Colonel Joseph C. Porter
SCV Camp #2055

Shelbina, Missouri - CSA



Col. Joseph C. Porter

Biography


Joseph Chrisman Porter (September 12, 1819 - February 18, 1863) was a Confederate Officer in the American War Of Northern Aggression of 1861 and a key leader in the guerilla campaigns in northern Missouri. Colonel Porter formed and commanded The First Northeast Missouri Cavalry, C.S.A., better known to many as Porter's Regiment

One of the main sources for Colonel Porter's history is the monumental book "With Porter In North Missouri" penned by Joseph A. Mudd (see below). Porter's chief adversary, yankee Col. John McNeil, regarded him simply as a guerilla, though clearly Porter's service under General John S. Marmaduke in the Springfield campaign and following, clearly shows he was a fully Commissioned Officer in the Confederate States Army.

EARLY LIFE AND CAREER

Joseph C. Porter was born in Jessamine County, Kentucky, to James and Rebecca Chrisman Porter. The family moved to Marion County, Missouri, in 1828 or 1829, where Porter attended Marion College in Philadelphia, Missouri, and was a member of the Presbyterian Church. About 1844, Porter married Mary Ann E. Marshall (d. DeWitt, AR about two years after the war closed, according to Porter’s sister). They subsequently moved to Knox County, remaining there until 1857, when they moved to Lewis County, and settled five miles east of Newark. Family members assert that only one picture of Porter was known to exist, and it was destroyed when his home was burned, allegedly by yankee soldiers.

Porter had strong southern sympathies, and was for this reason subject to harassment by neighbors, in an area where loyalties were sharply divided. His brother, James William Porter (b. 1827, m. Carolina Marshall, sister to Joseph’s wife Mary Ann, 1853), was also a Confederate officer and Joseph's trusted subordinate, attaining the rank of Major. The brothers went to California in the Gold Rush of 1849, then prospered in livestock and farming together before the war.

WAR OF NORTHERN AGGRESSION - 1861

The brothers went south with CSA Colonel Martin E. Green’s regiment to join the attack on Lexington, September of 1861. Although he had no military experience, Porter was a natural born leader, quickly elected Lieutenant Colonel (official commission would come later) in the Missouri State Guard. He fought at Athens, Shelbina, Lexington (September 18 - 20, 1861) and Pea Ridge (or Elkhorn Tavern) in March 1862.

In the spring of 1862 he returned home, on the orders of General Sterling Price, to raise recruits throughout northeast Missouri. His duties included the establishment of supply drops, weapons caches and the construction of a network of Southern-sympathizing informants. The recruited were under threat of being hanged if captured by the yankees. Throughout Porter’s brief military career, his status as a regular army officer, with the attached authority and immunities, was not fully recognized by his adversaries, particularly Col. John McNeil, and the right of rebel soldiers to be treated as combatants and prisoners of war rather than criminals and traitors was inconsistently observed even though Colonel Porter was a Comissioned Officer in the Confederate States Army. Some of Porter's were in conjunction with Confederate Irregulars and Partisan Rangers; yet many pitched battles were fought.

On June 17, 1862, he was near Warren or New Market, in Warren Township, Marion County, with 43 mounted men, and made prisoners of four men of the yankee regiment he found there. The yankees had their arms and horses taken from them, were sworn not to take up arms against the Southern Confederacy until duly exchanged, and then released.

CHERRY GROVE

Moving northward through the western part of Marion, the eastern portion of Knox, and the western border of Lewis counties, Porter approached Sulphur Springs, near Colony, in Knox County. Along his route he collected perhaps 200 recruits. From Sulphur Springs he moved north, threatened the yankee Home Guards at Memphis, picked up additional recruits in Scotland County, and moved westward into Schuyler County to get a company known to be there under Capt. Bill Dunn. yankee forces under Col. Henry S. Lipscomb and others responded with a march on Colony. They overtook Porter at Cherry Grove, in the northeastern part of Schuyler County, near the Iowa line, where, with a superior force, they attacked and defeated him, routing his forces and driving them southward. Losses on both sides were minor. Porter retreated rapidly, pursued by Lipscomb, until his forces dispersed at a point about 10 miles west of Newark. Porter, with perhaps 75 men, remained in the vicinity of his home for some days, gathering recruits all the time, and getting ready to strike again.

MEMPHIS

On Sunday, July 13, 1862, Porter approached the city of Memphis in four converging columns totalling 125-170 men and captured it with little or no resistance. They first raided the Federal armory, seizing about a hundred muskets with cartridge boxes and ammunition, and several uniforms. They rounded up all adult males, who were taken to the court house to swear not to divulge any information about the raiders for forty-eight hours. Porter freed all militiamen or suspected militiamen to await parole, a fact noted even by the Yankees of his good character. Citizens expressed their sympathies variously; Porter gave safe passage to a physician, an admitted supporter of the yankee, who was anxious to return to his seriously ill wife.

