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Matthew Galbraith Butler.
(By James Henry Rice, Jr.)
General Butler is a subject :
which Lord McCaulay would ha-*
reveled. Indeed part of McCaulay
matchless talent was expended on tl
dukes of Ormond, to whom the Bu
lers claim kinship.
While the late George D. Tillnu
may have stretched things a bit fi
in terming General Butler "the be
blooded man in America," in blur
ing out in the constitutional convei
tion of 1895, yet "it would be a lon
time before the equal of M. C. Bu
1er in intelligence and patriotisi
would sit in the United States sei
ate," it is still true that his lineage :
illustrious; his patriotism withot
taint. Men of his race have won dil
tinction in every crisis of America
history. Their women have shon
with charm of manner, grace of min
and beauty of person in the highes
stations of America's social realn
Matthew Calbraith Butler was th
son of Dr. William Buder and hi
wife, Jane Tweedy (Perry). He wa
boru on Lowndes and Butler Hil
some four miles from Greenville.
Dr. William Butler again was th
second son of General William But
1er and his wife, Behethland Moor
There clusters romance about Di
William Butler's marriage. Gradu?t
ing at South Carolina college, <y to
rode horseback to Philadelphia, ii
companw with a man named Hill
from Wilkes county, Ga. Remaininj
at Philadelphia until graduating, h<
rode back home to Greenville. Whih
assistant surgeon in the navy, anc
walking the deck of his ship anchor
ed in the harbor of Newport, R. I.
he saw a young girl promenading by
It was a case of love at first sight
and they were shortly married ir
New York City, at the house of Com
modore Matthew Calbraith Perry,
an older brother of Commodore Oli
ver Hazard Perry, who gained th?
famous victory on Lake Erie over th?
Dr. Butler and his 16 year old
bride came South on horseback and
settled on the family plantation over
the river from Saluda Old Town
(now Saluda). Four children born
here all died of malaria, which raged
like a pestilence in the up country
at that time.
Thereupon Dr. Butler moved to
the place near Greenville with his
wife, where 12 more children were
bom to them. Gov. B. F. Butler was
fond of telling about' Mrs. Butler. He
wrote a sketch of her , from which
and from divers other accounts, she
must have been a woman of rare
charm and force of character. Hav
ing been appointed agent to the
Cherokee Indians by President Polk,
Dr. Butler traveled across country to
Fort Gibson, Ark., then the nearest
point to civilization. His work lay
in Indian territory, now Oklahoma.
He died in 1850 and his son, George,
was appointed agent in his stead.
Judge A. P. Butler of Edgefield
and Comndr. M. C. Butler both asked
for a boy to educate and adopt. The
choice fell on Matthew Calbraith
Butler, who arrived in Edgefield on
a cold bleak November day, describ
ed as "a little sickly pickle-faced
boy" with only a grip. William Pulas
ki Butler, a merchant at Edgefield,
fitted him out in clothes and sent
him out to his uncle at Shorelands,
five miles from Edgefield. Here he
enjoyed the motherly influence of
Judge Butlers' mother, Behethland
Moore Foote Butler, one of "he hero
ines of the Revolutionary.
Going to South Carolina college,
Butler left during the "Rebellion"
and took up the study of law un
der his uncle, Judge A. P. Butler. It
was on this trip to Judge Butler's
plantation that, in passing through
Edgefield, he stopped at "Edgewood"
and met his future wife, a daughter
of Colonel Francis Wilkinson Pick
ens, later Governor Pickens of South
Carolina. There was an affair on at
once, for Calbraith Butler made love
as he fought and spokej going
straight at it. Colonel Pickens, how
ever, quite a wealthy man, objected
on the score of the young man's pov
erty. This recalls General Butler's
own account when somebody in
Washington said one day: "General,
I understand that your family in
South Carolina was one of great
wealth before the war/' "They lied
on us," said the general, without
moving a muscle, "the Butlers black
ed their shoes and went with the
good folks; but none of them had
All through his life, whatever else
may be said, General Butler was
wholly without pretense. Gentlemen
always are. It is the son of an over
seer of a mushman that puts on airs.
