The Diary of Gideon Welles. I

IT was the custom of my father for many years, in fact all his life, to spend the leisure portion of his evenings in writing. He was a liberal contributor to the editorial columns of many journals, and also, throughout his life, kept a diary. In Washington he was so much occupied in public affairs that he did not have the opportunity to write on miscellaneous subjects as had been his custom ; but, in the evening, after the family had retired, when he was alone, he would write in the " Red Books,” as we called them in the family, such of the occurrences of the day as seemed to him, at the time, of interest and importance. It was an exciting time in the history of the country, and he wrote down what he had to say just as he would have talked to a close friend. The habit of his life had been to express himself in writing, and if he proposed to spend the evening in his favorite occupation, I often heard the request made of him to “write something for the paper " of the next day. The habit being so ingrained, it was no hardship for him, but, on the contrary, a pleasure, to express his thoughts in writing.

He left a memorandum for me saying that he had jotted down things as they occurred to him at the moment, that what he had expressed were the truths of the times, and that what he had stated as facts were correct. At the same time he realized that his judgment might not be infallible, and I was authorized to destroy his writings, or to make them public, as seemed best to me ; but in expressing his opinion fully, freely, and clearly, he had done so only with the idea that the truth should he recorded.

The many insistent calls for the memoranda, known to be in my possession, have led to the publication of the Diary. Justice to my father’s memory also seems to demand it in many instances, and it is also urged on me strongly that the truth of history requires that what he had written from his inner knowledge of the facts should be made known. I authorize the publication with hesitation, and do so only under pressure; and my father’s inflexible view of right and duty, and his absolute integrity and regard for truth and honesty, must be borne in mind when some of his severe strictures are read. — EDGAR T. WELLES.

[GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy under President Lincoln, was in his sixtieth year when the great events occurred which are recorded in the opening pages of the Diary. His life, which had been one of unremitting activity, had been divided between journalism and politics. From the time of his majority he was accustomed to writing and speaking on public questions, and throughout his career, across the tempestuous evolution of party politics, he followed his own convictions with logical consistency. These political beliefs, some understanding of which is desirable to the reader of the Diary, were firmly crystallized during Jackson’s ascendency in the Democratic party. Under Welles’s management, the Hartford Times was the first paper in New England to declare for Andrew Jackson for President. Like Jackson, all his life long Welles believed in the strict construction of the Constitution, in the creed of State Rights, and in the evils of special legislation; but, as in the case of Jackson, his patriotism overtopped all other considerations; and when, after the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, the Slave Power began its aggressions upon Kansas, Welles became a Republican. When Lincoln created his first Cabinet, choosing it, as is well known, equally from men of Democratic and of Whig affiliations, he fixed on Welles without hesitation as a natural representative of Democratic tendencies; and in the sequel the President received no more loyal and unselfish support from any man in the Cabinet.

When Mr. Welles assumed charge of the Navy Department in 1861, the entire Navy in commission, including storeships and tenders, was 42 vessels. At the outbreak of hostilities it was his task to blockade nearly three thousand miles of coast, much of it, owing to numerous islands and inlets, forming a double line. By December of 1861, Mr. Welles was able to report that 264 vessels would shortly be in commission, and before the War ended nearly 700 vessels were actually in the service of the United States, many of them of iron-clad construction and of the most powerful character.

Copyright, 1909, by EDGAR T. WELLES.

It was an era of intensest feeling. Men said and thought bitter things. During his term of service the Secretary of the Navy was subject to a succession of attacks, some malignant, others mistaken, all unfair. It is not extraordinary that this journal, written in the hurly-burly of events, should contain some severe and biting strictures; but it is remarkable that so outspoken a record should be so free from selfish or unworthy views; and the clear-cut outlines of his characterizations have, with few exceptions, received the durable impress of history.— THE EDITORS.]

ON Sunday, the 13th of July, 1862, President Lincoln invited me to accompany him in his carriage to the funeral of an infant child of Mr. Stanton. Secretary Seward and Mrs. Frederick Seward were also in the carriage. Mr. Stanton occupied at that time for a summer residence the house of a naval officer, I think Hazzard, some two or three miles west or northwesterly of Georgetown. It was on this occasion and on this ride that he first mentioned to Mr. Seward and myself the subject of emancipating the slaves by proclamation in case the rebels did not cease to persist in their war on the government and the Union, of which he saw no evidence. He dwelt earnestly on the gravity, importance, and delicacy of the movement, said he had given it much thought and had about come to the conclusion that it was a military necessity absolutely essential for the salvation of the Union; that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued, etc., etc.

This was, he said, the first occasion when he had mentioned the subject to any one, and wished us to frankly state how the proposition struck us. Mr. Seward said the subject involved consequences so vast and momentous that he should wish to bestow on it mature reflection before giving a decisive answer, but his present opinion inclined to the measure as justifiable, and perhaps he might say expedient and necessary. These were also my views. Two or three times on that ride the subject, which was of course an absorbing one for each and all, was adverted to, and before separating the President requested us to give the question special and deliberate attention, for he was earnest in the conviction that something must be done. It was a new departure for the President, for until this time, in all our previous interviews, whenever the question of emancipation or the mitigation of slavery had been in any way alluded to, he had been prompt and emphatic in denouncing any interference by the general government with the subject. This was, I think, the sentiment of every member of the Cabinet, all of whom, including the President, considered it a local, domestic question appertaining to the states respectively, who had never parted with their authority over it. But the reverses before Richmond, and the formidable power and dimensions of the insurrection, which extended through all the slave states and had combined most of them in a confederacy to destroy the Union, impelled the administration to adopt extraordinary measures to preserve the national existence. The slaves, if not armed and disciplined, were in the service of those who were, —not only as fieldlaborers and producers, but thousands of them were in attendance upon the armies in the field, employed as waiters and teamsters; and the fortifications and intrenchments were constructed by them.


