Monday, April 3, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Saturday, May 23, 1863

Met the President, Stanton, and Halleck at the War Department. Fox was with me. Neither Du Pont nor General Hunter has answered the President's dispatch to them a month since. Halleck does not favor an attack on Charleston unless by the Navy. The army will second, so far as it can. Fox, who commanded the first military expedition to Sumter, is for a renewed attack, and wants the Navy to take the brunt. Stanton wants the matter prosecuted. I have very little confidence in success under the present admiral. It is evident that Du Pont is against doing anything, — that he is demoralizing others, and doing no good in that direction. If anything is to be done, we must have a new commander. Du Pont has talents and capability, but we are to have the benefit of neither at Charleston. The old army infirmity of this war, dilatory action, affects Du Pont. Commendation and encouragement, instead of stimulating him, have raised the mountain of difficulty higher daily. He is nursing Du Pont, whose fame he fears may suffer, and has sought sympathy by imparting his fears and doubts to his subordinates, until all are impressed with his apprehensions. The capture of Charleston by such a chief is an impossibility, whatever may be accomplished by another. This being the case, I have doubts of renewing the attack immediately, notwithstanding the zeal of Stanton and Fox. I certainly would not without some change of officers. Having no faith, the commander can accomplish no work. In the struggle of war, there must sometimes be risks to accomplish results, but it is clear we can expect no great risks from Du Pont at Charleston. The difficulties increase daily [as] his imagination dwells on the subject. Under any circumstances we shall be likely to have trouble with him. He has remarkable address, is courtly, the head of a formidable clique, the most formidable in the Navy, loves intrigue, is Jesuitical, and I have reason to believe is not always frank and sincere. It was finally concluded to delay proceedings until the arrival of General Gillmore, who should be put in possession of our views.

Sumner brought me this P.M. a report in manuscript of the case of the Peterhoff mail. I have read it and notice that the attorney, Delafield Smith, takes the opportunity to say, I doubt not at whose suggestion, that there is no report that the public mails have ever been opened and examined. He does not say there is any report they were not, or that there is any report whatever on the subject. All letters and papers deemed necessary are always examined. Upton well said in reply to Smith that the question had never been raised. Much time was spent in arguing this point respecting the mails. It was reported to Seward, and that point was seized upon, and the question raised, which led the President to call on me for a record of a case where public mails had been searched. Seward's man, Delafield Smith, having learned through Archibald, the British Consul, that the Secretary of State had given up our undoubted right to search the mails, set up the pettifogging pretense that there was no report that captured mails ever had been examined, which Judge Betts did not regard, and Upton correctly said the point had never been raised. The court never asked permission of the Executive to try a prize case; there is no report that they ever asked or did not ask; the right was no more questioned than the right to search the mails.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 309-10

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