One of Morgan's Men: Memoirs of Lieutenant John M. Porter of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry (review)
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One of Morgan's Men: Memoirs of Lieutenant John M. Porter of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry. Edited by Kent Masterson Brown. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011. Pp. xix, 300. $32.50 cloth)

Historians of John Hunt Morgan's Civil War cavalry command have known of John M. Porter's memoir for many years as an archival document, but Kent Masterson Brown's ably annotated edition makes the work accessible to a wider audience. Porter, born in Butler County, Kentucky, in 1839, penned his memoir shortly after the end of the war, when his memory of events, names, and places was relatively fresh and his ardor for the Confederate "Lost Cause" still burned brightly. The memoir survives as a typescript undertaken in later years by unknown hands. Porter enlisted in the Rebel armed forces in early November 1861, and saw action in Kentucky, Tennessee, and northern Mississippi. Captured at the capitulation of Fort Donelson in February 1862, he gained release from Union captors by claiming he was a civilian. Making his way through the South, he found and joined John Hunt Morgan's cavalry command. Porter participated in the notable cavalry raids in Kentucky and Tennessee of 1862 and 1863 as a junior officer of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry Regiment (CSA). Ordered to make a secret foray in the spring of 1863 into northern Kentucky with his cousin, Captain Thomas Henry Hines, to scout routes for Morgan's main body to follow later, Union troops surprised his small command and scattered it. Porter escaped, but was captured a few days later.

Federal military authorities soon sent Porter to the Johnson's Island military prison on Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio. Turning from an account of derring-do and battlefield gallantry, Porter's tale becomes a story of miserable prison life buoyed by the hope of escape. An attempt to tunnel out failed, as did the attempt by Confederate [End Page 467] agents operating out of Canada to release the thousands of Rebel officers on the island by capturing shipping on the lake and attacking the U.S. Navy vessel that guarded the island. Porter's memoir makes clear that the inmates "were expecting [the Canada-based agents] and were prepared to do all in our power to aid in our escape" (p. 186). He languished in the prison for nineteen months. At last, Federal officials sent Porter and three hundred other Rebel officers through the lines and released them to Confederate authorities in February 1865. Porter chronicled his attempts to rejoin his regiment and continue the fight amid the collapsing Confederate military effort during that spring. When the Rebel armies surrendered, Porter and other Kentuckians returned home to begin life anew. Porter and his cousin Hines practiced law together until the former's death in 1884.

Historians of Morgan's operations have employed the Porter memoir to good effect, as it provides many useful details on the raids and battles Morgan's forces fought. However, historians must be careful to weigh Porter's words carefully, as his zeal tilts the scales heavily in favor of a whitewash of his own actions and those of others in behalf of the Lost Cause. On one side, Porter is quick to condemn "Yankee" perfidy, the disloyalty of African American slaves who provided information to their U.S. army liberators, prison officers at Johnson's Island who (he claimed) deliberately made prisoners suffer from hunger and cold, and "traitorous" Kentuckians who supported the Union. On the other side, the Confederates were generous, warm, and loving; their exploits were "brilliant," and he excuses his deception that gained him release after Fort Donelson, the common practice of wearing U.S. Army uniforms over their Confederate ones, and the expropriation (theft) of horses as a permissible practice in time of war. Brown's editorial efforts are, with a couple exceptions, well done. For example, sharper copyediting in the endnotes would have noted that Morgan's Great Raid into Indiana and Ohio was in July, not June, of 1863. Notwithstanding these minor flaws, this edition of Porter's memoir will aid Morgan scholarship and enhance our understanding of the lives of Rebel...