General Edward Porter Alexander ( Part 3)


Three General Officers died in the attack on Cemetery Ridge. Generals Kemper, Garnett and Armistead. The last two being long time friends of Alexander’s. General Lee rode out alone and gave encouragement to the small returning groups of Pickett’s desolated division. Alexander joined the commanding officer as Lee told the men that he was personally responsible. “It’s all my fault”. Lee told the men he knew they had given their best effort to carry the day. He said it wasn’t their failure, but his, and now was the time for all good men to regroup. The Army took a defensive position behind Alexander’s guns and waited for the expected counter attack. A counter attack that never came.

Lee ordered the wounded to be quickly evacuated to Williamsport starting early on the morning of July 4. The Potomac was at flood stage and Lee’s retreating army had its back to the wall. The fords couldn’t be used, but he had left a strategically placed pontoon bridge. It had been damaged by a Union cavalry troop, but the engineers tore down some old buildings and used the material to get it repaired in record time. At the end of long wait, Alexander’s guns crossed the swollen Potomac on their way back to Virginia. General Meade failed to follow up with an attack and close in for the kill. his unwillingness to chase Lee meant the war would go on for another year and a half.

Edward Alexander Porter’s boyhood home was Washington, Georgia where he grew up on his family’s plantation. He dearly loved shooting, fishing and the outdoor life. His father owned two plantations with plenty of game. Porter, as his friends called him , was on a fishing trip with an old friend of the family when the elderly fellow told him that Southern hotheads were discussing secession. The year was 1848 and Porter was 13 years old. He wrote that he could still recall the sport where he heard it. He would rather have lost his gun, his dearest possession on earth, than see it happen. Guns would play a major part in his life and from a very early age, he wanted to go to West Point. His father was determined that he would become an engineer. They were at an impasse until a family guest told them that Porter could get an education in engineering at West Point. He graduated third in his class in 1857 and was sent west with a supporting column commanded by Captains Garnett and Armistead. The two good friends would die six years in PA, but now they were on their way to the war in Utah Territory. The intent was to support Albert Sidney Johnston’s punitive expedition, but Brigham Young waved the white flag and agreed to allow the federal governor to take office. The was called off. Alexander spent much of the trip hunting antelope, elk and buffalo, for camp meat. He found his Harpers Ferry Rifle barely adequate for the bison, but his excellent marksmanship made the difference. Alexander’s infantry made it to Fort Bridger when they received orders to return to West Point. They made the 1019 miles in 47 marches to Ft. Leavenworth and rode the water ways to return home.

Porter stayed at West Point as an assistant instructor. He served on the examining bard evaluating newly invented breech loading arms, and worked to prefect the wigwag system of semaphore communication that was the start of the signal corps. On April 3, 1860 he married the love of his life, Bettie Mason. He would always refer to her as “Miss Teen.” On their wedding day, orders were received to immediately proceed to Oregon. The newlyweds sold their furniture and caught a boat for the Isthmus of Panama. When they arrived at Fort Steilacoom, Washington Territory MIss Teen had come down with Panama Fever and weighed only 95 pounds by their arrival. She would recover and they greatly enjoyed the pacific coast. Porter found the hunting and fishing to be unsurpassed.

When his home state of Georgia seceded from the union on Jan. 19, 1861, his worst nightmare had came to pass. He was ordered to report to Lt. James B. McPherson on Alcatraz Island to engineer fortifications for the coming war. When he informed McPherson of his plans, his friend told him that his orders had just arrived by Pony Express. The War department intended for him to sit out the coming unpleasantness on the Pacific Coast, the chance of a lifetime. . However..Alexander had to go with his home state of Georgia and the Confederacy or he would be considered the worst kind of coward bu his friends and family. McPherson was saddened but understood. He knew the meaning of honor and duty and was a fine officer who would go on to lose his life in the battle for Atlanta in 1864.

To be continued


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