Union Notables

Daniel Butterfield    class of 1849

Daniel Butterfield, courtesy of Schaffer Library

His services to the country in the Civil War, which raised him to the rank of Major General of U.S. Volunteers, are held in proud remembrance by all Union men, and his career as a public-spirited citizen is an illustrious example of the civic virtue which his Alma Mater inculcates. - Union College Board of Trustees

Born on October 31st, 1831, in Utica, New York, Daniel Butterfield attended Utica Academy, and then graduated from Union College. While at Union he was a member of the Sigma Phi fraternity. After graduating in 1849 at the age of eighteen, he studied law but was too young to take the New York bar exam, so he toured the country instead. The country was moving towards war, and wishing to do his part for the abolition of slavery, he joined the Utica Citizen’s Corps as a private. In 1849, his father founded the express company of Butterfield, Wasson, and Co., which later became the American Express Company. Serving as superintendent of the company’s eastern division, Butterfield went to New York City, where he joined the Seventy-First regiment of New York militia as a captain. In 1859 he was elected Colonel of the Twelfth Regiment.

A week after the United States troops surrendered Fort Sumter, Butterfield led the Twelfth to Washington, D.C.; it was the first Union regiment to cross into Virginia. Observers in the nation’s capital complimented the Twelfth: “their fine appearance and splendid marching won the admiration of the same army officers who had ridiculed them before… the perfect drill and efficiency of the regiment attracted a great deal of attention in Washington.” Butterfield’s commander, General Fitz-John Porter, wrote of him, “He was certainly a splendid commander and a good model for any one: quick, brave, and his men had perfect confidence in him.” During the spring of 1862, Butterfield wrote Camp and Outpost Duty a training manual for new officers, selling over ten thousand copies. His brigade was attacked by the Confederates at Gaines Mill on June 27, and although Butterfield was wounded in battle, he seized the flag of the 83rd Pennsylvania to rally his troops. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1892 for this courageous act. As the army recovered from the Seven Days battles, Butterfield summoned his bugler and composed the enduring the lights-out call, “Taps.”

Selected to serve as chief of staff for Joseph Hooker, and then George Meade, Butterfield greatly increased morale and improved efficiency. He developed the army’s system of corps badges, which later spread to other Union armies and continues in a modified form today. During the Confederate bombardment before Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, he was again wounded.  After recovering, Butterfield rejoined Hooker in the West and fought at Chattanooga. He commanded a division in the Atlanta campaign, but hampered by his Gettysburg wound, he returned to New York in July 1864. In 1869 he became head of the U.S. Sub-Treasury in New York City, resigning this post a few months later due to the plunging price of gold and stocks on Black Friday.

Butterfield remained involved with Union College for the rest of his life and established a course of thirty lectures given by many notables of the day, including Andrew Carnegie, General P.S. Michie, and his classmate Frederick Seward (son of William Henry Seward). He presented the commencement address in 1895 when was appointed honorary chancellor of Union University. Elected president of the Alumni Association in 1895, he later became a Trustee. He died July 17, 1901 in Cold Spring, and was buried at West Point, despite having never attended that institution.  His monument is arguably the most ornate in the West Point Cemetery.