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Matthew Calbraith Butler

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Matthew Calbraith Butler

For the child who sang "Bright Eyes" on Tiswas, see Matthew Butler (Tiswas).
Matthew Calbraith Butler
United States Senator
from South Carolina
In office
March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1895
Preceded by Thomas J. Robertson
Succeeded by Benjamin Tillman
Personal details
Born (1836-03-08)March 8, 1836
Greenville, South Carolina
Died April 14, 1909(1909-04-14) (aged 73)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Maria, Nannie
Military service
Allegiance  Confederate States of America
 United States of America
Service/branch  Confederate States Army
 United States Army
Years of service 1861 - 1865 (CSA)
1898 - 1899 (USA)
Rank Major General (USA)
Battles/wars American Civil War
Spanish-American War

Matthew Calbraith Butler (March 8, 1836 – April 14, 1909) was an American military commander and politician from South Carolina. He served as a major general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, postbellum three-term United States Senator, and a major general in the United States Army during the Spanish-American War.

Early life and career

Butler was born at Eagle's Crag near Greenville, South Carolina, to a large and prominent family of politicians and military men.[1]His grandfather was U.S. Congressman William Butler.[1] His mother, Jane Tweedy Perry of Rhode Island was the sister of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry,and Matthew Calbraith Perry,for whom Matthew Calbraith Butler is named. His father, William Butler, Jr., was also a Congressman beginning in 1841.[2] His uncle Andrew Butler, was a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and uncle Pierce Mason Butler was Governor of South Carolina.[2] One of Matthew Butler's first cousins was Congressman Preston Brooks, who assaulted Senator Charles Sumner in 1856 on the floor of the U.S. Senate with a gutta-percha cane because Sumner had insulted Senator Andrew Butler, at whose home Matthew lived as a young man.[3]

Butler was the nephew of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and Matthew Calbraith Perry, and the son-in-law of South Carolina Governor Francis Wilkinson Pickens.[4] Two of Butler's first cousins twice removed were James Bonham (killed at the Battle of the Alamo) and Confederate General Milledge Luke Bonham.[5]

In 1848 Butler went with his father to Arkansas, but returned in 1851 to live with his uncle, who resided in Edgefield, South Carolina. He received his initial education in the city's Edgefield Academy, and then attended the South Carolina College, graduating in 1856. He then studied law, was admitted to the state's bar association in 1857, and then began practicing as a lawyer in Edgefield.[6] On February 25, 1858, Butler married Maria Calhoun Pickens, the daughter of Francis Pickens. He was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1860, but resigned in 1861 when the American Civil War began.[7]

During the Civil War in the Confederate Army Butler served in the cavalry in Hampton's Legion, attaining Captain, June 12, 1861 and then Major in July 21, 1861. He then joined the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry as Colonel, August 22, 1862. In many major actions with Hampton's Legion and the 2nd SC Cavalry, he lost his right foot at Brandy Station to rifle fire. He later attained the rank of Brigadier General in February 1864 and was thereafter referred to as "General Butler" in the postwar period.


Financially ruined as a result of the war, Butler resumed his career as a lawyer in Edgefield and served in the South Carolina House of Representatives beginning in 1866.[6] He became a member of the Democratic Party and ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1870.[1] In 1877, as Reconstruction ended and the Democratic Party regained control of the state, he was elected by the South Carolina state legislature to the United States Senate.[8] He also played a role in the Hamburg Massacre.[9] He served in the U.S. Senate for three terms, from 1877 to 1895, but lost the Democratic primary in 1894 to Benjamin Tillman.[10] He served on the Senate Foreign Relations, Territories, Military Affairs, Naval Affairs, Interstate Commerce, Civil Service and Retrenchment committees.[1]

Butler then practiced law in Washington, D.C., until 1898, when he was appointed major general of U.S. Volunteers during the Spanish-American War, one of a handful of former Confederate officers to serve in the U.S. Army during that campaign.[8] After the American victory that year, he supervised the evacuation of Spanish troops from Cuba.[11] He was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army on April 15, 1899.[12]

In 1899 General Butler joined the Pennsylvania Commandery of the Military Order of Foreign Wars.

In 1903, Butler was elected vice president of the Southern Historical Society, and in 1904 he relocated to Mexico, where he served as president of a mining company. Two years later he married Nannie Whitman, after his wife Maria had died years before. Butler died in 1909 while semi-retired in Washington, D.C. His body was returned to Edgefield, South Carolina, where he was buried in the city's Willow Brook Cemetery.[6]

The Matthew C. Butler Camp #12 of the South Carolina Society of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars is named in his honor.

See also



  • Boyd, James Penny; "Vital Questions of the Day: Or Historic and Economic Reviews of the Issues of Labor ... Tariff Legislation ...", Publisher's union, (1894)
  • Burton, Orville Vernon; "My Father's House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina", UNC Press, (1987) ISBN 0-8078-4183-8.
  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Emerson, W. Eric; "Sons of Privilege: The Charleston Light Dragoons in the Civil War", University of South Carolina Press, (2005) ISBN 1-57003-592-X.
  • Hess, Stephen; "America's Political Dynasties", Transaction Publishers, (1997) ISBN 1-56000-911-X.
  • Madigan, Patrick F.; "A Biographical Index of American Public Men", BiblioBazaar, (2008) ISBN 0-554-40642-X.
  • Martin, Samuel J., Southern Hero, Matthew Calbraith Butler, Stackpole Books, (2001) ISBN 0-8117-0899-3 .
  • Porter, Robert Percival; "Industrial Cuba: Being a Study of Present Commercial and Industrial Conditions, with Suggestions as to the Opportunities Presented in the Island for American Capital, Enterprise, and Labour", G. P. Putnam's Sons, (1899).
  • Wakelyn, Jon L., Biographical Dictionary of the Confederacy, Greenwood Press, 1977, ISBN 0-8371-6124-X.
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Gray: The Lives of the Confederate Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1959, ISBN 0-8071-0823-5
  • Welsh, Jack D.; "Medical Histories of Confederate Generals", Kent State University Press, (1999) ISBN 0-87338-649-3.
  • Wittenberg, Eric J., Rhea, Gordon C.; "Glory Enough for All: Sheridan's Second Raid and the Battle of Trevilian Station", University of Nebraska Press, (2007)ISBN 0-8032-5967-0.
  • United States Congress; "Official Congressional Directory" (1882).

Further reading

  • Brooks, Ulysses Robert, Butler and His Cavalry in the War of Secession 1861–1865. original date of publication 1909, republished, 1991 J.J. Fox, Camden, South Carolina: South Carolina Regimentals Series, by Guild Bindery Press, Oxford Miss.
  • Martin, Samuel J., Southern Hero: Matthew Calbraith Butler, Confederate General, Hampton Redshirt, and U.S. Senator. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2001. ISBN 0-8117-0899-3.
  • Official Report of the "Battle of Hamburg" (a.k.a. "Hamburg Massacre")

External links

Preceded by
Thomas J. Robertson
United States Senator (Class 2) from South Carolina
Served alongside: John J. Patterson, Wade Hampton, III, John L. M. Irby
Succeeded by
Benjamin Tillman

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