Union General Daniel Butterfield: A Civil War Biography

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James S. Pula
Pub Date:
May 2024
images, maps, 280 pp.

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Click HERE to read the Front Matter and Chapter 1!

About the book

Dan Butterfield played a pivotal role during the Civil War. He led troops in the field at the brigade, division, and corps level, wrote the 1862 Army field manual, composed “Taps,” and served as the chief of staff for Joe Hooker in the Army of the Potomac. He introduced a custom that remains in the U.S. Army today: the use of distinctive hat or shoulder patches to denote the unit to which a soldier belongs and was a Medal of Honor winner. Butterfield was also controversial, not well-liked, and tainted by politics. Award-winning author James S. Pula unspools fact from fiction to offer the first detailed and long overdue treatment of the man and the officer in Union General Daniel Butterfield: A Civil War Biography.

Butterfield was born into a wealthy New York family whose father co-founded American Express. He was one of the war’s early volunteers, fought at First Bull Run, and made an important contribution with his Camp and Outpost Duty for Infantry (1862). He gained praise leading a brigade on the Virginia Peninsula and was wounded at Gaines’ Mill, where his heroism would earn him the Medal of Honor in 1892. It was in the solemnity of camp following the Seven Days’ Battles that he gained lasting fame for composing “Taps.” When its commander when missing, Butterfield took command of a division at Second Bull Run and did so with steadiness and intelligence. His abilities bumped him up to lead the Fifth Corps during the bloodbath at Fredericksburg, where he was charged with managing the dangerous withdrawal across the Rappahannock.

Shocked and hurt when he was supplanted as the head of the Fifth Corps, he received a “second chance” when General Hooker named him chief of staff of the Army of the Potomac. In this capacity he was largely responsible for innovations such as the use of insignia to identify each corps—which he designed himself—the streamlining of the supply system, and the improvement of communications between commands. He played a pivotal role during the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg campaigns in managing logistics, communications, and movements, only to be discarded while home recuperating from a Gettysburg wound. Politics, questionable morals, and his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War tainted his star. When Hooker was sent west Butterfield went along as chief of staff, earning positive comments from Hooker and Gens. George Thomas, William Tecumseh Sherman, and U. S. Grant. He led a division in the XX Corps during the Atlanta Campaign with conspicuous ability at Resaca before a recurring illness forced him from the field.

Pula’s absorbing prose, meticulous research into primary source material, and even-handed treatment of this important Civil War figure will be welcomed by historians and casual readers alike. Union General Daniel Butterfield: A Civil War Biography is a study long-overdue.

Advance Praise


“James Pula’s outstanding biography of Dan Butterfield rebalances the reputation of an underappreciated general. Too often, scholars remember him merely as a mustachioed adversary to Gen. George Meade. In reality, he was so much more. Butterfield reached high command without having attended West Point, served in most of the major campaigns from Yorktown through Gettysburg, and then during the Atlanta Campaign. He exhibited exceptional bravery and was arguably the Army of the Potomac’s most effective chief-of-staff. After the war he became a supporter of veterans’ rights. Were that all he achieved, it would still warrant a biography, but Butterfield also crafted America’s most renowned bugle call, “Taps,” which still resounds hauntingly over military ceremonies to this day. Pula’s painstaking retelling of Dan Butterfield’s Civil War years reminds us that he was a capable leader and a luminary too long forgotten.” — Timothy J. Orr, co-author of The Battle of Gettysburg 1863 (2 vols.)




“Pula’s Union General Daniel Butterfield is a scholarly and informative analysis of a skillful yet at times authoritative officer who was unable to achieve the recognition and advancement he desired and deserved given his significant contributions to the Union cause. It reveals tensions between West Point-educated officers and those who gained rank and position based on talent or political influence and contextualizes personal and political opposition he encountered. Pula challenges criticism of Butterfield by those who disdained his dynamism and innovative approach while serving in leadership roles and corroborates how political party affiliation factored into who was selected for promotion.” — Thomas J. Ryan, author of the award-winning Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign: How the Critical Role of Intelligence Impacted the Outcome of Lee’s Invasion of the North, June–July 1863 and co-author of “Lee is Trapped and Must be Taken”: Eleven Fateful Days after Gettysburg, July 4–14, 1863




“Dr. James Pula has composed a greatly needed biography of Maj. Gen. Daniel Butterfield, whose dedication to the principles of military bearing and duty not only made an impact on the Union Army during the Civil War, but set in motion a tradition that survives in today’s military. Butterfield’s courage on the battlefield and efficiency in the role of a staff officer, highlighted with both success and controversy, places him as a vital figure in the history of the Army of the Potomac, the postwar years as an appointee in Grant’s presidency, successful businessman, and influential leader in the Grand Army of the Republic. He has long deserved a closer study of his life and career, and Dr. Pula’s work fills that void.” — John Heiser, Historian, National Park Service (Ret.)



James S. Pula is a professor of History Emeritus at Purdue University Northwest and the former editor-in-chief of Gettysburg Magazine. Dr. Pula is the author or editor of more than two dozen books including Under the Crescent Moon with the Eleventh Corps in the Civil War (winner of the U. S. Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award); The Civil War from Its Origins to Reconstruction; The 117th New York Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster; For Liberty and Justice: A Biography of Brig. Gen. Włodzimierz B. Krzyżanowski; and The Sigel Regiment: A History of the 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1865 (winner of the Gambrinus Prize in History from the Milwaukee County Historical Society).