[Mr. Seward’s importance in the Republican party and his great experience led him early in the war to assume a responsibility in relation to the other departments and to the general administration which properly belonged to the President, and which caused the Secretary of the Navy some vexation of spirit. Among other solicitudes, Mr. Seward “thought it expedient that instructions be given to the blockading and naval officers that, in case of capture of merchant vessels suspected or proved to be vessels of the insurgents or contraband,” the mails “ should not be searched or opened, but be put as speedily as may be on the way to their designated destination."]

Tuesday, August 12, 1862.
I called early this morning on the Secretary of State touching a communication of his of the 8th inst. that I received yesterday, in which I am directed in the name of the President to give instructions of an extraordinary character to our naval officers — instructions which I do not approve, and which in one or two points conflict with law and usage. Though the direction was in the President’s name, I learned he knew nothing of the proceeding.
Mr. Seward has a passion to be thought a master spirit in the administration and to parade before others an exhibition of authority which, if permitted, is not always exercised wisely or intelligently. Englishmen have complained that their vessels were detained and searched, and that they have experienced great inconvenience by the delay in the transmission of their letters by blockade-runners. These matters having been brought before the Secretary of State, he on the instant—without consultation with any one, without investigation, without being aware he was disregarding law and long-settled principles — volunteered to say he would mitigate or remedy the grievance, would put the matter right; and under the impulse of the moment, and with an ostentatious show of authority which he did not possess, yielded all that was asked, and more than the Englishmen had anticipated or than the Secretary was authorized to give. I saw that he had acted precipitately and inconsiderately, and was soon aware that the President, in whose name he assumed to act, was uninformed on the subject. But Seward is committed and cannot humiliate himself to retrace his steps. I gave him to understand, however, I would send out no such instructions as he had sent me in the President’s name. That we had, under the belligerent right of search, authority to stop any suspected vessel, and if she had contraband on board to capture her. That no blockade-runner ever cleared for a rebel port, like Charleston, though that might be its actual destination, but for Halifax, Nassau, or some neutral port. That the idea of surrendering mails and letters captured on blockade-runners to foreign consuls, officers and legations, instead of delivering them, as the law explicitly directs, to the courts, could not be entertained for a moment. Seward suggested that I could so modify the proposed instructions as to make them conform to the law, which he admitted he had not examined. Said it would relieve him and do much to conciliate the Englishmen, who were troublesome, and willing to get into difficulty with us.
It will be useless to see the President, who will be alarmed with the bugaboo of a foreign war, a bugbear which Seward well knows how to use. These absurd instructions do not originate with the President, yet, relating to foreign matters, he will endorse them I have no doubt under the appeals which Seward will make.
Nothing of special interest to-day in the Cabinet.


Friday, August 15, 1862.
Received yesterday a note from Chase that the President proposed to change two of the nominees under the new tax law, in Connecticut. Called on the President and stated to him that I did it as a duty —that duty alone impelled me. He said he fully believed it, and was glad to do me the justice to say that in matters of appointments — patronage — I had never given him any trouble.

Having an appointment this Friday morning at 9 with the President, I met there Babcock and Platt of Connecticut.

They had called and stated their case, which was extremely unjust to Mr. Howard, and turning to me, Mr. Babcock said Howard claimed he had procured or secured my appointment. The President said he had a slight acquaintance with Mr. Howard himself. Had met him in Illinois and knew him as a friend of mine. Had received letters from him expressing regard for me, and one signed jointly by Howard and Senator Dixon. But these gentlemen did not originate his action in relation to my appointment. “ The truth is,” said he, “ and I may as well state the facts to you, for others know them — on the day of the presidential election the operator of the telegraph in Springfield placed his instrument at my disposal. I was there without leaving, after the returns began to come in, until we had enough to satisfy us how the election had gone. This was about two in the morning of Wednesday. I went home, but not to get much sleep, for I then felt, as I never had before, the responsibility that was upon me. I began at once to feel that I needed support, others to share with me the burthen. This was on Wednesday morning, and before the sun went down I had made up my cabinet. It was almost the same I appointed. One or two changes were made, and the particular position of one or two was unsettled. My mind was fixed on Mr. Welles as the member from New England on that Wednesday. Some other names passed through my thoughts and some persons were afterwards pressed upon me, but the man and the place were fixed in my mind then, as it now is. My choice was confirmed by Mr. Howard, by Senator Dixon, Preston King, Vice-President Hamlin, Governor Morgan and others, but the selection was my own, and not theirs, and Mr. Howard is under a mistake in what he says.”


[On the 13th of August, Lee’s forces before Richmond, abandoning the defensive, moved in pursuit of the Army of the Potomac. After McClellan’s retreat the squadron of gunboats which had been protecting his communications was no longer essential to the campaign.]

