BENJAMIN FRANKLIN BUTLER: A NOISY, FEARLESS LIFE by Elizabeth D. Leonard, University of North Carolina Press, 2022, 365 pages, $35; ISBN 978-1-4696-6804-8.


Colby College has many distinguished alumni, but only Benjamin Franklin Butler stands out as “Colby’s most important Civil War-era alumnus,” according to Waterville historian Elizabeth Leonard.

This is a fabulous biography of Butler (1818-1893) — student, lawyer, Union general, U.S. Congressman and governor of Massachusetts — and his “noisy, fearless life.” Leonard is an award-winning historian specializing in Civil War and Reconstruction history, a Colby professor for nearly 30 years. Fans of Civil War history will know General Butler as the “Beast of New Orleans” for his harsh suppression of southern rebellion in the newly captured city amidst a hostile population.

As Leonard masterfully relates, there is much more to the man than his Civil War service, especially his legal and political work to promote racial, economic, labor and gender justice for everyone. Butler was a native of Lowell, Massachusetts, and went to Colby College (then known as Waterville College) when he couldn’t get into West Point. He was a prankster and troublemaker and only graduated “because the faculty were glad to get rid of him.”

Leonard carefully describes Butler’s thriving law practice, five terms in Congress, and five runs for governor of Massachusetts. However, his career as a Union general was uneven. As a Democrat, he was an amateur “political general,” appointed because Lincoln needed Democrat support for the war effort. Butler was no coward, but did not enjoy battlefield success.

She vividly describes Butler’s outspoken and contentious efforts to enlist Black soldiers, how he offered slave protections long before the Emancipation Proclamation, and how he worked tirelessly to support civil rights as “a reliable and powerful friend to the freedpeople.” Southerners hated him so much the KKK even threatened to assassinate him.


At life’s end he declared “I want to do my day’s work and die.” And he did.


ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE RIVER: STORIES FROM A MAINE GUIDE by Carroll Ware; North Country Press, 2022; 113 pages, $14.95; ISBN 978-1-943424-71-9.

Fishermen may be the best storytellers and some stories might even be true, for as American humorist Don Marquis (1878-1937) once quipped: “Fishing is a delusion entirely surrounded by liars in old clothes.”

To be fair, however, fisherman like Skowhegan author Carroll Ware do tell great stories that are true (but remember, he is still a fisherman…). Ware has been a Master Maine Guide since 1989, an award-winning, record-holding angler who is also the first fly fisherman inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.

His debut book is a collection of 26 stories, tales of his adventures as a hunting and fishing guide, and co-owner of Fins & Furs Adventures, a Maine guiding business with clients across two continents. His wife and business partner is also a Master Maine Guide.

Ware can certainly hunt and fish, and he can write, too, and probably tells terrific stories around a campfire at night. Here he writes about people, places, events and memories, some poignant, most funny. Even folks who prefer to experience the outdoors from inside a screened porch will enjoy these stories.

The story “Bob” tells of his father’s best friend, a skilled woodsman unfamiliar with soap and water who dislikes politicians and rich people: “Nobody ever made that much money without being crooked.” One chapter tells of past guide clients, like the guy who went to prison and the father teaching his son to fish. In one chapter he discovers that folks use the same cuss words in Montana as in Maine, and that “Sleepy” is not an inspiring name for a guide.

Best is Ware’s hilarious and lofty praise of the outhouse: “One’s enjoyment of an outhouse is directly related to one’s need to be there in the first place.”

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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