Saturday, August 5, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Saturday, August 24, 1863

Our advices from Charleston show progress, though slow. The monitors perform well their part. Few casualties have occurred. We hear of a sad one to-day however, in the death of George Rodgers,1 one of the noblest spirits in the service. It is sad that among so many he, who has perhaps no superior in the best qualities of the man, the sailor, and the officer, should have been the victim. The President called on me in some anxiety this morning, and was relieved when he learned it was not John Rodgers of Atlantic fame. But without disparagement to bold John, no braver, purer spirit than gallant, generous, Christian George could have been sacrificed, and I so said to the President.

Am annoyed and vexed by a letter from Seward in relation to the Mont Blanc. As usual, he has been meddlesome and has inconsiderately, I ought to say heedlessly and unwittingly, done a silly thing. Finding himself in difficulty, he tries to shift his errors on to the Navy Department. He assumes to talk wise without knowledge and to exercise authority without power.

The history of this case exemplifies the management of Mr. Seward. Collins in the captured the Mont Blanc on her way to Port Royal. The capture took place near Sand Key, a shoal or spit of land over which the English claim jurisdiction. I question their right to assume that these shoals, or Cays, belong to England, and that her jurisdiction extends a marine league from each, most of them being uninhabited, barren spots lying off our coast and used to annoy and injure us. I suggested the propriety of denying, or refusing to recognize, the British claim or title to the uninhabited spots; that the opportunity should not pass unimproved to bring the subject to an issue. But Mr. Seward flinched before Lord Lyons, and alarmed the President by representing that I raised new issues, and without investigating the merits of the case of the Mont Blanc, which was in the courts, he hastened to concede to the English not only jurisdiction, but an apology and damages. It was one of those cases alluded to by Sir Vernon Harcourt, when he admonished his government that “the fear was not that Americans would yield too little, but that England would take too much.” Seward yielded everything, — so much as to embarrass Lord Lyons, who anticipated no such humiliation and concession on our part, and therefore asked time. The subject hung along without being disposed of. Seward, being occasionally pushed by Lord Lyons, would come to me. I therefore wrote him on the 31st of July a letter which drew from him a singular communication of the 4th inst., to which I have prepared a reply that will be likely to remain unanswered.

1 Commander George Washington Rodgers, who was killed in the attack on Fort Wagner, August 17, 1863.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 415-7

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