You can hop in your car and head southwest out of Washington DC and nestled in the woods and farm land between the Lee Highway and Route 66 you’ll pass through a valley that became one of the most important flashpoints in American history.
Just past Chantilly lies the Manassas National Battlefield Park, set up to protect the location of two of the early battles of the Civil War between the Union and the Confederate soldiers.
Gene Paleno’s new book The Porter Conspiracy is the story of Major General Fitz John Porter, whose actions and leadership during the critical Second Battle of Bull Run, which was lost by the Union, came under military and political scrutiny and triggered a highly-contested court martial and decades of divisive partisan conflict.
Porter was a commander with the Union Army of Virginia. He served under Major General John Pope who had a bad reputation and a history of poor leadership and handling of the army. On August 27, 1860, the Confederate Army under Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson seized Pope's supply depot at Manassas Junction. Pope became panicked and sent a flurry of repetitive unorganized and poorly written orders to Porter. These orders, which were described later as a "masterpiece of contradiction and obfuscation that would become the focal point of decades of wrangling," were patently unclear about what Porter and his forces were supposed to do.
When Porter met with his field commanders and made a series of military decisions based on limited knowledge of the locations of the Confederate Army, there was significant confusion and on August 30, the Union suffered a major loss. Although the decisions he and his commander made blunted the Confederate forces attack, the Union Army lost the battle.
After the battle, General Pope was relieved of command and his allies in Washington looked for a scapegoat and sought to hold Porter responsible, and on November 25, Porter was arrested and relieved of command.
Union General John Pope
A very public and openly contested court martial was held and Porter was found guilty. But his supporters fought back. Porter was backed by the Democrats, while General Pope’s supporters were Republicans.
The Porter Conspiracy delves into the history and documentation of the battles and the court martial. It goes through and highlights the essential portions of the voluminous evidence and provides clear indication of the many years of treachery and betrayal by the Republicans.
WindingRiver.com Editors Note
The Porter Conspiracy, A Story of the Civil War is indeed just that -- a story of the war.
In the 450 pages -- including a detailed index and a lengthy bibliography, Paleno takes the time to present
the controversy surrounding General Fitz John Porter's trial and conviction in
the context of the battlefield and society in general.
Advanced students of the Civil War will enjoy the detail of the Porter Conspiracy
while those with less background on the War are quickly brought up to speed with Paleno's guidance.
Not an academic treatise, but a darn good read!
It took twenty years, but ultimately, the Schofield Board of Inquiry found that Commanding General John Pope, was the person responsible for losing that battle and that Pope had blamed Fitz John Porter.
The truth was that Porter, by his actions alone, saved the Army of Virginia from destruction. Because of Porter, the Union army was able to fight again weeks later at Antietam and drive Lee back to Virginia.
Union General Fitz John Porter
But partisan political opposition prevented Porter from being exonerated. And his trials and tribulations went on for decades.
The Republican administrations after the Civil War led first by President Hayes and then by President Garfield, did not have the political support to overcome their party's opposition to a pardon.
Porter was still seen by the Radical Republicans as a traitor and his success in obtaining national figures to speak on his behalf was seen as connected to a dangerous resurgence of the Democrats in national politics.
After nearly twenty years, on May 6, 1882, President Chester A. Arthur, who succeeded Garfield after his assassination, commuted Porter's sentence to restore his rights of citizenship and to hold public office.
But another year of partisan wrangling erupted in both houses of Congress. Despite considerable vocal opposition and fierce partisan rancor and arguments after a veto by President Arthur was overridden, a bill passed the Congress to restore Porter to his regular army rank of Colonel, dated to May 1863, but with no compensation for back pay missed on August 5, 1886.
Two days later, vindicated, Porter retired from the army. However, it was still two more years before he would receive an official pardon in 1884, when Grover Cleveland took office, the first Democrat elected since 1857.
The Porter Conspiracy is one the pivotal stories of the American Civil War describing the obsessive, partisan animosity that gripped much of the country during the trial. The book seeks to shed light on a period in American history that has almost been entirely forgotten and points to a turning point that changed the entire course of history.
The Porter Conspiracy
Hardcover 445 pages
Published by Pal Publishing
For more information and to order the book, visit www.genepaleno.com.
About the Author
Gene Paleno served his country in WWII and retired as an officer to the inactive reserve a few years later. After his military stint ended, he received a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan and worked in marketing and management in the aerospace and materials industries in New York and Los Angeles. In the 1960’s he packed his daughter off to college in Eureka and moved with his wife to a 27-acre farm in Bachelor Valley, in Lake County, near Ukiah, California. He’s been there ever since.
He started writing in 1975 and is still a contributing columnist for the Lake County Record. In 2014 he published a Lake County History which explores the history the Lake County California. His other books include fifteen full-length novels and several collections of stories, including adult science fiction and fantasy.
Questions and Answers from Gene Paleno:
What motivated you to write this story?
Porter gave everything to fight for his country. Yet, he was court martialed and forced to suffer the shame of the false charges for twenty years until, with the support of Grant and others, he was found innocent of all charges and credited with saving the Union Army from annihilation.
A small note in a dusty old book about the Civil War mentioned the injustice Porter had experienced. I am for the underdog. Besides, he was an American hero of the best sort and the Second Battle of Bull Run was an important part of the Civil War. As a writer, I decided I must tell his story.
What do you hope to see happen in America?
Mankind is evolving toward something better. Our feet are still mired in the clay and we change, oh so slowly. I am compelled to put my two cents worth to fight ignorance (the greatest evil) and prejudice of all kinds when I can. With time, our future generations will go to the stars. I am convinced we will find our way.
How did you do your research?
I did my background research the hard way. I wrote letters. I found copies of letters written by men that had lived and died in that war. I read books. I haunted the internet. I spoke to kin in Lake County, whose ancestors had fought in the Civil War. Like a Chinese puzzle, I put the book together in the way best to tell the story.
I like to read my own books. Stonewall Jackson’s masterful ambush behind the abandoned railroad was one of the best parts. Another were the politics, chicanery, and the evil by men in high places. Still another were the events that happened a hundred years before 1861, that led to slavery and the Civil War. The testament of the soldiers, who fought and died and told us how it was, is white-hot and immediate in the telling.