Although objecting to the match,
Colonel Pickens was soon to have
trouble enough of his own. He had
been twice widowed. His first wife,
Eliza Simkins, daughter of Hon. El
dred Simkins, a pupil of Moses Wad
dell, at Wiiiington, and later immor
talized by Calbraith Butler made love
as the Family Provided for; his sec
ond wife was Marion Deering of
Here fate took a hand in the af
fairs of Mathew Calbraith Butler, as
it did several times afterward.
Colonel Pickens was getting ready
for the trip to White Sulphur Springs
in Virginis. He was heading straight
into danger, although he little reck
oned it. He rounded up old Harper,
the coachman, old Mose Wallace,
baggage wagon negro, Henry Crook
er, footman and gate opener, and
Robert, a small boy, who had Dolly,
the saddle mare, hitched to the bug
gy. In June, 1857, the cavalcade be
gan its journey to the springs, resting
and relaying at Columbia, Charlotte,
Raleigh Richmond, and other places,
until they landed at White Sulphur
Springs for the late summer.
In his plans for business and poli
tics the coming fall, all fully ma
tured, Colonel Pickers failed to in
clude Lucy Holcombe; but there she
was, standing right across his plans!
Radiant, glorious, with the sunshine
of the prairies on her brow and the
roses of Virginia in her cheeks, and
queenliest woman known to Ameri
ca's history, she was destined to
stirke dumb all beholders in that cen
ter of female loveliness, St, Peters
burg of the Tsars.
Porty years after this event, I
stood before her at Edgewood, as she
handed me a life of her distinguished
husband inscribed with her name,
and the royalty had not left her, a
woman that called up Byron's lines:
"Who hath not felt his sinking heart
and lips confess
The might, the majesty of loveliness"
Colonel Pickens went' down "all in
a heap." He was done far. The radi
ant beauty hearkened to his wooing
this far. She consented on one condi
tion only. He must secure an ambas
sadorship. Now what is an ambassa
dorship between frier.ds?
Colnel Pickens and James Buchan
an sat side by side in congress.
They were close friends, and friend
ship has always figured in the Butler
Colonel Pickens went to Buchanan
at once and got what he wanted, the
ambassadorship to St. Petersburg;
but this was not all. His plantations
were on his hands. They had to be
looked after. Perhaps somebody close
to him and interested vitally in Cal
braith Butler spoke to him on. the
subject! Anyway he told his daugh
ter that she might now marry that
poor, but handsome and brilliant,
young Butler, who could look after
things while he was away. Then he
rushed out to Texas and married his
lady love, taking her forthwith to St.
Petersburg with John E. Bacon, chief
secretary, and Franklin J. Moses, as
sistant-the Governor Moses of the
Early in 1858 Matthew Calbraith
Butler and Maria Simkins Pickens
were married and their first son, now
Dr. F. W. P. Butler, of Columbia,
says he "discovered America on De
cember 8, 1858." (Named for his
grandfather, Francis Wilkinson Pick
Now we come to Butler, the man.
Some time before his marriage, my
father told me, he was passing up
Main street in Greenville, when a
young man walked out of the old
Mansion house, with a cape flung
carelessly over his shoulder, and a
sporting stick in his hand. It was the
most superb type of physical man
hood he had ever beheld, and he ask
ed the first passerby who was the
young man. "Oh! that is young Cal
The same impression was made on
the French ambassador at the York
town celebration in 1881. When ask
ed to pick out the most distinguished
man in that gathering, where distin
guished men from every country un
der the sun were thick as hops, he
pointed out Gen. M. C. Butler, with
out a minute's hesitation. Even to
the last he would be selected any
where by anybody as the most distin
guished man in any assemblage of
men. In 1859 he was elected to the
legislature, but on the outbreak of
war he entered service as captain of
the Edgefield Hussars. In a year he
was colonel of the Second South
Carolina regiment. At the head of his
regiment he lost a leg at,Brandy Sta
tion, June 9, 1863. Returning to the
front as soon as he could mount a
horse, and with his wound unhealed,
he was made a brigadier, and, in Au
gust, 1864, he becams a major gen
eral at the age of 27.
