Judging from his letters, Robert Porter was much older than his 23 years.
He was the eldest son in his family and a new teacher when he enlisted in 1862.
Above all he was a very devout young man, and his strong faith appears in just about every letter he wrote from the field. He describes with disapproval the coarse behavior of soldiers and reminds his younger brothers William and Sam to behave and attend to their devotions. Often he would close by assuring his parents he would be kept safe by “he who doeth all things well.”
Yet two years of war and its brutality would take a toll and lead him to question what it all meant.
His letters offer an invaluable look into a soldier’s life with the 140th Pa. Regiment: crudely-made living quarters, the monotony of camp and landscapes far different from his home in Jamestown.
And from time to time they would record history.
One particular letter, written after the Battle of Gettysburg, details the action of his regiment on July 2, the second day of fighting. They moved quickly into line that afternoon to strengthen a staggering Union defense.
That movement, however, was only the end of a much longer march, that account only a passage in a much larger story, for his letter relates not only that day but the entire Gettysburg campaign as he lived it.
It was written during a halt, two days after the guns went silent and danger had passed. When he took up his pen he was tired and worn, angry and no doubt older for what he had experienced. He wrote it to let his parents understand what had happened to him in several harrowing days. It’s likely he was writing for his own understanding as well.
¥ ¥ ¥
Encamped six miles east of Gettysburg on the Baltimore Pike
Monday, July 6, 1863
I am through the kind Providence of God once more permitted to address you. I have passed through an engagement of four days unhurt whilst many a brave and true heart bit the dust. I wrote Sam a few lines yesterday, but for fear they might not reach you I will write today. …
I believe when I last wrote you we were near Frederick City, Md. We left there one week ago today and marched a mile on this side of Uniontown, Md., a distance of 30 miles. … It was necessary to reach this point, as the enemy was moving on the town with a large cavalry force, stealing horses, cattle and provisions of every kind. … We left Uniontown the next day at 4 p.m. and reached Gettysburg in the morning, marching 20 miles and traveling all night except for two hours. You can form a slight idea of the trials, privations and hardships soldiers have to endure when you think of us making marches under the scorching rays of a July sun, or it maybe heavy rain.
The battle, as you are aware, was commenced on Wednesday the 1st. We got on the field on the morning of the 2nd. The battle raged fearfully all afternoon, being most severe on the wings as the enemy’s design was to turn our flanks, but no turn. Our troops fought with a vengeance and were not to be driven. All their prisoners say their officers told them they had nothing but militia to fight and they would run, so they charged up close to our batteries and entrenchments and were slaughtered fearfully.
Our brigade was taken in on the left under a heavy fire of musketry. Just in the first of the action our brigadier general was shot and mortally wounded, and a few moments afterwards Col. Roberts was shot and instantly killed. I saw him just before he was shot. He was waving his sword and cheering his men on. At this time we were driving the rebs. Braver men than these never lived.
The 140th fought bravely. I did not see or hear of one man in the regiment showing anything other than a disposition and anxiety to fight. And they did fight, but on account of our officers being killed our position was not properly watched and the rebs flanked us. We were ordered to fall back and did so reluctantly, and at this time we sustained our heaviest loss. …
On Friday the 3rd the battle raged most desperately all day, the enemy making a desperate effort to break our lines at all points and escape, but all in vain. He was repulsed and driven at every point with heavy loss.
It evidently is the design of every officer and private to make this a sorrowful trip for old Lee and his army, and I trust we will. … I hope he may never reach Virginia again. We have to fight and whip the rebs sometime, and I’d rather do it here than any other place. Our fellows were engaged Sabbath and yesterday in hauling off the wounded and burying the dead. The larger portion of these were rebs. In some places they lay think on the ground. It is an awful sight to behold. …
But as I am very tired I will close. … I am anxious for the results of this campaign and hope and pray Providence grant us a complete victory. Hoping to be able to write to you soon again and also hear from you all, I am very sincerely yours,
Robert B. Porter
Robert would not know the results of the Gettysburg campaign or a complete victory, at least not in this life. Nine months later, at Spottsylvania, Va., he was gut shot and died two days later en route to a Washington hospital. He was buried along a road.
(Special thanks to the late Mary Kay Smith of Jamestown for sharing the collected letters of her great-uncle, Robert. B. Porter.)
Judging from his letters, Robert Porter was much older than his 23 years.
- Local News
Woman admits to burning down daughter's home
A Fenelton woman has been charged with arson for burning down her daughter’s Slippery Rock Township rental home Feb. 13 – a crime she admitted to while under psychiatric care, claiming she did it because the living conditions weren’t fit for the family.
Honoring the boys of war
During World War II, they did all the jobs that had to be done. They did the fighting on land and sea.
Project architect hired, superintendent deadline set
Slippery Rock Area School District officials on Monday hired an architectural firm to oversee the stadium project and announced details for their search for a new superintendent.
Fire destroys mobile home
A mobile home with an addition was burned almost to the ground Friday night when firefighters arrived.
Directors still mulling harassment policy
The best way to define harassment policies in Grove City schools remains a work in progress.
Kids learn what college work’s like
A group of Kennedy Catholic middle schoolers got a taste of college life when they went to Slippery Rock University to present research projects.
- News briefs from March 8, 2014
Judge: Drilling suit has enough details
A Mercer County judge said recently that the claims against an oil and gas drilling company filed by Mercer County landowners can move forward.
Paying for public events
Organizers of public events in Sharon may have to help the city recover some of its costs in supporting them.
Driver who crashed into house was drunk, police say
The driver of a car that crashed into a house Feb. 27 in Hermitage, has been charged with drunken driving and other offenses.
Woman protests man’s plea, sentence
The young woman approached the judge tentatively, trembling, on the arm of a former policeman who was so touched by her story that it contributed to his decision to leave policing.
Her story is harrowing: two years of physical and sexual abuse. The man she accused of committing the crimes retorted that it never happened.
Primary Health planning to build
Downtown Sharon is looking forward to its first new office building since 1969.
Primary Health Network is planning a $20 million development that will put 130 people to work in a five-story medical-professional office building at the corner of Vine Avenue and Pitt Street.
2 commissioners talk up getting word out, helpline
In what Commissioner Matt McConnell called the “everyday mundane business of running the county” two of the three county officials discussed everything from the 2-1-1 helpline to parking problems to building sheep pens to the idea of using social media to spread information to residents.
Mom sentenced to prison, rehab
A Mercer woman who pleaded guilty to charges she caused an accident while high on drugs with her four kids in the car will “be out on probation very quickly,” the judge said.
Testimony heard on billboard appeal
Images of the Old West flew like bullets from a six-shooter as a Westmoreland County company asked the Hermitage Zoning Hearing Board to shoot down the city’s zoning ordinance.
- More Local News Headlines
- Woman admits to burning down daughter's home