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Benjamin Franklin Butler Notebook

Identifier: Ms-1990-060

Scope and Content

The Benjamin Franklin Butler Notebook consists of a handwritten, bound manuscript providing a book-length, vehement critique of the military leadership and personal character of General Ulysses S. Grant. Though attributed to Benjamin Franklin Butler, a closer inspection in 2009 suggested a different author, possibly former Union Brigadier General Gustave Paul Cluseret.

The author repeatedly charges Grant with gross incompetence, recklessness, bloodthirstiness, self-promotion, favoritism, and cowardice. Supporting his claims with a number of clippings from newspapers, official records, and Grant's own reports, the author vilifies Grant's character and abilities as a military commander, while at the same time defending the actions and reputations of several of Grant's lieutenants, including Benjamin Butler, William Rosecrans, and Franz Sigel. Particularly damning is the author's assessment of the Battle of the Crater ("a master-piece of imbecility") at Petersburg.

Though several of the clippings date from 1865, the tone of the item suggests that it was written prior to the war's conclusion. The manuscript seems to be only a fragment of a larger work, as the text has no definite conclusion and commences well into the second chapter. The first chapter heading within the book is "Chapter 3: Shenanndoah [sic] Valley, Sigel and Hunter's Army." Succeeding chapter titles are: "Second Part of the Campaign of the Army of the Potomac," "Part 3rd of the Campaign of the Army of the Potomac," "Sherman," "Wilmington Expedition," "Sherman's Campaign from Savannah to North Carolina," and "Movements Preparatory to the Definitive Action of the Army of the Potomac Against Richmond." Accompanying the manuscript is a complete, typed transcript, and a twentieth-century photographic reproduction of an image of Benjamin Butler.


  • [1865?]


Language of Materials

The materials in the collection are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

The copyright status of this collection is unknown. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials.

Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

Biographical Note - Benjamin Franklin Butler

Benjamin Franklin Butler, Massachusetts politician and Civil War Union Army general, was born in Deerfield, New Hampshire in 1818. After the early death of his father, Butler moved with his mother to Lowell, Massachusetts, where he would later practice law. He was elected to the Massachusetts legislature in 1853 and 1859, then lost gubernatorial elections in 1859 and 1860. Though a Democrat, Butler was a strong Unionist and commanded a force of Massachusetts troops that was among the first to reach Washington at the outbreak of the Civil War. After commanding Fort Monroe, Virginia, Butler led successful expeditions against North Carolina's Forts Hatteras and Clark and against Ship Island, off the Gulf Coast. In 1862, he commanded the Union occupation of New Orleans and was appointed the city's military governor, but the controversy surrounding his administration led to his removal at the end of the year. A year later, Butler was named commander of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina; in May 1864, his command became the Army of the James. His failures at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia and at Fort Fisher, North Carolina resulted in Butler's removal from active command later that year, and he resigned his commission on November 30, 1865. Butler returned to politics, serving as a Radical Republican in Congress from 1867 to 1875 and 1877 to 1879. After two failed campaigns, he was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1882, but failed to be renominated in the next election and was an unsuccessful candidate for president the following year. Benjamin Butler died in Washington D.C. in 1893.

Biographical Note - Gustave Paul Cluseret

Gustave Paul Cluseret, soldier of fortune, newspaper editor, French politician, and artist, was born in Paris in 1823. He graduated from the Military School of Saint-Cyr in 1843 and fought in several significant European military campaigns during the next 20 years. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Cluseret joined the many European adventurers who embarked for the United States. In January 1862, he was appointed a colonel and aide-de-camp to General McClellan but was soon transferred to General John C. Frémont. Though brevetted a brigadier general for his performance at the Battle of Cross Keys in 1862, Cluseret had developed a reputation as a trouble-maker and was reported under arrest in January, 1863, on unspecified charges. His resignation was tendered on March 2, 1863. In 1864, he became editor of The New Nation, using the newspaper to advance Frémont's presidential campaign and to stand in vehement opposition to the second nomination of Abraham Lincoln. He returned to Europe in 1866, but his inflammatory anti-government writings resulted in a prison sentence and eventual exile from France. Cluseret would twice return to his homeland during the next decade only to again become embroiled in insurrectionist activities and be forced to flee for his life. He returned a third time in 1884 and in 1889 was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, a body in which he served until his death. During his later years, Cluseret studied art, exhibiting his works at the Salon in Paris, and continued to write on political and military subjects. He died in 1900.

Biographical Note - Ulysses S. Grant

A native of Ohio, Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) graduated from the U. S. Military Academy in 1843. He joined the Union Army in 1861. After leading Union forces during the Vicksburg Campaign (1863), he was appointed commanding general of the United States Army in March, 1864 and commanded the army through victory a year later. In 1868, Grant was elected the 18th president of the United States and was re-elected in 1872. Following his presidency, Grant travelled abroad, campaigned unsuccessfully for a third presidential term, and wrote his memoirs. He died in Wilton, New York.


0.2 Cubic Feet (1 box)


Handwritten book-length draft manuscript providing a very critical view of the military leadership and personal character of General Ulysses S. Grant. Attributed to Benjamin Butler, though evidence suggests a different author, possibly former Union Army Brigadier General Gustave Paul Cluseret.


The collection is arranged by document type, with the original manuscript followed by the transcript and photograph.

Source of Acquisition

The Benjamin Franklin Butler Notebook was donated to Special Collections in 1990.

Related Archival Materials

See the Ulysses S. Grant Scrapbook, Ms2019-044, also at Virginia Tech Special Collections and University Archives.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the Benjamin Franklin Butler Notebook by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement and description of the Benjamin Franklin Butler Notebook commenced and was completed in June 2009.

In the course of processing, an examination of the piece and further research indicated that the identification of Butler as the author is likely incorrect, despite the notation pencilled on the volume's front flyleaf ("Manuscript book in hand of Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler against General U. S. Grant, never published"). Foremost among the contrary evidence is the author's repeated references to Butler in the third person, while referring to himself in the first person. On page [24], for example, the author states, "...on 14th May, I wrote in the New Nation: 'But if he (Butler) is destined to operate by land...'" Moreover, the author mentions (page [88]) that he broke his sword (i.e., resigned his commission) rather than wage war on women, children and property. Butler resigned his commission only after the war had ended. Lastly, the author on page [10] writes, "I have never seen Grant," a statement certainly not true of Butler.

The identification of Gustave Paul Cluseret as the possible author of this item rests largely on two passages (pages [46] and [88]) in which the author identifies himself as being the same who published editorial pieces in The New Nation, a newspaper edited by Cluseret. Also supporting this theory is the author's obvious familiarity with military theory and European military history. The belligerent and iconoclastic tone of the manuscript also seems to have been a trademark of Cluseret's writings. Neither, however, can Cluseret be definitively identified as the author, for various accounts state that he was not fluent in English. Moreover, the handwriting in this piece does not match that in examples of Cluseret's letters found in other archives. (A comparison of the letters themselves, however, reveals several distinct handwriting styles, indicating that Cluseret likely retained a series of secretary/translators. The text of this piece may well have been dictated to an assistant who translated the text.) Consultations with libraries holding issues of The New Nation revealed that items appearing in the newspaper were unattributed, though Cluseret was listed as the paper's editor-in-chief.

With no definitive evidence regarding the volume's true author, the title under which it was donated has been retained.

Benjamin Franklin Butler Notebook, [1865?]
John M. Jackson, Archivist
2009 (CC0 1.0)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US