was the exact reverse of the truth. General Pope's last order, General McDowell's directions while he was with General Porter, the military situation as then known to both Porter and McDowell, and the movement McDowell had decided to make to get his own troops into line of battle and the state of the action on the right of the field, all combined to absolutely forbid any attack by Porter during that entire afternoon until he received Pope's order at sunset, and even that order could not possibly have been given if the situation had been correctly understood. An attack by him would have been a violation of the spirit of his orders and a criminal blunder, leading to inevitable disaster. In short, he had no choice as a faithful soldier but to do substantially what he did do.
The range of our investigation has not enabled us to ascertain the source of the great error which was committed in the testimony before General Porter's court-martial respecting the time of arrival of the main body of Lee's army on the field of Manassas. But the information which was in possession of the Union officers at noon of the 29th of August, and afterward published in their official reports, together with the testimony before the court-martial, affords clear, explicit, and convincing proof that the main body of that army must have been there on the filed at that time.
The recent testimony of Confederate officers hardly adds anything to the conclusiveness of that proof, but rather diminishes its force, by showing that one division (Anderson's) did not arrive until the next morning; while the information in their possession at that time required the Union officers to assume that that division as well as the others had arrived on the 29th. Yet general Porter's conduct was adjudged upon the assumption that not more than one division under Longstreet had arrived on the field and that Porter had no considerable force in his front.
The fact is that Longstreet, with four divisions of full 25,000 men, was there on the field before Porter arrived with his two divisions of 9,000 men; that the Confederate General-in-Chief was there in person at least two or three hours before the commander of the Army of Virginia himself arrived on the field, and that Porter with his two divisions saved the Army of Virginia that day from the disaster naturally due to the enemy's earlier preparation for battle.
If the 4.30 order had been promptly delivered a very grave responsibility would have devolved upon General Porter. The order was based upon conditions which were essentially erroneous and upon expectations which could not possibly be realized.
It required an attack upon the enemy's flank or near, which could not be made, and that the attacking force keep closed on Reynolds, who was far to the right and beyond reach. Yet it would have been too late to correct the error and have the order modified. That order appeared to be part of a general plan. It must be executed promptly or not at all. If Porter had made not the impossible attack which was ordered, but a direct attack upon the enemy's right wing, would he have been blameless for the fruitless sacrifice of his troops? We believe not. It is a well-established military maxim that a corps commander is not justifiable in making an apparently hopeless attack in obedience to an order from a superior who is not on the spot, and who is evidently in error in respect to the essential conditions upon which the order is based. The duty of the corps commander in such a case is to make not a real attack, but a strong demonstration, so as to prevent the enemy in his front from sending re-enforcements to other parts of his line.