Major General Benjamin Butler


Benjamin F. Butler (1818−93) was a Massachusetts politician and Union army general in the American Civil War. Appointed an officer largely for political reasons, he had a mixed record as a military commander. He earned an important place in history, however, for his actions during the war toward the people and territory of the South. In 1861, while serving as commander of Fort Monroe, Virginia, he made the decision, on his own authority, not to return to the Confederacy slaves fleeing into Union lines on the grounds that they constituted “contraband of war,” whose return would boost the Southern war effort. Abraham Lincoln later was to follow the same reasoning in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. In early 1862, Butler commanded the Union land forces that retook New Orleans from the Confederacy, and from May to December of that year he was military governor of the city, which he ruled with an iron hand. After the war, Butler served as governor of Massachusetts and in the U.S. House of Representatives. The image is from an album of mostly Civil War-era portraits by the famous American photographer Matthew Brady (circa 1823‒96) that belonged to Emperor Pedro II of Brazil (1825‒91), a collector of photography as well as a photographer himself. The album was a gift to the emperor from Edward Anthony (1818‒88), another early American photographer who, in partnership with his brother, owned a company that in the 1850s became the leading seller of photographic supplies in the United States. Dom Pedro may have acquired the album during a trip to the United States in 1876 when he, along with President Ulysses S. Grant, opened the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Brady was born in upstate New York, the son of immigrants from Ireland. Best known for his photographs documenting the battles of the American Civil War, he began his career in 1844 when he opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Streets in New York City. Over the course of the next several decades, Brady produced portraits of leading American public figures, many of which were published as engravings in magazines and newspapers. In 1858 he opened a branch in Washington, DC. The album, which also contains a small number of non-photographic prints, is part of the Thereza Christina Maria Collection at the National Library of Brazil. The collection is composed of 21,742 photos assembled by Emperor Pedro II throughout his life and donated by him to the national library. The collection covers a wide variety of subjects. It documents the achievements of Brazil and Brazilians in the 19th century and also includes many photographs of Europe, Africa, and North America.

Last updated: January 8, 2018