Sunday, August 17, 1862.
Called this morning on General Halleck, who had forgotten or was not aware there was a naval force in the James River coöperating with the army.
He said the army was withdrawn and there was no necessity for the naval vessels to remain. I remarked that I took a different view of the question, and had I been consulted I should have advised that the naval and some army forces should hold on and menace Richmond, in order to compel the rebels to retain part of their army there, while our forces in front of Washington were getting in position. He began to rub his elbows, and without thanking me or acknowledgment of any kind, said he wished the vessels could remain. Telegraphed Wilkes to that effect. Strange that this change of military operations should have been made without cabinet consultation, and especially without communicating the fact to the Secretary of the Navy, who had established a naval flotilla on the James River by special request to coöperate with and assist the army. But Stanton is so absorbed in his scheme to get rid of McClellan that other and more important matters are neglected,

[On Saturday, August 30, the Army of Virginia under Pope, which was cooperating with the Army of the Potomac farther to the south, was badly defeated in the second battle of Bull Run.]

Sunday, August 31, 1862.
For the last two or three days there has been fighting at the front and army movements of interest. McClellan with most of his army arrived at Alexandria a week or more ago, but inertness, inactivity and sluggishness seem to prevail. The army officers do not engage in this move of the War Department with zeal. Some of the troops have gone forward to join Pope, who has been beyond Manassas, where he has encountered Stonewall Jackson and the rebel forces for the last three days in a severe struggle. The energy and rapid movements of the rebels are in such striking contrast to that of our own officers that I shall not be seriously surprised at any sudden dash from them. The War Department — Stanton and Halleck — are alarmed. By request, and in anticipation of the worst, though not expecting it, I have ordered Wilkes and a force of fourteen gun-boats, including the five light-draft asked for by Burnside, to come around into the Potomac, and have put W[likes] in command of the flotilla here, disbanding the flotilla on the James.


Yesterday, Saturday P. M., when about leaving the Department, Chase called on me with a protest addressed to the President, signed by himself and Stanton, against continuing McClellan in command, and demanding his immediate dismissal. Certain grave offences were enumerated. Chase said that Smith 1 had seen and would sign it in turn, but as my name preceded his in order, he desired mine to appear in its place. I told him I was not prepared to sign the document — that I preferred a different method of meeting the question — that if asked by the President, and even if not asked, I was prepared to express my opinion, which, as he knew, had long been averse to McClellan’s dilatory course, and was much aggravated from what I had recently learned at the War Department; that I did not choose to denounce McClellan for incapacity, or to pronounce him a traitor, as declared in this paper, but I would say, and perhaps it was my duty to say, that I believed his removal from command was demanded by public sentiment and the best interest of the country.

Chase said that was not sufficient; that the time had arrived when the Cabinet must act with energy and promptitude, for either the government or McClellan must go down. He then proceeded to expose certain acts, some of which were partially known to me, and others, more startling, which were new to me. I said to Chase that he and Stanton were familiar with facts of which I was ignorant, and that there might therefore be propriety in their stating what they knew, though in a different way, — facts which I could not endorse because I had no knowledge of them.

I proposed as a preferable course that there should be a general consultation with the President. He objected to this until the document was signed, which, he said, should be done at once.

This method of getting signatures without an interchange of views with those who are associated in councils was repugnant to my ideas of duty and right. When I asked if the Attorney General2 and Post-Master General3 had seen the paper or been consulted, he replied, not yet — their turn had not come. I informed Chase that I should desire to advise with them in so important a matter, that I was disinclined to sign the paper, did not like the proceeding, that I could not; though I wished McClellan removed after what I had heard, and should have no hesitation in saying so at the proper time and place, and in what I considered the right way. While we were talking, Blair came in. Chase was alarmed, for the paper was in my hand, and he evidently feared I should address Blair on the subject. This, after witnessing his agitation, I could not do without his consent. Blair remained but a few moments, — did not even take a seat. After he left I asked Chase if we should not call him back and consult him. Chase said in great haste, “ No, not now. It is best he should for the present know nothing of it.” I took a different view — said there was no one of the Cabinet whom I would sooner consult on this subject, that I thought Blair’s opinion (especially on military matters, he having had a military education) very correct. Chase said this was not the time to bring him in. After Chase left me, he returned to make a special request that I would make no allusion concerning the paper to Blair or any one else.

Met, by invitation, a few friends last evening at Baron Gerolt’s. My call was early, and feeling anxious concerning affairs in front, I soon excused myself to go to the War Department for tidings. Found Stanton and Caleb Smith alone in the Secretary’s room. The conduct of McClellan was soon taken up; it had, I inferred, been under discussion before I came in.


Stanton began with a statement of his entrance into the Cabinet in January last, when he found everything in confusion, with unpaid bills on his table to the amount of over $20,000,000 against the Department; his inability then or since to procure any satisfactory information from McClellan, who had no plan nor any system. Said this vague indefinite uncertainty was oppressive; that near the close of January he pressed this subject on the President, who issued the order to him and myself for an advance on the 22nd of February. McClellan began at once to interpose objections, yet did nothing — but talked always vaguely and indefinitely and of various matters except those immediately in hand. The President insisted on and ordered a forward movement. Then McClellan stated [that] he intended a demonstration on the upper waters of the Potomac, and boats for a bridge were prepared with great labor and expense. He went up there and telegraphed back that two or three officers, his favorites, had done admirably in preparing the bridge, and wished them to be brevetted. The whole thing was absurd, eventuated in nothing, and he was ordered back. McClellan’s excuse for going by way of the Peninsula was that he might have good roads and dry ground, but his complaints were unceasing, after he got there, of bad roads, water and swamps.

