Saturday, February 18, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Sunday, April 12, 1863

An intense and anxious feeling on all hands respecting Charleston. Went early to the Department. About 11 A.M. a dispatch from the Navy Yard that the Flambeau had not arrived. The President and Stanton came in a little after noon and waited half an hour, but it was then reported the Flambeau was not yet in sight. I came home much dejected. Between 2 and 3 P.M. Commander Rhind of the Keokuk, Upshur, and Lieutenant Forrest called at my house with dispatches from Du Pont. They were not very full or satisfactory, — contained no details. He has no idea of taking Charleston by the Navy. In this I am not disappointed. He has been coming to that conclusion for months, though he has not said so. The result of this demonstration, though not a success, is not conclusive. The monitor vessels have proved their resisting power, and, but for the submarine obstructions, would have passed the forts and gone to the wharves of Charleston. This in itself is a great achievement.

Went to the Executive Mansion. Read the dispatches to and had full conversation with the President. Sumner came in and participated.

Rhind, an impulsive but brave and rash man, has lost all confidence in armored vessels. When he took command of the Keokuk his confidence was unbounded. His repulse and the loss of his vessel have entirely changed his views. It was, I apprehend, because of this change and his new appointment to armored vessels that he was sent forward with dispatches. He has, I see, been tutored. Thinks wooden vessels with great speed would do as well as ironclads. I agreed that speed was valuable, but the monitors were formidable. In this great fight the accounts speak of but a single man killed and some ten or twelve wounded. What wooden or unarmored vessels could have come out of such a fight with so few disasters. No serious injury happened to the flagship, the Ironsides, which, from some accident, did not get into the fight. We had expected Du Pont and the ironclads would pass Sumter and the forts and receive their fire, but not stop to encounter them.

Du Pont has been allowed to decide for himself in regard to proceedings, has selected, and had, the best officers and vessels in the service, and his force is in every respect picked and chosen. Perhaps I have erred in not giving him orders. Possibly the fact that he was assured all was confided to him depressed and oppressed him with the responsibility, and has prevented him from telling me freely and without reserve his doubts, apprehensions. I have for some time felt that he wanted the confidence that is essential to success. His constant call for more ironclads — for aid — has been a trial. He has been long, very long, getting ready, and finally seems to have come to a standstill, so far as I can learn from Rhind, who is, if not stampeded, disgusted, demoralized, and wholly upset. It is not fear, for he has courage, — to daring, to rashness, — and his zeal, temperament, and ardor are by nature enthusiastic. But these qualities are gone. Why Du Pont should have sent him home to howl, or with a howl, I do not exactly understand. If it was to strengthen faith in himself and impair faith in the monitors the selection was well made. Rhind had too much confidence in his vessel before entering the harbor, and has too little in any vessel now.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 267-9

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