William Wood Porter

Miner, Soldier, Judge

by
Charles L. Christian, Jr.

 William Wood Porter, who commanded a company of the 10th Tennessee Infantry
during the Battle of Raymond, is buried in Santa Rosa, California.


There lies in WHC 19 a man whose life could have been the basis for a great book. Born in 1826 in Orange Co. VA, he moved at a young age with his father to TN after his mother died. There the father remarried and in 1837 moved near Brownsville, MS where he became a large and successful cotton grower. William studied the law after regular school and instead of opening a practice upon the completion of his studies, he went to the gold fields of Calif. about 1853 to try his luck. Bad luck or the extreme hardship of long hours and hard work led him to go down the river to the valley and start a law practice in Stockton. Shortly thereafter he became the District Attorney of San Joaquin County. Hearing about a new town over by the coast he came to investigate and decided the opportunity was good and he started a new practice in Santa Rosa. Most likely, he was also encouraged by the fact that the town was more to his taste than the hot valley and it was full of people like him, southerners.
 

Upon outbreak of the Civil War, William felt compelled to serve and help the Confederate States. Armed with introductions to prominent persons back in Missouri by some of the founding fathers of Santa Rosa (ex-Missourians), William received a Lt.'s commission in the 1st TN Militia, CSA, serving in MO under the command of Gen. Geo. Crittenden. William shortly became one of two Aide-de-Camps to Gen. Crittenden. Praised in the records for his service in the Battle of Mills Springs, KY and then promoted Capt. and loaned out to Gen. Beauregard one day and Gen. Polk the next day in the Battle of Shiloh, 6-7 April 1862. Once again, he is commended in the official records. Gen. Crittenden lost his job about this time (drunk again) and Capt. Porter became an Enrollment Officer at the Camp of Instruction at Brookhaven, MS. He then became an ADC to Gen. Joe Johnston upon his arrival in MS, May 1863, to assume overall command of the area. On the 12th of May, he was at Raymond, MS where he served as a Company Commander in the 50th TN. Inf. and commended again.

His military record file is very large and has copies of extensive correspondence between William, Gen. Johnston and others including Gen. Sam Cooper, Adj. Gen. of the Confederate States and his boss, Pres. Jefferson Davis. William was trying to get a command of his own and on the basis of his experience he was highly qualified to have a Cavalry command, but eventually he lost out to another Capt. who had even more political support then he did. It may have been that Gen. Joe Johnston's strong support on his behalf was not enough to overcome Pres. Davis's hard feelings toward Gen. Johnston. They went back to their West Point days when they had a tiff over a young woman and Joe Johnston won. This disappointment cost William the opportunity to have received probably two promotions and he spent the rest of the war as a Capt. He continued to serve Gen. Johnston until the General was removed by Pres. Davis in July 1864 during the Battle of Atlanta and replaced by Gen. J. B. Hood, a mistake of great significance as it turned out. Porter did go with Hood as an ADC and then his whereabouts are lost until he surrendered with Gen. Dick Taylor and staff at Citronella, AL on 4 May 1865.

William then received a parole after signing the oath of allegiance and returned to resume his practice in Santa Rosa. Shortly thereafter he returned to Raymond, MS where he married a daughter of a prominent family, Eliza Dabney. She eventually presented him with 5 daughters and their home on College Ave. was a recognized social center for over 25 years. During the administration of President Cleveland he received a Supreme Judgeship in the N.M. Territory where he served several years. He maintained his practice here until the 1890's when he retired. In his last years he had poor health and it was aggravated by the damage done to his home during the 1906 earthquake. Judge Porter died here 17 Jan 1907. 

He was known to have been an active participant in political affairs as demonstrated by his articles to the newspapers such as his article on the "The Cuban Question" of 26 Dec 1896. He expressed a strong stand against Cuba becoming part of the U.S. and predicted that we may end up with a war with Spain. 16 months later we did. He had a reputation of being a man of the strictest sense of honor and was never known to swerve from what he considered was the path of duty. An example of his strong sense of convictions was when he was invited as a guest to a political debate attended by Leland Stanford   He got up and walked out of the building when he was upset over a stand taken by one of the participants and when asked why he did not stay and speak his mind, he replied; "I was there as a non paying guest and felt I had no right to speak out. He had been a life long Episcopalian and for thirty years was with the Church of the Incarnation on Mendocino Ave. Resting with Judge Porter in his plot are four other adults who also played an active part in the Battle of Raymond back on 12 May 1863, but that is another story  

- Charles Christian  

copyright Charles Christian, 2004


 

 

 

Charles Christian of Santa Rosa, California, has always loved history and became interested in the Civil War after learning that his great-grandfather fought with the 4th Minnesota Infantry. His professional career includes service with the United States Air Force, 1949; United States Army Reserves, 1952-1955; and CIA, covert communications, 1955-67, Washington D.C., S. California, Europe, Middle East and Africa. From 1982-1986 he worked for the United States Department of State, Foreign Service, Communications Officer, Muscat, Oman and Bonn, Germany.

Charles, a member of Camp #23, Department of California and Pacific SUVCW, is a docent of the Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California, where he takes care of 150 Civil War veterans, including 15 CSA. Not only does he care for their graves but also does extensive research on their lives and their involvement in the war. One of the soldiers buried in Rural Cemetery is William Wood Porter who commanded a company of the 50th Tennessee during the Battle of Raymond.

Charles, who maintains an interest in Union and Confederate soldiers, is a frequent speaker at Civil War affairs.


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