The President then commanded that the army should proceed to Richmond. McClellan delayed, hesitated, said he must go by way of the Peninsula — would take transports at Annapolis. In order that he should have no excuse, but without any faith in his plan, Stanton said he ordered transports and supplies to Annapolis. The President in the meantime urged and pressed a forward movement towards Manassas. The transports were then ordered round to the Potomac, where the troops were shipped to Fortress Monroe. The plans — the number of troops to proceed, the number that was to remain — Stanton recounted. These arrangements were somewhat deranged by the sudden raid of Jackson towards Winchester, which withdrew Banks from Manassas, leaving no force between Washington and the rebel army at Gordonsville. He then ordered McDowell and his division, also Franklin’s command, to remain, to the great grief of McDowell, who believed glory and fighting were all to be with the Grand Army. McClellan had made the withholding of this necessary force to protect the seat of government his excuse for not being more rapid and effective, — was constantly complaining. The President wrote him how, by his arrangement, only 18,000 troops, remnants and odd parcels, were left to protect the capital. Still McClellan was complaining and underrating his forces — said he had but 90,000 when his own returns showed he had 123,000. But to stop his complaints and drive him forward, the President finally, on the 10th of June, sent him McCall and his division, with which he promised to proceed at once to Richmond but did not, — lingered along until finally attacked.

When finally ordered to withdraw from James River, he delayed obeying the order for thirteen days, and never did comply until General Burnside was sent to supersede him if he did not move.

[The reader must remember that McClellan had refused to accept the responsibility for continuing the Peninsular campaign without the aid of reinforcements larger than it was in Lincoln’s power to supply. On behalf of the President, Halleck had gone to see McClellan and had offered him 20,000 men in case he would assume the responsibility of an advance, but McClellan declared this number insufficient. His recall followed promptly.]


Smith left while we were conversing after this detailed narrative, and Stanton, dropping his voice, although no one was present, said he understood from Chase that I declined to sign the protest which he had drawn up against McClellan’s continuance in command, and asked if I did not think we ought to get rid of him. I told him I might not differ with him on that point, especially after what I had heard, but that I disliked the method and manner of proceeding — that it appeared to me an unwise and injudicious proceeding and was discourteous and disrespectful to the President, were there nothing else. Stanton said with some excitement he knew of no particular obligations he was under to the President, who had called him to a difficult position and imposed upon him labors and responsibilities which no man could carry, and which were greatly increased by fastening upon him a commander who was constantly striving to embarrass him in his administration of the department. He could not and would not submit to a continuance of this state of things. I admitted they were bad, severe on him, and he could and had stated his case strongly, but I could not from facts within my own knowledge endorse them, nor did I like the manner in which it was proposed to bring about a dismissal. He said among other things [that] General Pope telegraphed to McClellan for supplies. The latter informed Pope [that] they were at Alexandria, and if Pope would send an escort he could have them. A general, fighting on the field of battle, to send to a general in the rear; and in response an escort!

[It should be kept in mind that, after the failure of the Peninsular campaign, Lincoln, realizing that McClellan’s genius for organization might again be of service to the country, never actually demanded his resignation. What he did do was simply to deprive him of his army. By his direction regiment after regiment was detached from McClellan’s command and added to the army of Pope, until on August 30 McClellan was so denuded of troops as to telegraph Halleck, “You now have every man of the Army of the Potomac who is within my reach.” This may account for McClellan’s neglect to furnish the escort spoken of in the last paragraph.]

Watson, Assistant Secretary of War, repeated to me this last fact this morning, and re-affirmed others. He informs me that my course on a certain occasion offended McClellan and was not approved by others; but that both the President and Stanton had since, and now, in their private conversation, admitted I was right, and that my letter in answer to a curt and improper demand of McClellan last spring, was proper and correct. Watson says he always told the President and Stanton I was right, and he complimented me on several subjects which, though gratifying, others can speak of and judge better than myself.

We hear, this Sunday morning, that our army has fallen back to Centreville.

Pope writes in pretty good spirits, that we have lost no guns, etc. The rebels were largely reinforced, while our troops, detained at Annandale by McClellan’s orders, did not arrive to support our wearied and exhausted men. McClellan telegraphs that he hears “ Pope is badly cut up.” Schenck, who had a wound in his arm, left the battle-field, bringing with him for company an Ohio captain. Both arrived safe at Willard’s. They met McCall on the other side of Centreville and Sumner on this side. Late — la te!

Up to this hour, one P. M., Sunday, no specific intelligence beyond the general facts above stated. There is considerable uneasiness in this city, which is mere panic. I see no cause for alarm. It is impossible to feel otherwise than sorrowful over the waste of life, and treasure, and energies of the Nation — the misplaced confidence in certain men, the errors of some, perhaps the crimes of others, who have been trusted. But my faith in present security and of ultimate success is unshaken. We need better generals, but can have no better army. There is much latent disloyal feeling in Washington which should be expelled. And oh, there is great want of capacity and will among our military leaders!

I hear that all the churches not heretofore seized are now taken for hospital purposes; private dwellings are taken to be thus used — among others my next neighbor Corcoran’s fine house and grounds. There is malice in this. I told General Halleck it was vandalism. He admitted it would be wrong. Halleck walked over with me from the War Department as far as my house, and is, I perceive, quite alarmed for the safety of the city, says that we over-rate our own strength and under-estimate the rebels — a fatal error in Halleck. This has been the talk of McClellan, which none of us have believed.

