The Diary of Gideon Welles: Ii
September 12, 1862
A BRIEF meeting of the Cabinet. Seward was not present. Has met with us but once in several weeks. No cause assigned for this constant absence, yet a reluctance to discuss and bring to a decision any great question without him is apparent.
In a long and free discussion on the condition of the army and military affairs by the President, Blair, Smith and myself, the President repeated what he had before said to me, that the selection of McClellan to command active operations was not made by him but by Halleck, and remarked that the latter was driven to it by necessity. He had arranged his army corps and designated the generals to lead each column, and called on Burnside to take chief command. But Bumside declined and declared himself unequal to the position. Halleck had no other officer whom he thought capable, and said he consequently was left with no other alternative but McClellan.
“ The officers and soldiers,” the President said, “ were pleased with the reinstatement of that officer, but I wish you to understand it was not made by me. I put McC[lellan] in command here to defend the city, for he has great powers of organization and discipline, — he comprehends and can arrange military combinations better than any of our generals, and then his usefulness ends. He can’t go ahead, he can’t strike a blow. He got to Rockville for instance last Sunday night, and in four days he advanced to Middlebrook, ten miles, in pursuit of an invading enemy. This was rapid movement for him. When he went up the Peninsula there was no reason why he should have been detained a single day at Yorktown, but he waited and gave the enemy time to gather his forces and strengthen his position.”
THE “ WEST POINT ” POLICY
I suggested that this dilatory, defensive policy was partly at least the result of education. That a defensive policy was the West Point policy. Our government was not intended to be aggressive, but to resist aggression or invasion, to repel, not to advance. We had good engineers, and accomplished officers, but that no efficient, energetic, audacious fighting commanding general had yet appeared from that institution. We were all aware that General Scott had, at the very commencement, begun with this error of defense, the [West Point] theory; was unwilling to invade the seceding states; said we must shut off the world from the rebels by blockade and by our defences. He had always been reluctant to enter Virginia or strike a blow.
Blair said this was so — that we had men of narrow, aristocratic notions from West Point, but as yet no generals to command. That there were many clever second-rate men, but no superior mind of the higher class. The difficulty, however, was in the War Department itself. There was bluster, but not competency. It should make generals, should search and find them, and bring them up, for there were such somewhere, — far down perhaps; the War Department should give character and tone to the army and all military movements. “ Such,” said he, “ is the fact with the Navy Department which makes no bluster, has no blowers, but quietly and intelligently does its work, inspires its officers and men, and brings forward leaders like Farragut, Foote, and Dupont.”
When we left the Executive Mansion, Blair, who came out with me, remarked that he was glad this conversation had taken place. He wanted to let the President know we must have a Secretary of War who can do something besides intrigue, —who can give force and character to the army, administer the Department on correct principles. Cameron, said he, had got into the War Department by the contrivance and cunning of Seward, who used him and other corruptionists as he pleased, with the assistance of Thurlow Weed. That Seward had tried to get Cameron into the Treasury, but was unable to quite accomplish that, and after a hard underground quarrel against Chase, it ended in the loss of Cameron, who went over to Chase and left Seward. Bedeviled with the belief [that] he might be a candidate for the Presidency, Cameron was beguiled and led to mount the nigger hobby, alarmed the President with his notions, and at the right moment, B[lair] says [that] he plainly and frankly told the President he ought to get rid of C[ameron] at once, — that he was not fit to remain in the Cabinet, and was incompetent to manage the War Department, which he had undertaken to run by the aid of Tom A. Scott, of Philadelphia. Seward was ready to get rid of Cameron after he went over to Chase, but instead of bringing in an earnest, vigorous sincere man, like old Ben Wade, to fill the place, he picked up this black terrier who is no better than Cameron, though he has a better assistant than Scott in Watson. Blair says he now wants assistance to “ get this black terrier out of his kennel.”
Copyright, 1909, by EDGAR T. WELLES.
AN ESTIMATE OF STANTON
I probably did not respond as he wished, for I am going into no combination or movement against colleagues. He said he must go and see Seward. In his dislike of Stanton, Blair is sincere and earnest, but in his detestation he may fail to allow Stanton qualities that he really possesses. Stanton is no favorite of mine. He has energy and application, is industrious and driving, but devises nothing, shuns responsibility, and I doubt his sincerity always. He wants no general to overtop him, is jealous of others in any position who have influence and popular regard, but he has cunning and skill, dissembles his feeling, and to a certain extent is brusque, over-valiant in words. Blair says he is a double-dealer. That he is now deceiving both Seward and Chase; that Seward brought him into the Cabinet after Chase stole Cameron, and that Chase is now stealing Stanton. Reminds me that he exposed Stanton’s character, and stated an instance which had come to his knowledge and where he has proof of a bribe having been received; that he made this exposure when Stanton was a candidate for Attorney for the District. Yet Seward, knowing these facts, had induced and persuaded the President to bring this man into the War Department. The country was now suffering for this mistaken act. Seward wanted a creature of his own in the War Department, that he might use, but Stanton was actually using Seward.
Stanton’s appointment to the War Department was in some respects a strange one. I was never a favorite of Seward, who always wanted personal friends. I was not of his sort — personally or politically, Stanton knowing his creator sympathized with him. For several months after his appointment he exhibited some of his peculiar traits towards me. He is by nature a sensationalist, has from the first been filled with panics and alarms in which I have not participated, and I have sometimes exhibited little respect or regard for his mercurial flights and sensational disturbances. He saw on more than one occasion that I was cool when he was excited, and he well knew that I neither admired his policy nor indorsed his views. Of course we were courteously civil, but reserved and distant.
