If King's division had come up on the right, as was expected, and had advanced to attack, Porter would have known it instantly, and thus could have joined in the movement.
If the main army retired, as indicated in the joint order, it was Porter's duty to retire also, after having held his ground long enough to protect its left flank and to cover the retreat of Ricketts' troops.
Porter did for a moment entertain the purpose of trying to give aid to Sigel, who was supposed to be retiring before McDowell had got King's division up to his support. That was the nearest to making a mistake that Porter came that afternoon. But it soon enough became evident that such a purpose must be abandoned; Porter had quite his full share of responsibility where he was.
The preparations made for retreat were the ordinary soldierly dispositions to enable him to do promptly what he had good reason to expect he might be required to do at any moment and must do at nightfall.
He made frequent reports to his superiors, stating what he had done and what he had been unable to do; what his situation was in respect to the enemy in his front and the strength of the enemy there; what his impressions wee from the sounds of action toward his right; how he had failed thus far to get any communications from any commander in the main army, or any orders from General Pope, asking McDowell, who was nearest to him, for such information and his (McDowell's) designs for the night; sending an aide-de-camp to General Pope for orders and receiving no reply, not even information that the 4.30 order had been sent to him; and, finally, informing his superiors that if left to himself, without orders, he would have to retire at night for food and water, which he could not get where he was. These reports were sent not only frequently, but early enough to insure the receipt of orders from Pope or correct information from McDowell, if they had any to send him, before it would be time for him to withdraw. All these dispatches were sent in the latter part of the afternoon. They all indicated a purpose to retire only after being assured that the main army was retiring, and then to cover the retreat of the army as far as possible, or to withdraw after night-fall, as the joint order had indicated, if no further orders or information of General Pope's plans could be obtained.
There is no indication in any of these dispatches, when fairly construed, nor in anything which Porter did or said, of any intention to withdraw until after dark, unless compelled to do so by the retreat of the main army; and even then he was compelled to hold on until McDowell's troops could get out of the way, and that was not until after dark, for Ricketts' division was on the road in Porter's rear all the afternoon.
It is perfectly clear that Porter had no thought whatever of retreating from the enemy, or of withdrawing because of the enemy in his front; for when the enemy was reported advancing as if to attack his orders were: "If the enemy is coming, hold to him." "Post your troops to repulse him." "We cannot retire while McDowell holds on."
It appears to have been assumed in the condemnation of General Porter's conduct that he had some order to attack or some information of aggressive plans on the part of General Pope, or some intimation, suggestion, or direction to that effect from General McDowell, or that there was such a battle going on within his hearing, or something else in the military situation that required him to attack the enemy without orders before receiving the 4.30 p. m. order at sunset. All this