Saturday, September 25, 2021

Diary of Gideon Welles: Wednesday, February 22, 1865

The late news combines with the anniversary to make this an interesting day. While the heavy salutes at meridian were firing, young Cushing came in with the intelligence of the capture of Fort Anderson. I went with him to the President. While there General Joe Hooker came in; and Seward, for whom the President had sent, brought a dispatch from Bigelow at Paris of a favorable character. General H. thinks it the brightest day in four years.

The President was cheerful and laughed heartily over Cushing's account of the dumb monitor which he sent past Fort Anderson, causing the Rebels to evacuate without stopping to even spike their guns.

The belief seems general that McCulloch will receive the appointment of Secretary of the Treasury. If I do not mistake, the rival opponents of the President desire this and have been active in getting up an opinion for the case. So far as I know the President has not consulted the Cabinet. Some of them, I know, are as unenlightened as myself. I know but little of McC.; am not sufficiently acquainted with him to object, or even to criticize the appointment. The fact that Fessenden and Chase are reputed to be in his favor, and that he has been connected with them and is identified with their policy gives me doubtful forebodings.

Governor Morgan called upon me and expresses a pretty decided conviction that McCulloch is not the candidate of Chase and Fessenden, does not indorse Chase's schemes and will put himself on the true basis. This gives me some confidence.

Met Speed at the President's a day or two since. He is apprehensive Chase will fail the Administration on the question of habeas corpus and State arrests. The President expresses, and feels, astonishment. Calls up the committals of Chase on these measures. Yet I think an adroit intriguer can, if he chooses, escape these committals. I remember that, on one occasion when I was with him, Chase made a fling which he meant should hit Seward on these matters, and as Seward is, he imagines, a rival for high position, the ambition of Chase will not permit the opportunity to pass, when it occurs, of striking his competitor. There is no man with more fierce aspirations than Chase, and the bench will be used to promote his personal ends.

Speed and myself called on Seward on Monday, after the foregoing interview with the President. Seward thinks Chase, if badly disposed, cannot carry the court, but this is mere random conjecture. He has, so far as I can ascertain, no facts. In the course of his remarks, Seward, who was very much disturbed, broke out strongly against Chase, who had, he said, been a disturber from the beginning and ought never to have gone into the Cabinet. He had objected to it, and but from a conviction that he (Seward) could better serve the country than any other man in the State Department, he would not have taken office with Chase for an associate. The Cabinet, with the single exception of Chase, had been harmonious and united. He spoke of the early trouble of the blockade, which he said Chase opposed, and then tried to make difficulty. It is not the first time when I have detected an infirmity of memory and of statement on this point. I at once corrected Seward, and told him I was the man who made the strong stand against him on the question of blockade, and that Chase failed to sustain me. I have no doubt that Seward in those early days imputed my course on that question to Chase's influence, whereas nothing was farther from the truth. I had not even the assistance I expected and was promised from Chase. Mr. Blair and Mr. Bates stood by me; Chase promised to, but did not. This conversation confirms an impression I have had of Seward, who imputed to others views derived from his rival antagonist. If I differed from him, he fully believed it was the intrigue of Chase that caused it, — a very great error, for I followed my own convictions.

Rumors and speculations of Cabinet changes have been thick for the last half of this month. Much has been said and done to effect a change in the Navy Department. Not that there is very great animosity towards me personally, or my course and policy, but then aspirants for Cabinet positions and changes multiply chances. There are three or four old naval officers who are dissatisfied with me and with almost everybody else, and who would be satisfied with no one. They fellowship with certain intriguers in Congress and out, and have exhausted themselves in attacking, abusing, and misrepresenting me.

This violence is just now strongest against Fox, who, as second or executive officer, is courted and hated. Finding that he sustains me, they detest him, and as is not uncommon are more vindictive towards him than towards the principal. He is sometimes rough and sailor-like in manner, which gives offense, but stands true to his chief.

There is a little clique of self-constituted and opinionated but not very wise radicals who assume to dictate to the Administration as regards men and measures, but who have really little influence and deserve none. Hale in the Senate and H. Winter Davis in the House may be considered the leaders. The latter is the centre of his few associates and has far greater ability than either. Generals Schenck and Garfield and a few others gather round him. The same men with a larger circle are hostile to Seward, against whom the strongest secret war is waged. Stanton is on terms with these men, and to some extent gives them countenance, even in their war upon the President, to whom they are confessedly opposed. Seward thinks to propitiate these men by means of Stanton, and perhaps he does in some measure, but the proceeding gives him no substantial strength. Stanton is faithful to none, not even to him.

In preparing a reply to Hale it has been necessary to append a reply also from Fox, who is drawn into the resolution. He (F.) and Blair have been preparing this with some circumspection and care. I do not think it a judicious paper in some respects. It is a tolerable statement of facts and proceedings in regard to the attempt to relieve Fort Sumter in 1861. Fox is the hero of his own story, which is always unpleasant. There is an extra effort to introduce and associate with him great names, which will be seized by his enemies. I am not sorry that certain facts come out, but I should be glad to have the whole story told of that expedition and others connected with it. No allusion is made to Commander Ward, who volunteered for this service and persisted in it until General Scott and Commodore Stringham finally dissuaded him.

Blair, in talking over the events of that period, gives me always some new facts, or revises old ones. He reminds me that he was determined at the time when the relief of Sumter was discussed, in case it was not done or attempted, to resign his seat in the Cabinet, and had his resignation prepared. But his father remonstrated and followed him to the Cabinet-meeting, and sent in a note to him from Nicolay's room. After the meeting adjourned and the members left, the elder Blair had an interview with the President and told him it would be treason to surrender Sumter. General Scott, General Totten, Admiral Stringham, and finally Ward had given it up as impossible to be relieved. Blair maintains that Seward was all that time secretly intriguing with the Rebel leaders, – that he was pledged to inform them of any attempt to relieve that fortress.

It was Seward, Blair says, who informed Harvey and had him telegraph to Charleston that a secret expedition was fitting out against Sumter. This betrayal by Harvey did not interfere with his mission to Lisbon. Why? Because he had Seward in his power. There are facts which go to confirm this. I have a confidential letter from the President of April 1, 1861, which reads more strangely now, if possible, than then, though I was astonished at that time and prepared for strange action if necessary.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 2: April 1, 1864 — December 31, 1866, p. 245-9

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