The opposition in the early days of the Administration was violent against the Navy management, and the class of Republicans who bad been secretly opposed to my appointment joined in the clamor. In the progress of events there was a change. The Navy and my course, which had been assailed and which assaults he countenanced, grew in favor, while my mercurial colleague failed to give satisfaction. His deportment changed after the naval success at New Orleans, and we have since moved along harmoniously at least. He is impulsive not administrative, has quickness, often rashness, when he has nothing to apprehend, is more violent than vigorous, more demonstrative than discriminative, more vain than wise; is rude, arrogant and domineering towards those in subordinate positions if they will submit to his rudeness; but is a dissembler in deportment and language with those whom he fears. He has equal cunning, but more force and greater capacity than Cameron, yet the qualities I have mentioned and his uneasy restless nature make him, though possessed of considerable ability of a certain sort, an unfit man in many respects for the War Department in times like these. I have sometimes thought McClellan would better discharge the duties of Secretary of War than those of a general in the field, and that a similar impression may have crossed Stanton’s mind, and caused an increase of his hate of that officer. There is no love lost between them, and their enmity towards each other does not injure McClellan in the estimation of Blair. Should McClellan in this Maryland campaign display vigor and beat the rebels, he may overthrow Stanton as well as Lee. Blair will give him active assistance. But he must rid himself of what President Lincoln calls the “slows.” This I fear is impossible. It is his nature.
September 13, 1862.
The country is very desponding and much disheartened. There is a perceptibly growing distrust of the Administration and of its ability and power to conduct the war. Military doubts were whispered on the Peninsula by McClellan’s favorites before his recall, and when he was reinstated public confidence in the Administration throughout the country was impaired. It is evident, however, that the reinstatement of McC[lelian] has inspired strength, vigor, and hope in the army. Officers and soldiers appear to be united in his favor, and willing to follow his lead. It has now been almost a week since he left Washington, yet he has not overtaken the enemy, who are not distant. There is doubt whether he is thirty miles from Washington. Perhaps he ought not to be until he has gathered up and massed the dispersed elements of his command. I shall not criticise in ignorance, but insist it is the duty of all to sustain him. I am not without hopes that his late experience, and the strong pressure of public opinion, will overcome his hesitancy and rouse him to thorough work. He is never rash — I fear he is not a fighting general. Stanton is cross and grouty. A victory for McClellan will bring no joy to him though it would gladden the whole country.
[A confidential despatch from Lee to D. H. Hill, found by a Federal private wrapped around some lost cigars, is evidently referred to in the next entry of the Diary. On this same 13 th of September, McClellan telegraphed jubilantly to the President, “ I think Lee has made a gross mistake, and that he will be severely punished. I have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap.” The next day McClellan won the battle of South Mountain, a minor engagement preliminary to Antietam.]
September 15, 1862.
Some rumors yesterday and more direct information to-day are cheering to the Union cause. McClellan telegraphs a victory — defeat of the enemy with loss of 15,000 men, and that “ General Lee admits they are badly whipped.” To whom Lee made this admission so that it should be brought straight to McC[lellan] and telegraphed here does not appear. A tale like this from Pope would have [been] classed as one of his fictions. It may be all true coming from McClellan, but I do not credit Lee’s confession or admission. That we have had a fight and beaten the rebels I can believe. It scarcely could have been otherwise. I am afraid it is not as decisive as it should be, and as is the current belief, but shall rejoice if McC[lellan] has actually overtaken the rebels, which is not yet altogether clear.
LINCOLN’S DEFERENCE TO SWARD
At the Executive Mansion the Secretary of State informed us that there was to be no Cabinet meeting. Me was authorized by the President to communicate the fact. Smith said it would be as well perhaps to postpone the Cabinet meetings altogether and indefinitely, — there seemed no use latterly for our coming together. Others expressed corresponding opinions. Seward turned off a little annoyed.
An unfavorable impression is getting abroad in regard to the President and the Administration, not without reason perhaps, which prompted Smith and others to express their minds freely. There is really very little of a government here at this time, so far as most of the Cabinet are concerned. Certainly but little consultation in this important period. Seward when in Washington spends more or less of each day with the President, absorbs his attention and I fear to an extent influences his action, not always wisely. The President has good sense, intelligence and an excellent heart, but is sadly perplexed and distressed by events. He to an extent distrusts his own administrative ability and experience. Seward, instead of strengthening and fortifying him, encourages this self-distrust, but is not backward in giving his own judgment and experience, which are often defective expedients, to guide the Executive. A conviction of this state of things stirred up Smith to make his remark. The President has, I believe, sincere respect and regard for each and every member of the Cabinet, but Seward seeks and has at times influence which is sometimes harmful. The President would often do better without him were he to follow his own instincts, or were he to consult all his advisers in council. He would find his own opinions confirmed, and be convinced that Seward’s suggestions are frequently unwise and weak and temporizing. No one attempts to obtrude himself, or warn the President, or even to suggest to him that others than S[eward] should be consulted on some of the important measures of the government. In fact, they are not informed of some of the measures which are of general interest until they see them in operation, or hear of them from others.
Chase is much chafed by these things, and endeavors and to some extent succeeds in also getting beside the President, and obtaining information of what is going forward. But this only excites and stimulates Seward, who has the inside track and means to keep it. The President is unsuspicious, — or apparently so, — readily gives his ear to suggestions from any one. Only one of his Cabinet, however, has manifested a disposition to monopolize his attention, but the discussion of important measures is sometimes checked almost as soon as introduced ; and, without any consultation, or without being again brought forward, [they] are disposed of, the Secretary of State alone having had sometimes certainly a view, or ear, or eye in the matter. He alone has abbreviated general consultation in many cases. With greater leisure than most of the Cabinet officers, unless it be Smith of the Interior, he runs to the President two or three times a day. gets his ear, gives him his tongue, makes himself interesting by anecdotes, and artfully contrives with Stanton’s aid to dispose of measures without action, or give them direction independent of his associates.
Under the circumstances, I perhaps am, latterly, as little interfered with as any one, though the duties of the State and Navy Departments run together; yet I am sometimes excessively annoyed and embarrassed by meddlesome intrusions and inconsiderate and unauthorized action by the Secretary of State. The Navy Department has, necessarily, greater intimacy or connection with the State Department than any other, for, besides international questions growing out of the blockade, our squadrons and commanders abroad come in contact with our ministers, consuls, and commercial agents, and each has intercourse with the governments and representatives of other nations. Mutual understanding and cooperation are therefore essential and indispensable. But while I never attempt to direct the agents of the State Department, or think of it, or of meddling with affairs in the appropriate sphere of the Secretary of State, an entirely different course is pursued by him as regards the Navy and naval operations.