At Memphis, a key incident occurred which would darken Porter’s reputation, and which his detractors see as part of a consistent behavioral pattern which put him and his men beyond the norms of warfare. According to the "History of Shelby County, which is generally sympathetic to Porter, Most conceded that Colonel Porter’s purpose for capturing Memphis, MO. was to seize Dr. Wm. Aylward, a prominent yankee man of the community. Aylward was roused from his bed, and offered some resistance, whereupon he was wounded in the neck. His overnight guards claimed that he thereafter escaped. However, witnesses reported hearing the sounds of a strangling, and his body was found the next day, with marks consistent with hanging or strangulation.

At Memphis, Porter had been joined by Tom Stacy, a Missouri Partisan Ranger. Stacy's company was called "the chain gang" by the other members of Porter's command.

VASSAR HILL

Yankee Colonel (later General) John McNeil pursued Porter, who planned an ambush with perhaps 150 men (though Yakee estimates of his strength ran as much as four times higher). The Battle is called Vassar Hill in the History of Scotland County; Porter himself called it Oak Ridge, and Federal forces called it Pierce’s Mill, after a location 1.5 mi NW of the battlefield. A detachment of Merrill’s Horse, under Major John Y. Clopper, was dispatched by McNeil from Newark against Porter, and attacked him 2 p.m. on Friday, July 18, on the south fork of the Middle Fabius, ten miles south-west of Memphis. Clopper was in the Federal front, and out of 21 men of his advance guard all but one were killed and wounded. The yankees charged repeatedly, to little effect. Only the arrival of reinforcements drove Porter into retreat. yankee casualties were about 30 killed and mortally wounded, and perhaps 75 wounded. Porter's loss was six killed, three mortally wounded, and 10 wounded left on the field. The 23 yankee dead were originally buried on the Jacob Maggard farm, which served as a temporary hospital, 1.5 mi NW of the battlefield.

After the fight, Porter moved westward a few miles, then south through Paulville, in the eastern part of Adair County; thence south-east into Knox County, passing through Novelty, four miles east of Locust Hill, at noon on Saturday, July 19, having fought a battle and made a march of sixty-five miles in less than twenty-four hours.

FLORIDA

July 22, 1862: Detachments of F & G Companies (60 men total) of 3rd Iowa Volunteer Cavalry under Major Henry Clay Caldwell encountered Porter with 300 rebels at Florida, in Monroe County, Missouri. The detachment fought outnumbered for one hour & fell back upon the post of Paris, Missouri, with 22 wounded and 2 captured.

SANTA FE

July 24, 1862: Major Caldwell and 100 men of his 3rd Iowa Volunteer Cavalry pursued Porter and his 400 men into dense brush near Botts’ farm, near Santa Fe, Missouri. Porter fled and was pursued into Callaway County, Missouri. The Second Battalion suffered 1 killed & 10 wounded.

MOORE'S MILL

July 28, 1862: Yankee forces under Colonel (later General ) Oden Guitar engaged Porter near Moore's Mill in Callaway County, Missouri. The yankee losses were 19 killed, 21 wounded. Guerrilla losses were 36-60 killed, 100 wounded. This was one of Porter’s most aggressive actions, involving a daring charge and disabling the Federal artillery, until forced by the arrival of yankee reinforcements and the exhaustion of his own ammunition to retreat.

NEWARK

August 1, 1862: McNeil had dispatched Lair to Newark. Porter headed westward from Midway, putting his brother Jim Porter in charge of one column, himself at the head of another, approaching the town from east and south simultaneously, and closing the trap on the completely surprised yankees at 5pm on July 31.

Porter forced a company of 75 yankees to take refuge in a brick schoolhouse; when they refused terms, he had a loaded haywagon fired and threatened to run it into the building. The yankees surrendered, were paroled and permitted to keep their sidearms.

The yankee loss in the Newark fight was 4 killed, 6 wounded, and 72 prisoners. The Confederate loss was reported at from 10 to 20 killed, and 30 severely wounded. yankee soldiers were treated well.

Various forces with varying degrees of official relation to Porter’s command are credited with capturing Paris and Canton, and with bringing in new supplies and recruits. Porter’s numbers had swelled to a size likely to be unmanageable, particularly considering the lack of trained officers and that not more than a quarter of his 2000 or so troops had regulation equipment (perhaps another quarter had squirrel-guns or shotguns, and the rest no arms at all). Porter’s objective was now to get south to Arkansas with his recruits, in order that they might be properly trained and equipped.

