Friday, February 24, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Friday, April 17, 1863

No reports from Charleston. Am in hopes that side issues and by-play on the Mississippi are about over and that there will be some concentrated action. Porter should go below Vicksburg and not remain above, thereby detaining Farragut, who is below, from great and responsible duties at New Orleans and on the Gulf. The weak and sensitive feeling of being outranked and made subordinate in command should never influence an officer in such an emergency. Porter has great vanity and great jealousy but knows his duty, and I am surprised he does not perform it. Wrote him a fortnight since a letter which he cannot misunderstand, and which will not, I hope, wound his pride.

But little was before the Cabinet, which of late can hardly be called a council. Each Department conducts and manages its own affairs, informing the President to the extent it pleases. Seward encourages this state of things. He has less active duties than others, and watches and waits on the President daily, and gathers from him the doings of his associates and often influences indirectly and not always advantageously their measures and movements, while he communicates very little, especially of that which he does not wish them to know.

Blair walked over with me from the White House to the Navy Department, and I showed him the correspondence which had taken place respecting captured mails. Understanding Seward thoroughly, as he does, he detected the sly management by which Seward first got himself in difficulty and is now striving to get out of it. My course he pronounced correct, and he declared that the President must not be entrapped into any false step to extricate Seward, who, he says, is the least of a statesman and knows less of public law and of administrative duties than any man who ever held a seat in the Cabinet. This is a strong statement, but not so overstated as would be generally supposed. I have been surprised to find him so unpractical, so erratic, so little acquainted with the books, — he has told me more than once that he never opened them, that he was too old to study. He has, with all his bustle and activity, but little application; relies on Hunter and his clerk, Smith, perhaps Gushing also, to sustain him and hunt up his authorities; commits himself, as in the case of the mails, without knowing what he is about.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 274-5

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