JCCW – Gen. Fitz-John Porter

13 07 2009

Testimony of Gen. Fitz-John Porter

Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 152-159

WASHINGTON, January 11, 1862.

General FITZ-JOHN PORTER recalled and examined.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. Were you on General Patterson’s staff?

Answer. Yes, sir; I was his assistant adjutant general, and with him from almost the commencement of his expedition. At all events, I was with him from about the 1st of May.

Question. Then you were with him when he moved from Martinsburg?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Will you state concisely the movement from Martinsburg?

Answer. I do not recollect the dates.

Question. We understand that he moved from Martinsburg on the 15th of July.

Answer. We moved from Martinsburg direct upon Bunker Hill.

Question. What distance?

Answer. I think it was about twelve miles. We there remained one day. There was a heavy force towards Winchester, and the following morning we moved from Bunker Hill to Charlestown.

Question. Johnston was at that time intrenched at Winchester?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. When you were at Bunker Hill how far were you from Winchester?

Answer. I think about twelve miles.

Question. How far is it from Charlestown?

Answer. About the same distance.

Question. You sent forward a heavy force towards Winchester on Tuesday, the 16th?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Did they meet any enemy?

Answer. The cavalry of the enemy came in contact with them, some 500 or 600 of them; that is the report we received; I do not know it myself. They met that force, and I think a few cannon shot and a few infantry shot passed.

Question. Did they find any obstruction?

Answer. The road, as I understood, had trees felled across; had a fence put across it; was barricaded.

Question. Did they go near enough to ascertain whether Johnston was intrenched at Winchester?

Answer. They did not.

Question. Did you know at that time whether he was or not intrenched at Winchester?

Answer. Yes, sir; we knew it six weeks before.

Question. And these barricades were thrown up to prevent your progress towards Winchester?

Answer. Yes, sir; I always presumed these barricades were put there with the design, if he retired, (as I supposed he was prepared to do,) that we should not be able to pursue him.

Question. To prevent your pursuit if he retired towards Manassas?

Answer. Yes, sir; to give us all the obstructions he could while he was at his ease.

Question. While at Bunker Hill you were threatening Johnston?

Answer. Yes, sir; and I always considered that to be the design unless our force was superior to Johnston.

Question. You considered that during that campaign you were to take care of Johnston’s force, and particularly at this period of the campaign?

Answer. Yes, sir; it was to try and hold him at Winchester.

Question. It was deemed of the first importance that Johnston should be held in the valley of Winchester at that time, in order that he might not be present and participate with Beauregard at Manassas when General McDowell made his attack?

Answer. Yes, sir; and there was also a fear which was expressed by General Scott in one of his despatches in a direction to be careful not to drive Johnston on Manassas.

Question. But to threaten him.

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. You being on the staff of course saw the despatches of the commander-in-chief to General Patterson?

Answer. Yes, sir; they were all filed away under my direction.

Question. Did you not understand, from the general character of these despatches, that General Scott especially desired that Johnston should be held by Patterson’s force?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. That was the great point that General Scott required there.

Answer. Yes, sir; that was the desire. And he also expressed the desire that if Johnston retired from Winchester in force not to pursue him, but take into consideration the route via Leesburg, through Keyes’s Ferry, or better still, cross the Potomac twice and go, via Leesburg, down this way.

Question. That is, in case Johnston went down by way of Strasburg, it was deemed hazardous to follow him in that direction.

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. And in order that you might be up with him, you were to take the other road right down as rapidly as possible.

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. So that, in case Johnston should get down and form a junction with Beauregard, you should be on hand to join McDowell?

Answer. That was the design.

Question. When you made the march from Bunker Hill towards Charlestown, you were then retreating from Johnston, going further from him?

Answer. That was regarded at that time as a necessity.

Question. The fact was, you were going from Johnston?

Answer. Yes, sir; we were retiring, or rather it was going further from Winchester.

Question. Of course you were threatening Johnston less at Charlestown than you were at Bunker Hill?

Answer. Yes, sir. But the design in going to Charlestown was to get near our depot where provisions could be provided. From that point the design was, and the directions were given, to move again upon Winchester.

Question. When did you first learn of the battle of Bull Run, of the engagement of McDowell with the rebels there?

Answer. The first information was a telegraph from General Scott stating that the first move of McDowell had caused the enemy to abandon Fairfax Court-House. But there was no intimation after that, I think, until the Thursday night afterwards.

Question. Thursday, the 18th of July.

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. You got the news then that he had moved and driven the enemy from Fairfax?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Then you say you do not know when you first got the news of the battle at Bull Run.

Answer. No, sir; I do not recollect?

Question. You were about to explain why the movement was made from Bunker Hill to Charlestown.

