University Archives


Henry Halleck ALS to Benjamin Butler in New Orleans Re: General Order No. 63, Concerning Blacks Joining Union Army

1p autograph letter signed by Henry Halleck (1815-1872), General-in-Chief of the Union Army, displayed to the right of a period engraving of the officer, and matted overall. Halleck has signed with rank as "H.W. Halleck / Genl in Chf" at lower right. The letter was issued from "Head-Quarters of the Army" at Washington, D.C. on November 20, 1862. The letter is clean and bright. Trimmed slightly and with a hinge strap verso. Isolated feathering to a few words mentioned just for accuracy. Scattered foxing to the engraving. Else near fine. The completed size is 17" x 11.375."

General-in-Chief Halleck addressed this letter to Major General Benjamin F. Butler (1818-1893), the Federal commander in charge of the recently captured Confederate city of New Orleans. The letter refers to General Godfrey Weitzel (1835-1884), Butler's second-in-command at New Orleans, as well as Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton (1814-1869).

Halleck wrote in part:

"Your letter of Nov. 6th transmitting copies of your correspondence with Brig Genl Weitzel, is received. Your order No. 63 of Aug 22d, with the accompanying letter, was submitted to the Secty of War for his instructions, and he replied that no instructions were necessary, as the whole matter was left to the judgment + discretion of the Dept. CommanderÂ…"

General Halleck had been appointed General-in-Chief of all Union Armies by President Abraham Lincoln on July 23, 1862, just four months earlier. It was hoped that Halleck, who was nicknamed "Old Brains," would prove an aggressive military commander and master strategist. Halleck was a disappointment in everything except military administration; he was demoted in March 1864.

Major General Butler had led 5,000 troops to occupy New Orleans on May 1, 1862. Butler's 7-month tenure as military governor proved disastrous, thanks to his implementation of martial law and Draconian orders. Butler was replaced in mid-December 1862, just a month after receiving this letter from General-in-Chief Halleck.

Butler was no stranger to issuing controversial orders, though General Order No. 63 is one of the lesser known. (Butler's General Order No. 28, which stated that any woman publicly disrespecting a Union solider would be treated as a prostitute, was one of the most notorious.) General Order No. 63 allowed black militias that had offered their services to join the Union Army and to retain their black officers; the three regiments eventually mustered in would provide the majority of black Union officers in the Civil War. Butler's replacement in New Orleans, General N.P. Banks, worked to reverse General Order No. 63.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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