- The death of General Hancock -- assigned to the Division of the Atlantic -- measures for Improving the sea -- coast defense -- General Fitz -- John Porter's restoration to the army -- President of the board appointed to review the action of the court -- martial -- General Grant's opinion -- Senator Logan's explanation of his hostile attitude toward General Porter.
in the spring of 1886 we were again called to meet around the grave of one of the bravest and best of our companions. The almost incomparably gallant Hancock, the idol of his soldiers and of a very large part of the people, so perfectly stainless in life and character that even political contest could not fan the breath of slander, had suddenly passed away. We buried him with all honor at his home in Pennsylvania. Again it fell to my lot—the lot so common to the soldier—to step into the place in the ranks where my comrade had suddenly fallen. The Division of the Missouri was then larger in territory and much larger in number of troops than that of the Atlantic, and had been far more important. But Indian wars were, as we hoped, approaching an end, while we also hoped that the country might soon be aroused to the necessities of the national defense. The Division of the Atlantic, including also the greater part of the Gulf States and those of the northeastern frontier, would then resume its rightful place as by far the most important of the grand military divisions of the  country. Hence I accepted without hesitation the command of that division. My natural tastes and favorite studies had led me largely in the direction of those modern sciences which have in a few years imparted such enormous strides to the development of the mechanical means of attack and defense, changing in a corresponding degree the great problems of war. The valor of great masses of men, and even the genius of great commanders in the field, have been compelled to yield the first place in importance to the scientific skill and wisdom in finance which are able and willing to prepare in advance the most powerful engines of war. Nations, especially those so happily situated as the United States, may now surely defend their own territory against invasion or damage, and the national honor and the rights of their citizens throughout the world, by the wise scientific use of surplus revenue, derived from high import duties if the people so please, instead of by the former uncivilized method of sacrificing the lives of hundreds of thousands of brave men. Far more, such sacrifice of the brave can no longer avail. As well might it be attempted to return to hand-or ox-power, freight-wagons and country roads, in place of the present steam-locomotives, trains of cars, and steel tracks, for the enormous transportation of the present day, as to rely upon the bravery of troops for the defense of a city. Science has wrought no greater revolution in any of the arts of peace than it has in the art of war. Indeed, the vast national interests involved all over the world have employed the greatest efforts of genius in developing the most powerful means of attack and defense. Such were the thoughts with which I entered upon my duties in the Division of the Atlantic, and such guided my action there and in the subsequent command of the army. That not very much was accomplished is too painfully true. Yet a beginning was at once made, and  progress, though slow, continued until the hope now seems justified that our country may be ready before it is too late to ‘command the peace’ in a voice which all must heed. I was ably and zealously assisted in all this work by Major Joseph P. Sanger, one of my aides until his well-merited promotion to inspector-general. Then Captain Tasker H. Bliss took Major Sanger's place, and helped me to carry forward the work with his well-known ability, devotion, and industry. The army owes much to those faithful officers, without whose help little could have been done by me. I quote here from a memorandum, prepared at my request by Major Sanger, showing in detail the measures taken to perfect, so far as possible in advance, the instruction of the artillery of the army in the service of the modern high-power armament, so that every new gun and mortar should have, the moment it was finished and placed in position, thoroughly qualified officers and men to use it:
Major-General J. M. Schofield assumed command of the Division of the Atlantic and Department of the East April 13, 1886; and during the remaining months of that year, as opportunity afforded, gave much attention to the condition of the sea-coast forts and their garrisons from the Canadian line to the Gulf of Mexico. There were at this time sixty-six posts in the division, of which twenty-seven were garrisoned and thirty-nine ungarrisoned; of the total number, fifty-one were sea-coast forts and the balance barracks, properly speaking. Of the garrisoned forts, fifteen had no armaments, and the armaments of all the others were the old muzzle-loading types of low power. The efficiency of the artillery personnel was far from satisfactory, from lack of proper instruction, due in turn to lack of facilities. Artillery target practice, except at Forts Monroe, Hamilton, and Wadsworth, had practically ceased in the division; and of the forty-five companies of artillery, comprising seventy-five per cent. of the entire artillery troops of the army, only two batteries continually  at Fort Monroe had had annual artillery target practice during the preceding ten years, and some of the batteries had not fired a shot. To remedy these defects, and at the same time provide a system of fire control applicable to the defense of all our harbors, orders were issued in 1887 for mapping the harbors, establishing base lines, and arranging the extremities for the use of angle-measuring instruments, and graduating traverse circles in azimuth. Systematic artillery instruction and target practice were ordered, and a system of reports suited to the preservation and utilization of all data resulting from the firing. Thus, for the first time in the history of the country, an effort was made to establish and develop a system of artillery fire control adapted to our fortifications and armament. In 1888 General Schofield succeeded General Sheridan in command of the army, and in December issued ‘General Orders, No. 108’ from the headquarters of the army. This order extended to all the artillery troops of the army the system of artillery instruction and target practice which had been established in the Division of the Atlantic. As it had not been found practicable to equip all the artillery posts with the necessary appliances for carrying out the provisions of the order, the eleven principal posts on the Eastern, Western, and Southern coasts were designated as artillery posts of instruction, and provided with all the guns, implements, and