Answer. It was in part the carrying out a plan which had been submitted to General Scott to take Charlestown and make Harper’s Ferry a depot. The communication, via Williamsport, up to Martinsburg was a long one, and continually threatened. From Charlestown down to Harper’s Ferry was a short distance, and there was a railroad there available for use; and another thing, it was much easier to go down in this direction by immediately crossing to Leesburg and striking from there, if necessary, over to Manassas. The proposition had been submitted several days before this movement was made, but there was no reply made to it by General Scott until, I think, three or four days after its probable receipt by him. It was then too late for us to make the move which had been indicated, and go to Charlestown and there establish a depot and threaten Johnston on the Tuesday when it was designed to make the threat. We had a great many supplies, and transportation was not very abundant, and the movement of the supplies from Martinsburg to Charlestown had to be covered by an advance upon Bunker Hill; and in order to carry out General Scott’s wish to threaten Johnston strongly on Tuesday, as that was the day he said he was going to make the attack on Manassas, the movement to Bunker Hill was made, and we there remained threatening him. We could not carry at any time more than three days’ provisions. In the mean time the provisions were being changed, and all the supply train that could possibly be gathered from Hagerstown and Williamsport was brought up there, and the movement to Bunker Hill covered the movement of the train to Charlestown.

Question. The question submitted to General Scott whether our forces should be at Charlestown or Martinsburg for threatening Johnston?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. And as between Charlestown and Martinsburg General Scott approved of Charlestown?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. That brought you into a better position with reference to Johnston at Winchester than you were in at Martinsburg?

Answer. Just about the same relative position, but better for us if we had required a forward movement.

Question. You were not threatening Johnston at Charlestown so much as at Bunker Hill?

Answer. While we were at Bunker Hill all the train we could get together at Martinsburg was carrying all our supplies over to Charlestown, and it was covered by the movement of the army over to Charlestown by Bunker Hill. If we had been compelled to come down to the assistance of McDowell, we would have been compelled to abandon everything at Martinsburg if we had remained there, or even at Bunker Hill.

Question. That was not true at Charlestown?

Answer. No, sir; everything there could have been pushed at once to Harper’s Ferry and secured.

Question. Johnston was at Winchester when you were at Bunker Hill?

Answer. Yes, sir; before and afterwards.

Question. And he remained there until the next day, when you moved to Charlestown?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. And on Thursday, the day following, he moved to Mauassas?

Answer. He broke up, I think, at 2 o’clock on Thursday.

Question. Do you know how long it took him to make the passage from Winchester to Manassas?

Answer. I think he got to Manassas on the day of the battle, Sunday.

Question. So that if you had detained him one day longer at Winchester, he would have been too late for the battle?

Answer. Yes, sir; but I do not believe he could have been detained; that was my own impression.

Question. Was it your impression at the time you were at Bunker Hill that Johnston would move down to Manassas?

Answer. Yes, sir; when it was necessary for him to go to Manassas.

Question. You believed, then, that he would go?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. That that was his intention?

Answer. Yes, sir; and that it was an utter impossibility for us to hold him.

Question. You came to that conclusion when you were at Bunker Hill?

Answer. Yes, sir; and not only then, but long before. We came to that conclusion when we were at Hagerstown.

Question. Did General Patterson come to that conclusion?

Answer. I do not know.

Question. Was that question discussed in your councils at all?

Answer. In speaking of it—General Patterson, Captain Newton—we all were under the impression that if we went to Winchester the enemy, as we advanced, would quietly retire; that as we went along, they would also go along a little further back, and gradually draw us forward until the time came when they would suddenly strike us, and make a dash at Manassas.

Question. The prevailing opinion among General Patterson’s staff was, that the enemy would, at an opportune moment, dash forward so as to be at Manassas?

Answer. Yes, sir; that is my impression of the existing opinion.

Question. Do you know whether any such impression as that was ever communicated to the general-in-chief?

Answer. I do not.

Question. You do not know whether any such communication was ever made to the general-in-chief?

Answer. No, sir; I have no recollection of anything of the kind.

Question. You say General Scott had indicated Tuesday as the day he would fight?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Therefore you deemed it of prime importance to hold Johnston over Tuesday?

Answer. Yes, sir; of great importance to hold him over Tuesday. Even if the fight was delayed, or not decided for one or two days, Johnston could not reach there.

Question. Did you not also deem it of prime importance that you should, if possible, detain Johnston until you knew the result of the attack by General McDowell upon Manassas?

Answer. Yes, sir; and when we got to Charlestown preparations were made at once to advance upon Winchester and continue the same movement.

Question. Was there any demonstration ever made from Charlestown towards Winchester?

