Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Friday, May 29, 1863

We have accounts of farther and extensive depredations by the Alabama. These depredations were near the Line, where the Department, in anticipation of her appearance, had ordered the Vanderbilt. She was specially ordered to Fernando de Noronha, whither the Alabama was expected to go, — where she did go, and where she would have been captured, had instructions been obeyed, and not interfered with. But Admiral Wilkes, having fallen in with that vessel and finding her a commodious ship with extensive and comfortable accommodations, deliberately annexed her to his squadron and detained her in the West Indies as his flagship, hunting prizes, too long for the service on which she was specially sent. I, of course, shall be abused for the escape of the Alabama and her destruction of property by those who know nothing of the misconduct of Wilkes. The propriety of recalling that officer is more apparent than ever. He has accomplished nothing, but has sadly interrupted and defeated the plans of the Department. The country, ignorant of these facts and faults, will disapprove his removal, and assail the Department for the mischief of the Alabama, whereas, had he been earlier removed, the latter would not have happened.

I this morning sent for Admiral Foote and had a free and full talk with him in regard to the command of the South Atlantic Squadron. I am satisfied he would be pleased with the position, and really desired it when he knew Du Pont was to be relieved. I then introduced him to General Gillmore, and with the charts and maps before us took a rapid survey of the harbor and plan of operations. Before doing this, I said to Foote that I thought it would be well for the country, the service, and himself, were Admiral Dahlgren associated with him. He expressed the pleasure it would give him, but doubted if D. would consent to serve as second.

I requested Mr. Fox to call on D. and inform him that I had given Foote the squadron, that I should be glad to have him embark with Foote, and take an active part against Charleston. If he responded favorably, I wished him to come with Fox to the conference. Fox returned with an answer that not only was D. unwilling to go as second, but that he wished to decline entirely, unless he could have command of both naval and land forces. This precludes farther thought of him. I regret it for his own sake. It is one of the errors of a lifetime. He has not seen the sea service he ought for his rank, and there is a feeling towards him, on account of his advancement, among naval men which he had now an opportunity to remove. No one questions his abilities as a skillful and scientific ordnance officer, but some of his best friends in his profession doubt his capability as a naval officer on such duty as is here proposed. It is doubtful if he ever will have another so good an opportunity.

Foote says he will himself see D., and has a conviction that he can induce him to go with him. I doubt it. Dahlgren is very proud and aspiring, and will injure himself and his professional standing in consequence. With undoubted talents of a certain kind he has intense selfishness, and I am sorry to see him on this occasion, as I have seen him on others, regardless of the feelings and rights of officers of greater experience, who have seen vastly more sea service and who possess high naval qualities and undoubted merit. In a matter of duty, such as this, he shows what is charged upon him, — that he is less devoted to the country than to himself, that he never acts on any principle of self-sacrifice. While friendly to him, as I have shown on repeated occasions, I am friendly to others also, and must respect their feelings and protect their rights.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 316-8

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