instruments necessary for the instruction and target practice of such of the neighboring garrisons as were unprovided with proper facilities. To insure the proper execution of the order, there was appropriated March 2, 1889, twenty thousand dollars to be expended under the direct supervision of the Board of Ordnance and Fortifications, which had been created by the Fortification Appropriation Act of September 22, 1888, and of which General Schofield was the president. The Army Regulations of 1889 were published on February 9, and paragraph 382 authorized the commanding general of each geographical division within which were the headquarters of one or more artillery regiments to designate, with the approval of the general commanding the army, a division inspector of artillery target practice, whose duty it was to make inspections with a view to insuring uniform, thorough, and systematic artillery instruction. On June 11, 1889, ‘General Orders, No. 49’ was issued from  the headquarters of the army, in anticipation of the more complete equipment of the artillery posts with the apparatus necessary for the proper conduct of artillery instruction and target practice. The course of instruction covered the use of plane tables, telescopic and other sights, electrical firing-machines, chronographs, velocimeters, anemometers, and other meteorological instruments, stop-watches, signaling, telegraphy, vessel tracking, judging distances, and, in short, everything essential to the scientific use of the guns. By ‘General Orders, No. 62, Headquarters of the Army,’ July 2, 1889, Lieutenant T. H. Bliss, First Artillery, Aide-de-Camp to General Schofield commanding, was announced as inspector of small arms and artillery practice. As an inducement to greater application on the part of the student officers of the Artillery School and of the Infantry and Cavalry School, the distinction of ‘honor graduate’ was conferred on all officers who had graduated, or should graduate, either first or second from the Artillery School, or first, second, or third from the Infantry and Cavalry School: the same to appear with their names in the Army Register as long as such graduates should continue on the active or retired list of the army. . . .In August, 1886, after the passage of a bill by Congress, General Fitz-John Porter was restored to the army, as colonel, by President Cleveland. When I was in the War Department in 1868, General Porter had come to me with a request that I would present his case to the President, and recommend that he be given a rehearing. I declined to do so, on the ground that, in my opinion, an impartial investigation and disposition of his case, whatever were its merits, could not be made until the passions and prejudices begotten by the war had subsided much further than they had done at that time. In the course of conversation I told him that while I never permitted myself to form an opinion of any case without much more knowledge of it than I then had of his, I presumed, from the finding of the court-martial, that he had at least been guilty of acting upon what he supposed to be his own better judgment under the circumstances he found  to exist, instead of in strict obedience to General Pope's orders. He said that that was not the case; that he had not even literally disobeyed orders; that in so far as he had acted upon his own judgment, he had loyally done all that could be done to carry out General Pope's wishes; and that all he wanted was an opportunity to prove such to be the facts. I replied that if he could prove what he stated beyond question, he would of course have a case worthy of consideration—not otherwise. Nothing was said in respect to the facts or the evidence in contravention of the judgment of the court-martial which tried him. Hence, beyond that above stated, I had no knowledge of his case when the board of review, of which I was president, met in 1878 to hear the new evidence; and I believe neither of the other members of the board—Generals A. H. Terry and George W. Getty—was any better informed. The duty of the board was very different from that of a court-martial appointed to try an original case. The accused had already been tried and convicted. He was not to have a new trial. He could not have any benefit whatever of any doubt that might exist after all the evidence, old and new, had been duly considered. He must prove his innocence positively, by absolutely convincing evidence, or else the original judgment of the courtmar-tial must stand. This view of the issue was fully accepted by General Porter and his counsel. This caused a new and peculiar duty to devolve upon the board—at least it was so to me; that is, to find, if possible, some view of all the evidence, or of all the facts established by the evidence, that could be regarded as consistent with the theory or supposition that Porter was guilty. When the evidence was all in, the members of the board separated for several weeks to let each examine all the evidence and reach his own conclusion, to be presented in form at the next meeting of the board. I believe I devoted more earnest work to the examination  and analysis than I had ever done to any one thing before in my life. I tried in succession every possible combination of the established facts, in the effort to find some one consistent with the theory that Porter had been guilty of disobedience, as charged, or of any other military offense. But I could not find one, except the very patent one that he had sent despatches to Burnside which were by no means respectful to Pope; and the board expressed an opinion in condemnation of that, which Porter's counsel very frankly admitted to be just. In the course of that long and earnest effort to find Porter guilty,—for that is what the effort was in effect,— the whole story of his conduct and of the operations of the two opposing armies and the actions of other prominent officers became so clear, and his honorable and soldierly conduct so absolutely demonstrated, that it was exceedingly difficult, in view of all the wrong he had suffered, to write a cold judicial statement of the facts. The first draft was toned down in many particulars in the effort to bring it within the strictest rules of judicial decisions. I have sometimes thought since that if the report of the board could have been much colder, it might have been better at first for Porter, though less just. But I do not think he or any of his companions and friends will ever feel like finding fault because the board could not entirely suppress the feelings produced by their discovery of the magnitude of the wrong that had been done to a gallant fellow-soldier. The first time I met General Grant after the decision of the board was published was very soon after he had published in 1882 the result of his own investigation of the case. He at once introduced