Sunday, October 9, 2016

Diary of Gideon Welles: Tuesday, December 3, 1862

It is a month since I have opened this book and been able to make any record of current events. A pressure of public business, the preparation of my Annual Report, and domestic sorrows have consumed all my waking moments. A light, bright, cherub face, which threw its sunshine on our household when this book was last opened, has disappeared forever. My dear Hubert, who was a treasure garnered in my heart, is laid beside his five brothers and sisters in Spring Grove. Well has it been for me that overwhelming public duties have borne down upon me in these sad days. Alas, frail life! amid the nation's grief I have my own.

A change of the commander of the Army of the Potomac has taken place. Stanton is gratified. McClellan is ordered to Trenton, and Burnside succeeds him. Burnside will doubtless do his best, is patriotic and amiable, and, had he greater powers and grasp, would make an acceptable and popular, if not a great, general. I hope the War Department will sustain him more earnestly than it did McClellan. Of the change I knew nothing and wished to know nothing when it was made. I had expected it might take place earlier, when McClellan seemed testing the forbearance of the Government, and not one good word was said for him. It seemed there could not be, but after he commenced to move, I was less prepared to see him displaced and the announcement came with a shock. We shall see what Burnside can do and how he will be seconded by other generals and the War Department.

The November elections have not been favorable to the Administration. To a great extent its friends are responsible. Some active and leading Republican minds have ability and talent to abuse, berate, traduce, often in secret, and assail, and these gifts are directed against the Administration. The worst of them are opposed to the Government and violently opposed to its being administered by Democrats.

The efforts of the officers under General Dix and [of] the General himself, aided by the War and Treasury Departments, have finally so far prevailed that the blockading squadron is to allow vessels to pass on a permit from General Dix's military staff. I declined to recognize any such practice unless by special order of the President, who can if he pleases modify the blockade. To allow exports and imports is inconsistent with a rigid and honest blockade. There has been a good deal of manoeuvring, much backing and filling. The prize is great. Civilians, quasi-military men, etc., are interested, — men of political influence. Dix has made three distinct visits to Washington on the subject. Some of his staff and Treasury agents were urgent. I do not think military operations at Fortress Monroe and its vicinity were suspended or that they suffered by the absence of Dix. Repeated discussions took place in the Cabinet. My determination being fixed, it became necessary the President should issue an order. Chase and Stanton each prepared a form for the President to sign. Stanton's was adopted. When the President signed it, I proposed that Nicolay should make duplicates, one for me. Stanton thought it unnecessary, said he would make and send me a perfect copy as soon as he reached the War Department. This was on Tuesday, the 11th of November. On Wednesday, having business with the President, I asked if he retained a copy. He said he did not, but, remembering Stanton's promise and my objections to the proceedings, he manifested his surprise that Stanton had failed to supply me; wished me to call on Stanton and get it. I did stop at the War Department on my return. S. professed astonishment, said he had entirely forgotten it, that it was in his pocket, had never been taken out. On Friday morning, the 14th, I received from Captain Turner, senior officer at Hampton Roads, a letter inclosing a copy of the President's order, with a letter from Stanton to General Dix inclosing it, dated the very day on which the order was issued, although he assured me the dispatch was in his pocket wholly forgotten. The copy which he sent me and the copy from the naval officer at Hampton Roads reached me at the same time. Turner had properly refused to recognize the order sent by Stanton as authentic, — would not obey it unless received through the Navy Department. It is unnecessary to comment further than to say there was something more than right in the transaction.

My Annual Report, which is necessarily long, appears to have been well received. The New York papers give it approval, some of them reluctant approval. The Herald says it is a document highly creditable to the country but not to the Secretary. I am informed this article is by Bartlett, who continues to be malignantly angry because I would not purchase vessels through his agency. He confessed to a friend that he had been disappointed in not making a hundred thousand dollars through the Navy Department, and sent me word that I should feel his vengeance, for he controlled the New York press. It seems the papers of that city are, on naval matters, shaped and directed much as he wishes and said they should be. The Times, where Thurlow Weed influences the pliant Raymond, says the Report is too much in detail, is not what it should be, but is able, etc. The Evening Post says nothing, publishes a brief summary only. The World publishes it in full without a word of comment. The National Intelligencer compliments it highly, and so do several of the Philadelphia papers which have been sent me. The World of to-day has a complimentary article on the Secretary of the Navy.

Some grumbling I anticipated from New London and its vicinity for doing my duty. I last March, and again in June, addressed Congress through the Navy Committee on the need of a suitable navy yard and establishment for the construction of iron vessels and iron armor. The suggestions drew from the city of Philadelphia an offer of League Island. I thought, if the latter place was suitable, a change might be made without increasing the number of yards. Congress authorized me to accept it, but Senator Foster of Connecticut procured a condition to be affixed that the Board which was to examine League Island with a view of substituting it for the most limited yard should also examine and report on the harbor of New London, and the Rhode Island Senators had a further proviso that the waters of Narragansett Bay should be also examined by the same board.

For an iron navy yard and establishment neither myself nor any one else entertained a thought of New London or Narragansett Bay, nor would either be exactly suitable for iron vessels and machinery; fresh water is essential. Neither would Congress consent, nor does the country require four navy yards east of the Hudson. But the Board I appointed had some disagreement. Admiral Stringham, Chairman of the Board, and a resident of Brooklyn, had a rival feeling as regards Philadelphia, and a partiality for New London, where he had studied in his youth. Professor Bache, Superintendent of the Coast Survey, who was one of the Board, was even adroit. The Board was divided, and, forgetful of the great object in view, — that of an establishment for iron vessels in fresh water and the suitability of League Island, — a majority reported that New London was the best place for such a navy yard. Not unlikely the fact that I am from Connecticut had its influence with some of them, though it has not with me. I am authorized by Congress to accept League Island if the Board report it suitable, but I am not authorized to accept of New London or Narragansett Bay. But I conclude to take no final step without giving Congress an opportunity to decide, though stating I propose to accept of League Island, which would change but not increase the number of yards, if Congress did not disapprove. I am acting for the country, not for any section, or city, or set of speculators, and though I have a partiality for my State, and for New London, where I have many excellent friends, yet I should be unworthy of my place were I to permit local or selfish interests of any kind to control me against what is really best for the country. But, while convinced I am right, and deserving of approval, I shall encounter censure and abuse in quarters where I desire the good opinions of my fellow citizens

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 182-6

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