There has been fighting for two or three days at Fredericksburg, and our troops were said to have crossed the river. The rumor at the War Department — and I get only rumor — is that our troops have done well, that Burnside and our generals are in good spirits; but there is something unsatisfactory, or not entirely satisfactory, in this intelligence, or in the method of communicating it. When I get nothing clear and explicit at the War Department I have my apprehensions. They fear to admit disastrous truths. Adverse tidings are suppressed, with a deal of fuss and mystery, a shuffling over of papers and maps, and a far-reaching vacant gaze at something undefined and indescribable.
Burnside is on trial. I have my fears that he has not sufficient grasp and power for the position given him, or the ability to handle so large a force; but he is patriotic, and his aims are right. It appears to me a mistake to fight the enemy in so strong a position. They have selected their own ground, and we meet them there. Halleck is General-in-Chief, but no one appears to have any confidence in his military management, or thinks him able to advise Burnside.
Just at this juncture a great force has been fitted out and sent off under Banks. It has struck me as strange that Banks was not sent up James River with a gunboat force. Such a movement would have caused a diversion on the part of the Rebels and have thrown them into some confusion, by compelling them to draw off from their strong position at Fredericksburg. But to send an army up James River, from which he has just withdrawn McClellan, against the remonstrance of that general and in opposition to the opinion of many good officers, would, in the act itself, be a confession unpleasant to Halleck. This is the aspect of things to me. A day or two will solve the problem of this generalship and military management.
Assistant Secretary Fox had yesterday an invitation to dine with Lord Lyons, and informed me before he went that he had an idea or intimation there was a wish to learn what were my views of the recent slave treaty. I told him there was no secret or ulterior purpose on my part, and that my opinions were frankly stated in the correspondence with Seward. Returning in the evening, Fox called at my house and said that the object was as I [sic] had supposed. After hearing from Fox what my views were, Lord Lyons said he well understood and rightly appreciated my position, and was inclined to believe I was correct. Assured of that and that I would come into the measure, he would assent to a declaratory or supplementary clause ratifying the matter, and make the belligerent right of search and the treaty right of search compatible. I requested Fox, as they had sought to get my opinion through him, to let Lord Lyons and Secretary Seward both understand that I had no hidden purpose but only the rights of the country in view.
This whole roundabout proceeding is one of Seward’s schemes — and he thinks it a very cunning one — to get his mistake rectified without acknowledging his error. Lord Lyons is no more blind to this trick than I am.
Wrote Naval Committee on Friday respecting the construction of some large steamers for cruising, and, if necessary, offensive purposes
SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 191-3