Monday, March 27, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Saturday, May 16, 1863

Saw Seward this morning respecting Wilkes. After talking over the subject, he said he cared nothing about Wilkes, that if he was removed he would be made a martyr, and both he (S.) and myself would be blamed and abused by the people, who knew not the cause that influenced and governed us. He then for the first time alluded to the removal of Butler, which he said was a necessity to appease France. Nevertheless France was not satisfied, yet Butler's removal had occasioned great discontent and called down much censure. If I could stand the recall of Wilkes, he thought he could. I answered him that any abuse of me in the discharge of my duty and when I knew I was right would never influence my course. In this case I could better stand his recall than the responsibility of sending him into the Pacific, where he would have great power and be the representative of the Government; for he is erratic, impulsive, opinionated, somewhat arbitrary towards his subordinates, and is always disinclined to obey orders which he receives if they do not comport with his own notions. His special mission, in his present command, had been to capture the Alabama. In this he had totally failed, while zealous to catch blockade-runners and get prize money. Had he not been in the West Indies, we might have captured her, but he had seized the Vanderbilt, which had specific orders and destination and gone off with her prize-hunting, thereby defeating our plans. Seward wished me to detach him because he had not taken the Alabama and give that as the reason. I care to assign no reasons, — none but the true ones, and it is not politic to state them.

When I was about leaving, Seward asked as a favor that I would address him a proposition that the matter of the Mont Blanc should be left to Admiral Bailey alone. The whole pecuniary interest involved did not, he said, exceed six or eight hundred dollars, and it would greatly relieve him at a pinch, if I would do him this favor, and harm no one, for the vessel had been seized sleeping at anchor within a mile of the Cays, and was retained by the court. I asked what he had to do with it anyway. He gave me no satisfactory answer, but went into the trouble he had in keeping the Englishmen quiet and his present difficulties. All of which, I take it, means he has loosely committed himself, meddled with what was none of his business, made inconsiderate promises to Lord Lyons, and wishes me, who have had nothing to do with it, but have objected to the whole proceeding, to now propose that Admiral Bailey shall be sole referee. This will enable him to cover up his own error and leave it to be inferred that I have prompted it, as B. is a naval officer.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 304-5

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