Saturday, January 21, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Tuesday, February 25, 1863

Had a brief call from General McClellan this p.m. He looks in good health, but is evidently uncomfortable in mind. Our conversation was general, — of the little progress made, the censoriousness of the public, of the dissatisfaction towards both of us, etc., etc. The letter of General Scott, of the 4th of October, 1861, complaining of his disrespect and wanting obedience, is just brought out.

I well remember an interview between these two officers about the period that letter was written, the President, myself, and two or three others being present. It was in General Scott's rooms opposite the War Office. In the course of conversation, which related to military operations, a question arose as to the number of troops there were in and about Washington. Cameron could not answer the question; McClellan did not; General Scott said no reports were made to him; the President was disturbed. At this moment Seward stated the several commands,—how many regiments had reported in a few days, and the aggregate at the time of the whole force. The statement was made from a small paper, and, appealing to McClellan, that officer replied that the statement approximated the truth. General Scott's countenance showed great displeasure. “This,” said the veteran warrior, “is a remarkable state of things. I am in command of the armies of the United States, but have been wholly unable to get any reports, any statement of the actual forces, but here is the Secretary of State, a civilian, for whom I have great respect but who is not a military man nor conversant with military affairs, though his abilities are great, but this civilian is possessed of facts which are withheld from me. Military reports are made, not to these Headquarters but to the State Department. Am I, Mr. President, to apply to the Secretary of State for the necessary military information to discharge my duties?”

Mr. Seward explained that he had got his information by vigilance and attention, keeping account of the daily arrival of regiments, etc., etc. There was a grim smile on the old soldier. “And you, without report, probably ascertained where each regiment was ordered. Your labors and industry, Mr. Secretary of State, I know are very arduous, but I did not before know the whole of them. If you in that way can get accurate information, the Rebels can also, though I cannot.”

Cameron here broke in, half in earnest and half-ironical, and said we all knew that Seward was meddlesome, interfering in all the Departments with what was none of his business. He thought we had better go to our duties. It was a pleasant way of breaking up an unpleasant interview, and we rose to leave. McClellan was near the open door, and General Scott addressed him by name. “You,” said the aged hero, “were called here by my advice. The times require vigilance and activity. I am not active and never shall be again. When I proposed that you should come here to aid, not supersede, me, you had my friendship and confidence. You still have my confidence.”

I had, in the early stages of the War, disapproved of the policy of General Scott, which was purely defensive, — non-intercourse with the insurgents, shut them out from the world by blockade and military frontier lines, but not to invade their territory. The anaconda policy was, I then thought and still think, unwise for the country. The policy of General McClellan has not been essentially different, but he was called here with the assent if not by the recommendation of General Scott. It was evident from what transpired at the interview here mentioned that Mr. Seward, who had been in close intimacy with the veteran commander at first, had transferred his intimacy to the junior general, and the former felt it, — saw that he was becoming neglected, —  and his pride was wounded.

That Seward kept himself well informed in the way he stated, I think was true, and he likely had his information confirmed by McClellan, with whom he almost daily compared notes and of whom he made inquiries. But McClellan is by nature reticent, — in many respects a good quality. Seward has great industry and an inquiring mind, and loves to possess himself of everything that transpires. Has an unfortunate inclination to run to subordinates for information. Has in Meigs a willing assistant, and others who think it a compliment to be consulted by the Secretary of State, and are ready to impart to him all they know of the doings and intentions of their superiors. He has by his practice encouraged the President to do likewise and get at facts indiscreetly; but the President does this because he feels a delicacy in intruding, especially in business hours, on the heads of Departments. S. has no such delicacy, but a craving desire to be familiar with the transactions of each Department.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 240-3

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