Farther reports of depredations. Got off vessels last night from New York and Hampton Roads. Sent to Boston for Montgomery to cruise off Nantucket.
Scary rumors abroad of army operations and a threatened movement of Lee upon Pennsylvania. No doubt there has been a change. I fear our friends are in difficulties. Went to the War Department this evening. Found the President and General Halleck with Secretary of War in the room of the telegraphic operator. Stanton was uneasy, said it would be better to go into another room. The President and myself went into the Secretary's office; the other two remained. The President said quietly to me he was feeling very bad; that he found Milroy and his command were captured, or would be. He (Milroy) has written that he can hold out five days, but at the end of five days he will be in no better condition, for he can't be relieved. “It is,” said the President, “Harper's Ferry over again.”
I inquired why Milroy did not fall back, — if he had not been apprised by Hooker, or from here, what Lee was doing, etc. I added, if Lee's army was moving, Hooker would take advantage and sever his forces, perhaps take his rear guard. The President said it would seem so, but that our folks appeared to know but little how things are, and showed no evidence that they ever availed themselves of any advantage.
How fully the President is informed, and whether he is made acquainted with the actual state of things is uncertain. He depends on the War Department, which, I think, is not informed and is in confusion. From neither of the others did I get a word. Stanton came once or twice into the room, where we were, in a fussy way. Halleck did not move from his chair where he sat with his cigar, the door being open between the two rooms. From some expressions which were dropped from H., I suspect poor Milroy is to be made the scapegoat, and blamed for the stupid blunders, neglects, and mistakes of those who should have warned and advised him.
I do not learn that any members of the Cabinet are informed of army movements. The President is kept in ignorance and defers to the General-in-Chief, though not pleased that he is not fully advised of matters as they occur. There is a modest distrust of himself, of which advantage is taken. For a week, movements have been going on of which he has known none, or very few, of the details.
I came away from the War Department painfully impressed. After recent events, Hooker cannot have the confidence which is essential to success, and all-important to the commander in the field. Halleck does not grow upon me as a military man of power and strength; has little aptitude, skill, or active energy. In this state of things, the able Rebel general is moving a powerful army, and has no one to confront him on whose ability and power the country relies. There was confidence in McClellan's ability to organize, to defend, and to repel, though he was worthless in attack, but there is no such feeling towards Hooker. He has not grown in public estimation since placed in command. If he is intemperate, as is reported, God help us! The President, who was the first person to intimate this failing to me, has a personal liking for Hooker, and clings to him when others give way.
The letter to Erastus Corning and others is published and well received.
SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 327-9