Sunday, August 7, 2016

Diary of Gideon Welles: Tuesday, October 14, 1862

The Secretary of State sends me an important dispatch from Stuart, British Chargé d'Affaires during the absence of Lord Lyons, in which he undertakes to object, unofficially, to the purchase by the Government of the steamer Bermuda, a prize captured last April, until the judgment of the court shall have been pronounced. Seward gives in, cringes under these supercilious and arrogant claims and assumptions. It sometimes appears to me there is a scheme among some of the legations to see how far they can impose upon our Secretary of State by flattery and pretension. I have written a reply which will be likely, I think, to settle Mr. Stuart, and possibly annoy Mr. Seward, who, since the affair of the Trent, when at first he took high and untenable ground, has lost heart and courage, and is provokingly submissive to British exactions. I hope he will let Stuart have my letter. It touches on some points which I wish to force on the attention of the English Government.

Stanton read a dispatch from General Pope, stating that the Indians in the Northwest had surrendered and he was anxious to execute a number of them. The Winnebagoes, who have not been in the fight, are with him, and he proposes to ration them at public expense through the winter. He has, Stanton says, destroyed the crops of the Indians, etc. I was disgusted with the whole thing; the tone and opinions of the dispatch are discreditable. It was not the production of a good man or a great one. The Indian outrages have, I doubt not, been horrible; what may have been the provocation we are not told. The Sioux and Ojibbeways are bad, but the Winnebagoes have good land which white men want and mean to have.

The evening papers contain a partisan speech from John Van Buren,1 in which he introduces a letter of General Scott, dated the 3d of March, 1861, addressed to Seward. It was familiar. I have heard it read twice by General S. himself, the first time, directly after the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, in the War Department, but I had the impression it was addressed to the President instead of Seward. For what reason it was placed in the hands of John Van Buren I do not understand. The General thought much of this letter, and wrote it, as I supposed, to influence the then incoming administration, but it was wholly inconclusive when decision was wanted. He was in those days listened to by both the President and Secretary of State, and his indecisive policy had probably an effect on them as well as others. I have since come to the conclusion that the General's own course was shaped by Seward, and that, after Seward put him aside, took Meigs into his confidence, and got up the military expedition to Pickens without his knowledge, General Scott, in justification of himself and to show his own views independent of the Secretary of State, was decidedly for the Union.

His influence in the early months of the Administration was, in some respects, unfortunate. It was a maze of uncertainty and indecision. He was sincerely devoted to the Union and anxious that the Rebellion should be extinguished, yet shrank from fighting. Seward had brought him into his policy of meeting aggression with concession. Blockade some of the worst cities, or shut up their ports, guard them closely, collect duties on shipboard, or “let the wayward sisters go in peace.”2 His object seemed to be to avoid hostilities, but to throw the labor of the conflict on the Navy if there was to be war. He still strove, however, as did Seward, to compromise difficulties by a national convention to remodel the Constitution, though aware the Democrats would assent to nothing. General Scott inaugurated the system of frontiers, and did not favor the advance of our armies into the rebellious States. The time for decisive action, he thought, had passed, and those who were for prompt, energetic measures, which, just entering on administrative duties, they desired, were checked by the General-in-Chief.

1 A son of Martin Van Buren and a lawyer of ability. The speech was made in the Cooper Institute, New York, at a meeting to ratify the nomination of Horatio Seymour as Governor of New York by the Democrats.

2 General Scott's expression as given in the letter referred to was, "Wayward sisters, depart in peace."

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 170-2

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