Radical Sacrifice: The Rise and Ruin of Fitz John Porter

Univ. of North Carolina. Mar. 2021. 496p. ISBN 9781469661858. $35. HIST
Civil War historian Marvel examines the life and career of Fitz John Porter (1822–1901), a Union officer whose career was cut short in 1862 by accusations of disobeying orders from General John Pope at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run. Marvel portrays Pope’s charges as vindictive attempts to deflect blame from his own serious command failures. Porter’s subsequent court martial, conviction, and ensuing public shunning resulted less from actual misconduct than from Porter’s friendship with General George McClellan, a man removed by Abraham Lincoln as Union Commander who eventually became the Democratic candidate for president in 1864, against Lincoln. As such, according to Marvel, Porter became a target for retribution by the Radical Republicans during and after the war as he sought to exonerate himself by correcting the record of his actions. Porter ultimately prevailed, but only after a long, exhausting effort.
VERDICT Marvel fills his work with meticulous, well-documented details on the span of Porter’s life, from his early years in a military family, through his previous military career in Mexico and Utah, to his ongoing devotion to clearing his name. Such precision occasionally bogs down the generally lively narrative, but both Civil War buffs and military historians will find this book essential to understanding the complex soldier.
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