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pared with the evidence, a measure called for by judicial propriety and necessary to a just and enlightened conclusion. In this state of the public opinion, as manifested by the concurrent voice of the entire press, that spoke at all, the record was placed in the hands of the President. Unless he had before been unofficially advised of it, he must, when he read the sentence, have been struck with the same surprise, with which its after announcement struck the public ear. Of all the men in the country, he must have experienced not only astonishment, but concern. In May, 1861, he had commissioned Porter a Colonel in the regular army, in August of the same year, a Brigadier General of Volunteers, and in July, '62, and for distinguished services in the Peninsular Campaign, a Brevet Brigadier General in the regular army, and a Major General of Volunteers. Honors due to him, in the view of the President, for amongst others, the services rendered to his country in the battle of Malvern, a battle which, in the words of his Chief, McCLELLAN, in a letter to the President written just afterwards, and near the battle ground, and speaking, as he said, “not from hearsay, but from personal observation,” that had eclipsed, “in its result any other engagement in the campaign,” and that too much credit could not “ be given to General Porter, for his skill and gallantry on the occasion."
The President, then, could not but have paused before approving such a sentence, and asked himself how it was possible that Porter, the idol of his men, the boast of the army, the pride of his chief, and the recipient of honors which, from a sense of public justice and gratitude, he had conferred upon him for distinguished and valuable services rendered his country in a most perilous crisis, should all at once have been so recreant to his past patriotism, so forgetful of his then well-earned and universally acknowledged fame, as to have committed acts almost before the ink was dry upon the parchments containing his commissions, and whilst the public heart was so gladdened by his deeds of skill and daring, as to demand, in the judgment of a Court composed of brother officers, that he "be cashiered," and "forever disqualified from holding any office of trust or profit under the Government of the United States."
The Record was of great volume. As published by Congress, inclusive of the defence, it consists of 298 closely printed octavo pages. The President should have taken time, before approving of such a sentence, the writer respectfully submits, to have examined it to find what it could contain to justify such a judgment. The mere sentence itself gave him no such information. It was, as is usual, but a mere naked judgment, and must, therefore, have left his mind in the condition of amazement in which it could not but have placed him. Nor could he discover why, if at all, his distinguished Judge Advocate should have sanctioned such a result. The Record contained no reasons of that officer, summary or in detail. It did contain the defence of the accused, and if he had read
that, his amazement could but have been increased, as he would have seen that it was, what all but the Court, or to speak, (as there is reason to believe,) more accurately, a bare majority, thought a complete and perfect vindication. The President's time, however, was perhaps so engrossed by matters which he supposed to be of more pressing national moment, (as if any thing was more important than justice,) that it was impossible within the period, the 12th of January, 1863, when the Record was placed in his hands, and his approval of the sentence promulgated on the 21st of that month, that he could have read it through carefully, or at all, or examined the testimony, or tested the fairness or sufficiency of the defence, by an accurate or critical review of the evidence. Nor, as it now appears, did he undertake what, in the interval referred to, would have been an impracticable task. For, as is stated in the review of the Judge Advocate, which it is the main purpose of the writer to the 13th day of January, 1863, the day after the Record was transmitted to him, the President issued “written instructions” to that officer, “ to revise the proceedings of the Court Martial in the case of Major General Fitz John Porter, and to report fully upon any legal questions that may have arisen in them, and upon the bearing of the testimony in reference to the charges and specifications exhibited against the accused, and upon which he was tried.” These instructions produced an elaborate paper, dated the 19th of the same month. The Record between that day and the date of the instructions, and the prior 13th, must have been continuously in the exclusive possession of the Judge Advocate. It is probable that the Record, with the review, was not returned to the President before the 20th, but, however that may be, it could not have been returned at the earliest, sooner than the day of the date of the review, the 19th, and on the 21st the sentence was approved. It is even, therefore, the more obvious than it would otherwise be, that in this short period of two days, proper examination and comparison of the proofs, and the bringing to their test Porter's defence, and subjecting to the same test the Judge Advocate's review, (each vital to a proper consideration and just conclusion,) could not have been made by the President. The inference, therefore, is irresistible, that in this instance, at least, (with motives which his established character prevents our questioning how much we may lament its weakness and its injustice,) he has rested his judgment, though severely calculated to dishonor a well tried public servant whom he had but recently before, over and over again, honored by acts of distinguished official favor upon the argument of his Judge Advocate alone, without collating it even with the portions of the evidence quoted by that officer, much less with all the evidence so material to understand properly and justly the portions quoted, or even stopping to discover what is thought to be quite apparent, the depth of the prejudice which that officer entertained towards the accused. Reposing, however,
confidence in the Judge Advocate, he bas, yielding to the pressure of other engagements, submitted his own judgment to the keeping of that officer. And he did this so entirely, that it does not seem to have occurred to bim, that it was in any respect due to Porter that he should have an opportunity, through his counsel, of replying to the argument of that officer. What occurred in the Court on that point could not, therefore, have been made known to him. He could not have been told, that in the view of the Court, if a reply was made to the defence, it was due to the accused, and his privilege, that he should have the right to rejoin. But it is most singular, and not to be accounted for, except that his other harassing and important engagements deadened his sense of justice, that a right so justly due to Porter, and so necessary to truth, had not suggested itself to his honest mind, and more especially, as his long experience as a lawyer must have taught him its importance.
But so it was. The accused then, as far as the President's action is concerned, has had his case decided on the argument of the Judge Advocate's review, not only without having had accorded to him the privilege of reply, but without the President's having taken time to read all the evidence, if he read any part of it, or to read the defence, or to test that or the review by comparing either with the whole evidence or with any part of it. The rule of military law as laid down by Sir Charles J. Napier, is now well settled, that no matter how many addresses are made by either party, "the Prisoner has the right to speak last.” Bennet, pp. 123, 124.
