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Porter was born in Black Rock, New York, the only son of Yale lawyer Peter Buell Porter who was a military leader in the War of 1812. He graduated from Harvard, studied at Heidelberg and Berlin, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1857. He also authored plays, poems, and essays. Porter married his cousin Mary Cabell Breckinridge in 1852 and had a son named Peter Augustus Porter.
Porter was a member of the New York State Assembly from 1861–62, and was appointed colonel of the 129th New York State Volunteers on July 7, 1862. The 129th New York State Volunteer Regiment was renamed the 8th New York Heavy Artillery and Porter was appointed Colonel. These units generally guarded the forts around Washington, D.C. and participated in parades used to increase morale in the city in the time of war. However, they were also trained to be used as infantry if necessary. Porter was nominated for New York Secretary of State on September 5, 1863, but declined due to his dedication to the military campaign of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, saying that his neighbors had entrusted him with the lives of their sons and he could not leave them while the war lasted. In May 1864, Porter was ordered by Grant to go to Virginia to join the fighting in the south. Porter was killed on June 3, 1864, leading a charge at Cold Harbor, Virginia. Six bullets were found in his body, and during a rain storm on the night of Cold Harbor's second day, five men of the 8th NYHA (Sgt. Leroy Williams, Galen S. Hicks, John Duff, Walter Harwood, Samuel Traviss and John Heany) brought Porter's body into the US lines. For his participation in recovering Col. Porter's body, Sgt. Williams was later awarded the Medal of Honor. Porter was carried to Baltimore, Maryland, to be met by a military escort and carried to the Episcopal Church where he used to attend services when he lived in that city, and there placed in the chancel draped in the flag of his country. Chaplain De La Matyr accompanied Porter's body back to Niagara Falls. Services for Porter were held at St. Peter's Church, lead by Reverend Dr. Shelton, an Episcopal minister and the same that had given the same last rites to his father, mother, and beloved wife. Following the funeral services at the church, his remains were carried to his final resting place in Oakwood Cemetery.
- GAR in Niagara County
- Peter A. Porter (colonel) at Find a Grave Retrieved on 2008-10-18
- Breckinridge Biographies
- Cold Harbor
- Peter A. Porter (colonel) at Find a Grave Retrieved on 2009-02-16