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In his preface to this scrupulously documented biography the author states that his aim is to disentangle its subject, General Benjamin F. Butler -- ""Beast"" Butler of Southern legend -- ""from the myths that have grown up about him."" Reared in the mill town of Lowell, Mass., Butler (1818-1893), politician, brilliant criminal lawyer, champion of the under-privileged, had the ability to get things done -- and frequently landed in hot water while doing them. In 1861 with no West Point training he launched himself into the Civil War, was made a Brigadier General, and in April was sent to Baltimore, where by stern measures issued on his own authority he saved Maryland for the Union. Transferred to Fortress Monroe, he coined the term ""contraband of war"" for the fugitive slaves who flocked to him. As military commander of New Orleans in 1862 he cleaned up the city, embroiled himself with foreign consuls, and used his own funds to start trade moving; he confiscated and sold personal property of citizens who refused to contribute to his emergency relief fund for the poor, but he did not steal their spoons. His notorious""Woman Order"" did not order his soldiers to insult Southern ladies; instead, it stopped these ladies from spitting on his officers. In Congress after the war Butler led the prosecution in the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and championed Negro Civil Rights; elected Governor of Massachusetts in 1882, in 1884 he campaigned for the presidency against Cleveland on a one-man ticket. Too long for its subject and not for dedicated Southerners, this detailed and conscientious study of a controversial figure should find a place in larger Civil War libraries.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1965
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin