- One of Morgan’s Men: Memoirs of Lieutenant John M. Porter of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry
One of Morgan’s Men is an outstanding addition to an ever increasing body of Civil War memoirs and accounts. John M. Porter fought for the Confederacy with the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry and served under General John Hunt Morgan. Written for his family around 1872, Porter’s retelling of his experiences gives us a wonderful perspective on many aspects of the Civil War. According to Kent Masterson Brown, Porter’s memory of his experiences was very complete, so the editor lets the memoir speak for itself. Porter’s narrative is rich in detail and is supported by Brown’s editing, endnotes, pictures, and maps, instead of being made comprehendible by them. Brown’s additions serve to flesh out Porter’s story without muting his voice. The result is a very accessible look into the world of Civil War Kentucky and Morgan’s raiders.
Serving with Morgan’s raiders gave Porter and his comrades a different experience than soldiers who fought with more regular units. Morgan’s cavalrymen participated in raids through Union territory in Kentucky and Tennessee, destroying Union supplies and transportation while dodging the enemy. This gave the men considerably more freedom than their counterparts in other units. Oftentimes, between raids or while in enemy territory, Morgan’s men had to split up into small groups or individuals, fending for themselves until a predetermined time. Porter describes utilizing Confederate sympathizers and kinship networks to survive within enemy territory. The men often found themselves operating in states made up of both Unionists and Confederate sympathizers, as well as territory held by both sides. Fending for themselves meant seeking help from those sympathetic to their cause which often endangered both soldiers and civilians.
Porter also details the deceptions he and his men used to keep themselves away from harm, such as pretending to be Unionist civilians to avoid [End Page 101] prison and manipulating the tracks of their horses to confuse Union soldiers. Porter’s family was pro-Confederate but lived in Union territory. When he visited his home, he recounts the deceptions used to hide his identity from the family’s slaves who might report him to the Union. This constant interaction with home and relatives is another aspect that is unique to these men. In contrast to soldiers who remained with their unit during their whole term of service, unless lucky enough to get a furlough, Morgan’s men were in continual contact with family and friends. In fact, Morgan used it to his advantage, sending men on raids into their home counties and towns because they knew the territory.
Another valuable aspect of Porter’s memoir is that we see him as a cavalryman and raider, and also as a prisoner of war. During a failed raid in June 1863, Porter was captured and eventually sent to Johnson’s Island in Ohio. His narrative of the nineteen months he spent there is less detailed, because of the monotony of the days, but he does provide detailed descriptions of the camp itself, their escape attempts, and other aspects of prison life.
Brown’s masterful handling of Porter’s memoir allows the narrative voice to be heard. The editing is not intrusive and Brown’s use of census records, other memoirs, and published and unpublished monographs to add introductions and endnotes to each chapter of the memoir gives the reader a full understanding of the context surrounding Porter’s activities. Porter’s memoir is a wonderful addition to the body of Civil War literature, offering many unique stories and perspectives to readers of that subject.