Benjamin Butler born on November 5, 1818, gained a reputation as an outstanding lawyer, politician and soldier during the 1850s and 1860s. His accomplishments as a politician and general in the Union army resulted in enhancing the welfare of the African American population during this time period.
Graduating from Colby College in 1838 he clerked and read law as an apprentice with a local lawyer in Lowell, Massachusetts, prior to passing the bar exam in 1840.
As a major general for the Union during the Civil War his policies regarding slaves as contraband led to his refusal to return runaway slaves to their masters. Consequently, he was widely disliked for years by Southern whites.
Given command of New Orleans, Butler made efforts to care for the poor and needy, giving $ 1000 of his personal money to purchase food for those who were starving.
Butler did have his difficulties in administering New Orleans as it was a Southern city and the occupants still had their loyalties to the South. Although unfounded, Butler was accused of engaging in petty looting of household valuables of citizens in New Orleans.
Butler was not a saint and as such he attempted to make a huge profit by buying $ 60,000 in sugar and then shipping the cargo to Boston where he expected to sell the sugar for $160,000.
Butler’s mistake was that he used a Federal warship to export the cargo of sugar. However, military authorities caught Butler and instead of earning a profit, the authorities permitted him to recover only his $ 60,000 of expenses.
Further unethical activities by Butler included confiscation of cotton from residents throughout the area. Once brought into New Orleans, the cotton would be similarly sold in rigged auctions.
Always inventive of new tactics Butler sequestered such “properties” in all of Louisiana beyond parishes surrounding New Orleans. These tactics were to punish the Southerners for their participation in the Civil War.
Upon Butler’s death it was reported that his net worth was about $7 million dollars. One historian stated that, “The source of his fortune is a mystery, but much of it came from New Orleans . . . .”