In the memorial address of the
Veterans' Association of the Dis
trict pf Columbia, it is said:
"Well might it be said of him,
when he mounted for a fray, that the
ste?d knew his master, for one who
was a master sat upon the steed. The
arched neck our Scripture clothes
with chunder was a likeness of
rider's mettle. Horse and horsen
ride before us as the beau ideal
what the mind represents itself
chivalry, as knighthood. Not ofi
have the heavens bestowed a fi
and form of more natural fascii
tion, the more fascinating that c
saw therein a natural grace 'beyo
the reach pf art.' The grace was
added fascination to the prowess tl
so dauntlessly leaped forth."
Butler's last ' battle, the raid
Kilpatrick's camp, just a month 1
fore the Confederacy collapsed,
panegyrized by Edward L. Wells
one of the finest actions in history.
His appearance at the battle
Brandy Station is thus described:
"Moulded like an Apollo, with
face as sweet and handsome as th
of any god of old, he sat on his hoi
like a typical South Carolinion, ? v?
itable cavalier, gentle as any worni
when comrades were assembled
social converse or around the cam
fires; fierce as any grenadier whi
the foe was to be met face to fae
He lost with his leg none'of that .u
conquerable dash and suirit th
made him a very Paladin in the ca
airy corps .of the Army of Northei
In the storm of battle, as well, J
in the storm of Reconstruction, Gei
eral Butler was in his element. E
was a man of deathless bravery,
have heard him say, and know it I
be true in my time, that he ?ev<
carried a weapon in his life, exce]
when on duty. At times in 187?
knowing strife to be imminent, I
he would put a pistol in the bugg.
but he carried none on his person.
After the war, when the provisioi
al government had failed and thing
went from bad to worse, Genen
Butler, like Gen. James Conner an
others, thought the best course wa
a compromise with the better ele
ments of the Republicans in order t
save the state. Later," however, whe
it was determined to make a straighl
out fight, there was a conference a
the home of Gen. James Conner i:
Charleston, at which it was agree<
that General Butler would write .
letter to General Hampton in Missis
sippi, offering him the nominatioi
for governor. This he did. The let
ter brought General Hampton ti
When the convention met, one o:
the most momentous in South Caro
lina history, General Butler placet
General Hampton in nomination ii
one of the most vivid and eloquent
orations ever uttered. The nomina
tion was seconded by Col. Robert Al
drich of Barnwell, in his hajipiesl
vein, and seconded again, in a shorl
speech by General M. W. Gary.
How the fight gathered force, wit!
Hampton's firm hand curbing the
fiery spirits under him, who wanted
nothing better than a fight, and how
it swept the state for white supre
macy, has been told over and over
When the Democrats had gained
control of the state the legislature
elected General Butler to the United
States senate. He was placed in nom
ination by Joseph Brevard Kershaw.
It may well be doubted if any other
man could have gained the seat after
being elected; nor could General
Butler have gained it but for a pe
culiar incident. Old Simon Cameron
of Pennsylvania had known and ad
mired Judge A. P. Butler, General
M. C. Butler's uncle, under whom he
read law, before the war. So when he
noticed a young and handsome man
about the capitol, he inquired who
was it, and was told that it was
"young Butler,- just elected senator
by the South Carolina legislature and
trying to get seated."
Cameron was a power in the Re
publican party with numerous hench
men scattered over many states. He
took a hand in the fray and sent out
order:; all along the line that Butler
must be seated, and he was seated.