Monday, September 1, 1862.
The wounded have been coming in today in large numbers. From what I can learn, General Pope’s estimate of the killed and wounded greatly exceeds the actual number. He should, however, be best informed, but he feels distressed and depressed and is greatly given to exaggeration.


Chase tells me that McClellan sends word that there are 20,000 stragglers on the road between Alexandria and Centreville, which C[hase] says is infamously false and sent out for infamous purposes. He called on me to-day with a more carefully prepared, and less exceptionable address to the President, stating [that] the signers did not deem it safe that McClellan should be entrusted with an army, etc., and that, if required, the signers would give their reasons for the protest against continuing him in command. This paper was in the handwriting of Attorney General Bates. The former was in Stanton’s. This was signed by Stanton, Chase, Smith, and Bates. A space was left between the two last for Blair and myself; Seward is not in town, and if I am not mistaken is purposely absent to be relieved from participation in this movement, which originates with Stanton, who is angry — perhaps with reason — and determined to destroy McClellan. Seward and Stanton act in concert, but Seward has opposed or declined being a party to the removal of McClellan until since Halleck was brought here, when Stanton became more fierce and determined. Seward then gave way and went away. Chase (who has become hostile to McClellan, is credulous, and sometimes the victim of intrigue) was taken into Stanton’s confidence, made to believe that the opportunity of Seward’s absence should be improved to shake off McClellan, whom they both disliked, by a combined Cabinet movement to control the President, who, until recently, has clung to that officer.

It was not difficult under the prevailing feeling of indignation against McClellan to enlist Smith. I am a little surprised that they got Mr. Bates, though he has for some time openly urged the removal of McClellan. Chase took upon himself to get my name, and then, if possible, Blair was to be brought in. In all this Chase flatters himself that he is attaching Stanton to his interests — not but that he is himself sincere in his opposition to McClellan, who was once his favorite, but whom he considers a deserter from his faction and whom he now detests.

I told Chase I thought this paper an improvement on the document of Saturday ; was less exceptionable, but I did not like and could not unite in the movement — that in a conference with the President I would have no hesitation in saying or agreeing mainly in what was there expressed; for I am satisfied the earnest men of the country would not be willing McClellan should hereafter have command of our forces in the field, though I could not say what is the feeling of the soldiers. Reflection had more fully satisfied me that this method of conspiring to influence or control the President was repugnant to my feelings and was not right. It was unusual, would be disrespectful, and would be deemed offensive; that the President had called us around him as friends and advisers, with whom he might counsel and consult on all matters affecting the public welfare, not to enter into combinations to control him. Nothing of this kind had hitherto taken place in our interviews — that we had not been sufficiently intimate, impressive, or formal perhaps, and perhaps not sufficiently explicit and decisive in expressing our views on some subjects.

Chase disclaimed any movement against the President, and thought the manner was respectful and correct. Said it was designed to tell the President that the administration must be broken up, or McClellan dismissed. The course, he said, was unusual, but the case was unusual. We had, it was true, been too informal in our meeting. I had, he said, been too reserved in the expression of my views, which he did me the compliment to say were sound, etc. Conversations, he said, amounted to but little with the President on subjects of this importance. Argument was useless. It was like throwing water on a duck’s back. A more decisive expression must be made, and that in writing.

It was evident there was a fixed determination to remove, and if possible to disgrace, McClellan. Chase frankly stated [that] he desired it, and that, were he President, McClellan should be brought to summary punishment. I told him he was aware [that] my faith in McClellan’s energy and reliability was shaken nine months ago. That as early as last December I had, as he would recollect, expressed my disappointment in the man and stated to him specially, as the friend and indorser of McClellan, my misgivings, in order that he might remove my doubts or confirm them. McClellan’s hesitating course last fall, his indifference and neglect of my applications to coöperate with the navy, his failure in many instances to fulfill his promises, when the rebels were erecting batteries on the west side of the Potomac that they might close the navigation of the river, had shaken my confidence in his efficiency and reliability, for he was not deficient in sagacity or intelligence. But at that time McClellan was a general favorite, and neither he [Chase] nor any one heeded my doubts and apprehensions.


I did not think, as Chase now says he does, and as I hear others say they do, that he was imbecile, a coward, a traitor, but it was notorious that he hesitated, doubted, had not self-reliance — any definite and determined plan or audacity to act. He was wanting in my opinion in several of the essential requisites of a general in chief command; in short he was not a fighting general. These are my present convictions. Some statements of Stanton and some recent acts indicate failings, delinquencies of a more serious character. The country is greatly incensed against him, but he has the confidence of the army, I think.

Chase was disappointed, and I think a little chagrined, because I would not unite in the written demand to the President. He said he had not yet asked Blair and did not propose to, till the others had been consulted. This does not look well. It appears as if there was a combination by two to get their associates committed, seriatim, by a skillful ex-parte movement without general consultation.

McClellan was first invited to Washington under the auspices of Chase more than of any one else, though all approved, for Scott was old, infirm and changeable. Seward soon had greater intimacy with McClellan than Chase. Blair [who is] informed in regard to the qualities of army officers, acquiesced in this, Mr. Chase’s selection — thought him intelligent and capable, but dilatory. In the winter, when Chase began to get alienated from McC[lellan] in consequence of his hesitancy or reticence, or both, if not because of greater intimacy with Seward, Blair seemed to confide more in the General, yet I do not think McC[lellan] was a favorite, or that he grew in favor.

