On a drive back from Maine a couple of weeks ago, Barb and her brother were kind enough to indulge my desire to make a side trip to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, so I could snap a couple of photos of the equestrian statue of Civil War General Fitz-John Porter. Fitz-who? You ask? I believe that Fitz-John Porter would have been as recognizable a name as Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, or Custer. However Porter was relegated to the scrap heap of obscurity after being court-martialed and cashiered for disobedience of orders. His trial was the sensation of late 1862 through the end of January 1863. It was conducted in an open court with every major newspaper having reporters on hand to witness it. The Official Records of the War of The Rebellion consists of 128 volumes covering all 4 years of the war and they contain pretty much every order, every report, every correspondence, etc. that were written. The Fitz-John Porter court-martial was so significant that one single volume of that 128 book opus covers the trial.
After being cashiered, Porter spent the next 20 years trying to clear his name. He finally was successful.
His is a fascinating story. He was a brave and highly capable soldier, but had an arrogant streak and suffered fools lightly. His intemperate and derogatory comments against an officer (John Pope) who was a close friend of both Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton were used to support the claim that he disobeyed orders and contributed to Pope’s debacle at the battle of 2nd Bull Run. I have been laboring over the court martial tome and need to find a few more out of date sources, but basically the trial was rigged. Because of Pope’s political relationships, the members of the court were Officers who were Republicans and supporters of Lincoln. There is only one author that I know of (Kenneth P. Williams) who claims that Porter was guilty as charged, but I have to find the book he wrote to see why he felt that way. I think that there may have been some things that Porter could have done better, but the orders he was given by Pope were confusing and contradictory, and clearly indicated that Pope did not have an adequate understanding of the tactical situation at The 2nd Battle of Bull Run. Porter’s photo is in the center below, John Pope’s photo to the right of Porter. Last picture is a sketch of the trial.
Equestrian Statue of Major General Fitz-John Porter in Portsmouth, NH
Members of court martial included future President James A. Garfield
A single volume of the the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion dedicated to Fitz-John Porter trial.
Photo of Fitz-John Porter as Major General, US Volunteers
Inept commander of Union Army of Virginia and Porter nemesis, Major General John Pope.
Trial was open to public. War correspondent and artist Alfred Waud captured proceedings.