Saturday, July 15, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Friday, July 31, 1863

I met at the President's, and was introduced by him to, Colonel Rawlins of General Grant's staff. He arrived yesterday with the official report of the taking of Vicksburg and capture of Pemberton's army. Was much pleased with him, his frank, intelligent, and interesting description of men and account of army operations. His interview with the President and Cabinet was of nearly two hours' duration, and all, I think, were entertained by him. His honest, unpretending, and unassuming manners pleased me; the absence of pretension, and I may say the unpolished and unrefined deportment, of this earnest and sincere man, patriot, and soldier pleased me more than that of almost any officer whom I have met. He was never at West Point and has had few educational advantages, yet he is a soldier, and has a mind which has served his general and his country well. He is a sincere and earnest friend of Grant, who has evidently sent him here for a purpose.

It was the intention of the President last fall that General McClernand, an old neighbor and friend of his, should have been associated with Admiral Porter in active operations before Vicksburg. It was the expressed and earnest wish of Porter to have a citizen general, and he made it a special point to be relieved from associations with a West-Pointer; all West-Pointers, he said, were egotistical and assuming and never willing to consider and treat naval officers as equals. The President thought the opportunity a good one to bring forward his friend McClernand, in whom he has confidence and who is a volunteer officer of ability, and possesses, moreover, a good deal of political influence in Illinois. Stanton and Halleck entered into his views, for Grant was not a special favorite with either. He had also, like Hooker, the reputation of indulging too freely in whiskey to be always safe and reliable.

Rawlins now comes from Vicksburg with statements in regard to McClernand which show him an impracticable and unfit man, — that he has not been subordinate and intelligent, but has been an embarrassment, and, instead of directing or assisting in, has been really an obstruction to, army movements and operations. In Rawlins's statements there is undoubtedly prejudice, but with such appearance of candor, and earnest and intelligent conviction, that there can be hardly a doubt McClernand is in fault, and Rawlins has been sent here by Grant in order to enlist the President rather than bring dispatches. In this, I think, he has succeeded, though the President feels kindly towards McClernand. Grant evidently hates him, and Rawlins is imbued with the feelings of his chief.

Seward wished me to meet him and the President at the War Department to consider the subject of the immediate occupation of some portion of Texas. My letters of the 9th and 23d ult. and conversation since have awakened attention to the necessity of some decisive action. [These letters follow.]

The European combination, or concerted understanding, against us begins to be developed and appreciated. The use of the Rio Grande to evade the blockade, and the establishment of regular lines of steamers to Matamoras did not disturb some of our people, but certain movements and recent givings-out of the French have alarmed Seward, who says Louis Napoleon is making an effort to get Texas; he therefore urges the immediate occupation of Galveston and also some other point. At the Cabinet meeting to-day, he took Stanton aside and had ten minutes' private conversation with him in a low tone. I was then invited to the conversation and received the above information. I agreed to call as requested at the appointed time, but why this partial, ex-parte, half-and-half way of doing these things? Why are not these matters unfolded to the whole Cabinet? Why a special meeting of only three with General Halleck? It is as important that the Secretary of the Treasury, who is granting clearances from New York to Matamoras and thereby sanctions the illicit trade of the English and French, should be advised if any of us. The question which Mr. Seward raises is political, national, and so important to the whole country that the Administration should be fully advised, but for some reason is restricted. The Secretary of State likes to be exclusive; does not want all the Cabinet in consultation, but is particular himself to attend all meetings. It exhibits early bad training and party management, not good administration.

Soon after two I went to the War Department. Seward, Stanton, and Halleck were there, and the Texas subject was being discussed. Halleck, as usual, was heavy, sluggish, not prepared to express an opinion. Did not know whether General Banks would think it best to move on Mobile or Galveston, and if on Galveston whether he would prefer transportation by water or would take an interior route. Had just written Banks. Wanted his reply. I turned to Seward, and, alluding to his morning conversation, I inquired what a demonstration on Mobile had to do with foreign designs in another section. How far Halleck had been let into a knowledge of measures which were withheld from a majority of the Cabinet I was uninformed, though I doubt not Halleck was more fully posted than myself. Halleck, apprehending the purport of my inquiry, said he mentioned Mobile because there had been some information from Banks concerning operations in that direction before the new question came up. I then asked, if a demonstration was to be made on Texas to protect and guard our western frontier, whether Indianola was not a better point than Galveston. Halleck said he did not know, — had not thought of that. “Where,” said he, “is Indianola? What are its advantages?” I replied, in western Texas, where the people had been more loyal than in eastern Texas. It was much nearer the Rio Grande and the Mexican border, consequently was better situated to check advances from the other side of the Rio Grande; the harbor had deeper water than Galveston; the place was but slightly fortified, was nearer Austin, etc., etc. Halleck was totally ignorant on these matters; knew nothing of Indianola,1 was hardly aware there was such a place; settled down very stolidly; would decide nothing for the present, but must wait to hear from General Banks. The Secretary of State was profoundly deferential to the General-in-Chief, hoped he would hear something from General Banks soon, requested to be immediately informed when word was received; and we withdrew as General Halleck lighted another cigar.

This is a specimen of the management of affairs. A majority of the members of the Cabinet are not permitted to know what is doing. Mr. Seward has something in regard to the schemes and designs of Louis Napoleon; he cannot avoid communicating with the Secretaries of War and the Navy, hence the door is partially open to them. Others are excluded. Great man Halleck is consulted, but is not ready, — has received nothing from others, who he intends shall have the responsibility. Therefore we must wait a few weeks and not improbably lose a favorable opportunity.

The truth is that Halleck, who has been smuggled into position here by Stanton, aided by Pope and General Scott, is unfit for the place. He has some scholastic attainments but is no general. I can pass that judgment upon him, though I do not profess to be a military man. He has failed to acquit himself to advantage as yet, and the country needs other talents to be successful.

1 Indianola, Texas, is no longer to be found on the map. It was situated on the western shore of Matagorda Bay on the site now occupied by Port Lavaca, about 125 miles west-southwest of Galveston, but was destroyed by cyclones in 1885 and 1886.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 386-92

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