SEWARD’S ITCH FOR AUTHORITY
Seward is anxious to direct, to be the Premier, the real Executive, and give away national rights as a favor. Since our first conflict, however, when he secretly interfered with the Sumter expedition and got up an enterprise to Pensacola, we have had no similar encounter, yet there has been an itching propensity on his part to have a controlling voice in naval matters with which he has no business, which he really does not understand; and he sometimes improperly interferes, as in the disposition of mails on captured vessels. The Attorney General has experienced similar improper interference, more than any other; perhaps, none are exempt. But the Secretary of State, while meddlesome with others, is not at all communicative of the affairs of his own department. Scarcely any important measures or even appointments of that Department are brought before us, except by the President himself or by his express direction. The consequence is that there is reticence by others and the government is administered in a great measure by departments. Seward is inquisitive, and learns early what is doing by each of his associates, frequently before we meet in council, while the other Cabinet officers limit themselves to their provided duties, and are sometimes wholly unadvised of his.
[Captain Wilkes, whose patriotic but rash course in forcibly removing the Confederate Commissioners from the Trent had given him immense popularity, was a particularly difficult problem for the Department. His prominence before the country obliged the Secretary to give him active employment, while his hot-headedness was a source of continued anxiety so long as he was in an independent command.]
I have administered the Navy Department almost entirely independently of Cabinet consultation, and I may say almost without direction of the President, who not only gives me his confidence but intrusts all naval matters to me. This has not been my wish. Though glad to have his confidence, I should prefer that every naval movement should pass a Cabinet review. To-day, for instance, Wilkes was given the appointment of Acting Rear Admiral, and I have sent him off with a squadron to cruise in the West Indies. All this has been done without Cabinet consultation or advice with any one, except Seward, who wished Wilkes, between whom and himself, since the Trent affair, there seems to be an understanding, to have a command, without specifying where. In due time our associates in the Cabinet will learn the main facts and infer that I withheld from them my orders.
My instructions to our naval officers, commanders of squadrons or single ships, cruising or on blockade duty, have never been submitted to the Cabinet, though I have communicated them freely to each. I have never read but one of my letters of instructions to the President, and that was to Captain Mercer of the Powhatan in command of naval expedition to Sumter a few weeks after I entered upon my duties, and those instructions were, covertly, set aside and defeated by Seward.
So in regard to each and all the departments. If I have known of their regulations and instructions, much of it has not been in Cabinet consultations. Seward beyond any and alt others is responsible for this state of things. It has given him individual power, but often at the expense of good administration.
THE WANT OF A MILITARY POLICY
In everything relating to military operations by land, General Scott first, then McClellan, then Halleck, have directed and controlled. The government was virtually in the hands of the General-in-Chief, so far as armies and military operations were concerned. The Administration had no distinct military policy; was permitted to have none. The President was generally advised and consulted, but Seward was the special confidant of General Scott, was more than any one of McClellan, and, in conjunction with Stanton, of Halleck. With wonderful kindness of heart and deference to others, the President, with little self-esteem and unaffected modesty, has permitted this, and in a great measure has surrendered to military officers prerogatives entrusted to himself. The mental qualities of Seward are almost the precise opposite of the President. He is obtrusive and never reserved or diffident of his own powers; is assuming and presuming, meddlesome and uncertain, ready to exercise authority always, never doubting his right until challenged; then he becomes timid, uncertain, distrustful and inventive of schemes to extricate himself, or to change his position. He is not so mindful of what is due to others as would be expected of one who aims to be always courteous towards equals. The President he treats with a familiarity that sometimes borders on disrespect. The President, though he observes this ostentatious presumption, never receives it otherwise than pleasantly, but treats it as a weakness in one to whom he attributes qualities essential to statesmanship, whose pliability is pleasant, and whose ready shrewdness he finds convenient and acceptable.
LINCOLN AND SEWARD
With temperaments so constituted and so unlike, it is not surprising that the obsequious affability and ready assumption of the subordinate presumes on, and to an extent influences, the really superior intellect of the principal, and makes himself in a degree the centralizing personage. While the President concedes to the Secretary of State almost all that he assumes, not one of his colleagues make that concession. They treat his opinion respectfully, but as no better than the opinions of others, except as it has merit; and his errors they expose and oppose, as they deserve. In the early days of the Administration the Cabinet officers were absorbed by labors and efforts to make themselves familiar with their duties, so as rightly to discharge them. Those duties were more numerous and trying in consequence of the overthrow of old and the advent of new men and organizations, with the great rupture that was going on in the government, than had ever been experienced by any of their predecessors.
Whilst the other members of the Cabinet were absorbed in familiarizing themselves with their duties, and in preparing for impending disaster, the Secretary of State, less apprehensive of disaster, spent a considerable portion of every day with the President, patronizing and instructing him, hearing and telling anecdotes, relating interesting details of occurrences in the Senate, and inculcating his political party notions. I think he has not very profound or sincere convictions. Cabinet meetings, which should, at that exciting and interesting period, have been daily, were infrequent, irregular and without system. The Secretary of State notified bis associates when the President desired a meeting of the heads of departments. It seemed unadvisable to the Premier, as he liked to be called and considered, that the members should meet often, and they did not. Consequently there was little concerted action.
