Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Sunday, May 25, 1863

Received a long dispatch from Admiral Porter at Haines Bluff, Yazoo River, giving details of successful fights and operations for several preceding days in that vicinity.

Am anxious in relation to the South Atlantic Squadron and feel daily the necessity of selecting a new commander. Du Pont is determined Charleston shall not be captured by the Navy, and that the Navy shall not attempt it; thinks it dangerous for the vessels to remain in Charleston Harbor, and prefers to occupy his palace ship, the Wabash, at Port Royal to roughing it in a smaller vessel off the port. His prize money would doubtless be greater without any risk. All officers under him are becoming affected by his feelings, adopt his tone, think inactivity best, — that the ironclads are mere batteries, not naval vessels, and that outside blockade is the true and only policy. Du Pont feels that he is strong in the Navy, strong in Congress, and strong in the country, and not without reason. There is not a more accomplished or shrewder gentleman in the service. Since Barron and others left, no officer has gathered a formidable clique in the Navy. He has studied with some effect to create one for himself, and has in his personal interest a number of excellent officers who I had hoped would not be inveigled. Good officers have warned me against him as a shrewd intriguer, but I have hoped to get along with him, for I valued his general intelligence, critical abilities, and advice. But I perceive that in all things he never forgets Du Pont. His success at Port Royal has made him feel that he is indispensable to the service. The modern changes in naval warfare and in naval vessels are repugnant to him; and to the turret vessels he has a declared aversion. He has been active in schemes to retire officers; he is now at work to retire ironclads and impair confidence in them. As yet he professes respect and high regard for me personally, but he is not an admirer of the President, and has got greatly out with Fox, who has been his too partial friend. An attack is, however, to be made on the Department by opposing its policy and condemning its vessels. This will raise a party to attack and a party to defend. The monitors are to be pronounced failures, and the Department, which introduced, adopted, and patronized them, is to be held responsible, and not Du Pont, for the abortive attempt to reach Charleston. Drayton, who is his best friend, says to me in confidence that Du Pont has been too long confined on shipboard, that his system, mentally and physically, is affected, and I have no doubt thinks, but does not say, he ought to be relieved for his own good as well as that of the service. Du Pont is proud and will not willingly relinquish his command, although he has in a half-defiant way said if his course was not approved I must find another.

I look upon it, however, as a fixed fact that he will leave that squadron, but he is a favorite and I am at a loss as to his successor. Farragut, if not employed elsewhere, would be the man, and the country would accept the change with favor. The age and standing of D. D. Porter would be deemed objectionable by many, yet he has some good points for that duty. Foote would be a good man for the place in many respects, but he is somewhat overshadowed by Du Pont, with whom he has been associated and to whom he greatly defers. Dahlgren earnestly wants the position, and is the choice of the President, but there would be general discontent were he selected. Older officers who have had vastly greater sea service would feel aggrieved at the selection of Dahlgren and find ready sympathizers among the juniors. I have thought of Admiral Gregory, whom I was originally inclined to designate as commander of the Gulf Blockading Squadron at the beginning of the war, but was overpersuaded by Paulding to take Mervine. A mistake but a lesson. It taught me not to yield my deliberate convictions in appointments and matters of this kind to the mere advice and opinion of another without a reason. Both Fox and Foote indorse Gregory. His age is against him for such active service, and would give the partisans of Du Pont opportunity to cavil.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 311-3

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