Grant's Vindication of Fitz-John Porter

 

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Up | Pictures of Ulysses S. Grant | General Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War | Ulysses S. Grant Quotes | General Grant's Presidential Campaign Poster | Grant's Letter to General Hawley | Ulysses S. Grant's First Inaugural Address | President Grant's Last Message to Congress | President Grant's Philadelphia Speech | Grant's Vindication of Fitz-John Porter | Grant's Washburne Letter

Vindication of Fitz-John Porter.—General Grant's magnanimity was never more touchingly illustrated than in his efforts to secure justice for GEN. FITZ-JOHN PORTER. The story of his actions in this matter is most fittingly told in his own language. On Dec. 22, 1881, he addressed the following appeal in behalf of General Porter to the President :

NEW YORK, Dec. 22, 1881.

The President, Washington, D. C.:

DEAR SIR, — At the request of Gen. Fitz - John Porter, I have recently reviewed his trial and the testimony furnished before the Schofield Court of Inquiry held in 1879, giving to the subject three full days of careful reading and consideration, and much thought in the intervening time. The reading of this record has thoroughly convinced me that for these nineteen years I have been doing a gallant and efficient soldier a very great injustice in thought and sometimes in speech. I feel it incumbent upon me now to do whatever lies in my power to remove from him and from his family the stain upon his good name. I feel this the more incumbent upon me than I should if I had been a corps commander only, or occupying any other command in the army than the one which I did; but as general I had it, possibly, in my power to have obtained for him the hearing which he had only got at a later day, and as President I certainly had the power to have ordered that hearing. In justification for my injustice to General Porter, I can only state that shortly after the war closed his defence was brought to my attention, but I read in connection with it a sketch of the field where his offences were said to have been committed, which I now see, since perfect maps have been made by the engineers' department of the whole field, were totally incorrect as showing the position of the two armies. I have read it in connection with the statements made on the other side against General Porter, and, I am afraid, possibly with some little prejudice in the case, although General Porter was a man whom I personally knew and liked before; but I got the impression, with many others, that there was a half-hearted support of General Pope in his campaigns, and that General Porter, while possibly not more guilty than others, happened to be placed in a position where he could be made responsible for his indifference, and that the punishment was not a severe one for such an offence. I am now convinced that he rendered faithful, efficient, and intelligent service, and the fact that he was retained in command of a corps for months after his offences were said to have been committed is in his favor. What I would ask in General Porter's behalf, from you, is, if you can possibly give the time, that you give the subject the same study and thought that I have given it, and then act as your judgment shall dictate. But, feeling that you will not have the time for such an investigation (for it would take several days' time), I would ask that the whole matter be laid before the Attorney-General for his examination and opinion. Hoping that you will be able to do this much for an officer who has suffered for nineteen years a punishment that never should be inflicted upon any but the most guilty, I am, Very truly yours,

U. S. GRANT.

On Feb. 4, 1882, in order to still further impress his convictions of General Porter's innocence upon influential members of Congress, he addressed the following detailed letter to J. Donald Cameron, United States Senator from Pennsylvania:

NEW YORK, Feb. 4, 1882.

Hon. J. D. Cameron, U. S. Senate, Washington, D. C.:

DEAR SIR, It has been my intention until within the last few days to visit Washington this winter to spend some time, and there to have a conversation with you and with General Logan on the subject of the Fitz-John Porter case; but having now pretty nearly decided not to go to Washington, I have determined to write, and write to you so that you may state my position to your friends, and particularly to General Logan, and, if you choose, show this letter to any such people.

When I commenced the examination of the Fitz-John Porter case as it now stands, it was with the conviction that his sentence was a just one, and that his punishment had been light for so hideous an offence ; but I tried to throw off all prejudice in the case, and to examine it on its merits. I came out of that examination with the firm conviction that an entirely innocent man had been most unjustly punished. I cast no censure upon the court which tried him, because the evidence which now proves his entire innocence of disobedience of orders it was impossible to have before that court.

When I completed the investigation and came to the conclusion that I did—of his innocence—my first thought was to write to General Logan, because I regard him as my friend, and I am sure I am his, and he has made, probably, the ablest speech of his life in opposition to the bill for General Porter's restoration to the army. I thought, therefore, it was due to him that I should inform him of the conclusion that I had come to after the investigation. But as the President was just about visiting this city when my letter to him was written, and it was desired to present it to him here, I requested, in lieu of a letter to General Logan, to have a copy of my letter to the President sent to him. This was done.

You are aware that when General Logan made his speech against General Porter, it was in opposition to a bill pending in Congress. He, like myself, was thoroughly convinced of the guilt of General Porter, and was therefore opposed to the bill. His investigations therefore were necessarily to find arguments to sustain his side of a pending question. I of course had no knowledge of the papers he would refer to, or would examine, to find such arguments ; but I knew that he could have the testimony which was taken before the court-martial which convicted ; probably also the arguments of the officer who acted as prosecutor when the case was before the Schofield court, and arguments that have been made by lawyers, J. D. Cox and others possibly, all of which were in opposition to General Porter as much as that of paid attorneys in cases before the civil courts.

