Civil War 150
New Hampshire

Gen. Fitz John Porter
Strawbery Banke Museum, Portsmouth NH


Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth NH leads its commemoration of New Hampshire in the Civil War with an exhibit detailing the story of Fitz John Porter, the political intrigues that shredded his illustrious career, his court-martial after the Battle of Second Manassas and the struggle for his ultimate exoneration – 125 years ago this August. 

A hero of the early battles and commended by President Lincoln, Porter ran afoul of War Department politics. General Pope, on the ascendant gave Porter orders at Second Manassas that were impossible to follow. Porter’s “insubordination” based on better knowledge of the enemy’s position saved his troops from certain disaster. But the Court martial listened to biased observers with bad maps. Even after a military tribunal corrected the account of the incident, it took until 1886 for the pardon that would clear Porter’s name.

Strawbery Banke Museum hosts the exhibit, Fitz John Porter: Civil War Hero or Coward? (May 1 - Oct 31, 2011). The exhibit explores the General's Civil War life and times through artifacts and documents explaining the court martial and his 20 year effort to clear his name. The Museum's Goodwin Mansion, home to NH Civil War Governor Ichabod Goodwin (1859-61) is interpreted to the era with a dispensary in the kitchen exploring Civil War medicine. Daily walking tours cover Porter's Portsmouth Boyhood 1822-30.

tours “Porter’s Portsmouth Boyhood 1822-1830.”


Strawbery Banke Museum

14 Hancock Street

Portsmouth NH



Open 7 days 10 -5.

Tickets: Adults $15, Children aged 5-17 $10, kids 4 and under, free.

Family rate (2 adults and all children under 17) $40.


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Born in Portsmouth, NH on Livermore Street (house pictured at right), 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 in Major General George McClellan’s  (1826-1885) campaigns. See timeline of Porter's life. It was, however, their friendship, and shared political background, which had disastrous results for Porter’s military career.  Porter and McClellan remained friends to the end of McClellan’s life.

While much is known about Porter’s Civil War successes, especially at Malvern Hill and during McClellan’s peninsular campaign, it is his court-martial initiated by General John Pope (1822-1892), for which he is probably best remembered. Charged with insubordination and many additional charges, Porter became a ready scapegoat for the Union losses.  As new information was made available following the 1862 trial and President Lincoln’s January 1863 signature “cashiering” Porter out of the Army, it became clear that Porter’s “disobedience” and slow response to Pope’s orders, had actually saved thousands of Union lives. 


Newly uncovered materials, many never before available or known to the public, are displayed to help bring this dynamic personality to life including: the field glasses he used in early balloon surveillance, volumes of letters from colleagues and even Confederate officers testifying on his behalf, early photographs and the exciting recent discovery of his 1860 US Army presentation sword, a rare piece of militaria which becomes symbolic of his rise, fall and reinstatement.

Porter was finally exonerated by President Cleveland, on August 5, 1886 and an equestrian statue sculpted by James Kelley was placed posthumously in 1904 in Haven Park, near Portsmouth's City Hall. To commemorate the 125th Anniversary of the pardon of Gen. Fitz John Porter, on Saturday, August 6, 2011 the City of Portsmouth will conduct a wreath-laying ceremony at the Gen. Fitz John Porter statue (left) in Haven Park. Members of the 5th New Hampshire 2nd Volunteers and NH Civil War Roundtable will participate in the event.

On August 20-21, 2011 Strawbery Banke Museum will host an encampment of the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteers. Grounds will open early so visitors can experience life at Camp Constitution: reveille at 6 am, followed by roll call, breakfast at 7 am and inspection at 8 am. Drill at 9:30 am, lunch at 12 noon. Lecture 1:30 pm "First Blood: 2nd New Hampshire at Bull Run." Drill at 2:30 pm. Retreat at 5 pm with evening dress parade followed by supper at 6 pm.
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