Mrs. ("Beast") Butler's Scary Dream

Posted: 10/31/2011
Author: Terry Johnston
Sarah Hildreth Butler

Happy Halloween! To celebrate, we found a spooktacular letter from the archives...

On April 4, 1862, Sarah Hildreth Butler, wife of Union general Benjamin F. ("Beast") Butler, wrote a friend to document her recent activities on Ship Island, off the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Union troops commanded by her husband had occupied the island since the previous December.

In the letter, she notes that a recent storm made for a particularly spooky night: 
 

Mr. Butler has gone down to the Passes, the mouth of the Mississippi, in the "Saxton" to see how soon the fleet would be ready. He went night before last, and was to be back today, but I do not think he can get here. It is blowing furiously, and the waves, all foam, are half way up to the house. It began yesterday afternoon, and in the night it blew a gale. The room where I live and sleep shook and creaked, I verily thought it would come rattling over me. I got up, hunted for a match, but could find none, looked out of the window and wondered what I had better do. The wind seemed more furious, and did so buffet the poor shell, and shriek through the crevices, that I sprung to the door, thinking it better to be out from the danger of falling timbers. But it was not inviting outside. The sail that is nailed to Caroline's shed, and the fence was swelling and beating like the sea, the negro cook sleeps in a small division next to Caroline, eight feet square. I thought the sail might lift them like wings and carry all away, including the cow and calf. I banged to the door, and looked out the other side. There were six or eight of the guard curled under the shelter of the opposite shed. It never would do to run out there, in my night clothes. They would take me for the witch of the winds, and shoot me like a snipe before I could "hop me forty paces." Then I bethought me that perhaps the room was stouter than I, to face the winds, and crept into bed again. Uneasy and watchful, I listened with both ears. Something was shaking in the room, and it sounded like the shuffling of feet, this noise made me nervous and finally I could hear it more distinctly than any other sound, though the ocean was booming with a never-ending roar. At that time I fell asleep, yet I was awake to the sounds. Now, I thought, will those feet never be still! and then they shuffled ten times more fiercely, and Lorenzo, the negro, was leaping through the room like a maniac. I gazed at him, paralysed with terror; his eyes were evil as a snake. When he sprang toward the bed, desperation seized me, "Strike," I screamed to Caroline, "help me to strike with this board, and batter him all to pieces." Could anything equal the fury of those blows, yet they fell without effect, he still shuffled and leapt toward me. The horror was too much, I woke and sat up in bed half dead.

Have a great Halloween and sleep tight tonight...

 

Source: Sarah Hildreth Butler to Harriet Heard, April 4, 1862, in Private and Official Correspondence of Gen. Benjamin F. Bulter (Norwood, MA, 1917), I: 404-405.
 
Image credit: Wikipedia.
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