Today, the Battle of Antietam Commemorative Silver Half Dollar remembers the resulting event of January 21, 1863 and the years it took to overturn that decision.
Some believe it was the result of Fitz John Porter’s allegiance to General McClellan and his subsequent dislike of General Pope that led to the review and his ultimate dismissal 153 years ago.
An excerpt from the Reports of Committees, 30th Congress, 1st Session – 48th Congress, 2nd Session printed in 1882:
The following are the orders of the President:
“The foregoing proceedings, findings, and sentence in the foregoing case of Major- General Fitz-John Porter are approved and confirmed; and it is ordered that the said Fitz John Porter be, and hereby is, cashiered and dismissed from the service of the United States as a major-general of volunteers, and as colonel and brevet brigadier- general in the regular service of the United States, and forever disqualified from holding any office of trust or profit under the Government of the United States.
” January 21, 1863.”
The President, Washington, D. C. :
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt, through the Secretary of War, under date of the 15th inst., of your decision upon my application of December 23, 1881, ” to annul and set aside the findings and sentence of the court-martial in my case and to nominate me to the Senate for restoration to my former rank in the Army.”
Your decision, after determination of the powers of the President, as expressed in the opinion of the Attorney-General is, ” that compliance with the application contained in my letter is not within your power.” I may have misunderstood the extent of the constitutional power of the President when I asked you to do directly with the aid of the Senate, that which a board of distinguished Army officers had, in the interest of justice, recommended should be done, but which you, concurring in the opinion of the Attorney-General, inform me you have now the power only in part to perform, and that special legislation by Congress is needed to complete the justice asked for.
My application was based upon the recommendation of an advisory board appointed by the President “to examine into the facts, and to report what action, in their opinion, justice required should be taken by the President.”
That board found and reported, after a long and patient examination and consideration of all the facts in the case, that my “conduct” in all the events of August, 1862, inquired into by the court- martial, by which I was tried, “was,” in the light of the full evidence, that which was then laid before the court, and also that which was unattainable at the time of my trial, “not subject to criticism, much less deserving of censure or condemnation, and was obedient, subordinate, faithful, and judicious. It saved the Union Army from disaster on the 29th of August,” and the advisory board recommended “that, in their opinion, justice required at his (the President’s) hands such action as may be necessary to annul and set aside the findings and sentence of the court-martial in the case of Major-General Fitz-John Porter, and to restore him to the positions of which that sentence deprived him, such restoration to take effect from the date of dismissal from service.”
Relying also upon the clear and emphatic language of the said board, ” that all the essential facts, in every instance, stand out in clear and absolute contrast to those supposed facts upon which he (I) was adjudged guilty, and that it is not possible that any court-martial could have condemned such conduct if it had been correctly under stood,” and believing I am entitled to the complete and just vindication recommended by the board, and that a sentence of a court-martial, subsequently proven by over whelming and irrefragible testimony, to have been palbaply erroneous in its basis of assumed facts, and utterly destructive of the happiness and welfare of an officer who has never failed in the strictest and most honorable fidelity to his government, should not be a barrier to the relief to which I consider myself entitled, I again renew to you, as Chief Magistrate my appeal for justice.
Conscious of my absolute and entire innocence, I have not ceased, from the hour of the promulgation of the sentence of the court-martial, persistently to protest against the terrible injustice done me, and have striven in every proper mode to secure my vindication, all of which public records now before you will fully establish.
I now respectfully and most earnestly ask that you will grant a remission of that portion of the sentence of the court-martial which remains unexecuted, and carry into effect the recommendations of the advisory board, so far as the same lies within your constitutional power, and transmit the result of your action, together with the finding of the board, to Congress, coupled with such recommendation in the premises as you may deem just and proper.
Very respectfully, yours, FITZ-JOHN PORTER.
In response to which the President executed and delivered to your memorialist the following instrument of remission:
Chester A. Arthur, President of the United States of America.
To all to whom these presents shall come, greeting:
Whereas on the 10th day of January, 1863, Fitz-John Porter, then a major-general of volunteers in the military service of the United States, and also colonel of the Fifteenth Regiment of Infantry, and brevet brigadier-general in the United States Army, was, by a general court-martial, for certain offenses of which he had been thereby convicted, sentenced “to be cashiered, and to be forever disqualified from holding any office of trust or profit under the Government of the United States;”
And whereas on the 21st day of January, 1863, that sentence was duly confirmed by the President of the United States, and by his order of the same date carried into execution; And whereas so much of that sentence as forever disqualified the said Fitz-John Porter from holding office, imposed upon him a continuing penalty, and is still being executed;
And whereas doubts have since arisen concerning the guilt of the said Fitz-John Porter of the offenses whereof he was convicted by the said court-martial, founded upon the result of an investigation ordered on the 12th day of April, 1878, by the President of the United States, which are deemed by me to be of sufficient gravity to warrant the remission of that part of said sentence which has not yet been completely executed:
Now, therefore, know ye that I, Chester A. Arthur, President of the United States by virtue of the power vested in me by the Constitution of the United States, and in consideration of the premises, do hereby grant to the said Fitz-John Porter full remission of the hereinbefore mentioned continuing penalty.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto signed my name and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington this fourth day of May, A. D. 1882, and of the Independence of the United States the one hundred and sixth. [seal.]
CHESTER A. ARTHUR.
By the President: Fred’k T. Frelinghuysen, Secretary of State.
In view of all the foregoing facts, your memorialist would pray that such action may be taken by Congress in the premises as will restore him to the positions of which the sentence of said court-martial unjustly deprived him.
And as in duty bound your memorialist will ever pray. &c, &c.
Morristown, N. J., May 5, 1882.
The action of President Arthur in remitting the unexpired portion of the sentence of General Porter, based upon a review of the findings of the board, relieves the present application of General Porter for restoration to the Army from the objection that Congress would be revising the sentence of the court-martial.
Such is not now the case.
So much of the sentence as the President had the power to act upon, having been by him remitted, it now remains for Congress to perform that act of justice which the report of the board emphatically recommends in the following language:
Having thus given the reasons for our conclusions, we have the honor to report, in accordance with the President’s order, that, in our opinion, justice requires at his hands such action as may be necessary to annul and set aside the findings and sentence of the court-martial in the case of Major-General Fitz-John Porter, and to restore him to the positions of which that sentence deprived him — such restoration to take effect from the date of his dismissal from service.
The committee are of the opinion that the report of said board exhausts the subject, and that Fitz-John Porter should be, as recommended by said board, restored to the service, and report the bill for that purpose favorably, with the following amendment:
“Provided, That said Fitz-John Porter shall receive no pay, compensation, or allowance whatsoever prior to his appointment under this act,”
The Battle of Antietam Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image from Antietam of President Lincoln with General McClellan and several of his officers, including Fitz John Porter in October 1862.