#Throwback Thursday: Daniel Butterfield


He was a man of honor and courage, but also one of questionable character. He was disliked by his peers, yet was awarded the Medal of Honor. Daniel Butterfield was a complex man and a member of the Union graduating class of 1849.

While in New York City working for his father’s company, the American Express Company, Butterfield joined the 71st Company of the New York State militia. Shortly after, he was elected the colonel of the New York 12th Regiment.

Butterfield’s regiment impressed many. His commanding officer commented, “[Butterfield] was certainly a splendid commander and a good model for any one: quick, brave and his men had perfect confidence in him.”

Butterfield quickly rose through the ranks and eventually became the chief-of-staff to Joseph Hooker and George Meade.

While serving Hooker, Butterfield engaged in heavy drinking and sexual intercourse which led some to comment Hooker’s camp was more of a brothel and bar.

He was also greatly disliked. After being wounded at Gettysburg, one officer wrote, “”Fortunately for him and the joy of all, he has gone home.”

But, many could not deny his courage. At the Battle of Gaines Mills, Butterfield, after being wounded, grabbed a Pennsylvania battle flag and rallied troops to counter a Confederate offensive. In 1896 he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions.

After the war, he served as assistant Secretary of the Treasury to President Grant, but was forced to resign in 1869 due to his involvement in illegal gold speculation with Jay Gould and James Fisk.

This speculation eventually lead to the financial panic Black Friday on Sept. 24, 1869.

In his wife’s will, following the death of her husband in 1901, a statue was to be erected of the former Civil War General. Gutzon Borglum was hired to sculpt her vision.

The man who would eventually carve out Mount Rushmore, found it extremely difficult to meet the changing demands of how the statue was to appear.

The executors of her will refused to pay Borglum because it did not resemble Butterfield nor reached their size requirements. They refused to pay Borglum.

He sued them in court and was awarded the more than $30,000 in missed payments from the Butterfield estate.

The statue now sits in Sakura Park Manhattan near the Grant tomb. Erected in 1917, it was never officially dedicated.

The 18 foot statues stands, bearing the man who led men bravely in the hail of bullets and composed the military call Taps.

The questions remains, will this statue ever be dedicated for the man who willingly gave his life to preserve the Union?


Leave a Reply