[Before this Cabinet meeting, the President had assigned McClellan to the task of reorganizing the defeated troops, for which he was so admirably fitted. The federal armies of the Potomac and of Virginia were consolidated, and word coming that Lee was preparing to invade Maryland, Lincoln offered the command to Burnside, who declined it, recommending McClellan. Soon afterward Pope disappears from the history of the Civil War.]

Tuesday, September 2. 1862.
At a Cabinet meeting all but Seward were present. I think there was design in his absence. It was stated that Pope, without consultation or advice, was falling back, intending to retreat within the Washington intrenchments. No one seems to have had any knowledge of his movements, or plans, if he had any. Those who have favored Pope are disturbed and disappointed. Blair, who has known him intimately, says he is a braggart, with some courage perhaps, but not much capacity. The general conviction is that he is a failure here, and there is a belief and admission on all hands that he has not been seconded and sustained as he should have been by McClellan, Franklin, Fitz John Porter, and perhaps some others. Personal jealousies and professional rivalries, the bane and curse of all armies, have entered deeply into ours.


Stanton said in a suppressed voice, trembling with excitement, he was informed McClellan had been ordered to take command of the forces in Washington. General surprise was expressed. When the President came in and heard the subject matter of our conversation, he said he had done what seemed to him best and would be responsible for what he had done to the country. Halleck had agreed to[thestep]. McClellan knows this whole ground, his specialty is to defend. He is a good engineer. All admit there is no better organizer. He can be trusted to act on the defensive, but he is troubled with the “slows,” and good for nothing for an onward movement. Much was said. There was a more disturbed and desponding feeling than I have ever witnessed in council. The President was greatly distressed. There was a general conversation as regarded the infirmities of McClellan, but it was claimed, by Blair and the President, [that] he had, beyond any officer, the confidence of the army. Though deficient in the positive qualities which are necessary for an energetic commander, his organizing powers could be made temporarily available till the troops were rallied.

Stanton and Halleck are apprehensive that Washington is in danger. Am sorry to see this fear, for I do not believe it among remote possibilities. Undoubtedly, after the orders of Pope to fall back, and the discontent and contentions of the generals, there will be serious trouble, but not such as to endanger the capital. The military believe a great and decisive battle is to be fought in front of the city, but I do not anticipate it. It may be that [by] retreating within the intrenchments our own generals and managers have inspired the rebels to be more daring. Perhaps they may venture to cross the upper Potomac and strike at Baltimore, our railroad communication, or both; but they will not venture to come here where we are prepared and fortified with both army and navy to meet them.

[The demoralization of the army under Pope seemed complete. “ Unless something can be done,” telegraphed the commander on September 2, “ to restore tone to this army, it will melt away before you know it.”]


Wednesday, September 3, 1882.
Washington is full of exciting, vague and absurd rumors. There is some cause for it. Our great army comes retreating to the banks of the Potomac, driven back to the entrenchments by rebels.
The army has no head. Halleck is here in the Department a military director, not a general, a man of some scholastic attainments, but without soldierly capacity. McClellan is an intelligent engineer and officer, but not a commander to head a great army in the field. To attack or advance with energy and power is not in him, to fight is not his forte. I sometimes fear his heart is not earnest in the cause, yet I do not entertain the thought that he is unfaithful. The study of military operations interests and amuses him. It flatters him to have on his staff French princes and men of wealth and position; he likes show, parade and power. Wishes to outgeneral the rebels, but not to kill and destroy them. In a conversation which I had with him in May last, at Cumberland on the Pamunkey, he said he desired, of all things, to capture Charleston, — he would demolish and annihilate the city. He detested, he said, both South Carolina and Massachusetts, and should rejoice to see both states extinguished. Both were and always had been ultra and mischievous, and he could not tell which he hated most. These were the remarks of the General-in-Chief at the head of our armies then in the field, and when as large a proportion of his troops were from Massachusetts as from any state in the Union, while as large a proportion of those opposed, who were fighting the Union, was from South Carolina as from any state. He was leading the men of Massachusetts against the men of South Carolina, yet he, the general, detests them alike.
The slight upon him and the generals associated with him in the selection of Pope was injudicious, impolitic, wrong perhaps, but is no justification for their withholding one tithe of strength in a great emergency, where the lives of their countrymen and the welfare of the country were in danger. The soldiers whom McClellan has commanded are doubtless attached to him. They have been trained to it, and he has kindly cared for them while under him. With partiality for him they have imbibed his prejudices, and some of the officers have, I fear, a spirit more factious and personal than patriotic. I have thought they might have reason to complain at the proper time and place, but not on the field of battle, that a young officer of no high reputation should be brought from a Western department and placed over them. Stanton, in his hate of McC[lellan], has aggrieved other officers.
The introduction of Pope here, followed by Halleck, is an intrigue of Stanton’s and Chase’s to get rid of McClellan. A part of this intrigue has been the withdrawal of McClellan and the Army of the Potomac from before Richmond and turning it into the Army of Washington under Pope.


Chase, who made himself as busy in the management of the army as the Treasury, said to the President one day in my presence, when we were looking over the maps on the table in the War Department, that the whole movement upon Richmond by the York River was wrong, that we should accomplish nothing until the army was recalled and Washington was made the base of operations for an overland march. McClellan had all the troops with him and the capital was exposed to any sudden blow from the rebels.

