“Night and day I have been employed trying to secure the Land of the companies from being washed away and our mill from being destroyed.” Letter from the general who went to work for a Colorado mining company to support his family after being scapegoated and cashiered from the Army following the Union defeat at Second Bull Run
Envelope or Cover. This four-page letter, dated June 14th 1864, was written by former Major General Fitz-John Porter to his wife. The original mailing envelope is franked with a 3-cent stamp (Scott #65) and bears a scarce Black Hawk Point, Colorado (Territory) postmark dated June 15, 1864. Both are in nice shape; the letter has partial splits along its mailing folds. A transcript will be provided.
This letter was written shortly after Porter had been unjustly court-martialed and cashiered from the Union Army and he had taken a job with the Colorado gold mining companies to support his family in New York City. In it he related the difficulties that he faced and his hope that a mining shaft named in his honor by the New York Mining Company would strike gold
“Yesterday I telegraphed you that I was well bridges were broken down and we had no communications . . . or I would have relieved you of all anxiety. Perhaps my other letters sent off just after I arrived may be reaching you. . .. Our roads have been in such a condition that no vehicle could travel them while footmen and horsemen have been compelled to take to the mountain sides & mountain tops. . .. Bridges have been carried away and for more than a week there was no way of crossing Cherry Creek or Platte River near Denver. Here night and day I have been employed trying to secure the Land of the companies from being washed away and our mill from being destroyed. Thus far we have met with no injury, except that the water has driven us from the best part of the mine and will prevent work on that portion for six weeks. This is a great loss to the Gunnel Company, which instead of getting out 2 to 3000 dollars daily will get that amount scarcely once a fortnight. Next week I hope to surprise the parties by a good big lump of gold. I wish the stock now in your possession of the New York Gold Mining Company was stock in the Gunnell Company. . .. Indeed the New York Company will pay no dividend for a year I think. . ..
“Yesterday George and I visited the Lode [it] named for me. . .. This is its first venture – and a trust in my name. You trust in the man, try to think well of the mine. . ..”. Very good. Item #009829
After the Union defeat at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, Major General John Pope (the overall commander of Union forces at the battle), radical Republican politicians, and their allies in the army’s leadership seized the opportunity to discredit General George B. McClellan, a Democrat and the Commanding General of the Union Army, by laying all blame for the defeat upon Porter, a Democrat and friend of McClellan. Porter was arrested, court-martialed, and cashiered from the army.
After settling his family in New York, Porter took a string of only marginally successful jobs beginning in the Colorado mines, and followed by construction, public works, iron manufacturing, and railroad positions in New York and New Jersey. Eventually he became the New York City Police Commissioner in 1884.
During the entire time, Porter worked ceaselessly to clear his name, however radical Republican politicians thwarted his efforts until finally in 1886, Congress passed a relief bill in 1886 that was signed by President Grover Cleveland resolving Porter of any guilt and restoring his commission. Porter retired from the Army the next day at the age of 63.
The New York Mining Company’s Fitz-John Porter Tunnel shaft never struck gold.
(For more information, see “Fitz-John Porter” at the American Civil War Research Database website, Burton’s “Fitz John Porter” at Virginia Tech’s Essential Civil War Curriculum website, and the Smith & Parmelee Gold Mine Company of Colorado Report of the American Bureau of Mines available online.
Although most of Porter’s post-war life is well documented, there is little information available about his mining activity in Colorado. At the time of listing, there are no firsthand accounts of his Colorado experience for sale in the trade, nor have any similar items been sold at auction per the Rare Book Hub. Neither are any first hand accounts held by institutions per OCLC, however it does locate prospectuses for three mining firms that mention his name (The Grass Valley Mining Company, the American Gold Mining Company, and the Star Gold Mining Company) as well as a photograph of the Gunnell Gold Company’s mill and mine referenced in the letter..