HOW CABINET MEETINGS WERE CONDUCTED
At the earlier meetings there was little or no formality: the Cabinet meetings were a sort of privy council, or gathering of equals, much like a senatorial caucus, where there was no recognized leader and the Secretary of State put himself in advance of the President. No seats were assigned or regularly taken. The Secretary of State was invariably present some little time before the Cabinet assembled, and from his former position as the Chief Executive of the largest state in the Union, as well as from his recent place as a Senator, and from his admitted experience and familiarity with affairs, assumed and was allowed, as was proper, to take the lead in consultations and also to give tone and direction to the manner and mode of proceedings. The President, if he did not actually wish [it], readily acquiesced in this. Mr. Lincoln, having never had experience in administering the government, state or national, deferred to the suggestions and course of those who had. Mr. Seward was not slow in taking upon himself to prescribe action, and doing most of the talking without much regard to the modest chief, but often to the disgust of his associates, particularly Mr. Bates, who was himself always courteous and respectful, and to the annoyance of Mr. Chase, who had, like Mr. Seward, experience as a chief magistrate. Discussions were desultory and without order or system, but in the summing up and conclusions the President, who was a patient listener and learner, concentrated results, and often determined questions adversely to the Secretary of State, regarding him and his opinions, as he did those of his other advisers, for what they were worth and generally no more. But the want of system and free communication among all as equals prevented that concert and comity which is really strength to an administration.
Each head of a department took up and managed the affairs which devolved upon him as best he could, frequently without consulting his associates, and as a consequence without much knowledge of the transactions of other departments; but as each consulted with the President, the Premier from daily, almost hourly intercourse with him, continued, if not present at these interviews, to ascertain the doings of each and ail, though himself imparting but little of his own course.
Great events of a general character began to impel the members to assemble daily, and sometimes General Scott was present, and occasionally Commodore Stringham; at times others were called in. The conduct of affairs during this period was awkward and embarrassing. After a few weeks the members, without pre-concert, expressed a wash to be better advised on subjects for which they were all measurably responsible to the country. The Attorney General expressed his dissatisfaction with these informal proceedings and advised meetings on stated days for general and current affairs, and hoped, when there was occasion, special calls would be made. The Secretary of State alone dissented, hesitated, doubted, objected, thought it inexpedient — said all had so much to do that we could not spare the time; but the President was pleased with the suggestion, if he did not prompt it, and concurred with the rest of the Cabinet.
The form of proceeding was discussed : Mr. Seward thought that would take care of itself. Some suggestions were made in regard to important appointments which had been made by each head of department, the Secretary of State taking the lead in selecting high officials, without general consultation. There seemed an understanding between the Secretaries of State and Treasury, who have charge of the most important appointments, of which understanding the President was perhaps cognizant. Chase had extensive patronage; Seward, appointments of high character. The two arranged that each should make his own selection of subordinates. These two men had political aspirations (which did not extend to their associates, with perhaps a single exception that troubled neither). Chase thought he was fortifying himself by this arrangement; but he often was overreached, and the arrangement was one of the mistakes of his life.
Without going farther into details, the effect and probably the intention of these proceedings in those early days was to dwarf the President and elevate the Secretary of State. The latter also circumscribed the sphere of [the President] so far as he could. Many of the important measures, particularly of his own department, he managed to dispose of, or contrived to have determined, independent of the Cabinet.
THE RIVALRY OF SEWARD AND CHASE
Between Seward and Chase there was perpetual rivalry and mutual but courtly distrust. Each was ambitious. Both had capacity; Seward was supple and dexterous, Chase was clumsy and strong; Seward made constant mistakes, but recovered with a facility that was wonderful and almost always without injury to himself. Chase made fewer blunders but persevered in them when made, often to his own serious detriment. In the fevered condition of public opinion, the aim and policy of the [men] were strongly developed: Seward, who had sustained McClellan and came to possess, more than any one else in the Cabinet, his confidence, finally yielded to Stanton’s vehement demands and acquiesced in his sacrifice. Chase from [being] an original friend and self-consti tuted patron of McC[lellan] became disgusted, alienated, an implacable enemy, denouncing McClellan as a military imbecile. In all this he was stimulated by Stanton, and the victim of Seward, who first supplanted him with McC[lellan] and then gave up McC[lellan] to appease Stanton and public opinion.
[Stonewall Jackson, who had been detached by Lee to capture Harper’s Ferry, had been allowed to rejoin his chief before McClellan brought on the general engagement at Antietam, September 17 — “ the bloodiest single day of fighting in the war.”]
September 18, 1862.
We have authentic news that a long and sanguinary battle has been fought. McClellan telegraphs that the fight between the two armies was for fourteen hours. The rebels must have been in strong position to have maintained such a fight against our large army. He also telegraphs that our loss is heavy, particularly in generals, but gives neither names nor results. His despatches are seldom full, clear or satisfactory. “ Behaved splendidly,” “ performed handsomely,” — but wherein or what was accomplished is never told. Our anxiety is intense.
General Mansfield is reported slain. He was from my state and almost a neighbor. He called on me last week, on his way from Norfolk to join the army above. When parting, he once shook hands, there was a farther brief conversation and he came back from the door after he left and again shook hands. “ Farewell,” said I, “ success attend you.” He remarked with emphasis and some feeling, “ We may never meet again.”
THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION READ TO THE CABINET
[“The greatest historical significance of the Battle of Antietam,” says Rhodes, “ is that it furnished Lincoln the victory he was waiting for to issue the Proclamation of Emancipation.” This, as we have seen, had been laid aside until military success should support the policy.]
Monday, September 22, 1862,
We had to-day a special Cabinet meeting. The subject was the Proclamation concerning emancipating slaves after a certain date, in States that should then be in rebellion. For several weeks the subject has been suspended, but, the President says, never lost sight of. When the subject was submitted in August, and indeed in taking it up, the President stated that the question was finally decided, but that he felt it to be due to us to make us acquainted with the fact and to invite criticism on the Proclamation. There were some differences in the Cabinet, but he had formed his own conclusions and made his own decisions. He had, he said, made a vow, a covenant, that if God gave us the victory in the approaching battle (which had just been fought), he would consider it his duty to move forward in the cause of emancipation. We might think it strange, he said, but there were times when he felt uncertain how to act; that he had in this way submitted the disposal of matters when the way was not clear to his mind what he should do. God had decided this question in favor of the slave. He was satisfied it was right — was confirmed and strengthened in his action by the vow and by the results, his mind was fixed, his decision made, but he wished his paper announcing his course to be as correct in terms as it could be made without any attempt to change his determination. For that was fixed — we must emancipate the slaves or be ourselves subjugated. The slaves must be with us or against us. They were used against us.
