Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Thursday, April 9, 1863

A yearning, craving desire for tidings from Charleston, but the day has passed without a word. They send us from the front that there is great repose and quiet in the Rebel camp, which is a favorable indication, for when they have successes there is immense cheering. Again I have a dispatch from the President at Headquarters this evening. He has a Richmond paper of to-day and sends me the contents. The ironclads have crossed the bar. The paper speaks with assurance, yet there are forebodings of what is to be apprehended. Says Charleston will be a Saragossa.

A desperate stand will be made at Charleston, and their defenses are formidable. Delay has given them time and warning, and they have improved them. They know also that there is no city so culpable, or against which there is such intense animosity. We shall not get the place, if we get it at all on this first trial, without great sacrifice. There are fifty-two steamers for the work and the most formidable ironclad force that ever went into battle. These great and long-delayed preparations weigh heavily upon me. As a general thing, such immense expeditions are failures. Providence delights to humble man and prostrate his strength. For months my confidence has not increased, and now that the conflict is upon us, my disquietude is greater still. I have hope and trust in Du Pont, in the glorious band of officers that are with him, and in the iron bulwarks we have furnished as well as in a righteous cause.

The President, who has often a sort of intuitive sagacity, has spoken discouragingly of operations at Charleston during the whole season. Du Pont's dispatches and movements have not inspired him with faith; they remind him, he says, of McClellan. Fox, who has more naval knowledge and experience and who is better informed of Charleston and its approaches, which he has visited, and the capabilities and efficiency of our officers and ships, entertains not a doubt of success. His reliant confidence and undoubted assurance, have encouraged and sustained me when doubtful. I do not believe the monitors impregnable, as he does, under the concentrated fire and immense weight of metal that can be thrown upon them, but it can hardly be otherwise than that some, probably that most of them, will pass Sumter. What man can do, our brave fellows will accomplish, but impossibilities cannot be overcome. We must wait patiently but not without hope.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 264-5

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