This was the first of many victories
won for the state'in the senate. He
made friends of the leading Republi
cans, who were willing and anxious
to serve him whenever they could do
so without compromising themselves
at home. Here is a characteristic ex
ample. General Butler asked Blaine:
"Jim, you are a fine fellow down
here, but how is it you get to be such
a blackguard when you are loose in
Maine, raving at the South and all
that sort of thing?" Drawing close
and with his winning smile, Blaine
said: "It's politics, my dear fellow,
nothing but politics."
As an orator on the stump General
Butler had few equals anywhere in
the nation and completely discomfit
ed Thomas E. Watson in 1891.
I remember him well in 1876 and
heard him speak then and in 1878.
It was 1878 that he told the follow
ing story, when so many Republicans,
Judge Cook among them, wished to
seek shelter in the Democratic fold:
Once war raged between beasts
and birds (he did not say ani
mals, as most orators would, showing
his nice, instinctive use of language).
Led by the lion and the tiger, the
beasts gained the upper hand and the
bat came out of his cave and hopped
around like a mouse, claiming kin
ship with the beasts. By and by the
eagle, the condor and other powerful
birds joined the fray and sent the
beasts flying, and the bat began to fly
around with the birds; but the birds
would have none of him and ran him
back to his caves, where he still
abides. These repentant Republicans,
General Butler said, were nothing
but bats. We wanted none of them.
This swept the crowd.
Whether General Butler could
have maintained himself in these
frenzied mobs of lunatics, which as
semble these days, may be doubted.
He was a gentleman, with a gentle
man's instinctive loathing for vulgar
ity, obscenity and filth. In his youth
and all during 1876 white men were
gentlemen-at least gentlemen pre
dominated, whereas now gentlemen
are so scarce at these gatherings as
to be not worth reckoning.
But he filled the need of his time.
His voice was strong, mellow and
powerful. His presence, with its
background of military distinction
and dauntless courage, was a mighty
coadjutor to the eloquence of his
During the many delightful con
ferences at his home in Barnwell, in
1891, where almost nightly Col. Rob
ert Aldrich and myself foregathered,
he told me that General Butler was
the logical man to run for governor
in 1892, stood the best chance of
election, although he doubted if he
could be elected. "If Butler does not
run, he will walk the plank next time
any how; but if he runs, he will gain
a powerful following and may retain
his seat in the senate." Wise and
prophetic words by the wisest politi
cal philosopher of the generation, al
beit a failure in practical politics. It
it best, I think, to leave alone this
question right now. It can add noth
ing to the estimate of General But
ler. He made a grave political mis
take in attempting to win over men,
whose help would have amounted to
nothing if he said it, and lost there
by the friends of a lifetime.
Seldom indeed does any man pos
sess power to grasp a changing po
litical situation, when he is absent
from the scene. It is an old story in
Instead it will be better to look at
another side of his character. When
I was making a fight to save the birds
of the state and trying to educate
our people to the value cf them, Gen
eral Butler gave serious attention to
the subject. He would be the last
man one would expect attention from
on such a subject. He knew nothing
of natural history. His life had been
away from it; and there was, as there
still is, a large body of eminent
South Carolinians whose minds can
not focus on anything smaller than a
horse. Yet Gen. M. C. Butler, cava
lier of caavalitrs, representing a
type that was the wonder and envy
of the lesser fry, accumulated all the
information he could, wrote me of
ten for more and ended by writing to
farmers all over Edgefield county,
asking them to come to the court
house and hear me explain the value
of birds. I went. He introduced me.
That was in the summer of 1908, the
late summer. After I had spoken, he
took up the salient points and drove
them home in a magnificent way,
then thanked me for coming-per
haps his last public speech.
That afternoon, standing by him
at the station, we had a long chat.
When the whistle blew, he grasped
my hand-he could make the blood
run through your veins like wine
and looked me in the eyes. That was
my last sight of Matthew Calbraith
Butler, most brilliant of all South
Carolina cavaliers since William
Moultrie sank into an unknown
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