Fitz John Porter

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Fitz John Porter
Fitz John Porter.jpg
Porter in 1862
Born (1822-08-31)August 31, 1822
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, U.S.
Died May 21, 1901(1901-05-21) (aged 78)
Morristown, New Jersey, U.S.
Buried at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, U.S.
Allegiance

 United States of America

Service/branch

Seal of the United States Board of War.png United States Army

Years of service 1845–1863 or 1886[1]
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Major general
Commands held V Corps, Army of the Potomac
Battles/wars

Mexican-American War

Utah War
American Civil War

Other work Public works commissioner, police commissioner, and fire commissioner (NYC)

Fitz John Porter (August 31, 1822 – May 21, 1901) (sometimes written FitzJohn Porter or Fitz-John Porter) was a career United States Army officer and a Union General during the American Civil War. He is most known for his performance at the Second Battle of Bull Run and his subsequent court martial.

Although Porter served well in the early battles of the Civil War, his military career was ruined by the controversial trial, which was called by his political rivals. After the war, he worked for almost 25 years to restore his tarnished reputation and was finally restored to the army's roll.

Early life and education[edit]

Porter was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He came from a family prominent in American naval service; his cousins were William D. Porter, David Dixon Porter, and David G. Farragut. But Porter's father, Captain John Porter, was an alcoholic who had been reassigned to land duty. Porter's childhood was chaotic because of his father's illness.[2] The younger Porter pursued an army career. He graduated from the United States Military Academy (West Point) in 1845, standing eighth out of 41 cadets, and was brevetted a second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Artillery.[3]

Career[edit]

Porter was promoted to second lieutenant on June 18, 1846 and First Lieutenant on May 29, 1847. He served in the Mexican-American War and was appointed a brevet captain on September 8, 1847, for bravery at the Battle of Molino del Rey. He was wounded at Chapultepec on September 13, for which he also received a brevet promotion to major.[3]

After the war with Mexico ended, Porter returned to West Point and became a cavalry and artillery instructor from 1849 to 1853. He served as adjutant to the academy's superintendent until 1855. He next served at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, as assistant adjutant general in the Department of the West in 1856, where he was brevetted to captain that June. Porter served under future Confederate Albert Sidney Johnston in the expedition against the Mormons in 1857 and 1858. Afterward Porter inspected and reorganized the defenses of Charleston Harbor, South Carolina until late 1860, when he aided in the evacuation of army personnel from Texas after that state seceded from the Union.[4]

American Civil War[edit]

Porter (seated in chair) and staff

After the start of the Civil War, Porter became chief of staff and assistant adjutant general for the Department of Pennsylvania, but he was soon promoted to colonel of the 15th Infantry on May 14, 1861. In August, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers, backdated to May 17 [3] so he would be senior enough to receive division command in the Army of the Potomac, newly formed under Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. Soon Porter became a trusted adviser and loyal friend to McClellan, but his association with the soon-to-be-controversial commanding general would prove to be disastrous for Porter's military career.

Porter led his division at the beginning of the Peninsula Campaign, seeing action at the Siege of Yorktown. McClellan created two provisional corps and Porter was assigned to command the V Corps. During the Seven Days Battles, and particularly at the Battle of Gaines' Mill, he displayed a talent for defensive fighting.[5] At the Battle of Malvern Hill, Porter also played a leading role. For his successful performance on the Peninsula, he was promoted to major general of volunteers on July 4, 1862.[3]

Second Bull Run[edit]

August 29, noon; Longstreet's Corps arrives; Porter's Corps stops and does not engage

Porter's corps was sent to reinforce Maj. Gen. John Pope in the Northern Virginia Campaign, a reassignment that he openly challenged and complained about, criticizing Pope personally. During the Second Battle of Bull Run, on August 29, 1862, he was ordered to attack the flank and rear of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's wing of the Army of Northern Virginia. Porter had stopped at Dawkin's Branch, where he had encountered Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry screen. On August 29 he received a message from Pope directing him to attack the Confederate right (which Pope assumed to be Jackson on Stony Ridge), but at the same time to maintain contact with the neighboring division under Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, a conflict in orders that could not be resolved. Pope was apparently unaware that Confederate Maj. Gen. James Longstreet's wing of the army had arrived on the battlefield; the proposed envelopment of Jackson's position would have collided suicidally with Longstreet's large force. Porter chose not to make the attack because of the intelligence he had received that Longstreet was to his immediate front.

