Manassas National Battlefield Park

Fitz John Porter

From the Peninsula to Maryland: Porter's role in the summer of 1862

Photograph of Fitz J. Porter
Fitz J. Porter
Library of Congress

Quick Facts

Significance:
Commander of III Corps in Union Army of the Potomac
Place of Birth:
Portsmouth, NH
Date of Birth
August 31, 1822
Place of Death:
Morristown, NJ
Date of Death
May 21, 1901
Place of Burial:
Brooklyn, NY
Cemetery Name
Green-Wood Cemetery

The career of Fitz John Porter was destroyed in the aftermath of the Union army's defeat at the Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run).

On July 4, 1862, in recognition of his admirable performance as commander of V Corps during the Peninsula Campaign, Porter was promoted to Major General of volunteers. Porter's corps was then sent to reinforce Major General John Pope's Army of Virginia.

Porter was openly hostile toward Pope, so when the two generals repeatedly clashed over the disposition of troops at the Second Battle of Manassas and the battle ended in disaster, Porter quickly became the target of blame for the Union defeat and his court martial was all but inevitable.

Porter was relieved of command in the Army of Virginia and moved back to the Army of the Potomac where he commanded the V Corps during the Maryland Campaign.

Porter's men saw little action during the campaign. They were held in reserve during the Battle of Antietam seeing only minor engagement on the periphery of the battle on September 17. Their only other action during the campaign came two days later when they were lightly engaged as part of the Union defense of the ford at Shepherdstown.

In November of 1862, Porter was relieved of command once again, placed under arrest, and put on trial by a military commission for his failures at the Second Battle of Manassas.

Because McClellan had been relieved of command by President Abraham Lincoln in November, he was unable to come to Porter's defense. Instead Porter's friendship with and loyalty to McClellan was used against him during the trial. On January 21, 1863, the military commission found Porter guilty as charged and he was dismissed from the army. Porter spent the rest of his life trying to vindicate his name and have his rank reinstated.

Sixteen years after he had been dismissed, a special government commission headed by General John M. Schofield exonerated Porter for all misconduct at the Second Battle of Manassas. The commission's findings also declared that Porter's reluctance to attack Longstreet's advancing forces on August 29, 1862, far from being the cause of the Union defeat, most likely saved the army from further annihilation.

Nearly eight years later, on August 5 1886, President Chester A. Arthur formally reversed Porter's 1863 conviction and Congress restored Porter's commission as a Colonel in the United States Army, backdated to May 14, 1861.