Gen. Horace Porter: `A Public Spirited Servant'

By Porter, Dawn | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 17, 1997 | Go to article overview

Gen. Horace Porter: `A Public Spirited Servant'


Porter, Dawn, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Diplomat, businessman, politician, soldier and presidential aide. Successful, disciplined, decisive - and winner of the Medal of Honor. Gen. Horace Porter was every one of these. Yet little is written of the man.

Porter may be remembered among naval followers as the man who searched France for the body of John Paul Jones and brought the admiral's remains back to Annapolis to be interred in the crypt of the Naval Academy chapel.

Or Porter might be remembered as an aide to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the last year of the Civil War and one who was there in Wilmer McLean's parlor at Appomattox Court House as the drafts of the surrender documents were written.

Gen. Robert E. Lee used Porter's pencil to make alterations in the terms of the final document.

After the war, Porter served as a presidential aide when Grant was elected president, then as assistant secretary of war, and executive secretary.

Porter then moved into the business world. At 35, he was selected by George M. Pullman of the Pullman Car Co. to represent the firm in dealing with leaders of railroad commerce. For 24 years, Porter was associated with Pullman as the company grew into a corporation with more than $36 million in assets and more than 11,000 employees.

After leaving Pullman, Porter renewed his friendship with Grant. Along with Gen. Adam Badeau, Porter assisted "The Chief" in preparing Grant's memoirs. Grant was practically penniless and in growing ill health, and Porter and Badeau assisted him with what would become a classic.

After Grant's death, a monument in his honor was planned. Money for the mausoleum came in a trickle, however. Six years after the general's death, only $155,000 had been raised. Porter took the helm. Through subscriptions, contribution boxes and prizes for children's essays, the goal of $350,000 finally was reached to enshrine Grant, whom Porter called "a great and good man."

The monument was dedicated April 27, 1897 (a centenary dedication of a refurbished Grant's Tomb took place on the anniversary last month).

The 1896 presidential campaign found Porter supporting William McKinley and, after his election, Porter was named ambassador to France. He sailed out of New York City May 5, 1897.

As ambassador, Porter kept the administration informed on French sentiment regarding the Spanish-American War. After eight years in Paris, Porter submitted his resignation to President Theodore Roosevelt and returned to New York.

At nearly 70 and with increasing unrest in Europe, he served as a delegate for the second Hague Conference. He urged the United States to keep militarily alert and said, "The next war will be under the water and over our heads."

Here was a man who did so much for our country, and yet a multitude of searches on the Internet showed only one reference. Maybe his times produced more heroes, and writers felt compelled to catch the novae.

At Chickamauga, Porter was a nova. There his valor won him the Medal of Honor.

An 1860 graduate of West Point, he first served as an instructor there, and then was assigned to the Watervliet Arsenal in Troy, N.Y. After the war started, Porter was ordered to Hilton Head, S.C., to find harbors along the coast for the Northern army. His first encounter with the enemy was at Fort Pulaski in Georgia, where the young officer was cited for gallantry.

He then served at Gen. George B. McClellan's headquarters on the James River. In a letter to his father, Porter wrote: "I cannot tell what will become of us if this state of things continues much longer without any organization. McClellan leaves everything to [Randolph] Marcy; the poor old man is now deaf and hasn't an idea left. If we can drive the Rebels back, secure our defense, and get time to organize a new army upon some system or other, we may come out all right yet. …

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