What would you do? said the President. — “ Order McC[lellan] to return and start right,” replied Chase, putting his finger on the map, and pointing the course to be taken across the country.

Pope, who was present, said, “ If Halleck were here, you would have, Mr. President, a competent adviser who would put this matter right.”

The President, without consulting any one, went on a hasty visit to West Point, where he had a brief interview with General Scott and immediately returned. A few days thereafter General Halleck was detached from the Western Department and ordered to Washington, where he was placed in position as General-in-Chief, and McClellan and the Army of the Potomac, on Halleck’s recommendation, first proposed by Chase, were recalled from the vicinity of Richmond.

The defeat of Pope and placing McC[ellan] in command of the retreating and disorganized forces after the second disaster at Bull Run interrupted the intrigue which had been planned for the dismissal of McClellan, and was not only a triumph for him but a severe mortification and disappointment for both Stanton and Chase.

Thursday, September 4, 1862.
City full of rumors, and but little truth in any of them.
Wilkes laid before me his plan for organizing the Potomac Flotilla. It is systematic and exhibits capacity.
Something energetic must be done in regard to the suspected privateers which, with the connivance of British authorities, are being sent out to depredate on our commerce. We hear that our new steamer, the Adirondack, is wrecked. She had been sent to watch the Bahama Channel. Her loss, the discharge of the Oreto by the courts of Nassau, and the arrival of Steamer 290,4 both piratical British wolves, demand attention, although we have no vessels to spare from the blockade. Must organize a flying squadron as has been suggested and put Wilkes in command. Both the President and Seward request he should go on this service.


When with the President, this A. M., heard Pope read his statement of what had taken place in Virginia during the last few weeks, — commencing at or before the battle of Cedar Mountain. It was not exactly a bulletin, nor a report, but a manifesto, a narrative, tinged with wounded pride and a keen sense of injustice and wrong. The draft, he said, was rough. It certainly needs modifying before it goes out, or there will be war among the generals, who are now more ready to fight each other than the enemy. No one was present but the President, Pope and myself. I remained by special request of both to hear the report read. Seward came in for a moment, but immediately left. He shuns these controversies and all subjects where he is liable to become personally involved. I have no doubt Stanton and Chase have seen the paper, and Seward through Stanton knows its character.

Pope and I left together and walked to the Departments. He declares all his misfortunes are owing to the persistent determination of McClellan, Franklin, and Porter, aided by Ricketts, Griffin, and some others who were predetermined he should not be successful. They preferred, he said, that the country should be ruined rather than he should triumph.

Saturday, September 6, 1862. We have information that the rebels have crossed the Potomac in considerable force, with a view of invading Maryland and pushing on into Pennsylvania. The War Department is bewildered — knows but little, does nothing, proposes nothing.
Our Army is passing north. This evening some twenty or thirty thousand passed my house within three hours. There was design in having them come up from Pennsylvania Avenue to H Street, and pass by McClellan’s house, which is at the corner of H and 15th. They cheered the general lustily, instead of passing by the White House and honoring the President.
Found Chase in Secretary’s room at the War Department with D. D. Field. No others present. Some talk about naval matters. Field captious, censorious, and uncomfortable. General Pope soon came in but staid only a moment. Was angry and vehement. He and Chase had a brief conversation apart, when he returned to Stanton’s room.
When I started to come away Chase followed, and after we came downstairs asked me to walk with him to the President’s. As we crossed the lawn, he said, with emotion, everything was going wrong. He feared the country was ruined. McClellan was having everything his own way, as he (Chase) anticipated he would if decisive measures were not promptly taken for his dismissal. It was a reward for perfidy. My refusal to sign the paper he had prepared was fraught with great evil to the country. I replied that I viewed the matter differently. My estimate of McClellan was in some respects different from his. I agreed he wanted decision, that he hesitated to strike, had also behaved badly in the late trouble, but I did not believe he was unfaithful and destitute of patriotism. But aside from McClellan, and the fact that it would, with the feeling which pervaded the army, have been an impolitic step to dismiss him, the proposed combination in the Cabinet would have been inexcusably wrong to the President. We had seen the view which the President took of the matter and how he felt, at the meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday.


From what I have seen and heard within the last few days, the more highly do I appreciate the President’s judgment and sagacity in the stand he made and the course he took. Stanton has carried his dislike or hatred of McC[lellan] to great lengths, and from free intercourse with Chase has enlisted him, and to some extent influenced all of us against that officer, who has failings enough of his own to bear without the addition of Stanton’s enmity to his own infirmities. The recall of the army from the vicinity of Richmond I thought wrong and I know it was in opposition to the opinion of some of the best military men in the service. Placing Pope over them roused the indignation of many, but in this Stanton had a purpose to accomplish, and in bringing Pope here first, then, by Pope’s assistance and General Scott’s advice, bringing Halleck, and concerting measures which followed, he succeeded in breaking down and displacing McClellan but not in dismissing and disgracing him. This the President would not do or permit to be done, though he was more offended with McC[lellan] than he ever was before. In a brief conversation with him as we were walking together on Friday, the President said with much emphasis, “I must have McClellan to reorganize the army and bring it out of chaos; but there has been a design, a purpose in breaking down Pope, without regard of consequence to the country. It is shocking to see and know this; but there is no remedy at present, — McClellan has the army with him.”
My convictions are with the President, that McClellan and his generals are this day stronger than the Administration with a considerable portion of this Army of the Potomac. It is not so elsewhere with the soldiers or in the country, where McClellan has lost favor. The people are disappointed in him, but his leading generals have contrived to strengthen him in the hearts of the soldiers in front of Washington.

