Saturday, April 29, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Thursday, June 4, 1863

Only a sense of duty would have led me to relieve Du Pont and Wilkes. With D. my relations have been kind and pleasant, on my part confiding. Latterly he has disappointed me, and given indication that my confidence was not returned. Wilkes is a different man and of an entirely different temperament. Du Pont is pleasant in manner and one of the most popular officers in the Navy; Wilkes is arbitrary and one of the most unpopular. There are exceptions in both cases. Du Pont is scrupulous to obey orders; Wilkes often disregards and recklessly breaks them. The Governments of Great Britain, Denmark, Mexico, and Spain have each complained of Wilkes, but, except in the case of Denmark, it appears to me without much cause, and even in the case of Denmark the cause was aggravated. There was some mismanagement in the Mexican case that might not stand close scrutiny. As regards the rights of neutrals, he has so far as I yet know, deported himself correctly, and better than I feared so far as England is concerned, after the affair of the Trent and with his intense animosity towards that government. His position has doubtless been cause of jealousy and irritation on the part of Great Britain, and in that respect his selection from the beginning had its troubles. He has accomplished less than I expected; has been constantly grumbling and complaining, which was expected; has captured a few blockade-runners, but not an armed cruiser, which was his special duty, and has probably defeated the well-devised plan of the Navy Department to take the Alabama. At the last advices most of his squadron was concentrated at St. Thomas, including the Vanderbilt, which should then have been on the equator, by specific orders. To-day Mrs. Wilkes, with whom we have been sociable, and I might almost say intimate, writes Mrs. Welles a note asking if any change has been made in the command of the West India Squadron. This note was on my table as I came out from breakfast. The answer of Mrs. Welles was, I suppose, not sufficiently definite, for I received a note with similar inquiries in the midst of pressing duties, and the messenger was directed to await an answer. I frankly informed her of the change. Alienation and probably anger will follow, but I could not do differently, though this necessary official act will, not unlikely, be resented as a personal wrong.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 322-3

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