Early in April, 1861, while on duty in the adjutant general's office in Washington, I learned that Colonel Sumner had been dispatched incog. to California, with secret orders to assume command of the department of the Pacific, and that this unusual course had been prompted by the fear that the forts and arsenals and garrisons on that coast would be placed in the hands of the secessionists by General Johnston, the then commander, who was reported to be arranging to do so.
I had just received a letter from General Johnston expressing his pleasure at the large and handsome parade of State troops in San Francisco, on February 22d, and at the undoubted loyalty to the Union cause of the whole Pacific coast, and also his earnest hope that the patriotic spirit manifested in California existed as strongly in all other States, and would as surely be maintained by them as it would be in the Pacific States in case of attempted secession.
Fearing the effect of the superseding orders upon a high-toned and sensitive officer, one whom I esteemed as a brother, and earnestly desired to be secured to our cause, I induced Major McDowell to show the letter to Secretary Cameron, and to urge every effort to keep General Johnston from leaving the service. His superior qualifications, his influence among prominent citizens at the South, and especially among his relatives in his native State, Kentucky, -- which it was exceedingly desirable to keep in the Union, -- were strong inducements to these efforts. My desire was met as cordially and earnestly as it existed, and I was authorized to send, as I did through my friend "Ben Holliday," in New York, for transmission by telegraph to St. Louis, and thence by his "pony express" to San Francisco, the following message: "I take the greatest pleasure in assuring you, for the Secretary of War, that he has the utmost confidence in you, and will give you the most important command and trust on your arrival here. Sidney is appointed to the Military Academy." This message reached General Johnston after the arrival of Colonel Sumner.
In response to the above, and by the same channel of communication, I received this message: "I thank you and my friends for efforts in my behalf. I have resigned and resolved to follow the fortunes of my State." His letter of resignation was soon received, and put an end to all hope, especially as Texas -- which had then seceded -- was his adopted State.
I felt in 1861, as I now know, that the assertion that General Johnston intended to turn over to the secessionists the defenses of California, or any part of the regular army, was false and absurd. Under no circumstances, even if intended, could such a plan have succeeded, especially with the regular army. But no such breach of trust was intended, nor would any graduate of West Point in the army have committed or permitted it. It had no better foundation than the statement of Senator Conness of California, who three years later urged and secured the assignment of General McDowell to command on the Pacific coast, on the ground that after the war for the Union should have ended there would be in California a more powerful rebellion than that then existing among the Southern States.
Fitz John Porter
New York, December 8, 1884
New York, December 8, 1884