Sunday, October 2, 2016

Diary of Gideon Welles: Tuesday, November 4, 1862

Further news of the depredations by the Alabama. Ordered Dacotah, Ino, Augusta, etc., on her track. The President read in Cabinet to-day his sensible letter of the 13th of October to General McClellan, ordering him to move and to pass down on the east side of the Blue Ridge. McClellan did not wish to move at all. Was ordered by Halleck, and when he found he must move, said he would go down the west side of the mountains, but when he finally started went on the east side without advising H. or the President. Stanton, whose dislike of McC. increases, says that Halleck does not consider himself responsible for army movements or deficiencies this side of the mountains, of which he has had no notice from General McClellan, who neither reports to him nor to the Secretary of War. All his official correspondence is with the President direct and no one else. The President did not assent to the last remarks of Stanton, which were more sneering in manner than words, but said Halleck should be, and would be, considered responsible, for he (the President) had told him (Halleck) that he would at any time remove McC. when H. required it, and that he (the President) would take the entire responsibility of the removal. Mr. Bates quietly suggested that Halleck should take command of the army in person. But the President said, and all the Cabinet concurred in the opinion, that H. would be an indifferent general in the field, that he shirked responsibility in his present position, that he, in short, is a moral coward, worth but little except as a critic and director of operations, though intelligent and educated. Congress wisely ordered a transfer of all war vessels on the Mississippi to the Navy. It was not by my suggestion or procurement that this law was passed, but it was proper. It has, however, greatly disturbed Stanton, who, supported by Halleck and Ellet, opposes a transfer of the ram fleet as not strictly within the letter, though it is undoubtedly the intent of the law. That Ellet should wish a distinct command is not surprising. It is characteristic. He is full of zeal to overflowing; is not, however, a naval man, but is, very naturally, delighted with an independent naval command in this adventurous ram service. It is, however, a pitiful business on the part of Stanton and Halleck, who should take an administrative view and who should be aware there cannot be two distinct commands on the river under different orders from different Departments without endangering collision.

Seward sent me a day or two since a singular note, supercilious in tone, in relation to mails captured on blockade-runners, telling me it is deemed expedient that instructions be given to our naval officers that such mails should not be opened, but that as speedily as possible they be forwarded. Who deems it expedient to give these instructions, which would be illegal, abject, and an unauthorized and unwarranted surrender of our maritime rights? No man the least conversant with admiralty or statute law, usage, or the law of prize, or who knowingly maintains national rights can deem it expedient to give such instructions, and I have declined doing so. The President must give the order, which he will never do if he looks into the subject. This is another exhibition of the weakness and the loose and inconsiderate administrative management of the Secretary of State, who really seems to suppose himself the Government and his whims supreme law. We had this subject up last August, and I then pointed out the impropriety of any attempt to depart from law and usage, but so shaped a set of instructions as to relieve him; but this proceeding is worse than the former. I shall make no farther effort to relieve him, and have told him I cannot go beyond my instructions of the 18th of August last. He professes to believe something more is necessary to keep the English authorities quiet. The truth is he then and now undertook, in a spirit of self-conceit, to do more than he is authorized. Stuart, the English Chargé, knows it; has, I have no doubt, pressed Seward to have instructions issued to our officers which shall come up to the promises he ostentatiously made. He is conscious, I think, that he has been bamboozled, but he will not be able to extricate himself by bamboozling me. His course is sometimes very annoying, and exhibits an indifference which is astonishing in one of his long experience and intellectual capacity.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 179-81

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