Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Saturday, July 18, 1863

Have a letter from Governor Andrew, who in a matter misrepresented me; claims to have been led into error by the “Gloucester men,” and is willing to drop the subject.1 I shall not object, for the Governor is patriotic and zealous as well as somewhat fussy and fanatical.

General Marston and others, a delegation from New Hampshire with a letter from the Governor, wanted additional defenses for Portsmouth. Letters from numerous places on the New England coast are received to the same effect. Each of them wants a monitor, or cruiser, or both. Few of them seem to be aware that the shore defenses are claimed by and belong to the War, rather than the Navy, Department, nor do they seem to be aware of any necessity for municipal and popular effort for their own protection.

Two delegations are here from Connecticut in relation to military organizations for home work and to preserve the peace. I went to the War Department in their behalf, and one was successful, perhaps both.

There is some talk, and with a few, a conviction, that we are to have a speedy termination of the war. Blair is confident the Rebellion is about closed. I am not so sanguine. As long as there is ability to resist, we may expect it from Davis and the more desperate leaders, and when they quit, as they will if not captured, the seeds of discontent and controversy which they have sown will remain, and the social and political system of the insurrectionary States is so deranged that small bodies may be expected to carry on for a time, perhaps for years, a bushwhacking warfare. It will likely be a long period before peace and contentment will be fully restored. Davis, who strove to be, and is, the successor of Calhoun, without his ability, but with worse intentions, is ambitious and has deliberately plunged into this war as the leader, and, to win power and fame, has jeopardized all else. The noisy, gasconading politicians of the South who figured in Congress for years and had influence have, in their new Confederacy, sunk into insignificance. The Senators and Representatives who formerly loomed up in Congressional debate in Washington, and saw their harangues spread before the country by a thousand presses, have all been dwarfed, wilted, and shriveled. The “Confederate Government,” having the element of despotism, compels its Congress to sit with closed doors. Davis is the great “I am.”

In the late military operations of the Rebels he has differed with Lee, and failed to heartily sustain that officer. It was Lee's plan to uncover Washington by inducing Hooker to follow him into Pennsylvania. Hooker fell into the trap and withdrew everything from here, which is surprising, for Halleck's only study has been to take care of himself and not fall into Rebel hands. But he felt himself safe if Hooker and the army were between him and Lee.

From the interrupted dispatches and other sources, it is ascertained that Lee's plan was the concentration of a force of 40,000 men at Culpeper to rush upon Washington when our army and the whole Potomac force was far away in the Valley of the Cumberland. But Davis, whose home is in Mississippi and whose interest is there, did not choose to bring Beauregard East. The consequence has been the frustration of Lee's plans, which have perished without fruition. He might have been disappointed, had he been fairly seconded. Davis has undoubtedly committed a mistake. It hastens the end. Strange that such a man as Davis, though possessing ability, should mislead and delude millions, some of whom have greater intellectual capacity than himself. They were, however, and had been, in a course of sectional and pernicious training under Calhoun and his associates, who for thirty years devoted their time and talents to the inculcation first of hate, and then of sectional division, or a reconstruction of the federal government on a different basis. Nullification was an outgrowth. When Calhoun closed his earthly career several men of far less ability sought to wear his mantle. I have always entertained doubts whether Calhoun intended a dismemberment of the Union. He aimed to procure special privileges for the South, — something that should secure perpetuity to the social and industrial system of that section, which he believed, not without reason, was endangered by the increasing intelligence and advancing spirit of the age. Many of the lesser lights — shallow political writers and small speech-makers — talked flippantly of disunion, which they supposed would enrich the South and impoverish the North. “Cotton is king,” they said and believed, and with it they would dictate terms not only to the country but the world. The arrogance begotten of this folly led to the great Rebellion.

Davis is really a despot, exercising arbitrary power, and the people of the South are abject subjects, demoralized, subdued, but frenzied and enraged, with little individual independence left, — an impoverished community, hurrying to swift destruction. “King Cotton” furnishes them no relief. Men are not permitted in that region of chivalry to express their views if they tend to national unity. Hatred of the Union, of the government, and of the country is the basis of the Confederate despotism. Hate, sectional hate, is really the fundamental teaching of Calhoun and his disciples. How is it to be overcome and when can it be eradicated? It has been the growth of a generation, and abuse of the doctrine of States' rights, — a doctrine sound and wholesome in our federal system when rightly exercised. But when South Carolina in 1832 assumed the sovereign right of nullifying the laws of the government of which she was a member, — defeating by State action the federal authority and setting it at defiance, — claiming to be a part of the Union but independent of it while yet a part, her position becomes absolutely contradictory and untenable. Compelled to abandon the power and absolute right of a State to overthrow the government which she helped to create, or destroy federal jurisdiction, the nullifiers, still discontented, uneasy, and ambitious, resorted to another expedient, that of withdrawing from the Union, and, by combining with other States, establishing power to resist the government and country. Sectionalism or a combination of States was substituted for the old nullification doctrine of States' rights. If they could not remain in the Union and nullify its laws, they could secede and disregard laws and government. Can it be extinguished in a day? I fear not. It will require time.

It is sad and humiliating to see men of talents, capacity, and of reputed energy and independence, cower and shrink and humble themselves before the imperious master who dominates over the Confederacy. Political association and the tyranny of opinion and of party first led them astray, and despotism holds them in the wrong as with a vise. The whole political, social, and industrial fabric of the South is crumbling to ruins. They see and feel the evil, but dare not attempt to resist it. There is little love or respect for Davis among such intelligent Southern men as I have seen.

Had Meade done his duty, we should have witnessed a speedy change throughout the South. It is a misfortune that the command of the army had not been in stronger hands and with a man of broader views, and that he had not a more competent superior than Halleck. The late infirm action will cause a postponement of the end. Lee has been allowed to retreat — to retire — unmolested, with his army and guns, and the immense plunder which the Rebels have pillaged. The generals have succeeded in prolonging the war. Othello's occupation is not yet gone.

1 This refers to the statement, in a letter of July 1, from Governor Andrew to Secretary Welles, that the Navy Department had sent no vessels to the defense of the Massachusetts coast till after the Confederate cruiser Tacony “had rioted along the Vineyard Sound for four days.” The Secretary, under date of July 11, showed the incorrectness of this allegation, and Governor Andrew, in his letter of the 16th, withdrew it and explained that it was made “upon the authority of municipal officers and citizens of Gloucester.”

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 375-9

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