This is all that Porter would have been justifiable in doing even if he had received the 4.30 order at 5 o'clock; and such a demonstration, or eve a real attack made after 5 o'clock by Porter alone, could have had no beneficial effect whatever upon the general result. It would not have diminished in the least the resistance offered to the attacks made at other points that afternoon. The display of troops made by Porter earlier in the afternoon had all the desired and all possible beneficial effect. It caused Longstreet's reserve division to be sent to his extreme right tin front of Porter's position. There that division remained until about 6 o'clock-too late for it to take any effective part in the operations at other points of the line.
A powerful and well-sustained attack by the combined forces of Porter's corps and King's division upon the enemy's right wing, if it had been commenced early in the afternoon, might have drawn to that part of the field so large a part of Longstreet's force as to have given Pope some chance of success against Jackson; but an attack by Porter alone could have been but an ineffective blow, destructive only to the force that made it, and, followed by a counter-attack, disastrous to the Union army. Such an attack, under such circumstances, would have been not only a great blunder, but, on the part of an intelligent officer, it would have been a great crime.
What General Porter actually did do, although his situation was by no means free from embarrassment and anxiety at the time, now seems to have been only the simple, necessary action which an intelligent soldier had no choice but to take. It is not possible that any court-martial could have condemned such conduct if it had been correctly understood. On the contrary, that conduct was obedient, subordinate, faithful, and judicious. It saved the Union army from disaster on the 29th of August.
This ends the transactions upon which were based the charges of which General Porter was pronounced guilty; but some account of the part taken by him and his corps in the events of the following day, August 30, which gave rise to a charge which was withdrawn, is necessary to a full understanding of the merits of the case.
At 3 a. m. of the 30th General Porter received the following order, and in compliance with it promptly withdrew from his position in presence of the enemy and marched rapidly by the Sudley road to the center of the battle-field, where he reported to General Pope for orders:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF VIRGINIA, In the Field, near Bull Run, August 29, 1862-8.50 p. m.
Major General F. J. PORTER:
GENERAL: Immediately upon receipt of this order, the precise hour of receiving which you will acknowledge, you will march your command to the field of battle of to-day and report to me in person for orders. You are to understand that you are expected to comply strictly with this order, and to be present on the field within three hours after its reception, or after daybreak to-morrow morning.
(Received August 30, 3.30 a. m.)
At first sight it would appear that in this prompt and unhesitating movement under this order General Porter committed a grave fault. He was already on the field of battle, confronting the enemy in force, and holding a position of vital importance to the security of Pope's army; while the latter appeared from the order to be wholly in the dark respecting these all-important facts. It is true the order was
34 R R-VOL XII, PT II