Saturday, July 16, 2016

Diary of Gideon Welles: Thursday, October 9, 1862

Letter to Senator Fessenden in regard to dismissal of Preble, stating the case, — the fault, the dismissal, and the impossibility of revoking it without injury to the service. The subject is a difficult one to handle. His friends believe he has great merit as an officer, when he has but little, whatever may be his learning, respectability, and worth as a gentleman. It will not do to tell his friends the truth, for they would denounce it as unjust; besides it is ungenerous to state unpleasant facts of a stricken man. A more difficult letter to answer was one from Captain Adams, who commanded the naval force off Pensacola in the spring of 1861.

Got off two long communications to Seward on the subject of reciprocal search and the belligerent right of search, the British treaty and the Danish agreement, law and instructions, — a queer medley of feeble diplomacy, poor administration, illegality, departure from usage, etc., etc. Dahlgren is grieved with my action in his case. He desires, beyond almost any one, the high honors of his profession, and has his appetite stimulated by the partiality of the President, who does not hesitate to say to him and to me, that he will give him the highest grade if I will send him a letter to that effect, or a letter of appointment. Title irregularly obtained cannot add to Dahlgren's reputation, yet he cannot be reasoned with. He has yet rendered no service afloat during the war, — has not been under fire, — and is not on the direct road for professional advancement. But he is a favorite with the President and knows it. The army practice of favoritism and political partyism cannot be permitted in the Navy. Its effect will be more demoralizing than that of the military, where it is bad enough. I am compelled, therefore, to stand between the President and Dahlgren's promotion, in order to maintain the service in proper condition. Dahlgren has the sagacity and professional intelligence to know I am right, and to appreciate my action though adverse to himself. He therefore now seeks service afloat. Wants an opportunity to acquire rank and distinction, but that opportunity must be a matter of favor. His last request was to be permitted to capture Charleston. This would give him éclat. I told him I could not rob Du Pont of that honor, but that if he wished I would give him an opportunity to participate, and understood from him it would be acceptable. I therefore tendered him an ironclad and the place of ordnance officer, he retaining his position at the head of the Bureau, with leave of absence as a volunteer to fight.

My proposition has not been received in the manner I expected. He thinks the tender of a single ship to an officer who has had a navy yard and is now in the Bureau, derogatory, yet, wishing active service as the means of promotion, intimates he will accept and resign the Bureau. This I can't countenance or permit. It would not meet the views of the President, would be wrong to the service, and a great wrong to the country, for him to leave the Ordnance Bureau, where he is proficient and can be most useful. His specialty is in that branch of the service; he knows his own value there at this time, and for him to leave it now would be detrimental to the object he desires to attain. He is not conscious of it, but he has Dahlgren more than the service in view. Were he to be present at the capture of Charleston as a volunteer who had temporarily left the Bureau for that special service, it would redound to his credit, and make him at least second to Du Pont in the glory of the achievement.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 163-5

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