Fitz-John Porter – Scapegoat of Second Manassas: The Rise, Fall and Rise of the General Accused of Disobedience
By Donald R. Jermann
(August 2009 Civil War News)
Illustrated, index, bibliography, 287 pp., 2008. McFarland & Company, P.O. Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640. $39.95 plus shipping.
Perhaps one of the lesser-known stories of the American Civil War, but one that should be more widely read, is the story of the disgrace and rise of Union Maj. Gen. Fitz-John Porter after the battle of Second Manassas in August 1862.
Donald Jermann, a Navy veteran of three wars and a retired Department of Defense executive, writes an interesting and cogent work detailing Porter’s dramatic struggle to regain his honor after a court-martial found him guilty of disobeying orders and shameful conduct at Second Manassas.
Jermann’s account is innovative in its style and contains a multiplicity of positive elements. The great beauty of his writing is that it flows from one point to the next both easily and logically.
Even someone not well-versed in the situation can easily comprehend the meaning. For each aspect of Porter’s downfall and redemption, Jermann explains what happened, why it happened, what it led to and, finally, how Porter’s name was cleared.
For example, Jermann sets aside specific chapters to explain in detail the charges that were brought against Porter — both what they were based on and Porter’s defense against them.
Also helpful is Jermann’s attention to the characters involved. He clearly states the personal biases and agendas of important participants in the court-martial, such as Union commanders Maj. Gens. John Pope and Irvin McDowell. According to Jermann, the decisions of these men were factors leading to the Union loss at Second Manassas.
In addition, these men were also the primary vocal opponents of Porter. Jermann makes sure the reader sees the irony of this fact, as well as its contribution to Porter’s original conviction.
The large number of appendices ties together the vast quantity of information Jermann presents. Among the most important are transcripts of the evidence used against Porter at his hearings, a list of officers involved in the hearings, and an organization chart of both the Union and Confederate commanders at Second Manassas.
The last outstanding element of The Scapegoat of Second Manassas is the bibliography. Based on the sources, it is clear that Jermann has done his research and integrated primary and secondary sources into his work.
The memoirs of several generals were cited, as well as newspaper articles that chronicled Porter’s hearings. Jermann also took into account the research of other authors. With such an in-depth bibliography, the reader can be confident that Jermann knows and understands his topic.
His book is clearly an excellent work about the drama of Fitz-John Porter’s temporary disgrace and ultimate triumph. By its end, readers will be able to discern whether or not Porter was truly guilty and, if not, who was really to blame for what happened to the Union army at Second Manassas.
The Scapegoat of Second Manassas will clearly satisfy anyone who is interested in the American Civil War.
Braden Hall is a North Greenville University graduate who majored in history and political science. He special interests are military history and the American Civil War.