Monday, August 29, 2016

Diary of Gideon Welles: Saturday, October 18, 1862

The ravages by the roving steamer 290, alias Alabama, are enormous. England should be held accountable for these outrages. The vessel was built in England and has never been in the ports of any other nation. British authorities were warned of her true character repeatedly before she left. Seward called on me in some excitement this p.m., and wished me to meet the President, himself, Stanton, and Halleck at the War Department relative to important dispatches just received. As we walked over together, he said we had been very successful in getting a dispatch, which opened up the whole Rebel proceedings, — disclosed their plans and enabled us to prepare for them; that it was evident there was a design to make an immediate attack on Washington by water, and it would be well to buy vessels forthwith if we had not a sufficient number ready for the purpose. When we entered Stanton's room, General Halleck was reading the document alluded to and examining the maps. No one else was present. Stanton had left the Department. The President was in the room of the telegraph operator. The document purported to be a dispatch from General Cooper, Assistant Secretary of War of the Confederates, to one of the Rebel agents in England. A question arose as to the authenticity of the dispatch. Halleck, who is familiar with Cooper's signature, doubted after examining the paper if this was genuine. Adjutant-General Thomas was sent for and requested to bring Cooper's signature for comparison. Seward then took the papers and commenced reading aloud. The writer spoke of “the mountains of Arlington,” “the fleet of the Potomac,” “the fleet of the North,” etc. I interrupted Seward, and said it was a clumsy manufacture; that the dispatch could have been written by no American, certainly not by General Cooper, or any person conversant with our affairs or the topography of the country; that there were no mountains of Arlington, no fleet of the Potomac, or fleet of the North. General Halleck mentioned one or two other points which impressed him that the dispatch was bogus. The President came in while we were criticizing the document, the reading of which was concluded by Seward, when the President took the papers and map to examine them. General Thomas soon brought a number of Cooper's signatures, and all were satisfied at a glance that the purported signature was fictitious.

Seward came readily to the opinion that the papers were bogus and that the consul, or minister, — he did not say which, — had been sadly imposed upon, — sold. The dispatch had, he said, cost a good deal of money. It was a palpable cheat. It may be a question whether the British authorities have not connived at it, to punish our inquisitive countrymen for trying to pry into their secrets. It is just five weeks since the Battle of Antietam, and the army is quiet, reposing in camp. The country groans, but nothing is done. Certainly the confidence of the people must give way under this fatuous inaction. We have sinister rumors of peace intrigues and strange management. I cannot give them credit, yet I know little of what is being done. The Secretary of War is reticent, vexed, disappointed, and communicates nothing. Neither he nor McClellan will inspire or aid the other.

Chase is pursuing a financial policy which I fear will prove disastrous, perhaps ruinous. His theories in regard to gold and currency appear to me puerile. General Dix is pressing schemes in regard to the blockade and trade at Norfolk which are corrupt and demoralizing. Dix himself is not selling licenses, but the scoundrels who surround him are, and he can hardly be ignorant of the fact. The gang of rotten officers on his staff have sent him here. One of the worst has his special confidence, and Dix is under the influence of this cunning, bad man. He has plundering thieves about him, — some, I fear, as destitute of position as honesty. McClellan is not accused of corruption, but of criminal inaction. His inertness makes the assertions of his opponents prophetic. He is sadly afflicted with what the President calls the “slows.” Many believe him to be acting on the army programme avowed by Key

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 175-7

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