Matthew Calbraith Butler (1836-1909)

Written By Mathew Shaeffer

Matthew Calbraith Butler was born near Greenville, South Carolina on March 8, 1836. He came from a prominent South Carolina family. His uncle Andrew Butler was a United States Senator and his father William Butler was a congressman. Butler was the son-in-law of Governor Francis Wilkinson Pickens, South Carolina’s first Confederate Governor. Before the Civil War, he was a lawyer and served in the South Carolina Legislature. At the outbreak of the war, he resigned from the legislature and joined Wade Hampton’s brigade and served as Hampton’s top subordinate.

As a captain, Butler served at the First Battle of Bull Run in early 1861. By late July of 1861 Butler was promoted to Major. He fought in the Peninsula Campaign early in 1862, and by July 1862 he was a colonel in the South Carolina Cavalry under Hampton. He fought at the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg. At the battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, Butler was hit by an exploding cannonball and lost his right foot. After the Battle of Gettysburg, J.E.B. Stuart, Hampton’s commanding officer, recommended both Hampton and Butler for promotion. Hampton became a major general, and Butler was promoted to brigadier general.

In 1864, Butler fought against Ulysses S. Grant in the Overland Campaign and defended Petersburg during its siege. He was also involved in the Battle of Trevillian Station on June 11-12, 1864. By the fall of 1864, Butler acquired more responsibility and began commanding Hampton’s cavalry division. Butler accompanied Hampton south when William T. Sherman began his march through the South. Butler was with Hampton at the defense of Columbia, South Carolina, but the Confederate cavalry was forced to retreat.

Butler and Hampton both played an important role in the defense of North Carolina during the Carolinas Campaign. The cavalry was involved in continuous skirmishes in March and June of 1865. By this time Butler was a major general under Hampton, who was the leader of the cavalry forces in the South.  At the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads, Butler led the main charge in the early morning surprise assault on the Union Camp. After Monroe’s Crossroads, Butler and his brigade played an extremely important role scouting Union movements before the battles of Averasboro and Bentonville. At the Battle of Averasboro, Butler’s regiment engaged federal troops and repeatedly attacked the federal line. His force was repulsed and the Confederate Cavalry was forced to withdraw. At the Battle of Bentonville, the last major conflict of the Civil War, Butler’s division provided important intelligence regarding the position of the Union forces, and his men were involved in the initial battling that delayed the advance of the federal forces. The delay allowed the Confederate forces to fortify Bentonville. During the principle fighting, Butler’s division was responsible for defending Cox’s Crossroads, Cox’s Bridge, and defending the Confederate force’s flank. After the surrender of the Confederacy, Butler returned home to South Carolina.

After the war, Butler struggled with financial stability, but he was eventually able to recover. He served in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1866 and attempted to run for the position of Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina but was unsuccessful. Butler was elected as a United States Senator from South Carolina and served from 1876 to 1894 as a Democrat. During his time in the Senate, Butler was the chairman of the Committee on Civil Service and Retrenchment during the Forty-sixth Congress, and the Committee on Interstate Commerce during the Fifty-third Congress. During the Spanish-American War, Butler was appointed major general of the United States Volunteers and was one of the commissioners appointed to supervise the evacuation of Cuba by the Spanish forces in 1898. He served a majority of his time as a senator next to Wade Hampton, his commanding officer from the war, who was also elected as a senator.  Eventually Butler ran a mining company and became the vice president of the Southern Historical Association. He died in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1909.