August 7, 1861: Butler, Magruder and Contrabands

Major General Benjamin Butler was probably the most militarily incompetent of the “political generals” appointed by Lincoln during the War.  Like the other “political generals” Butler was appointed for political reasons and not due to his military acumen.  In the case of Butler, he was a powerful  Massachusetts Democrat, and his appointment aided Lincoln in rallying Massachusetts Democrats to support the War.

While he was militarily inept, Butler had a shrewd enough brain in other areas.  Appointed to command Fortress Monroe in Virginia, Butler quickly developed the policy of not returning slaves to their rebel masters, arguing, as the able attorney he was, that such slaves were contrabands of war, and could be used by the Union Army as hired laborers, thus depriving the Confederacy of their labor, and giving it to the Union.

Butler’s opposite number, Brigadier General John B. Magruder, known universally in the pre-war Regular Army as “Prince John”,  for his love of theatrics, burned Hampton, Virginia to the ground on August 7, 1861, after learning that Butler planned to use it as a base for his “contraband” former slaves.

Nothing daunted by the burning, Butler established a Grand Contraband Camp, which eventually would house 10,000 former slaves.  Street names used in the Camp, Grant, Lincoln, Hope, Union and Liberty, are still used in modern day Hampton, Virginia.

Published in: on August 7, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 7, 1861: Butler, Magruder and Contrabands  
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