The President convened the Cabinet at 10 A.M. and submitted his reply to the Vallandigham committee. Save giving too much notoriety and consequence to a graceless traitor who loves notoriety and office, and making the factious party men who are using him for the meanest purposes that could influence men in such a crisis conspicuous, the letter is well enough, and well conceived.
After disposing of this subject, the President drew from his pocket a telegram from General Hooker asking to be relieved. The President said he had, for several days as the conflict became imminent, observed in Hooker the same failings that were witnessed in McClellan after the Battle of Antietam, — a want of alacrity to obey, and a greedy call for more troops which could not, and ought not to be taken from other points. He would, said the President, strip Washington bare, had demanded the force at Harper's Ferry, which Halleck said could not be complied with; he (Halleck) was opposed to abandoning our position at Harper's Ferry. Hooker had taken umbrage at the refusal, or at all events had thought it best to give up the command.
Some discussion followed in regard to a successor. The names of Meade, Sedgwick, and Couch were introduced. I soon saw this review of names was merely a feeler to get an expression of opinion — a committal — or to make it appear that all were consulted. It shortly became obvious, however, that the matter had already been settled, and the President finally remarked he supposed General Halleck had issued the orders. He asked Stanton if it was not so. Stanton replied affirmatively, that Hooker had been ordered to Baltimore and Meade to succeed him. We were consulted after the fact.
Chase was disturbed more than he cared should appear. Seward and Stanton were obviously cognizant of what had been ordered before the meeting of the Cabinet took place, — had been consulted. Perhaps they had advised proceedings, but, doubtful of results, wished the rest to confirm their act. Blair and Bates were not present with us.
Instead of being disturbed, like Chase, I experienced a feeling of relief, and only regretted that Hooker, who I think has good parts, but is said to be intemperate at times, had not been relieved immediately after the Battle of Chancellorsville. No explanation has ever been made of the sudden paralysis which befell the army at that time. It was then reported, by those who should have known, that it was liquor. I apprehend from what has been told me it was the principal cause. It was so intimated, but not distinctly asserted, in Cabinet.
Nothing has been communicated by the War Department, directly, but there has been an obvious dislike of Hooker, and no denial or refutation of the prevalent rumors. I have once or twice made inquiries of Stanton, but could get no satisfactory reply of any kind. . . . The War Department has been aware of these accusations, but has taken no pains to disprove or deny them, — perhaps because they could not be, perhaps because the War Department did not want to. The President has been partial to Hooker in all this time and has manifested no disposition to give him up, except a casual remark at the last Cabinet-meeting.
Whether the refusal to give him the troops at Harper's Ferry was intended to drive him to abandon the command of the army, or is in pursuance of any intention on the part of Halleck to control army movements, and to overrule the general in the field, is not apparent. The President has been drawn into the measure, as he was into withholding McDowell from McClellan, by being made to believe it was necessary for the security of Washington. In that instance, Stanton was the moving spirit, Seward assenting. It is much the same now, only Halleck is the forward spirit, prompted perhaps by Stanton.
Of Meade I know very little. He is not great. His brother officers speak well of him, but he is considered rather a “smooth bore” than a rifle. It is unfortunate that a change could not have been made earlier.
Chase immediately interested himself for the future of Hooker. Made a special request that he should be sent to Fortress Monroe to take charge of a demonstration upon Richmond via James River. The President did not give much attention to the suggestion. I inquired what was done, or doing, with Dix's command, — whether that considerable force was coming here, going to Richmond, or to remain inactive. The President thought a blow might at this time be struck at Richmond; had not, however, faith much could be accomplished by Dix, but though not much of a general, there were reasons why he did not like to supersede him. Foster he looked to as a rising general who had maintained himself creditably at Washington, North Carolina. Chase admitted F. was deserving of credit, but claimed credit was due Sisson,1 who relieved him, also.
Had two or three telegrams last night from Portland in relation to pirate privateers, which are cleared up to-day by information that Reed had seized the revenue cutter Calhoun, and was himself soon after captured.
The city is full of strange, wild rumors of Rebel raids in the vicinity and of trains seized in sight of the Capitol. They are doubtless exaggerations, yet I think not without some foundation. I am assured from men of truth that a Rebel scouting party was seen this morning in the rear of Georgetown. Just at sunset, the Blairs rode past my house to their city residence, not caring to remain at Silver Spring until the crisis is past.
A large portion of the Rebel army is unquestionably on this side the Potomac. The main body is, I think, in the Cumberland Valley, pressing on toward Harrisburg, but a small force has advanced toward Washington. The War Department is wholly unprepared for an irruption here, and J. E. B. Stuart might have dashed into the city to-day with impunity. In the mean time, Philadelphians and the Pennsylvanians are inert and inactive, indisposed to volunteer to defend even their own capital. Part of this I attribute to the incompetency of General Halleck to concentrate effort, acquire intelligence, or inspire confidence; part is due to the excitable Governor, who is easily alarmed and calls aloud for help on the remotest prospect of danger. He is very vigilant, — almost too vigilant for calm consideration and wise conclusion, or to have a commanding influence. Is not only anxious but susceptible, impressible, scary.
1 Colonel Henry T. Sisson, with his Fifth Rhode Island Volunteers, reinforced General Foster in the siege of Washington, North Carolina.
SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 347-51