the subject, and talked about it for a long time in the most earnest manner that I ever heard him speak on any subject. He would not permit me to utter a single sentence until he had gone all over the case and showed me that he understood all  its essential features as thoroughly as I did, and that his judgment was precisely the same as that which the board had reached. He intimated very decidedly that no impartial and intelligent military man could, in his opinion, possibly reach any other conclusion. The general evidently desired to make it perfectly clear that he had not adopted the opinion of the board of which I was a member, nor that of any one else; but that he had thoroughly mastered the case for himself, and formed his own judgment in regard to it. I take pleasure in recording the fact that he unquestionably had (lone it, and I never knew a man who could form more positive opinions, or one who could express them more convincingly, than General Grant. The board was not called upon to express any opinion respecting the action of the court-martial upon the evidence before it, and it would have been manifestly improper to do so. Speaking for myself, and not for any other member of the board, I do not now hesitate to say that the finding and sentence of the general courtmar-tial which tried General Fitz-John Porter were not justified by the evidence before that court. In my judgment, formed from long observation and much experience, the passions of war often render the administration of justice impossible. A suggestion once made to me by a man in very high military authority, that a finding and sentence of court-martial rendered in time of war should be regarded as res adjudicata, produced in my mind the painful impression that a very great man did not find the word ‘justice’ anywhere in his vocabulary; and I watched for many years the conversation and writings and public speeches of that man without finding that he ever made use of that word, or ever gave as a reason for doing or not doing anything that it would be just or unjust. In his mind, whatever might have happened to any person was simply a matter of good or bad fortune which did  not concern him. He refused even to consider the question whether injustice had or had not been done, or whether the operation of a law was not relatively unjust to some as compared to others. When to such natural character and habits of thought are added the stern necessities of war as viewed by a commander and many other officers, what possible chance of justice can be left to an unfortunate man? It is true that even if the life of an innocent man may have been sacrificed under the stern necessities of discipline, that is no more than thousands of his fellow-soldiers have suffered because of the crimes and follies of politicians who brought on the war. But that is no reason why his memory as well as those of his comrades should not be finally honored, if it can be proved that, after all, he also was innocent and brave. In my opinion, no government can be regarded as just to its army unless it provides, under appropriate conditions, for the rehearing of cases that may be tried by court-martial in time of war. Perhaps it may most wisely be left for the President and Congress to institute appropriate action in each individual case. That is a matter for mature consideration. My only desire is to suggest the necessity for some such action, whenever reasonable grounds for it may be presented. I have no respect for the suggestions sometimes urged that labor and expense are sufficient grounds for failure to secure justice to every citizen or soldier of the republic, whether at home or abroad. Soon after General Logan's last election to the Senate, I had a very interesting and unreserved conversation with him, at his house in Chicago, in respect to his action in the Porter case. He spoke of it with evident candor, acknowledged that his view of the case was probably wrong, and as if to excuse his mistake, volunteered an explanation as to how he came to take that view of it.  He told me that when he found that the case might probably come before Congress, he wanted to prepare himself in advance as far as possible to deal with it justly, and to defend the right effectively. Hence he went to General Grant to obtain the best possible view of the military questions involved. General Grant gave him the theory of the military situation and of the operations of the opposing armies, as well as that of Porter's own conduct, which had been presented to, and evidently accepted by, the court-martial, as presenting the true merits of the case. General Logan accepted that theory as unquestionably correct, and bent all his energies to the construction of unanswerable arguments in support of Porter's condemnation. At that time neither General Grant nor General Logan knew anything of the new evidence which was afterward submitted to the board of review. Logan's powerful arguments in the Senate were based upon his preconceived opinion of the case, supported by such part of the new evidence, as well as of the old, as could be made to support that view. In reply to my statement that he had unquestionably been led astray, he said that that was quite probable, but that Grant was responsible, and it was then too late to change. I do not think that anybody will now hesitate to say that General Grant's view of his duty in respect to this last point was the more to be commended. But the fact I wish to record is that of Logan's sincerity in the great efforts he had made to convict Porter on the floor of the Senate, and his explanation of the way in which he had been led into the greatest possible error. It suggests the reflection that even a senator of the United States might better form his own opinions rather than adopt those even of the highest authority, when the only question involved is one of justice, and not one of public policy, in which latter case differences of opinion must of necessity  be reconciled for the purpose of securing unity of action. As an illustration of the necessity for an absolutely impartial review of cases which have involved the passions of war, reference must be made to the action of one member of the Porter court-martial who made it generally understood that his individual opinion supported the finding of that court. He went so far as to make inquiries whether precedents could be found in American or English history to sustain a member of a court-martial in publicly defending the finding of that court, notwithstanding the oath of secrecy imposed by law upon every member. And this same member of the court was furnished by a very able lawyer with an argument in support of the findings of the court, based upon a review of the evidence submitted to the subsequent board, as if that member of the court might make public use of that argument as his own.