Friday, December 9, 2016

Diary of Gideon Welles: Saturday, January 3, 1863

We have, yesterday and to-day, broken accounts of a great fight for three days — and not yet terminated — at Murfreesborough, Tennessee. All statements say we have the best, that we shall beat the Rebels, that we have pierced their centre, that we are driving them through M., etc. I hope to hear we have done instead of we “shall” do. None of our army fights have been finished, but are drawn battles, — worrying, exhausting, but never completed. Of Rosecrans I have thought better and hope a good account of his work, but the best sometimes fail, and he may not be best.

A word by telegraph that the Monitor has foundered and over twenty of her crew, including some officers, are lost. The fate of this vessel affects me in other respects. She is a primary representative of a class identified with my administration of the Navy. Her novel construction and qualities I adopted and she was built amidst obloquy and ridicule. Such a change in the character of a fighting vessel few naval men, or any Secretary under their influence, would have taken the responsibility of adopting. But Admiral Smith and finally all the Board which I appointed seconded my views, and were willing, Davis somewhat reluctantly, to recommend the experiment if I would assume the risk and responsibility. Her success with the Merrimac directly after she went into commission relieved me of odium and anxiety, and men who were preparing to ridicule were left to admire.

When Bushnell of New Haven brought me the first model and plan, I was favorably impressed. I was then in Hartford, proposing to remove my family, but sent him at once to Washington, following myself within a day or two. Understanding that Ericsson, the inventor, was sensitive in consequence of supposed slight and neglect by the Navy Department or this Government some years ago, I made it a point to speak to Admiral Smith, Chairman of the Board, and specially request that he should be treated tenderly, and opportunity given him for full and deliberate hearing. I found Admiral Smith well disposed. The plan was adopted, and the test of her fighting and resisting power was by an arrangement between Admiral Smith and myself, without communication with any other, that she should, when completed, go at once up Elizabeth River to Norfolk Navy Yard, and destroy the Merrimac while in the dry dock, and the dock itself. Had she been completed within the contract time, one hundred days, this purpose would have been accomplished, but there was delay and disappointment, and her prowess was exhibited in a conflict with her huge antagonist under much more formidable circumstances. Her career since the time she first entered Hampton Roads is public history, but her origin, and everything in relation to her, from the inception, have been since her success designedly misrepresented.

Admiral Smith beyond any other person is deserving of credit, if credit be due any one connected with the Navy Department for this vessel. Had she been a failure, he, more than any one but the Secretary, would have been blamed, and [he] was fully aware that he would have to share with me the odium and the responsibility. Let him, therefore, have the credit which is justly his.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 213-5

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