DANIEL ADAMS BUTTERFIELD
Who was the general whose name is associated with Taps? Daniel Adams Butterfield was born in Utica, New York, on October 31, 1831. He was the third son (of nine children) born to John Butterfield and Malinda Baker Butterfield. John Butterfield (1801-1869) was a prominent Utica businessman who pioneered the transportation business and was instrumental in starting America’s first overland express service. A stage coach driver as a young man, Butterfield had risen to possess his own business and was hired to transport freight in Panama. As president of the Overland Stage Company, he won a contract from the U.S. Government in 1858 to carry mail between St. Louis and San Francisco in three weeks. This was a remarkable feat in the era before the transcontinental railroads. His company of Butterfield, Wasson and Company was one of the first to make profits by the rapid movement of merchandise. This company would become the American Express Company.
A director in the Utica City National Bank, John was also instrumental in building a telegraph line between Buffalo and New York.
Young Daniel Butterfield was enrolled at private schools and the Utica Academy. He graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York, in 1849 (at the unusually early age of eighteen) and took up the study of law. At Union College he had a fair record and was known as a leader and somewhat of a prankster. After beginning his preliminary study of law, Butterfield found himself too young to enter the bar, so he decided to embark on an extended trip to the west. He traveled to the Territory of Minnesota and journeyed through the forests with an Indian guide. He boarded a steamer to New Orleans, where he had the opportunity to study the influence of slavery on the population and the political climate of the South. He stated later that it was there that his feelings toward slavery were born. When he returned to Utica, he joined the Utica Citizens’ Corps, a local militia organization. Working for his father, he was entrusted with preparing a time table and schedule for the Overland Stage line running between Memphis, St. Louis, and San Francisco.
Butterfield moved to New York shortly afterward and became the eastern superintendent of the American Express Company. He joined the Twelfth Regiment of the New York State Militia and despite his lack of military experience, rose quickly to the rank of colonel. When the Civil War began, the Twelfth Regiment mustered in New York on April 19, 1861 and sailed for Washington, D.C. After arriving, the unit was assigned guard and garrison duty in the capital. On May 24, Butterfield’s Regiment was at the head of the Union column that advanced into Alexandria, Virginia. The Twelfth served in the Shenandoah Valley during the Bull Run campaign. While serving as a colonel of the Twelfth, Butterfield received word from American Express on August 15, 1861, that he would continue drawing his full salary as superintendent of the company for the duration of the war.
Butterfield was soon promoted to brigadier general and given command of the Third Brigade of the Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, which included the Eighty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers. In May 1862, Butterfield led his men at the Battle of Hanover Court House, after which he was presented with a set of gold spurs from admiring officers. The spurs are engraved “To General Daniel Butterfield. Presented by Field Officers of the Third Light Brigade, Porters [sic] Division, Army of the Potomac. For our admiration of your brilliant generalship on the field of Hanover Court House May 27, 1862.” The spurs were presented to him by Colonel Strong Vincent of the Eighty-third Pennsylvania.
In the spring of 1862, Butterfield prepared and printed a manual on camp and outpost duty for infantry. Published by Harper Brothers, New York, this exhaustive book includes standing orders, extracts from the revised regulations for the Army, rules for health, maxims for soldiers, and duties of officers. You can download the manual below.
Butterfield’s unit took part in a battle at Gaines’ Mill, near Richmond, Virginia, on June 27, 1862. Despite a serious injury, Butterfield seized the colors of the Eighty-third Pennsylvania and rallied the regiment to hold their ground during a critical time in the battle. This action allowed the Army of the Potomac to withdraw safely to nearby Harrison’s Landing. He later received the Medal of Honor for that act of heroism. It was during this time that his association with the bugle call Taps started. Butterfield was no stranger to bugle calls. He knew their importance and had composed a special unit or prelude call. He had trained his buglers in the use of the unit call; among those was the young bugler of the Eighty-third Pennsylvania, Oliver Willcox Norton.
You can hear the call by clicking here: DAN BUTTERFIELD CALL
Following the Peninsular Campaign, Butterfield served at Second Bull Run, at Antietam, and at Marye’s Heights in the Battle of Fredericksburg. Through political connections and his aptitude for administration, he became a major general and served as chief of staff of the Union Army of the Potomac under Generals Joseph Hooker and George Meade.
While serving on Hooker’s staff, he devised a system of using different shapes for corps badges. These badges (which were distinctive shapes of color cloth sewn onto uniforms) were used to identify the many units in the U.S. Army. Corps badges first appeared by order of General Philip Kearny after he had mistakenly reprimanded officers from a different command than his. When Hooker assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, he assigned Butterfield to develop the shapes to be used. Butterfield knew the importance of recognition of units by special identifying marks. After all, he wrote his own bugle call so he could use it to stop confusion on the battlefield and to identify his troops. The system he devised was clever in its simplicity. Corps would be identified by shapes including these: a disk for the First Corps, a trefoil for the Second Corps, a lozenge for the Third Corps, a triangle for the Fourth Corps, and a Maltese cross for the Fifth Corps. The entire system is shown below. (The Maltese cross was chosen by him because of his fondness for the shape, which he had used for medals to decorate his men of the Twelfth N.Y. Militia before the war.) Divisions would then be identified by the color of the shape. Red for the First Division, white for the Second, blue for the Third, green for the Fourth, and orange for the Fifth. The shapes were chosen by Butterfield for, as he wrote, “no reason other than to have some pleasing form or shape, easily and quickly distinguished from others, and capable of aiding in the ‘esprit de corps’ and elevation of the morale and discipline of the army….” The badges soon proved to be very popular with the army.
Butterfield was severely wounded at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, by cannon fire that preceded Pickett’s charge, but did not retire from active field service until he fell victim to fever during Sherman’s March to the Sea. He was reassigned to the western theater. By war’s end, he was breveted a major general in the regular army and stayed in the army after the Civil War, serving as superintendent of the army’s General Recruiting Service in New York City and colonel of the Fifth U.S. Infantry. While superintendent of the recruiting service, he ordered a board of officers convened to examine a fife and drum music manual (Strube’s Drum and Fife Instructor) for its fitness for adoption by the U.S. Army. This was his Special Orders No. 21 dated Feb. 13, 1869. He also approved this board’s acceptance of the manual and then forwarded it to the Secretary of War, who authorized its use by appropriate units of the U.S. Army. Butterfield’s Special Orders No. 21 is reprinted in this book, since it was authorized by the Secretary of War. So we find that General Daniel Butterfield was involved with military music although this time it’s for the fife and drum. Butterfield was honored by being selected to present the flags of the regiment of New York State troops to the governor of New York at the end of the war. The manual can be downloaded below.
After his distinguished military career, Butterfield resigned from the army in 1870 to serve in the Treasury Department under President Ulysses S. Grant. He later went back to work for the American Express Company and became a prominent businessman. When his father passed away in 1869, Butterfield cared for the large estate that the family inherited. He was in charge of a number of special ceremonies, including the funeral of General William Tecumseh Sherman in 1891. Among his achievements was the building of a railroad in Guatemala, and serving as president of the Albany and Troy Steamboat Company, head of the Butterfield Real Estate Company and president of the National Bank of Cold Spring.
In London, England, on September 21, 1886, Butterfield married Julia Lorillard James of New York. Butterfield’s first wife, whom he married in 1857, died in 1877.
He retired to Cragside, his country home at Cold Spring, New York, overlooking the Hudson River. The town of Cold Spring got its name from a spring from which George Washington frequently drank. The home became a place that entertained many foreign dignitaries. In the evening, Butterfield could hear the West Point bugler sounding Taps just across the river.