KIRKSVILLE

August 6, 1862: At Kirksville, Porter engaged yankee forces under Colonel John McNeil, whom he knew to have cannon; perhaps in over confidence, as a result of his sharpshooters’ ability to pick off the Federal artillerymen at Santa Fe. Traveling light had been Porter’s great advantage. His troops lived off the country, and every man was his own quartermaster and commissary, in contrast to the elaborate baggage and supply trains of McNeil (History of Shelby County). Here Porter suffered defeat, and his campaign would stall a bit.

DISPERSAL OF FORCES

At Clem's Mills, five miles west of Kirksville, Porter crossed the Chariton, seeking to link up with Colonel J. A. Poindexter in Chariton County, known to have an estimated 1,200 - 1,500 recruits; their combined forces would be able to force a passage of the Missouri River at Glasgow or Brunswick, and open a line to the Confederacy. Three miles north of Stockton (now New Cambria), in western Macon County, Porter encountered 250 men of the First Missouri State Militia, under Lt. Colonel Alexander Woolfolk, coming up to unite with McNeil. There was a brief fight at Panther Creek (modernley referred to as Painter's Creek), Friday, August 8, 1862. Porter was turned from his course and retreated toward the northeast, away from his intended line of march and ultimate goal. The next day Col. James McFerran, of the First Missouri State Militia, joined Woolfolk with 250 more men and took command. He came up with Porter at Walnut Creek, in Adair County and drove Porter eastward to the Chariton. At Sear's Ford, where he recrossed the Chariton, Porter put 125 men in ambush on the east bank. Porter’s forces opened fire at short range. Only two yankees were killed outright and 15 wounded, but the action seemed to have caused McFerran to break off pursuit.

Porter passed on to Wilsonville, in the south-east part of Adair County. Here Porter lost 500 unarmed troops who had errantly drifted away looking for refuge and were lost into the brush.

CAPTURE OF PALMYRA

Porter wandered around the wilderness, his diminished troops feeding off the land, although there were some new recruits as well. On Friday, September 12, 1862; Porter with 400 men, captured Palmyra, with 20 of its garrison, and held the town. Porter lost one man killed and one wounded. One yankee was killed and three yankees wounded. Porter’s objectives were two: to liberate Confederates held in the jail there, and to draw Federal forces away from the Missouri River, so as to open it to southward crossing by rebels seeking to join Confederate units.

The Confederates carried away a former yankee soldier - recently retired citizen (in 1861) named Andrew Allsman. The fate of Allsman remains something of a mystery, and there is disagreement as well about his character (or lack of) and his legitimacy as a target. *Note* see Palmyra Massacre.

Porter quickly abandoned Palmyra to McNeil, and another period of wandering ensued, in the general direction of his own home near Newark. At Whaley’s Mill, his men were definitively scattered, almost without a fight.

After his rout by McNeil at Whaley's Mill, and his dispersion at Bragg's school house, Colonel Porter kept himself hidden for a few days. He abandoned the idea of raising a militarily significant force, and entered Shelby County on a line of march to the South with fewer than 100 men remaining. He made his way safely through Monroe, Audrain, Callaway and Boone counties, and crossed the Missouri River in a skiff, continuing into Arkansas. Here he organized from the men who had accompanied him and others whom he found in Arkansas, a regiment of Missouri Confederate cavalry. From Pocahontas, Arkansas, in the latter part of the month of December, 1862, as acting brigadier, he moved with his command and the battalions of Colonels Colton Green and J. Q. A. Burbridge, to cooperate with General John S. Marmaduke in his attack on Springfield. By a miscommunication of General Marmaduke, Colonel Porter's command did not participate in this attack. It moved on a line far to the eastward. After the expedition had failed - the commands of Marmaduke and Porter united at Marshfield, and started to regrouping effort into Arkansas.

CONCLUSION

At Hartville, in Wright County, on January 11, 1863, a considerable Federal force was encountered and defeated, although at severe loss to the Confederates, who had many valuable officers killed and mortally wounded. Among the latter was Colonel Joseph C. Porter, shot from his horse with wounds to the leg and the head while leading a charge. He managed to accompany the army on a difficult trek into Arkansas, arriving at Batesville January 25, 1863, where he died from his wounds February 18, 1863.



Sources:

  • Mudd, Joseph A., "With Porter in North Missouri." Washington, DC: National Publishing Co., 1909. 452p.
  • House, Grant, "Colonel Joseph C. Porter's 1862 Campaign in Northeast Missouri." M.A. thesis. Western Illinois University, 1989.
  • The Missouri Partisan Ranger - Virtual Museum & Archives
  • Roth, Dave and Sallee, Scott E., "Porter's Campaign in Northeast Missouri and the Palmyra Massacre." Blue & Gray Magazine 17 (February 2000): 52-60. A tour of modern-day Northeast Missouri sites involved in Porter's campaign of 1862. Illus.
  • History of Shelby County, Chapter 8. (1884). Shelby County Historical Society. RootsWeb





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