He read the document, and Seward suggested one or two unimportant amendments that were approved. It was then handed to the Secretary of State, to publish to-morrow. After this Blair remarked that he considered it proper to say he did not concur in the expediency of the measure at this time, though he approved of the principle, and should therefore wish to file his objections. He stated at some length his views, which were that we ought not to put in greater jeopardy the patriotic element in the border states. He apprehended that they would go over to the secessionists as soon as they had seen the proclamation. It would be well also to remember that the army was not united on the subject, and that there was a class of partisans in the free states endeavoring to revive old parties, who would have a club put in their hands of which they would avail themselves to beat the Administration.
The President said he had considered the danger to be apprehended from the first objection, which was undoubtedly serious, but the objection was certainly as great not to act; as regarded the last, it had not so much weight with him; they would use their clubs, do what he might.
The question of power, authority in the government to set free the slaves was not much discussed at this meeting, but had been canvassed by the President in private conversation with the members individually. Some thought legislation advisable before the step was taken, but Congress was clothed with no authority on this subject, nor is the Executive, except under the war power, — military necessity, martial law, — when there can be no legislation. This was the view which I took when the President first presented the subject to Seward and myself last summer, as we were returning from the funeral of Stanton’s child, — a ride of two or three miles from beyond Georgetown. Seward was at that time not at all communicative, and I think not willing to advise, though he did not dissent from the movement. It is momentous both in its immediate and remote results, and an exercise of extraordinary power which cannot be justified on mere humanitarian principles, and would never have been attempted but to preserve the national existence. The slaves must be with us or against us in the war. Let us have them These were my convictions, and this is the drift of the discussion.
The effect which the Proclamation will have on the public mind is a matter of some uncertainty. In some respects it would, I think, have been better to have issued it when formerly first considered.
There is an impression that Seward has opposed and is opposed to the measure; I have not been without that impression myself, chiefly from his hesitation to commit himself, and perhaps because action was suspended on his suggestion; but in the final discussion he has [as] cordially supported the measure as Chase.
Wednesday, September 24, 1862.
Secretary Smith called this morning; said he had just had an interview with Judge Advocate Turner, who related a conversation which had taken place between himself [Turner] and Colonel Key, one of Halleck’s staff. T[urner] had expressed to K[ey] his surprise that McClellan had not followed up the victory last week, by pursuing the rebels, and capturing them or cutting them in pieces. That, said Kfey], is not the policy. Turner asked what then was the policy. Key said it was one of exhaustion, that it would have been impolitic and injudicious to have destroyed the rebel army, for that would have ended the contest without any compromise, and it was the army policy at the right time to compel the opposing forces to adopt a compromise.1Smith assures me that Turner made to him this communication. It is most extraordinary, yet entirely consistent with current events and what Wilson and others have stated. While I can hardly give credit to the statement, the facts can be reconciled with every action or inaction—with wasted energies, fruitless campaigns and barren fight3. Smith fully believes it.
As I write, 9 P. M., a band of music strikes up on the opposite side of the square, — a complimentary serenade to the President for the Emancipation Proclamation. The document has been in the main well received, but there is some violent opposition, and the friends of the measure have made this demonstration to show their approval.
CHASE’S FINANCIAL POLICY
Thursday, September 25, 1862.
Had some talk to-day with Chase on financial matters. Our drafts on Barings now cost us twenty-nine per cent. I object to this as presenting an untrue statement of naval expenditures, unjust to the Navy Department, as well as unjust in fact. If I draw for $100,000 it ought not to take from the naval appropriation $129,000. No estimates, no appropriations by Congress, embrace the $29,000 brought on by the mistaken Treasury policy of depreciating the currency. I therefore desire the Secretary of the Treasury to place $100,000 in the hands of the Barings to the credit of the Navy Department, less the exchange. This he declines to do, but insists on deducting the difference between money and inconvertible paper, which I claim to be wrong, because in our foreign expenditures, the paper which his financial policy forces upon us at home is worthless abroad. The depreciation is the result of a mistaken financial policy and illustrates its error and tendency to error.
The departure from a specie standard, and the adoption of an irredeemable paper currency, deranges the finances and is fraught with disastrous consequences. This vitiation of the currency is the beginning of evil, a fatal mistake — which will be likely to overwhelm Chase and the Administration if he and they remain here long enough.
Had some conversation with Chase relating to the war. He is much discouraged; believes the President is disposed to let matters take their course; deplores this state of things, but can see no relief.
CHASE’S OPINION OF STANTON
I asked if the principal source of the difficulty was not in the fact that we actually had not a War Department. Stanton is dissatisfied, and he and those under his influence do not sustain and encourage McClellan, yet he needs to be constantly stimulated, inspired, and pushed forward. It was, I said, apparent to me, and I thought to him, that the Secretary of War, though arrogant and often offensive in language, did not direct army movements ; he appears to have something else than army operations in view. The army officers here, or others than he, appear to control military movements. Chase was disturbed by my remarks. Said Stanton had not been sustained, and his department had become demoralized, but he (Chase) should never consent to remain if Stanton left. I told him he misapprehended me. I was not the man to propose the exclusion of Stanton, or any one of our Cabinet associates, but we must look at things as they are, and not fear to discuss them. It was our duty to meet difficulties and try to correct them. It was wrong for him, or any one, to say he would not remain and do his duty if the welfare of the country required a change of policy or a personal change in any one department. If Stanton was militarily unfit, indifferent, dissatisfied, or engaged in petty personal intrigues against a man whom he disliked, to the neglect of the duties with which he was entrusted, or had not the necessary administrative ability, [if he] was from rudeness or any other cause offensive, we ought not to shut our eyes to the fact.
