May 26, 1835 – April 28, 1910
“As soon as the right to secede was denied by the North, I strongly approved of its assertion and maintenance by force if necessary . . . The Confederacy was raising an army. The only place for me was in that army,” Porter Alexander wrote matter-of-factly in his memoirs. The Georgia native graduated third in his class from West Point in 1857, and then helped develop for the army the wigwag (semaphore) communications system of sending messages by means of signal flags. Alexander entered Confederate service as a captain in the Engineer Corps and used his signaling system at the 1st Batle of Bull Run to alert the Rebel line of the Union movement around their left flank.
Few soldiers saw more service during the war than Porter Alexander. He watched the 1862 Battle of Gaines’s Mill from an observation balloon while he was serving as chief of the army’s ordnance. But by the end of that year, he had been promoted to colonel and given command of the I Corps artillery. His well placed cannon at the Battle of Fredericksburg played a huge role in defeating the Union army, and again at Chancellorsville, he skillfully deployed his weapons in that Rebel victory. Alexander commanded 140 cannon in the bombardment that preceded Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, and then campaigned in Tennessee with the I Corps that fall. He was promoted to brigadier general in the spring and fought in the Battles of Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor. He recovered from a sharpshooter’s bullet in the shoulder received at Petersburg in time to participate in the final march to Appomattox.
Alexander was a prominent and valuable citizen after the war, but his greatest gift may well be the memories of the war he recorded for posterity. He eloquently recounted his experiences and described the soldiers and commanders of the great Rebel army with wonderful candor. His recollections of the sights, sounds, and smells of the battle and camp were fascinating.
Fascinating Fact: To surprise his wife, Porter came home after the war unannounced, but “she knew the rush of my feet up the stairs the moment she heard it, and as I opened the door she was in the middle of the room advancing to meet me.”