But my investigation of all the facts that I could bring before me of the occurrence from the 27th of August, 1862, and for some little time prior, to the 1st of September, the same year, show conclusively that the court and some of the witnesses entirely misapprehended the position of the enemy on that day. General Porter was convicted of disobedience of the order of General Pope's, dated at 4.30 P.M., on the 29th of August, to attack the enemy on his right flank, and in his rear, if possible. Despatches of General Pope of that day show that he knew General Lee was coming to the support of Jackson, whom he thought commanded the only force in his front at that time; but that he could not arrive until the evening of the following day, or the morning of the day after. It was sworn to before the court that this order of 4.30 P.M. reached General Porter at about five or half-past five in the afternoon, but it must be recollected that this testimony was given from memory, and unquestionably without any idea at the time of the occurrence that they were ever to be called upon to give any testimony in the case.

Investigation shows a despatch from General Porter, dated six o'clock of that afternoon, which makes no mention of having received the order to attack, and it is such a despatch as could not be written without mentioning the receipt of that order, if it had been received. There is other testimony that makes it entirely satisfactory to my mind that the order was not received until about sun-down, or between sundown and dark. It was given, as stated before, to attack the enemy's right, and, if possible, to get into his rear. This was on the supposition that Jackson was there alone, as General Pope had stated he would be until the evening of the next day, or the morning of the day following. I believe that the court was convinced that on the evening of the 29th of August Jackson, with his force, was there alone; but now it is proved by testimony better than sworn evidence of any persons on the Union side that by 11 o'clock A.M., of the 29th, Longstreet was up and to the right of Jackson with a force much greater than General Porter's entire force. The attack upon Jackson's right and rear was, therefore, impossible, without first wiping out the force of Longstreet. The order did not contemplate, either, a night attack, and, to have obeyed it, even if Longstreet had not been there, General Porter would have been obliged to make a night attack. But, even as it was, I find that General Porter, notwithstanding the late hour, did all he could to obey that order. He had previously given a command to General Morell, who commanded the most advanced division, or one most fronting the enemy, to throw out a skirmish line to engage the enemy, or to keep him occupied, and on the receipt of this order, although at this late hour, he immediately sent orders to General Morell to increase it from a skirmish line to a large force, and that he would be with him as soon as he could get there.

He did actually go to the front, although it was dark, to superintend this movement, and as far as possible to prevent the enemy detaching anything from his front, thus showing a desire to obey the order strictly and to the best of his ability. I find the Schofield board acquit him entirely, but throw some censure upon him for having expressed a lack of confidence in his commanding officer. Such conduct might be censured, although if every man in the army had been punished who had expressed lack of confidence in his superior officer many of our best soldiers would have been punished. But, in fact, if this was not stated in the summing up of the case by the board, I should not have found that he had expressed any such lack of confidence. On the contrary, to my mind now, he was zealous in giving a support to General Pope, and more so, possibly, for the reason that he knew among his former army associates there was a good deal of apprehension, to say the least, of his fitness for his new place. It must be recollected that General Pope was selected from a Western army and brought East to command an army where there were a great many generals who had had experience in a previous war, and who had, like himself, a military education, and there may (improperly) have been a feeling that it was a reflection upon them to go out of their own command to find a suitable commander ; and it is also very probable that expression was freely given to that feeling. But it would be well to reflect what would have been the sentiment in the West if an officer from the Eastern army had been sent out to supersede all of them and to command them, and whether or not there might have not been some harsh criticisms, even by men who proved to be among our most gallant and devoted commanders. Then, too, in re-examining the case, my attention was called again to General Pope's early order in taking command of the Army of Virginia. I send you a copy of this order. You will see that it was calculated to make the army to whom it was addressed feel that it was a reflection upon their former services and former commanders, from that of a company to the commander of the whole, and that even as amiable people as General Logan and myself are would have been very apt to have made some very uncomplimentary remarks if they had been addressed by an Eastern officer sent West to command over us in our field of duty. I commenced reading up this case with the conviction that General Porter had been guilty, as found by the court, but came out of the investigation with a thorough conviction that I, and the public generally, had done him a fearful injustice, and entirely satisfied that any intelligent man, or lawyer, who will throw aside prejudice and examine the case as I have done, will come to the same conclusion.

As stated in my letter to the President, I feel it incumbent upon me, in view of the positions that I have held heretofore, and my failure then to do what I now wish I had done, to do all in my power to place General Porter right before the public and in future history, and to repair my own intentional injustice.

I address this letter to you, knowing that you will have a desire to do just what your judgment dictates as being right in the matter, and that you will state to whomsoever it may seem to you proper and necessary my present convictions upon this ease.

Very truly yours, U. S. GRANT.

 

 

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