- One of Morgan’s Men: Memoirs of Lieutenant John M. Porter of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry
The memoirs of John M. Porter complement an immense body of writings that exhibit the Civil War generation’s diverse remembrance of that era. Rather than operating as a forum in which to exonerate actions, denounce old enemies, or rewrite political narratives, One of Morgan’s Men serves as a former soldier’s attempt, in pure Lost Cause fashion, to celebrate the Confederate nation and its military heritage. Originally written in the early 1870s and titled “A Brief Account of What I Saw and Experienced during the War for Southern Independence,” Porter’s memoirs present a straightforward portrait of his career as a member of John Hunt Morgan’s renowned cavalry command as it raided the countryside and disrupted the Union occupations of Kentucky and Tennessee.
Porter was born to one of the few slaveholding families in Butler County, Kentucky, in 1839 and studied law prior to the war. As a lieutenant in the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry, he participated in some of Morgan’s most famous operations in the western theater before being captured just prior to the Ohio raid in July 1863. He spent the next nineteen months as a prisoner of war at Johnson’s Island in Sandusky Bay, Ohio, was later released, and returned home at war’s end. Porter pursued a legal career during the post-war years but lived only to the age of forty-five. His premature death was likely hastened by the wretched living conditions that defined his existence as a wartime prisoner.
Porter dedicates the totality of his narrative to the myriad events in which Morgan’s cavalry was engaged. Destroying rail lines and telegraph wires, burning government stores, capturing scores of Federal troops, and providing important rearguard support to the Army of Tennessee collectively marked Morgan’s wildly successful operations in the trans-Appalachian South. Porter vividly recounts how he and his comrades rode across virtually all of Kentucky and Tennessee, oftentimes with little rest and perilously close to Union garrisons. Morgan’s men thus gained a notorious reputation among the region’s Unionists and simultaneously enjoyed healthy support from local Confederates. Porter candidly comments that “our command was extremely odious to the Yankees, and when they [End Page 617] succeeded in getting any of Morgan’s men in their power, they desired in many instances to take stringent measures” (174). This was indeed a fitting tribute to Morgan’s pervasive military influence.
Porter’s memoirs overtly reflect the Lost Cause environment from which he wrote. Although he explicates very little on the causes of the war, Porter nevertheless believed that the conflict was fought between forces of good and evil, independence and tyranny. These very dynamics, he claims, inspired his enlistment in 1861 and sustained him through the course of the war. Moreover, the narrative is positioned as a standard military history, which Porter used to commemorate the Confederacy’s virtue and fighting spirit. He emphasizes the common soldier’s sacrifice and tenacity, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, and judges that volunteering, campaigning, and fighting collectively shielded southerners from Yankee despotism. He writes that he and his fellow cavaliers “fought for the independence and liberties of the South” and were “satisfied and contented with whatever we have to undergo in order to secure the prize after which we seek” (145). Whereas Porter venerates the common Confederate soldier, the Union army, conversely, is presented as a faceless blue mass that stood defiantly, yet at the same time cowardly, against southern self-determination. Thus Porter enthusiastically recounts multiple instances in which Morgan’s command captured Yankee troops and routinely scored battlefield victories, although largely outnumbered. In spite of its Lost Cause overtures, Porter’s coverage is unusually accurate and detailed. His account of names, people, military units, places, and dates are, according to editor Kent Masterson Brown, all confirmed in the historical record.
Brown’s sound editing should be...