Military Adventures Beyond the Mississippi

Butler's Farewell

Benjamin F. Butler
(click on image to enlarge)

“I greet you, my brave comrades, and say farewell!

“This word—endeared as you are by a community of privations, hardships, dangers, victories, successes military and civil—is the only sorrowful thought I have.

“You have deserved well of your country. Without a murmur you sustained an encampment on a sand-bar so desolate that banishment to it, with every care and comfort possible, has been the moot dreaded punishment inflicted upon your bitterest, and most insulting enemies.

“You had so little transportation that but a handful could advance to compel submission by the Queen City of the rebellion.

“Landing with a military chest containing but seventy-five dollars, from the hoards of a rebel government you have given to your country’s treasury nearly half a million of dollars, and so supplied yourselves with the needs of your service that your expedition has cost your Government less by four-fifths that any other.

“By your practical philanthropy you have won the confidence of the ‘oppressed race,’ and the slave. Hailing you as deliverers they are ready to aid you as willing servants, faithful laborers, or, using the tactics taught them by your enemies, to fight with you In the field.

“You have met double numbers of the enemy and defeated them in the open field. But I need not farther enlarge upon the topic. You were sent here to do that.

“I commend you to your commander. You are worthy of his love.

“Farewell, my comrades! Again farewell!

He addressed himself also to the citizens of New Orleans; defended himself, for the first and last time, in a few brief words, from the calumnies that had been heaped upon him; and appealed to their own consciousness to testify that no one had suffered under his command who had conducted himself with propriety. In a few scorching words he unveiled the hypocrisy of England’s assumed horror at his supposed seventies:

“I do not feel that I have erred in too much harshness; for that harshness has ever been exhibited to disloyal enemies of my country, and not to loyal friends. To be sure I might have regaled you with the amenities of British civilization, and yet been within the supposed rules of civilized warfare. You might have been smoked to death in caverns, as were the Covenanters of Scotland by the command of a general of the royal household of England; or roasted, like the inhabitants of Algiers during the French campaign; your wives and daughters might have been given over to the ravisher, as were the unfortunate dames in the Peninsular war;• or you might have been scalped and tomahawked, as our mothers were at Wyoming by the savage allies of Great Britain in our own revolution; your property could have been turned over to indiscriminate ‘loot,’ like the palace of the Emperor of China; works of art, which adorned your buildings, might have been sent away, like the paintings of the Vatican; your sons might have been blown from the mouth of cannon, like the sepoys of Delhi; and yet all this would have been within the rules of civilized warfare, as practiced by the most polished and the most hypocritical nations of Europe. For such acts the records of the doings of some of the inhabitants, of your city toward the friends of the Union, before my coming, were a sufficient provocation and justification.

“But I have not so conducted. On the contrary, the worst punishment inflicted, except for criminal acts punishable by every law, has been banishment, with labor, to a barren island, where I encamped my own soldiers before marching here.”

He recounted in the same terse and powerful language the principal acts of his administration, and conjured them to return to their allegiance; then declared plainly the only obstacle which prevented such return, and the way to deal with it:

“There is but one thing that at this hour stands between you and the Government, and that is slavery.

“This institution, cursed of God, which has taken its last refuge here, will be rooted out, as the tares from wheat, although the wheat be torn up with it.

“I have given much thought to this subject.

“I came among you by teachings, by habit of mind, by political position, by social affinity, inclined to sustain your domestic laws, if by possibility they might be with safety to the Union.

“Months of experience and of observation have forced the conviction that the existence of slavery is incompatible with the safety either of yourselves or of the Union. As the system has gradually grown to its present huge dimensions, it were best if it could be gradually removed; but it is better, far better, that it should be taken out at once than that it should longer vitiate the social, political, and family relations of your country.

“I am speaking with no philanthropic views as regards the slave, but simply of the effect of slavery on the master. See for yourselves. Look around you and say whether this saddening, deadening influence has not all but destroyed the very frame-work of your society.”

Visit #Hit Counter since 11/05/2002
Last updated 10/11/2009.