Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Gideon Welles to John A. Andrew, July 11, 1863

Navy Department, July 11, 1863.

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 1st instant. The alarm created by the reckless depredations of the Tacony is not surprising. Similar dangers may not be immediate, but the Navy Department has, as you probably are informed, taken measures with a view to guard against a repetition.

Two steamers — the Aries and the Iron Age — and two sailing cruisers with formidable batteries — the brig Perry and the Ethan Allen — with perhaps one armed schooner, have been, or will be, ordered to the protection of the commerce and fisheries and coasts of New England. These vessels will have orders for permanent service on that coast during the fishing season, and other cruisers will be specially detailed in cases of emergency.

The shore defenses of the towns mentioned by you and of other places on the coast belong, perhaps, strictly to a Department other than this, but any aid that the demands will allow us to extend we desire to give, and the fact that there are cruisers on coast naval service will doubtless operate to some extent as a preventive against such craft, and also afford a sense of security. The necessity of additional cruisers on the seas, the demands of our squadrons for additional vessels, and the want of seamen to man them prevent the detailing of a larger force. It is deemed best that but one of the steamers detached should be stationed at an available point where intelligence can be promptly communicated and received in order to be at any moment available. I had thought that Boston would be the best place to be selected for this purpose, but if Provincetown, in the opinion of yourself and others, is a more suitable location, I certainly should be disposed to consult your views and wishes.

I regret to learn that some of the places enumerated by you have not a single gun for their defense. Although it is not strictly within the province of this Department to supply these wants, I shall, as you are already advised, be desirous to assist you, as we have done to some extent, with such naval ordnance as we can spare for temporary batteries to protect the points exposed. Besides the legitimate duties of blockading and cruising, the Navy has been efficient in capturing forts and batteries and protecting many places, until there seems to be a reliance upon and a demand for gunboats and ironclads that can not be met and is wholly incompatible with the imperative requirements of the service in its proper element.

I need not assure you that it will be, as it has ever been, my duty to render whatever assistance is in the power of the Department, consistent with other duties, to our fellow-citizens in Massachusetts, and to respond promptly at all times to impending danger. It was therefore with surprise and regret I read your statement that vessels “were not sent until the Tacony had rioted along the Vineyard Sound for four days.”

To this very extraordinary statement in an official paper from the chief magistrate of Massachusetts I shall respond by stating the facts.

The Tacony was captured by Read and his crew on the 12th of June. Information of the fact was communicated to the Department on the evening of the 13th of June. Within thirty minutes thereafter orders were dispatched to send public vessels immediately after the Tacony, and additional orders were given the next morning (Sunday), as also subsequently, to charter and, if necessary, to seize vessels for that purpose.

Before 12 o'clock Saturday night, the 13th of June, the steamers Young Rover, Commodore Jones, and Western World had sailed from Hampton Roads in search of the Tacony. On the following day the Seminole, Tuscarora, Dai Citing, Adela, and Virginia, all steamers, left New York, and many others,, naval and chartered vessels, followed on the 15th and 16th.

On the 15th (Monday) three chartered steamers left Philadelphia, and the next day a chartered schooner followed in pursuit of the Tacony. On the 16th five chartered vessels, and on the 17th the steamer Montgomery and bark Trinity left Boston on the same errand. The steamer Cherokee also left the same day, but from some derangement in her compass returned again and departed the next day.

I have not the means of knowing what day the Tacony entered the Vineyard Sound, but on the 20th of June she captured the Isaac Webb, bound for New York, the first capture in that vicinity reported to the Department. But the Department had sent out more than twenty vessels in pursuit of the Tacony prior to the capture of the Webb. Many had been then six days cruising for her.

Within two days from the time the Tacony was captured and appropriated to piratical purposes the Department had issued orders to send vessels in pursuit, and those orders were promptly carried into effect. Not only public vessels were dispatched, but private vessels were chartered, and orders were given to seize vessels, if necessary, for this service.

Yet your Excellency has thought proper to say no vessels were sent until the “Tacony had rioted along the Vineyard Sound for four days.” It is not for me to reconcile your statement with these facts. I am unwilling to believe that you would have made the assertion had yon known what measures the Department had taken, and regret that you did not ascertain the facts before making it. It is not often that I devote a moment to controvert or correct even undeserved censure or misrepresentation, but this, in an official communication, seemed so wholly gratuitous and unjust that I could not, when answering your letter, omit some allusion to it.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Gideon Welles,
Secretary of the Navy.
His Excellency Jno. A. Andrew,
Governor of Massachusetts, Boston.

SOURCE: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebelion, Series I, Volume 2, p. 345-6

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