Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Antietam: Connecticut connection to 'Lost Order'

Above: A post-Civil War photo of the Platner & Porter paper mill in Unionville, Conn.
Union School is on the site today. (Top photo courtesy Cliff Alderman/Unionville Museum)

In a quirk of history, the infamous "Lost Order" that could have led to the demise of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at the Battle of Antietam was printed on paper made in a Northern factory, according to a Connecticut museum president.

A Northern factory in Unionville, Conn.

Samuel Porter
(Photo courtesy Cliff Alderman/
Unionville Museum)
Samuel Porter, an ardent supporter of Abraham Lincoln, owned the Platner & Porter paper mill in Unionville from 1848 until the late 1870s. The factory, which was torn down in 1933, printed high-quality writing paper that was often purchased by the U.S. government. Porter was one of the most prominent citizens in Unionville, a sleepy village along the Farmington River, about 15 miles west of  Hartford. In a glowing obituary in the Hartford Courant the day of his death on Feb. 22, 1903, the newspaper noted that "no (Unionville) citizen was ever more highly respected or more universally beloved than he."

Cliff Alderman, president of the Unionville Museum, answered a few questions about the mill, Porter and the Lost Order.

When did you first come across the Lost Order connection to Unionville and what was your reaction?

Alderman: I first came across the information on the Lost Order and that it was printed on paper embossed "Platner & Porter, Congress" when I was browsing for Unionville historical information online.  I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the reference to it.

Who was Samuel Porter, the owner of the mill?

Alderman: Samuel Quincy Porter (1821-1907) was a fascinating local figure.  A native of Lee, Mass., he came to Unionville in the late 1840s when he and his business partner, William Platner, purchased a Unionville paper mill.  He and Platner turned the business into one of the preeminent paper manufacturers in the country.  Porter was a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago, which nominated Abraham Lincoln for president. He supported local abolitionist causes, represented Farmington and Unionville in the state legislature and was later a state banking commissioner.  During his term of service in the state legislature in 1869, he cast his vote in support of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed the voting rights of former slaves.  Porter's first wife died at a young age; his second wife, Frances Smith, was a first cousin of J. Pierpont Morgan, who at the time was considered one of the wealthiest men in America.

A post-Civil War view of the Platner & Porter paper mill in Unionville, Conn. The mill
is in the upper left. (Photo courtesy Cliff Alderman/Unionville Museum)

What do you know about the paper mill that printed the Lost Order?

Alderman: Porter and Platner purchased the Stone & Carrington paper mill in Unionville in 1848.  We know from James Cowles' essay on Unionville published  in John Hammond Trumbull's 1886 work, The Memorial History of Hartford County, that Platner and Porter leased additional power and within a few years built an additional mill. Cowles noted that the new mill and tenements erected by Messrs. Platner & Porter were models of neatness and good taste and that these gentlemen gave a tone and character to the village that up to that time had been wanting.  In 1860, they reorganized as The Platner & Porter Manufacturing Co. with a capital of $85,000 and were known as manufacturers of fine writing and book papers.  Platner left the mill in the 1860s, but Porter remained on as president until the late 1870s, when the mill was sold; it later became part of the American Writing Paper Co. The mill made fine writing and book papers and supplied paper to the U.S. government. Walt Whitman's handmade notebooks in the Library of Congress and some of Mark Twain's personal correspondence and manuscripts used Platner & Porter paper.

Are the any other notable Civil War connections to the paper mill?

Occasionally significant letters from Civil War era figures come up for sale at auction. Several years ago, a letter written by Confederate president Jefferson Davis on Platner & Porter paper was sold at auction for a high price.  Southern state government archives supposedly are full of documents written on Platner & Porter paper.

A copy of Robert E. Lee's infamous Lost Order, also known as Special Order No. 191. 
Discovered  by Union soldiers in an envelope with two cigars in a field on the Best Farm,
 near Frederick, Md., on Sept. 13, 1862, the order was turned over to Major General George McClellan.
"Here is a paper with which, if I cannot whip Bobby Lee, I will be willing to go home,"  McClellan said.
 (Image Library of Congress site)

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