August 30, 3:00; Porter turns and attacks, Longstreet in position to attack and "rolls up" Pope's army

On August 30 Pope again ordered the flank attack, and Porter reluctantly complied. As the V Corps turned to head towards Jackson's right and attacked, it presented its own (and consequently the entire army's) flank to Longstreet's waiting men. About 30,000 Confederates assailed Porter's 5,000 or so men, driving through them and into the rest of Pope's forces, doing exactly what Porter most feared would come of these orders. Pope was infuriated by the defeat, accused Porter of insubordination, and relieved him of his command on September 5.[6]

Porter was soon restored to command of the corps by McClellan and led it through the Maryland Campaign, where the corps served in a reserve position during the Battle of Antietam. He is said to have told McClellan, "Remember, General, I command the last reserve of the last Army of the Republic."[7] McClellan took his implied advice and failed to commit his reserves into a battle that might have been won if he had used his forces aggressively.

Court martial[edit]

On November 25, 1862, Porter was arrested and court-martialed for his actions at Second Bull Run. By this time, McClellan had been relieved by President Abraham Lincoln and could not provide political cover for his protégé. Porter's association with the disgraced McClellan and his open criticism of Pope were significant reasons for his conviction at court-martial. Porter was found guilty on January 10, 1863, of disobedience and misconduct, and he was dismissed from the Army on January 21, 1863.[3]

Later life and death[edit]

After the war ended, Porter was offered a command in the Egyptian Army but declined it.[6] He spent most of the remainder of his public life fighting against the perceived injustice of his court-martial.

In 1878, a special commission under General John M. Schofield exonerated Porter by finding that his reluctance to attack Longstreet probably saved Pope's Army of Virginia from an even greater defeat. Eight years later, President Chester A. Arthur commuted Porter's sentence and a special act of the U.S. Congress restored Porter's commission as an infantry colonel in the U.S. Army, backdated to May 14, 1861, but without any back pay due. Two days later, August 7, 1886, Porter, seeing vindication, voluntarily retired from the Army.

Porter was involved in mining, construction, and commerce. He was appointed as the New York City Commissioner of Public Works, the New York City Police Commissioner, and the New York City Fire Commissioner. He died in Morristown, New Jersey, and is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.[3] His grave can be found in Section 54, Lot 5685/89.

On December 27, 1894, Porter, along with 18 others, founded the Military and Naval Order of the United States, which was soon renamed the Military Order of Foreign Wars. Porter's name was at the top of the list of signers of the original institution and received the first insignia issued by the Order.

Legacy[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Eicher, p. 435. Court-martialed 1863, restored and resigned in 1886 to rank from 1861
  2. ^ Soini, Porter's Secret, ISBN 978-0-9828236-8-2 Portsmouth, NH: Peter E. Randall Publisher (2011) pp. 9-11.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Eicher, p. 435.
  4. ^ Dupuy, p. 607.
  5. ^ Dupuy, p. 608. "he was a skilled defensive commander who possessed a fine eye for terrain ..."
  6. ^ a b Dupuy, p. 608.
  7. ^ Sears, p. 291; McPherson, pp. 543-44.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Eisenschiml, Otto, The Celebrated Case of Fitz John Porter: An American Dreyfus Affair, Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1950.
  • Hennessy, John J. Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993. ISBN 0-8061-3187-X.
  • Soini, Wayne. Porter's Secret: Fitz John Porter's Monument Decoded. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Jetty House an imprint of Peter E. Randall Publisher, 2011. ISBN 978-0-9828236-8-2.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Nathaniel P. Banks
Commander of the V Corps
May 18, 1862 - November 10, 1862
Succeeded by
Joseph Hooker