Saturday, August 13, 2016

Diary of Gideon Welles: Wednesday, October 15, 1862

General Dix came to see me in relation to the blockade of Norfolk. Says Admiral Lee is extremely rigid, allows no traffic; that the people of Norfolk are suffering, though in his opinion one half the people are loyal. The place, he says, is in the military occupation of the Government and therefore is not liable to, and cannot, be blockaded. Tells me he has been reading on the question, and consulting General Halleck, who agrees with him. I told him if Norfolk was not, and could not be, a blockaded port, I should be glad to be informed of the fact; that the President had declared the whole coast and all ports blockaded from the eastern line of Virginia to the Rio Grande, with the exception of Key West. Congress, though preferring the closing of the ports, had recognized and approved the fact, and authorized the President from time to time, as we recovered possession, to open ports at his discretion by proclamation. That he had so opened the ports of Beaufort, Port Royal, and New Orleans, but not Norfolk. If he was disposed to raise the blockade of that port, I should not oppose it but be glad of it. That I had so informed the President and others, but there was unqualified and emphatic opposition in the War Department to such a step. If he would persuade the Secretary of War to favor the measure, there would be little resistance in any other quarter. Perhaps he and General Halleck could overrule the objections of the Secretary of War. That I intended to occupy no equivocal attitude. This was not to be a sham blockade, so far as I was concerned. I thought, with him, that as Norfolk was in the military occupancy of our armies and to continue so, there was no substantial reason for continuing the blockade; that not only humanity towards the people but good policy on the part of the Administration required we should extend and promote commercial intercourse. Commerce promotes friendship. It would induce the people in other localities to seek the same privileges by sustaining the Union cause. That, as things were, Admiral Lee was doing his duty and obeying instructions in rigidly enforcing the blockade. That I was opposed to favoritism. There should be either intercourse or non-intercourse; if the port was open to trade, all our citizens, and foreigners also, should be treated alike.

“But,” said General Dix, “I don't want the blockade of Norfolk raised; that won't answer.”

“Yet you tell me there is no blockade; that it has ended, and cannot exist because we are in military possession.”

“Well,” said he, “that is so; we are in military occupancy and must have our supplies.”

“That,” I replied, “is provided for. Admiral Lee allows all vessels with army supplies, duly permitted, to pass.”

“But,” continued he, “we must have more than that. The people will suffer.”

“Then,” said I, “they must return to duty and not persist in rebellion. The object of the blockade is to make them suffer. I want no double-dealing or false pretenses. There is, or there is not, a blockade. If there is, I shall, until the President otherwise directs, enforce it. If there is not, the world should know it. Should the blockade be modified, we shall conform to the modifications.”
The General thought it unnecessary to tell the world the blockade was modified or removed. I thought we should make the changes public as the declaration of blockade itself, if we would maintain good faith. He seemed to have no clear conception of things; thought there ought to have never been a blockade. In that I concurred. Told him I had taken that view at the commencement, but had been overruled; we had placed ourselves in a wrong position at the beginning, made the Rebels belligerents, given them nationality, — an error and an anomaly. It was one of Mr. Seward's mistakes.

A letter has been shown about, and is to-day published, purporting to be from General Kearny, who fell at Chantilly. The letter is addressed to O. S. Halstead of New Jersey. It expresses his views and shows his feelings towards McClellan, who, he says, “positively has no talents.” How many officers have written similar private letters is unknown. “We have no generals,” says this letter of Kearny.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 172-4

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