Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Saturday, June 27, 1863

A telegram last night informed me of the death of Admiral Foote. The information of the last few days made it a not unexpected event, yet there was a shock when it came. Foote and myself were schoolboys together at Cheshire Academy under good old Dr. Bronson, and, though three or four years younger than myself, we were pursuing some of the same studies, and there then sprang up an attachment between us that never was broken. His profession interrupted our intimacy, but at long intervals we occasionally met, and the recollection of youthful friendship made these meetings pleasant.

When I was called to take the administration of the Navy Department, he was Executive Officer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and wrote me of the pleasure my appointment gave him. He soon visited Washington, when I consulted with him and procured in friendly confidence his estimate of various officers. This was before the affair of Sumter, and, like many others, he shortly after expressed a sad disappointment in regard to some he had commended. In fitting out in those early days the expeditions to Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens he exhibited that energy and activity which more fully displayed itself the following autumn and winter in creating and fighting the Mississippi Flotilla. His health became there impaired and his constitution was probably undermined before he took charge of the Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting. Our intercourse here was pleasant. His judgment in the main good, his intentions pure, and his conduct correct, manly, and firm. Towards me he exhibited a deference that was to me, who wished a revival and continuance of the friendly and social intimacy of earlier years, often painful. But the discipline of the sailor would not permit him to do differently, and when I once or twice spoke of it, he insisted it was proper, and said it was a sentiment which he felt even in our schoolday intercourse and friendship.

Shortly after the demonstration of Du Pont at Charleston, when I think Foote's disappointment was greater than my own, he tendered his services for any duty afloat. Some premonition of the disease which ended his life was then upon him, and made him believe more active employment than the Bureau afforded would conduce to his physical benefit. His wife, after he had once or twice alluded to the subject, which she did not favor, gave her consent that he should go wherever ordered, except to the Mississippi. Foote expressed regret that she should have made any exception.

He did not wish to supplant Du Pont, whom he admired, or take any part against that officer. He was not unaware, however, that the Department and the public would turn to him as the successor of the hero of Port Royal, should there be a change of commanders. I was desirous that both he and Dahlgren should go to that squadron, and it was finally so arranged, but Providence has ordered differently. I have been disappointed. Foote had a name and prestige which would have carried him into the place assigned him on the tide of popular favor, whatever might have been the intrigues and assaults on one or both of us from any quarter.

General Wool, Governor Morgan, and Mayor Opdyke make a combined effort to retain the Roanoke at New York, and write me most earnestly on the subject. The idea that New York is in danger is an absurdity, and, with a naval force always at the navy yard and in the harbor, and with forts and military force, is such a remote contingency that the most timid lady need not be, and is not, alarmed. Morgan and Opdyke, Governor and Mayor, have responsibilities that are perhaps excusable, but not General Wool, who feeds on panic and fosters excitement. It is made the duty of the military at all times to defend New York. The Army is sensitive of Navy interference in this specialty, but the Navy will render incidental aid, do all that is necessary; but the Army assumes the guardianship of the ports as the exclusive province of the military, independent of the Navy.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 345-7

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