It is evident that Chase takes pretty much the same views as I do, but has not made up his mind to act on his convictions.
The President has issued a proclamation on martial law — suspension of Habeas Corpus, he terms it — meaning of course a suspension of the privilege of the writ of Habeas Corpus. Of this proclamation I knew nothing until I saw it in the papers, and am not sorry that I did not. I question the wisdom or utility of a multiplicity of proclamations striking deep on great questions.
Friday, September 26, 1862.
It is now almost a fortnight since the battle near Sharpsburg (Antietam) — the rebels have recrossed the Potomac — but our army is doing nothing. The President says Halleck told him he should want two days more — to make up his mind what to do. Great Heavens ! — what a General-in-Chief!
Wednesday, October 1, 1862.
Called this morning at the White House, but learned the President had left the city. The porter said he made no mention whither he was going, nor when he would return. I have no doubt he is on a visit to McClellan and the army; none of his Cabinet can have been aware of this journey.
EARLY ESTIMATE OF DAVID D. PORTER
Relieved Davis and appointed D. D. Porter to the Western Flotilla, which is hereafter to be recognized as a squadron. Porter is but a commander. He has, however, stirring and positive qualities, is fertile in resources, has great energy, excessive and sometimes not overscrupulous ambition, is impressed with and boastful of his own powers, given to exaggeration in relation to himself (a Porter infirmity), is not generous to older living and superior officers whom he is too ready to traduce, but is kind and patronizing to favorites who are juniors, and generally to official inferiors. Is given to cliquism, but brave and daring, like all his family. He has not the conscientious and high moral qualities of Foote to organize the flotilla, and is not considered by some of our best naval men a fortunate officer; has not in his profession, though he may have personally, what the sailors admire, “ luck.” It is a question, with his mixture of good and bad traits, how he will succeed. His selection will be unsatisfactory to many, but his field of operation is peculiar, and a young and active officer is required for the duty to which he is assigned. [It] will be an incentive to juniors. If he does well, I shall get no credit; if he fails, I shall be blamed. No thanks in any event will be mine. Davis, whom he succeeds, is more of a scholar than a sailor, has gentlemanly instincts and scholarly acquirements, is an intelligent but not an energetic, driving, fighting officer just [such] as is wanted for rough work on the Mississippi; is kind and affable, but has not the vim, dash, — recklessness perhaps is the better word, — of Porter.
Dahlgren, whose ambition is great, will I suppose be hurt that Porter, who is his junior, should be designated for the Mississippi command, and the President will sympathize with D[ahlgren], whom he regards with favor while he has not great admiration or respect for Porter. Dahlgren has asked to be assigned to the special duty of capturing Charleston, but Dupont has had that object in view for more than a year and made it his study. I cannot, though I appreciate Dahlgren, supersede the Admiral in this work.
THE CABINET ON EMANCIPATION
The Emancipation Proclamation has, in its immediate effects, been less exciting than I had apprehended. It has caused but little jubilation on one hand, nor much angry outbreak on the other. The speculations as to the sentiments and opinions of the Cabinet in regard to this measure are ridiculously wild and strange. When it was first brought forward some six or eight weeks ago, all present assented to it. It was pretty fully discussed at two subsequent Cabinet meetings, and the President consulted freely, I presume, with the members individually. He did with me. Mr. Bates desired that deportation, by force if necessary, should go with emancipation. Born and educated among the negroes, having always lived with slaves, he dreaded any step which should be takeD to bring about social equality between the two races. The effect, he said, would be to degrade the whites without elevating the blacks: demoralization, vice, and misery would follow. Mr. Blair, at the second discussion, said that while he was an emancipationist from principle, he had doubts of the expediency of such a movement as was contemplated. Stanton, after expressing himself earnestly in favor of the step proposed, said it was so important a measure that he hoped every member would give his opinion, whatever it might be, on the subject. Two had not spoken, — alluding to Chase and myself.
I then spoke briefly of the strong exercise of power involved in the question, the denial of executive authority to do this act. But [I argued] the rebels themselves had invoked war on the subject of slavery, had appealed to arms, and they must abide the consequences. It was an extreme exercise of war powers, and under the circumstances, and in view of the condition of the country and the magnitude of the contest, I was willing to resort to extreme measures and avail ourselves of military necessity, always harsh and questionable. The blow would fall heavy and severe on those loyal men in the slave states who clung to the Union and had most of their property in slaves; but they must abide the results of a conflict which we all deplored. The slaves were now an element of strength to the rebels, were laborers, producers, and army attendants. They were considered as property by the rebels, and, if property, were subject to confiscation; if not property, but persons residing in the insurrectionary region, we should invite them, as well as the whites, to unite with us in putting down the rebellion. I had made known my views to the President, and could say here I gave my approval of the proclamation. Mr. Chase said it was going a step farther than he had proposed, but he was glad of it, and went into a very full argument on the subject, I do not attempt to report it or any portion of it, nor that of others, farther than to define the position of each when this important question was before us. Something more than a proclamation will be necessary, for this step will band the South together, make opponents of some who now are friends, and unite the border states firmly with the cotton states in resistance to the government.
Thursday, October 2, 1802.
Admiral Dupont arrived to-day; looks hale and hearty. He is a skillful and accomplished officer. Has a fine address, is a courtier with perhaps too much finesse and management, resorts too much to extraneous and subordinate influences to accomplish what he might easily attain directly, and, like many naval officers, is given to personal cliques, naval clanship. This evil I have striven to break up, and, with the assistance of secession, which took off some of the worst cases, have thus far been pretty successful.
STANTON’S THREAT TO RESIGN
Friday, October 3, 1802.
Chase tells me that Stanton has called on him to say he deemed it his duty to resign, being satisfied he could no longer be useful in the War Department. There are, Chase says, unpaid requisitions on his table at this time to the amount of $45,000,000 from the War Department, and things are in every respect growing worse daily. Perhaps he really believes Stanton, who no more intends resigning than the President or Seward does.
