War of the Rebellion: Serial 016 Page 0534 OPERATIONS IN N. VA.,W. VA.,AND MD. Chapter XXIV.

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sunset-too late for any attack to be made. Any attack which Porter could have made at any time that afternoon must necessarily have been fruitless of any good result. Porter's faithful, subordinate, and intelligent conduct that afternoon saved the Union army from the defeat which would otherwise have resulted that day from the enemy's more speedy concentration. The only seriously critical period of that campaign, viz, between 11 a. m. and sunset of August 29, was thus safely passed. Porter had understood and appreciated the military situation, and, so far as he had acted upon his own judgment, his action had been wise and judicious. For the disaster of the succeeding day he was in no degree responsible. Whoever else may have been responsible, it did not flow from any action or inaction of his.

The judgment of the court-martial upon General Porter's conduct was evidently based upon greatly erroneous impressions, not only respecting what that conduct really was and the orders under which he was acting, but also respecting all the circumstances under which he acted. Especially was this true in respect to the character of the battle of the 29th of August. That battle consisted of a number of sharp and gallant combats between small portions of the opposing forces. Those combats were of short duration and were separated by long intervals of simple skirmishing and artillery duels. Until after 6 o'clock only a small part of the troops on either side were engaged at any time during the afternoon. Then, about sunset, and additional division on each side was engaged near Groveton. The musketry of that last contest and the yells of the Confederate troops about dark were distinctly heard by the officers of Porter's corps; but at no other time during all that afternoon was the volume of musketry such that it could be heard at the position of Porter's troops. No sound but that of artillery was heard by them during all those hours when Porter was understood by the court-martial to have been listening to the sounds of a furious battle raging immediately to his right. And those sounds of artillery were by no means such as to indicate a general battle.

The reports of the 29th and those of the 30th of August have somehow been strangely confounded with each other. Even the Confederate reports have, since the termination of the war, been similarly misconstrued. Those of the 30th have been misquoted as referring to the 29th, thus to prove that a furious battle was going on while Porter was comparatively inactive on the 29th. the fierce and gallant struggle of his own troops on the 30th has thus been used to sustain the original error under which he was condemned. General Porter was, in effect, condemned for not having taken any part in his own battle. Such was the error upon which General Porter was pronounced guilty of the most shameful crime known among soldiers. We believe not one among all the gallant soldiers on that bloody field was less deserving of such condemnation than he.

The evidence of bad animus in Porter's case ceases to be material in view of the evidence of his soldierly and faithful conduct. But it is our duty to say that the indiscreet and unkind terms in which General Porter expressed his distrust of the capacity of his superior commander cannot be defended. And to that indiscretion was due, in very great measure, the misinterpretation of both his motives and his conduct and his consequent condemnation.

Having thus given the reasons for our conclusions, we have the honor to report, in accordance with the President's order, that in our opinion justice requires at his hands such action as may be necessary to annul and set aside the findings and sentence of the court-martial in the case