Sunday, September 7, 1862.
When taking a walk this Sunday evening with my son E[dgar] we met on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the junction of H Street, what I thought at first sight a squad of cavalry or mounted men, some twenty or thirty in number. I remarked as they approached that they seemed better mounted than usual, but E[dgar] said the cavalcade was General McClellan and his staff. I raised my hand to salute him as they were dashing past, but the general, recognizing us, halted the troop and rode up to me by the sidewalk to shake hands, he said, and bid me farewell. I asked, “ Which way?” He said he was proceeding to take command of the onward movement. “ Then,” I added, “you go up the river.” He said yes, he had just started to take charge of the army and of the operations above. “Well,” said I, “onward, General, is now the word, — the country will expect you to go forward.” — “ That” he answered, “is my intention.” — “ Success to you, then, General, with all my heart.” With a mutual farewell we parted

Monday, September 8, 1862.
Less sensation and fewer rumors than we have had for several days.
The President called on me to know what we had authentic of the destruction of the rebel steamer in Savannah River. He expressed himself very decidedly concerning the management or mismanagement of the army. Said, “ We had the enemy in the hollow of our hands on hriday if our generals who are vexed with Pope had done their duty. All of our present difficulties and reverses have been brought upon us by these quarrels of the generals.” These were, I think, his very words.

Wednesday, September 10, 1862.
There are muttering denunciations on every side, and if McClellan fails to whip the rebels in Maryland, the wrath and indignation against him and the Administration will be great and unrestrained. If he succeeds, there will be instant relief, and a willing disposition to excuse alleged errors which ought to be investigated.


General Halleck is nominally Generalin-Chief and discharging many of the important functions of the War Department. I have as yet no intimacy with him and have seen but little of him. He has a scholarly intellect and I suppose some military acquirements, but his mind is heavy and irresolute. It appears to me he does not possess originality and has little real military talent. What he has is educational. He came here from the West, the friend of Pope, and is in some degree indebted to Pope for his position.

How far Halleck was assenting to or committed to Stanton’s implacable hostility to McClellan, or whether he was aware of its extent before he came here, I cannot say. Shortly after he arrived, I saw that he partook of the views of Stanton and Chase. By direction of the President he visited the army on the James and became a partner to the scheme for the recall of the troops. This recall or withdrawal he pronounced one of the most difficult things to achieve successfully that an accomplished commander could execute. The movement was effected successfully, but I did not perceive that the country was indebted to General Halleck in the least for that success. The whole thing at headquarters was slovenly managed. I know that the navy, which was in the James River coöperating with the army, was utterly neglected by Halleck. Stanton, when I made inquiry, said the order to bring back the army was not his, and he was not responsible for that neglect. I first learned of the order recalling the army, not from the Generalin-Chief or the War Department, but from Wilkes, who was left upon the upper waters of the James without orders and [with no] coöperating army. When I called on Halleck with Wilkes’s letter, he seemed stupid — said there was no further use for the navy, supposed I had been advised by the Secretary of War. When I suggested that it appeared to me important that the naval force should remain with perhaps a small number of troops [to] menace Richmond, he rubbed his elbow first, as if that was the seat of thought, and then his eyes, and said he wished the navy would hold on for a few days to embarrass the rebels, but he had ordered all the troops to return. I questioned then and do now the wisdom of recalling McClellan and the army, — have doubted if H[alleck], unprompted, “would himself have done it. It was a specimen of Chase’s and Stanton’s tactics. They had impressed the President with their ideas that a change of base was necessary. The President had, at the beginning, questioned the movement on Richmond by way of the Peninsula, but Blair had favored it.

Halleck, destitute of originality, bewildered by the conduct of McClellan and his generals, without military resources, could devise nothing and knew not what to advise or do after Pope’s discomfiture. He saw that the dissatisfied generals triumphed in Pope’s defeat, that Pope and the faction that Stanton controlled against McClellan were unequal to the task they were expected to perform; and, distrustful of himself, Halleck, without consulting Stanton, assented to the President’s suggestion of reinstating McClellan in the entrenchments, to reorganize the shattered forces, and subsequently recommended giving him again the command of the consolidated armies of Washington and the Potomac. The President assured me that this appointment of McClellan to command the united forces and the onward movement was Halleck’s doing. He spoke of it in justification of the act. I was sorry he should permit General H[alleck] to select the commander in such a case if against his own judgment. But the same causes which influenced H[alleck] probably had some effect on the President, and, Stanton, disappointed and vexed, beheld his plans miscarry and felt that his resentments were impotent, at least for a time.


Men in New York, men who are sensible in most things, are the most easily terrified and panic-stricken of any community. They are just now alarmed lest an iron-clad steamer may rush in upon them some fine morning while they are asleep, and destroy their city. In their imagination, under the teachings of mischievous persons and papers, they suppose every rebel cruiser is iron-clad, while in fact the rebels have not one iron-clad afloat. It only requires a sensational paragraph in the Times to create alarm. The Times is controlled by Seward through Thurlow Weed, and used through him by Stanton. Whenever the army is in trouble, and public opinion sets against its management, the Times immediately sets up a howl against the navy.

(To be continued.)

  1. Caleb Smith, Secretary of the Interior.
  2. Judge Bates.
  3. Montgomery Blair.
  4. The Alabama.