I remarked that the disagreement between the Secretary of War and the generals in command must inevitably work disastrously, that I had for some time foreseen this, and the declaration of Stanton did not surprise me. He could scarcely do otherwise. He could not get along if these differences continued, but sooner or later he, or the generals, or the whole must go. My remarks were, I saw, not expected nor acceptable. Chase said if Stanton went, he would go. It was due to Stanton and to ourselves that we should stand by him, and if one goes out, all had better go — certainly he would.
This I told him was not my view. If it were best for the country that all should go, then certainly all ought to leave without hesitation or delay; but it did not follow because one must leave for any cause that all should. That I did not admire combination among officials, preferred individuality, and did not think it advisable that we should all make an action dependent on the movements or difficulties of the Secretary of War, who like all of us had embarrassments and might not. himself, be exempt from error. There were many things in the Administration which he and I wished were different. He desired me to think the matter over. Said, with much feeling, things were serious, that he could not stand it, that the army was crushing him and would crush the country. Says the President takes counsel of none but army officers in army matters, though the Treasury and Navy ought to be informed of the particulars of every movement. This is Stanton’s complaint infused into Chase, and has some foundation, though it is but part of the evil. This demonstration of Stanton’s is for effect, and will fail.
Governor Andrew of Massachusetts called upon me this morning, and we had a frank, free, and full interchange of views. He is impatient under the dilatory military operations and the growing ascendancy of the army in civil affairs. Our views did not materially differ on the points discussed, though he has been impressed by Stanton who dislikes many army officers.
[Since April, 1861, Commodore Dahlgren had been in command of the Washington Navy Yard. He had recently been appointed Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, a branch of the service in which he was deservedly rated at the head of his profession in America, but he was now much dissatisfied at not receiving the grade of rear-admiral. The following February he actually received this promotion, and ultimately realized his ambition of succeeding Dupont as commander of the fleet attacking Charleston.]
Dahlgren is grieved with my action in his case. He desires, beyond almost any one, the high honors of his profession, and has his appetite stimulated by the partiality of the President, who does not hesitate to say to him and to me, that he will give him the highest grade if I will send him a letter to that effect, or a letter of appointment. Title irregularly obtained cannot add to Dahlgren’s reputation, yet he cannot be reasoned with. He has [as] yet rendered no service afloat during the war, has not been under fire, and is not on the direct road for professional advancement. The army practice of favoritism and political partyism cannot be permitted in the Navy. Its effect will be more demoralizing than that of the military, for it is bad enough. I am compelled therefore, to stand between the President and Dahlgren’s promotion, in order to maintain the service in proper condition. Dahlgren has the sagacity and professional intelligence to know I am right, and to appreciate my action though adverse to himself. He therefore now seeks service afloat. Wants an opportunity to acquire rank and distinction, but that opportunity must be a matter of favor. His last request was to be permitted to capture Charleston. This would give him éclat. I told him I could not rob Dupont of that honor, but that if he wished I would give him an opportunity to participate, and understood from him it would be acceptable. I therefore tendered him an iron-clad, and the place of Ordnance Officer; he retaining his position at the head of the Bureau with leave of absence as a volunteer to fight.
My proposition has not been received in the manner I expected. He thinks the tender of a single ship to an officer who has had a navy yard, and is now in the Bureau, derogatory, yet wishing active service as the means of promotion, intimates he will accept and resign from the Bureau. This I can’t countenance or permit. It would not meet the views of the President, would do wrong to the service, and great wrong to the country, for him to leave the Ordnance Bureau where he is proficient and can be most useful. His specialty is in that branch of the service, he knows his own value thereat this time, and for him to leave it now would be detrimental to the object he desires to attain. He is not conscious of it, but he has Dahlgren more than the service in view. Were he to be present at the capture of Charleston as a volunteer who had temporarily left the Bureau for that special service, it would redound to his credit, and make him at least second to Dupont in the glory of the achievement.
[On October 8, Buell, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, defeated the Confederates under Bragg at Perry ville, Kentucky, but was soon after superseded by General Rosecrans.]
Tuesday, October 10, 1862.
Some vague and indefinite tidings of a victory by Buell in Kentucky in a two days’ fight at Perry ville. We hear also of the capture of batteries on the St. John’s, in Florida, but have no particulars.
A telegram from Delano, at New Bedford, tells me that the pirate or rebel steamer 290,2 built in Great Britain and manned by British seamen, fresh from England, has captured and burnt five whaling vessels off the Western Islands. The State Department will, I suppose, submit to this evidence that England is an underhand auxiliary to the rebels, be passive on the subject, and the Navy De partment will receive as usual torrents of abuse.
[The dissatisfaction of the administration with the inactivity of McClellan was greatly intensified by the news that the Confederate cavalry, riding ninety miles in twenty-four hours, had made a complete circle of the Federal Army, rejoining Lee’s forces without loss.]
Saturday, October 11, 1862.
>We have word which seems reliable, that Stuart’s rebel cavalry have been to Chambersburg in the rear of McClellan, while he was absent in Philadelphia, stopping at the Continental Hotel. I hope neither statement is correct, but am apprehensive that both may be true.
Monday, October 13, 1862.
We have the mortifying intelligence that the rebel cavalry rode entirely around our great and victorious army of the Potomac, crossing the river above it, pushing on in the rear beyond the Pennsylvania line into the Cumberland valley, then east and south, re-crossing the Potomac below McClellan and our troops, near the mouth of the Monocacy. It is the second time this feat has been performed by J. E. B. Stuart around McClellan’s army. The first was on the York Peninsula. It is humiliating, disgraceful.
Stanton read a dispatch from General Pope, stating that the Indians in the Northwest had surrendered, and he was anxious to execute a number of them. The Winnebagoes who have not been in the fight are with him, and he proposes to ration them at public expense through the winter. He has, Stanton says, destroyed the crops of the Indians, etc. I was disgusted with the whole thing, the tone and opinions of the despatch are discreditable. It was not the production of a good man or a great one. The Indian outrages have, I doubt not, been horrible — what may have been the provocation we are not told. The Sioux and Ojibways are bad ; but the Winnebagoes have good land which white men want, and mean to have.
