Saturday, June 17, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Tuesday, July 7, 1863

The President said this morning, with a countenance indicating sadness and despondency, that Meade still lingered at Gettysburg, when he should have been at Hagerstown or near the Potomac, to cut off the retreating army of Lee. While unwilling to complain and willing and anxious to give all praise to the general and army for the great battle and victory, he feared the old idea of driving the Rebels out of Pennsylvania and Maryland, instead of capturing them, was still prevalent among the officers. He hoped this was not so, said he had spoken to Halleck and urged that the right tone and spirit should be infused into officers and men, and that General Meade especially should be reminded of his (the President's) wishes and expectations. But General Halleck gave him a short and curt reply, showing that he did not participate and sympathize in this feeling, and, said the President, “I drop the subject.”

This is the President's error. His own convictions and conclusions are infinitely superior to Halleck's, — even in military operations more sensible and more correct always, — but yet he says, “It being strictly a military question, it is proper I should defer to Halleck, whom I have called here to counsel, advise, and direct in these matters, where he is an expert.” I question whether he should be considered an expert. I look upon Halleck as a pretty good scholarly critic of other men's deeds and acts, but as incapable of originating or directing military operations.

When I returned from the Cabinet council I found a delegation from Maine at the Department, consisting of Vice-President Hamlin, the two Senators from that State, and Senator Wilson of Massachusetts. These gentlemen had first waited on the President in regard to the coast defenses and protection of the fishermen, and were referred by him to me instead of the army, which claims to defend the harbors. At the moment of receiving this delegation I was handed a dispatch from Admiral Porter, communicating the fall of Vicksburg on the fourth of July. Excusing myself to the delegation, I immediately returned to the Executive Mansion. The President was detailing certain points relative to Grant's movements on the map to Chase and two or three others, when I gave him the tidings. Putting down the map, he rose at once, said we would drop these topics, and “I myself will telegraph this news to General Meade.” He seized his hat, but suddenly stopped, his countenance beaming with joy; he caught my hand, and, throwing his arm around me, exclaimed: “What can we do for the Secretary of the Navy for this glorious intelligence? He is always giving us good news. I cannot, in words, tell you my joy over this result. It is great, Mr. Welles, it is great!”

We walked across the lawn together. “This,” said he, “will relieve Banks. It will inspire me.” The opportunity I thought a good one to request him to insist upon his own views, to enforce them, not only on Meade but on Halleck.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 363-5

No comments: