Saturday, December 10, 2016

Diary of Gideon Welles: Monday, January 5, 1863

Commander Bankhead arrived this morning and brings particulars of the loss of the Monitor. Its weakness was in herself, where we had apprehended, and not in an antagonist. This has been in some degree remedied in the new boats we are now constructing.

For months I have been berated and abused because I had not more vessels of the Monitor class under contract. Her success with the Merrimac when she was under the trial as an experiment made men wild, and they censured me for not having built a fleet when she was constructed. Now that she is lost, the same persons will be likely to assail me for expending money on such a craft.

There is a set of factious fools who think it is wise to be censorious, and it is almost as amusing as it is vexatious to hear and read the remarks of these Solomons. One or two of these officious blockheads make themselves conspicuous in the New York Chamber of Commerce, and none more so than Mr. Charles H. Marshall, who attempts to show off his nautical knowledge by constantly attacking and slandering the Secretary of the Navy. Marshall was formerly a shipmaster and it was his often expressed opinion that no man should be Secretary of the Navy who has not had command of, and the sailing of, a ship. Like many others as simple if not as egotistical, he would have the Secretary who administers the department a sailor and for the same reasons he should be an engineer, naval constructor, etc. On every occasion of disaster, no matter from what cause, this man Marshall imputes it to the fact that the Secretary of the Navy has never commanded a ship, and he never admits that any credit is due the Navy Department for intelligent and correct administration, or the Secretary of the Navy for any success of any kind, whether of a squadron or single ship, because he is not and never was a sea-captain. Marshall has had his prejudices sharpened by others and particularly by Moses H. Grinnell, who thinks a shipping merchant would make a good Secretary of the Navy. Both are disappointed men, and each wants to be at the head of the Navy Department.

Thus far the British pirate named Alabama sailing under Rebel colors has escaped capture. As a consequence there are marvelous accounts of her wonderful speed, and equally marvelous ones of the want of speed of our cruisers. Of course there is no controverting these fables; she will be a myth, a “skimmer of the seas,” till taken, and our own vessels, of better speed and power, will be slandered by the Marshalls and Grinnells as destitute of all speed. There are men of better sense in the Chamber of Commerce, but one of these has been an extensive ship-owner, the other a shipmaster; both are good and well-meaning men, have been successful business men, but are egotistical and vainly weak. Neither is competent to administer the Navy Department.

The loss of the Monitor and the report of Admiral Lee and others of the draft of water at the inlet is unfavorable for a naval attack on the battery at Cape Fear, and the army object to move on Wilmington except in conjunction with the Navy. It is best, therefore, to push on to Charleston and strengthen Du Pont. The War Department promised to send forward to South Carolina an additional military force of ten thousand under General Hunter. Halleck is heavy-headed; wants sagacity, readiness, courage, and heart. I am not an admirer of the man. He may have some talent as a writer and critic; in all military matters he seems destitute of resources, skill, or capacity. He is more tardy and irresolute than McClellan and is deficient in the higher qualities which the latter possessed.

We have further cheering news from Tennessee of the success of Rosecrans at Murfreesborough; also hopeful news from Vicksburg. I do not see that the least credit is due to Halleck in either of these cases, unless for not embarrassing the officers in command.

It was arranged and directed by the President that General McClernand should command the forces which were to cooperate with the Navy at the opening of the navigation of the Mississippi and the capture of Vicksburg. But McClernand has scarcely been heard of. He is not of the Regular Army, and is no favorite, I perceive, with Halleck, though the President entertains a good opinion of him. Blair alluded two or three weeks since to the fact that McClernand was crowded aside; said there was a combination to prevent his having that command. The President started from his chair when the remark was made and said it should not be so. Stanton declared it was not so, that he and Halleck had arranged the matter that day. The President looked surprised and said he supposed it had been done long ago.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 215-7

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