Answer. Yes, sir. Quite a heavy reconnoissance was sent from there under Colonel, now General, Thomas.

Question. The enemy must have inferred from your movement from Bunker Hill to Charlestown—must have come to the conclusion that you did not intend to commence an attack upon them?

Answer. They may have come to that conclusion. I presume their thought was that we were then making a move to get down to Leesburg, and so on down.

Question. They probably inferred that you intended to go down by way of Leesburg?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. And therefore they must hasten their forces forward and go down, so as to be equal with you?

Answer. Probably so.

Question. That would have been natural?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. If they had drawn that inference they would have done what they did do?

Answer. Yes, sir; and to prevent their drawing that conclusion this force was sent out the following morning.

Question. You felt it was necessary to do something to do away with that impression?

Answer. Yes, sir; and a force was thrown out for that purpose. I will say here that when we were at Bunker Hill there was a commencement—in fact, it commenced at Martinsburg—of demoralization among the troops, which tended to prevent an attack.  Some of them positively refused. There was a petition from one of the regiments, signed by a number of the captains, which I think is, or ought to be, in General Patterson’s possession. He always kept it. It never went on the files of the records of the office.

Question. Have you any doubt that your men would have gone forward from Bunker Hill if you had desired them to do so?

Answer. I think they would have gone, but with very great reluctance—with no confidence. I think the great confidence of that command was destroyed immediately after the withdrawal of the regular troops from the command, when it first crossed the Potomac.

Question. Did you communicate to General Scott, immediately upon your withdrawal to Charlestown, the fact that you were not in position then to hold Johnston?

Answer. I have no recollection of it.

Question Why did you not follow down by way of Leesburg, via Keyes’s Ferry, as indicated by General Scott in his despatch to which you have referred?

Answer. My impression about that is that General Patterson was ordered to remain there.

Question. And that was the reason he did not move immediately down?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Otherwise he would have moved immediately forward?

Answer. That I do not know.

Question. You would suppose so?

Answer. I do not know. I cannot say with reference to General Patterson’s opinion at all.

Question. I do not ask you what General Patterson’s opinion was.

Answer. I think the reason we did not move forward was the effort being made to retain Johnston at Winchester. That is my own impression; that was my own view at the time we were there; and, in order to retain Johnston, orders were given for the men to carry two days’ provisions, and those provisions were being prepared for the purpose. The circular was sent around, and immediately after a number of officers came in. Some of them spoke to me, and begged, if I had any influence at all, I would prevent that movement. One came in and said his men were very much demoralized, and said they would not go.

Question. On what day was this?

Answer. I think that was Thursday.

Question. Do you remember what officer that was who said his men would not go?

Answer. I think it was Colonel Johnson, Colonel Meredith, or Colonel Minier; one of those three I think it was.

Question. When you were at Bunker Hill an order was given, was it not, to move forward on Wednesday towards Winchester?

Answer. Not that I am certain of; I think not.

Question. Was not General Sanford’s division ordered to move forward on Wednesday?

Answer. Not towards Winchester that I know of.

Question. Do you know what time on Tuesday the order was issued to move on Charlestown on the next day, Wednesday?

Answer. I do not think it got out until one o’clock that night.

Question. Then you were in doubt during the day of Tuesday about the movement on Charlestown?

Answer. There was a design of remaining at Bunker Hill that day, but provisions would not permit them to remain there over Wednesday. We were obliged to meet the provisions at Charlestown, which were then in the train moving from Martinsburg. The regiments were ordered to leave Martinsburg with three days’ provisions; but many of them did not take one day’s provisions; some of them were very improvident. There were two regiments, and one was Colonel Johnson’s, that had no provisions at all.

Question. Could you not have brought your provisions from Charlestown to Bunker Hill as well as have gone from Bunker Hill to the provisions at Charles-town? ,

Answer. We could have got them up, but not in time to move forward and make an attack.

Question. They could have reached you at Bunker Hill?

Answer. Yes, sir. I would like to say this much: that at the time this order was given for the movement from Charlestown the officers came in and requested that it should be delayed, and that an appeal should be made to the men. It was suspended until General Patterson went out and made his appeal. The intention then was to move upon Winchester.

Question. That was on Thursday?

Answer. Yes, sir; the day after we got to Charlestown. He went out and made this appeal, and a very earnest one; and from some of the regiments that he asked at first the cry immediately was for shoes and pants.

Question. Was the appeal that they should go on and attack Winchester?

Answer. I was not present at this appeal, but I was informed that they were told that this movement was to be made, or that they were wanted for a few days longer. Some of them said they would not march—they were unprepared.