In this instance, the rule was grossly violated. The last speech was made by the Judge Advocate. Porter was not only not permitted to reply, but the existence even of the review was apparently concealed from him, certainly was not known by him until in common with all, after the sentence was announced approved, and was circulated by the War Department. To any mind accustomed to the investigation of truth and the ascertainment of facts through human testimony, such means are known not only to be important, but essential. No conclusion arrived at in any other way, can be relied upon. No judgment, otherwise formed, is entitled to the least respect. In any instance it is as likely to be wrong as right, and more likely to be wrong, in a case where it affects injuriously the character of a citizen whose antecedents had challenged not only the good opinion of those who knew him, but their admiration, and whose claim to public esteem rests on admitted valuable and perilous public service. In such a case, mental imbecility or prejudice, so deep and dark as wholly to cloud reason, must be supposed to be the foundation of the error. And with an evident consciousness that the observing and correct mind of the country would be astounded at the result, with a zeal and industry worthy of a better cause, the same resort, which so evidently misled the President, has been adopted to quiet the certainly anticipated public condemnation. Whilst the Senate refused to call for the Record in order to
its publication, (because of their having been deceived through the degrading artifice of Roberts and Smith, into the belief that it had all been published) that the people might see the whole case, the review of the Judge Advocate was at once published at the expense of the War Department, and scattered broad-cast over the land. Other things, too, have happened, suggestive of most unpleasant reflections, reflections casting more than a doubt on the mere abstract correctness of the Court's sentence. Almost simultaneously with its publication, three of the members of the Court were made Major Generals, all certainly most estimable gentlemen, and possibly competent soldiers, but with no claims to such promotion, (one of them, Major General Prentiss, the only one of the three, who it is confidently believed, did not concur in the sentence, has recently proved himself worthy of his rank, by his skillful defence of Helena, Arkansas.) But the public in vain, at the time, endeavored to recollect any fact as to either calling for such an honor, and have not been more successful since, except and very recently as to Prentiss. And they have asked, and still ask, if their distinguished services and the good of the country required their elevation to such high rank, why was it not conferred before ? and why, why, above all, was it the immediate sequence of the sentence against Porter ? Who can answer satisfactorily either question ? None certainly has as yet come from any quarter. The President of the Court, Major General HUNTER, was also immediately returned to a command from which he had been shortly before removed for acts of alleged mistaken policy, or excess of authority, and from which it has been found necessary to remove him a second time.
Of the three witnesses, Major General Pope was continued in an important command, notwithstanding his sad failure in his Virginia campaign. Brigadier General Roberts was assigned to a more important one than he had ever held before, or to which any competent officer who had known him believed him equal-nor in his career since has he done anything to attract attention, except in the way in which his former chief signalized the commencement of his Virginia career, the issuing of proclamations as uncalled for as they were ridiculous and futile. It has also been found necessary in his case, to take it from him, and he is now once more on Pope's staff.
What disposition has been made of Lieutenant Colonel Smith, is not known, and probably no one cares. He perhaps continues to be one of the military family of Pope, ready whenever his exigencies may require it, to display for his benefit, the extraordinary faculty which he claims to possess—the reading of souls at first sight. The faculty of receiving, to use his own words, an “impression," although unable to analyze it from a few moment's intercourse with another—the power to obtain“ one of those convictions that a man has a few times, perhaps, in his life, (he is modest enough not to claim to have it always at his command,) as to the character
and purposes of a person who he sees for the first time," and although “no man cau express altogether how such an impression is gained from looks and manner, but it is clear."
Under all these circumstances, with every ingenuous mind, a sentence announced as this was, would be without the slightest authority, and no reason could exist for subjecting it to serious examination. The fact, however, that the present one, is maintained and justified by Mr. Judge Advocate General Holt, makes it in a measure advisable. The well established reputation of that officer, bis perfect loyalty, his eminent ability, and the somewhat plausible character of the review, considered by itself, seems to require that that review he answered. For, however, as the writer has good reasons for believing, this is thought to be unnecessary by those who have made themselves acquainted with all the evidence, there must be a numerous class of citizens, who not having done so, may bave been led estray by it.
The ingenuity of the Judge Advocate and his deservedly high reputation, gives to it an authority to which, it will be seen it is not entitled, when it comes to be examined. A reader uninformed as to the evidence, will be unable to detect his sophistry or discover his prejudice, a prejudice doubtless unknown to himself, but not the less strong, and perhaps stronger on that account. Under this impression, it is the purpose of the writer to subject the review to the ordeal of reason and of truth. This he feels to be not less due to Major General Porter, than to the good of the service, and the benefit of the country. An officer, whose deeds on so many battle fields in the present war have so enhanced the nation's fame, filling with gratitude the very “pulse and veins of the people,” whose patriotism from the first, was not only never before called into doubt, but admitted, and signally honored and rewarded, should not be permitted to suffer in the estimation of one honest citizen from a paper whatever of high character may belong to its author.
There are further considerations which in the judgment of the writer call for an answer. Before the sentence was made public and since, Porter has been assailed, with a bitterness implying malignity as well as ignorance, and by a few persons filling high official places, and whose claim to capacity and confidence, (however ridiculous these are to those who know them,) may have misled a part of the public. Amongst those are some who pretend to be Military Critics. Possibly themselves led estray by their own turgid conceit, they may believe that they possess this highest of intellectual powers. And where they are not self-deluded, there blatant patriotism, (ever the art of the demagogue,) may possibly mislead the unsuspecting. These last are slow to believe that such pretenders to knowledge and virtue can design to delude. Their assumed wisdom for a time is taken at its nominal, not its real worth—their judgments, valued at their author's estimate, and not at their actual value.