New York, April 6/61.
I hastily informed the Department by mail to-day of the circumstances under which the “Powhatan” sailed, with Lieut. Porter on board — Capt. Mercer taking the ship down as far as Staten Island, with the view of there handing her over to Lt. Porter; also that I had given Capt. Mercer the telegram received from the Department informing us that Purser Gulick would arrive this evening with a dispatch. I had previously handed Capt. Mercer a sealed letter from the Department, addressed to him, which was this morning received. I further stated that Capt. Meigs, Porter and Mercer had held a consultation in reference to the orders, and the service in question. Before the Powhatan sailed, Cpt. Mercer handed me a paper stating the following: —
“Capt. Mercer has turned the command of the Powhatan over to Lieut. D. D. Porter, by order of the President, and she has gone to sea.”
Capt. Mercer intends to give Capt. Faunce (of the Harriet Lane) a copy of his instructions from the Navy Department, and direct him to report to the senior naval officer he may meet with off Charleston, giving him the copy of instructions, which Capt. Mercer will certify as a correct copy. Capt. Faunce will be directed to proceed under his order, from the Department, dated April 5th, off Charleston bar, unless Capt. Faunce receives counter orders from the Department. Captains Meigs, Porter and Mercer, after consultation, determined upon this course. Captain Mercer will probably be in New York this evening, and explain himself more fully to the Department.
I also referred to having sent Lieut. Roe of the Ordnance Department to procure a steamer and if possible overhaul the Powhatan, and give Capt. Porter the dispatch sent him by Hon. Mr. Seward, but I fear that the Powhatan had then proceeded too far to be overhauled. Lt. Roe has not yet returned.
I will on Monday send a correct list of officers of the Powhatan. By the urgent request and assurance of authority on the part of Lt. Porter, as the four Master's Mates could not be shipped in time, I permitted him to take some Lts. — an extra one. The two Lieuts. ordered without express authority of the Department were Lieut. Perry and Lieut. Smith of Philadelphia. I had heard that the first had been ordered by the Department, and as he wished to go, as well as from the entreaties of Mrs. Corinna Perry, and especially as Lieut. Porter wanted the number, I ordered him; while Lieut. Smith had before been ordered to fill up the complement and was named in a list presented to me by Lieut.. Porter. The Maine officer, Lt. Browne went out in the ship, and Mr. Heap from Washington as Acting Paymaster—as Lt. Porter informed Capt. Mercer and myself on or by authority of the government.
I have the honor to be,
Your obd't serv't,
A. H. Foote.
Hon. Gideon Welles,
Secretary of the Navy,
SOURCE: Robert Means Thompson & Richard Wainwright, Editors, Publications of the Naval Historical Society, Volume 9: Confidential Correspondence of Gustavus Vasa Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, 1861-1865, Volume 1, p. 28-30