A letter has been shown about, and is to-day published, purporting to be from General Kearney who fell at Chantilly. The letter is addressed to O. S. Halstead of New Jersey. It expresses his views and feelings towards McClellan, who, he says, “ positively has no talents.” How many officers have “written similar private letters is unknown. “We have no generals,” says this letter of Kearney. It is, I fear, too true.
Saturday, October 18, 1862.
The ravages by the roving steamer 290, alias Alabama, are enormous. England should be held accountable for these outrages. The vessel was built in England, and has never been in the ports of any other nation. British authorities were warned of her true character repeatedly before she left.
A HOAX ON SEWARD
Seward called on me in some excitement this P. M., and wished me to meet the President, himself, Stanton, and Halleck at the War Department, relative to important despatches just received. As we walked over together, he said we had been very successful in getting a despatch which opened up the whole rebel proceedings, — disclosed their plans and enabled us to prepare for them. That it was evident there was a design to make an immediate attack on Washington by water, and it would be well to buy vessels forthwith if we had not a sufficient number ready for the purpose. When we entered Stanton’s room, General Halleck was reading the document alluded to and examining the maps. No one else was present. Stanton had left the Department. The President was in the room of the telegraph operator.
The document purported to be a despatch from General Cooper, Ass’t Sec’y of War of the Confederates, to one of the rebel agents in England. A question arose as to the authenticity of the despatch. Halleck, who is familiar with Cooper’s signature, doubted, after examining the paper, if this was genuine. Adjutant General Thomas was sent for, and requested to bring Cooper’s signature for comparison. Seward then took the papers and commenced reading aloud. The writer spoke of “the mountains of Arlington,” — “the fleet of the Potomac,”—“the fleet of the North,” etc. I interrupted Seward and said it was a clumsy manufacture; that the despatch could have been written by no American, certainly not by General Cooper or any person conversant with our affairs, or the topography of the country: that there were no “ mountains of Arlington,” no “ fleet of the Potomac,” or “ fleet of the North.” General Halleck mentioned one or two other points which impressed him that the despatch was bogus. The President came in while we were criticising the document, the reading of which was concluded by Seward. When the President took the papers and map to examine them. General Thomas soon brought a number of Cooper’s signatures, and all were satisfied at a glance that the purported signature was fictitious.
Seward came readily to the opinion that the papers were bogus, and that the consul, or minister, — he did not say which, — had been sadly imposed upon. The despatch had, he said, cost a good deal of money. It was a palpable cheat. It may be a question whether the British authorities have not connived at it, to punish our inquisitive countrymen for trying to pry into their secrets.
It is just five weeks since the battle of Antietam, and the army is quiet, reposing in camp. The country groans, but nothing is done. Certainly the confidence of the people must give way under this fatuous inaction.
McClellan is not accused of corruption, but of criminal inaction. His inertness makes the assertions of his opponents prophetic. He is sadly afflicted with what the President calls the “ slows.” Many believe him to be acting on the army programme avowed by Key.
Saturday, October 25, 1862.
General Wadsworth,3 Mr. Fenton, and others urgently insist on some changes, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, of masters who, they claim, are active partisans. but they made no clear case. Told them, I was opposed to the policy of removals of competent officers unless for active, offensive partisanship; that any man was entitled to enjoy and exercise his opinion without molestation. General Wadsworth concurred with me, but understood there were such matters within the prescribed rules. Told them that from any facts I had received I would only remove Fairion, master machinist, who, it is shown, is so immersed in politics as to neglect his business, and is a candidate for comptroller. As he manifests a willingness and intention to leave the service for another place, I think he can depart a few days in advance without detriment. This taking advantage of an excited election to thrust miserable partisans into places they are often indifferently qualified to fill, I dislike, and so expressed myself to General Wadsworth, who assented fully to my views.
Tuesday, November 4, 1862.
Further news of the depredations by the Alabama. Ordered Dacotah, Ino, Augusta, etc., on her track. The President read in the Cabinet to-day his sensible letter of the 13th of October to Genl. McClellan, ordering him to move, and to pass down on the east side of the Blue Ridge. McClellan did not wish to move at all; was ordered by Halleck, and when he found he must move said he would go down the west side of the mountain, but when he finally started, went down the east side, without advising Halleck or the President.
Stanton, whose dislike of McClellan increases, says that Halleck does not consider himself responsible for army movements or deficiencies this side of the mountains, of which he has had no notice from General McClellan, who neither reports to him or to the Secretary of War. All his official correspondence is with the President direct, and no one else.
The President did not assent to the last remarks of Stanton, which were more sneering in manner than words, but said Halleck should be, and would be, considered, for he (the President) had told Halleck that he would at any time remove McClellan when Halleck required it, and that he (the President) would take the entire responsibility of the removal.
Mr. Bates quietly suggested that Halleck should take command of the army in person. But the President said, and all the Cabinet concurred in the opinion, that Halleck would be an indifferent general in the field, that he shirked responsibility in his present position; that he, in short, is worth but little except as a critic and director of operations, though intelligent and educated.
December 3, 1862.
It is a month since I have opened this book and been able to make any record of current events. A pressure of public business, the preparation of my Annual Report, and domestic sorrows, have consumed all my waking moments. A light, bright, cherub face which threw its sunshine on our household when this book was last opened, has disappeared forever. My dear Hubert, who was a treasure garnered in my heart, is laid beside his five brothers and sisters in Spring Grove. Well has it been for me that overwhelming public duties have borne down upon me in these sad days. Alas, frail life amid the Nation’s grief I have my own!
(To be continued.)
- Major John J. Key was summarily called upon by the President to account for his language, stingingly rebuked, and forthwith dismissed from the service. ↩
- The Alabama. ↩
- Major-General James S. Wadsworth, United States Volunteers, in charge of the defense of Washington, and later a defeated candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor of New York. ↩