By Mr. Covode:

Question. Did not some of the regiments say they would remain if they were led to battle?

Answer. Not a word said upon that.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. Your men had got very tired of marching?

Answer. I think that was the case; I think they had not much confidence in each other. There were a great many of the men without shoes. There was one regiment which afterwards came forward, expressing its willingness to remain—Colonel Wallace’s regiment from Indiana; and when General Patterson thanked them for it a number of the Pennsylvania regiments did the same thing—offered to remain; others refused. Colonel Wallace turned to me and said: “Those boys have come up to offer their services to remain or move forward ; but if they were called upon to march, there would not be three hundred of them that could march for want of shoes.” I think General Patterson’s great desire was to hold Johnston at Winchester. I think he felt he could not do so; I am certain of it. I think the main portion of that command felt that if they made an attack upon Winchester there would be nothing left of them.

Question. You think it was the general feeling in General Patterson’s staff that it was absolutely beyond your power to hold Johnston?

Answer. I think so.

Question. And you think that General Patterson shared that feeling with his staff officers?

Answer. Yes, sir.

By the chairman:

Question. At what time was that feeling?

Answer. I do not think it was in the mind of any of General Patterson’s staff, or any of the brigade commanders, that Johnston would stay in Winchester to meet an attack unless he was very powerful; and if he was wanted down in this direction, he could more whenever he pleased, and we could not touch him. I think that was the prevailing opinion.

Question. Can you tell why General Patterson did not communicate to General Scott the fact that he could not hold Johnston, as soon as he was satisfied of that fact?

Answer. I cannot tell you why he did not. I am of the opinion that General Scott was of that opinion himself. I think he says so in his despatch, where he says if Johnston retires in force do not follow him.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. That is, if he retire by Strasburg?

Answer. I do not think he said if he retire by Strasburg—but if he retire in force. I never expected that he would retire by Strasburg.

By the chairman:

Question. It was the design, in that case, for Patterson to follow down to Manassas.

Answer. He said, take into consideration the going by way of Leesburg.

Question. General Scott did at one time think that Patterson could detain Johnston in the valley of Winchester, did he not?

Answer. I do not think there is anything in his despatches to that effect. I think that General Scott, by sending more troops there, showed that he thought we had not enough.

Question. Your idea is that General Scott did not suppose that General Patterson would detain Johnston in the valley there?

Answer. I do not think he thought so.

Question. Of course, then, in your estimation, any such expectation could not have entered into his calculations in regard to the attack upon Manassas?

Answer. I think not. General Scott may have had the hope that we would detain Johnston. .

Question. Why did General Patterson advance towards Winchester at all if he did not think he could detain Johnston?

Answer. The object in advancing towards Winchester was partly to cover the movement of his supplies from Martinsburg to Charlestown, and partly also to carry out what General Scott directed him to do on Tuesday, to make a demonstration with the hope of holding Johnston at Winchester. I believe General Patterson, if he had thought there was any chance at all of whipping Johnston at Winchester, would have gone there. I heard him often express the wish, and say, “we will move at such or such a time.” And in some cases he gave orders to that effect. But I think General Patterson began to feel that his troops would not carry him out if he went to Winchester.

Question. He had no confidence in his troops?

Answer I think not. Many of the officers had not, and came forward and so expressed themselves. I think he was influenced by that. I do not say he did not have confidence in his troops, but I think he was influenced in his movements by the opinions that the officers expressed.

By Mr. Covode:

Question. Did you ever know of Colonel Johnson refusing to go with General Patterson previous to the time that you came back to Charlestown; that is, was it before or after the time that you went from Bunker Hill to Charlestown that Colonel Johnson signified his unwillingness to remain?

Answer. I do not think that Colonel Johnson himself signified that, but a large portion of his regiment. ,

Question. Was it before or after you went to Charlestown?

Answer. It was while we were at Charlestown. I never heard it before. And I never heard Colonel Johnson refuse to remain; on the contrary, he wanted to remain there.

Question. Do you know of any other regiments that refused to remain in the service previous to the time you turned back to Charlestown?

Answer. Yes, sir; one regiment presented its petition at Martinsburg. And that written petition, I think, is in General Patterson’s possession now.

Question. Do you recollect what regiment that was?

Answer. I think it was the 6th Pennsylvania regiment. I think it was a written statement that their regiment would not remain, but demanded to be sent home by the time their service expired. There was another thing occurred while we were at Martinsburg. Information came to the men—how it got there no one ever knew—that an order had been published by the Secretary of War directing all volunteers then in service to be returned to their homes in time to be mustered out at the expiration of their term of service. That information was brought up there at Martinsburg. I supposed at the time that it was brought up there by some person probably friendly to the enemy.

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