When the voluptuous and scandalous Tennessee Claflin meets former Civil War general Benjamin Butler, she says, “I used to shit on your face.” Before modern plumbing, people relieved themselves in chamber pots. Most of these chamber pots did not have faces in them, but Benjamin Butler was so hated that his face ended up at the bottom of one. To understand why, one must go back to 1862 when the Union general was transferred to New Orleans which had fallen to Union forces. While in New Orleans, Butler heard countless stories of his men being insulted by the New Orleans women. The women would spit on the soldiers or worse. Naval commander David Farragut had a chamber pots emptied on his head as he walked down a street.
As a response to these acts, Butler issued General Orders Number 28 on May 15, 1862 that stated, “As the Officers and Soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women calling themselves ladies of New Orleans, in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any Female shall, by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.”
This order, stating that the women of New Orleans could be treated as prostitutes which is implying that it is permissible for men to grope or rape them (as raping prostitutes was not a crime) caused outrage within the states and even abroad, earning Butler both the nickname “Beast Butler” and his face at the bottom of a chamber pot.
This incident takes on more irony as we follow Butler’s career to learn that he was an ardent supporter of women and championed their right to vote in later years.