Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D. to present Porter Lecture, 2/12/11
General Fitz John Porter: Monument to Memory at Haven Park
Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D.
Strawbery Banke Museum
"I fought the good fight"
General Fitz John Porter's Headstone
It was 1891 and Major General Fitz John Porter (1822-1901) was traveling with his daughter, Eva, for a visit to New England and Portsmouth, New Hampshire “my boyhood home,” he writes to a long time friend. The return to Portsmouth represented an arduous and tortured journey “home” and may be viewed as the final leg of his life’s journey: a life full of personal trial and pain, but ending, ultimately with exoneration and public accolades.
Born in Portsmouth, NH on Livermore Street (house extant), Porter’s prowess as a military strategist came early: he came from a family of prominent Naval officers (Admiral David Dixon Porter, William D. Porter and David G. Farragut were all cousins), attended Phillips Exeter Academy and was enrolled at West Point, where he graduated 8th in his class of 41 cadets. Distinguished during the Mexican American War, he rose quickly during the early years of the Civil War, playing a key role with Major General George McClellan (1826-1885)—however, their friendship, and shared political background, had disastrous results for Porter’s military career.
While much is known about his successes—especially at Malvern Hill and during McClellan’s peninsular campaign-- and his subsequent court-martial instigated by General John Pope (1822-1892), the focus of this talk will be the importance of monuments to memory and their changing representation over time.
The equestrian monument by sculptor James E. Kelly at Haven Park perfectly encapsulates Porter’s importance during his life and after death—even to the present day. The monument and the artist’s interviews bring the memory of Porter and his triumphs to vivid memory. When set within the larger context of his courtmartial and later criticism over his NYC position, the monument becomes one not just to Porter’s life but to the controversy and schisms which caused a divided America to fight during the Civil War, a battle which in many regards, continues to today.
Newly uncovered materials, many never before available or known to the public, will further bring this dynamic personality to life including: the field glasses he used for early balloon surveillance, volumes of letters from colleagues and even CSA leaders testifying on his behalf to overturn his conviction, early photographs and the exciting recent discovery of his 1860 US Army field officers presentation sword, a rare piece of militaria (only 500-600 issued) which becomes symbolic of his rise, fall and reinstatement.
This paper is part of a larger sesquicentennial commemoration being held at Strawbery Banke Museum.
Current List of Primary Sources
Fredericksburg National Battlefield
Manassas National Battlefield
Phillips Exeter Academy
US Military Academy (West Point)
One of a series of lectures at the Life and Death in the Piscataqua, the talk will be well illustrated.