Take as many as you like for yourself, but give back as many as you take to, Your Husband.”1

Through all of his heart-touching words and loving sentiment, one thing militarily was certain: General Benjamin Butler was not in the middle of planning an attack upon Cape Hatteras. He had asked for a leave of absence to visit his wife and expected to be home in a week or two.

Later that day, Butler’s plans had to change. In his Memoirs, Butler insisted that after a consultation with General Wool (recently placed in charge of Fortress Monroe and over Butler), “an order was drawn up, which he signed.”

In reality, Union Naval Flag-Officer Silas Stringham and General Wool had been discussing a joint Army-Navy assault upon Fort Hatteras for several days. The orders that Butler referenced were real, of course, and were issued to both General Butler and Commodore Stringham.

General Butler would command a detail of 860 infantrymen, which he was ordered to prepare immediately. When they were ready, he was to report to Stringham, who had been informed that, since the idea of the operation originated with the Navy, it would be a Naval operation.2

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Floyd Plans an Ambush while Wise Receives One of His Own

In Western Virginia, General Floyd, commander of the Confederate Army of the Kanawha, occupied with his 2,000 or so troops, what he believed to be an “impregnable” position at Carnifex Ferry. This was a good thing, as he was sure a large number of Union troops were only a few miles away. Floyd again asked General Wise, seventeen miles south at Dogwood Gap, for a regiment to augment his numbers.

Meanwhile, Wise’s cavalry under Col. Jenkins was ambushed by hundreds of Union soldiers. Jenkins’ command was “cut to pieces.” Though no Confederates were killed, as many as ten were wounded. Wise advanced his force towards Gauley Bridge, but encountered no more trouble.3

The large number of Union troops (said by Floyd to be, perhaps, 500) near Floyd was Col. Tyler’s 7th Ohio Regiment. They had been near Carnifex Ferry, but were called to Gauley Bridge by General Cox. The previous day was spent returning towards their original camp. By three in the afternoon, their advance guard was spotted three miles from General Floyd’s position. A half hour later, Floyd reported that Tyler’s men were “advancing in battle array.” 4

Tyler was new to command and decided to halt and set up camp about a half mile from Floyd’s position. Not wanting to let this opportunity slip away, General Floyd met with one of his colonels, Henry Heth, and, asked him what he felt should be done. “There is but one thing for you to do,” replied Heth, “attack them at daylight tomorrow morning.”5

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Price Moves Out

General Sterling Price had reassumed command of his 10,000 strong Missouri State Guard on August 14. He had urged Confederate General Ben McCulloch to join him in an invasion along the Kansas-Missouri border, but McCulloch declined as he didn’t trust Price’s troops and his own force had been depleted when the terms of enlistment expired for most of his regiments.

Price was convinced that if he moved north into the heart of Missouri, the local secessionists would rise up. He knew that Fort Scott, just across the Kansas line, would pose a problem. He had sent some cavalry to Stockton, east of Fort Scott, to test the waters, but they reported back that the Kansas troops were too thick to attack.

Determined to save Missouri for the South, Price formulated a plan and, on this date, began to move west out of Springfield.6



  1. Letter From General Butler to Mrs. Butler, August 25, 1861. []
  2. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p 106 & 112. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p805-806. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p805-806. []
  5. Lee Vs. McClellan by Newell. []
  6. General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West by Albert E. Castel, LSU Press, 1993. []
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General Butler Misses His Wife, Does Not Plan an Attack by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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