Guide The Court-Martial of General John Pope

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Reviewed by Gary C. Never in the course of American history has such a legal travesty taken place as in the trials of the Dakota Sioux Indians in Minnesota in The trials took place over the course of 38 days under the direction of a military commission and resulted in sentences of death for Indians. The author of this book, John A. While Haymond admits that some irregularities did exist during the trials, they can only be viewed from the perspective of military law in the mid-nineteenth century, when military commissions were first introduced.

Sibley, who formed the commission and signed the death warrants of Indians, from wrongdoing, despite the fact that President Abraham Lincoln overruled the verdict and elected instead to execute just thirty-eight Indians. Indeed, the author suggests that given the level of violence perpetrated by Dakota Indians, the fact that they faced a military court at all is somewhat remarkable.

Scott recognized that civil law in the land had broken down and the only chance to bring order was with a military court, but one that more resembled a common court found in any county in the United States, rather than a military court martial. The judge advocate, but not legal counsel, had the right to cross-examine witnesses.

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The system worked so well in Mexico City that common citizens came to respect American justice and crime subsided appreciably. Nearly two thousand cases were tried during the four years of war in all theaters, or roughly five hundred a year. In the case of the Dakota Indians, the only way a military commission could be legally used to try them was if civil justice had broken down in the state.

As Colonel Henry Hasting Sibley, initially recruited as a military officer in the state, moved up the Minnesota River in September to subdue and capture the Indians, he addressed this issue in a letter to one of his subordinates. In other words, the general himself confessed that his court was illegal, even though he appeared not to know the legality of this issue. The commission of five officers tried its first case the next day. Over the next thirty-seven days, nearly four hundred Indians faced this commission. Hastily, then, the general added two more, one a young lieutenant, Rollin C.


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And of course, it was blatantly illegal for Olin to serve as both a member of the court and the judge advocate. While this may be arguable, Haymond completely dismisses it p. Sibley strongly disputed this but his commanding officer, General John Pope, supported the Judge Advocate General, and an Indian who had been convicted in his court and sentenced to death was granted a reprieve.

Such obvious omissions on the part of Haymond make it even more difficult to accept his assessment of the trials themselves. He served in the Mexican War and was brevetted to captain for bravery at the Battle of Molino del Rey. He was wounded at Chapultepec, for which he also received a brevet promotion to major. After the start of the Civil War, Porter became chief of staff and assistant adjutant general for the Department of Pennsylvania, but he was almost immediately promoted to colonel of the 15th Infantry on May 14, , and then to brigadier general three days later.

The Porter Conspiracy, A Story of the Civil War - Winding River History and Natural Resources

McClellan, on August 28, This association with the soon-to-be-controversial McClellan would prove to be a disaster for Porter's military career. He commanded the division at the beginning of the Peninsula Campaign, seeing action at the Siege of Yorktown. McClellan created two provisional corps and Porter was assigned to command the V Corps. During the Seven Days Battles, and particularly at the Battle of Gaines' Mill, he displayed an excellent talent for defensive fighting. At the Battle of Malvern Hill he played a leading role.

For his successful performance on the Peninsula he was promoted to major general of volunteers on July 4, Porter's corps was sent to reinforce John Pope in the Northern Virginia Campaign, a reassignment that he openly challenged and complained about, criticizing Pope personally.

San Francisco Call, Volume 72, Number 116, 24 September 1892

Porter had stopped at Dawkin's Branch where he had encountered J. Stuart's cavalry screen.

Ambrose Burnside, one of his wing commanders; and Maj. Fitz John Porter, leader of the 5th Corps, knew each other before the war and were considered friends. Each graduated from the U.


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Military Academy at West Point within a three-year period from to Pope, an West Point graduate, also played a role in the drama. The old story is that the crucible of war caused McClellan and Porter to backbite their formerly affable comrade, Burnside. A closer look at the sources, however, does not indicate such a controversy existed, and that much of it was a postwar construct.

Lincoln turned to Burnside to keep him apprised of the situation at the front. Library of Congress. While they included useful military information, Porter also took the opportunity to express to his old friend Burnside his animosity toward Pope and his favoritism of McClellan.

The two groups mixed together about as well as oil and water. On August 31, Porter had interactions with the commanders of both armies, writing to McClellan and speaking directly with Pope. On the front lines outside the Washington fortifications, Pope called his corps commanders together on September 2. When Pope arrived, Porter was already present. Porter was confused by the telegram he had received from McClellan the day before and asked Pope for clarification.

Pope pulled Porter aside and the two sat in a separate room on a sofa to sort matters out. John Pope paid a visit to the White House on September 3 and personally spoke with the president. The two were friends, and Lincoln thanked Pope for his performance in the recent campaign and the two spoke freely.


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At some point, Porter became a topic of conversation. To fuel the discussion, Lincoln showed Pope the earlier dispatches Porter wrote to Burnside, who then subsequently forwarded them to the War Department. Fitz John Porter that denigrated Maj. John Pope and spoke favorably of Maj. George McClellan. In his report, Pope took Porter to task. Lincoln sympathized with Pope, however, and ordered Maj. Porter, Charles Griffin, and William B.