The Diary of Gideon Welles



[Grant had assumed personal command of the expedition against Vicksburg on January 30. The difficulties of the undertaking were not altogether appreciated in the North, and the public was growing restive.]

Tuesday, June 2, 1863.
There was some discussion of affairs at Vicksburg. The importance of capturing that stronghold and opening the navigation of the river is appreciated by all, and confidence is expressed in Grant, but it seems that not enough was doing. The President, Halleck declares, can furnish no additional troops. As yet I have seen nothing to admire in the military management of General Halleck, whose mind is heavy and, if employed at all, is apparently engaged on something else than the public matter in hand. At this time when the resources of the nation should be called out, and activity pervade all military operations, he sits back in his chair doing comparatively nothing. It worries the President; yet he relies upon Halleck and apparently [on] no one else in the War Department. No one more fully realizes the magnitude of the occasion, and the vast consequences involved, than the President. He wishes all to be done that can be done, but yet in army operations will not move or do except by consent of the dull, stolid, inefficient and incompetent General-inChief. Stanton does not attend onehalf of the Cabinet meetings. When he comes, he communicates little of importance. Not unfrequently he has a private conference with the President in the corner of the room, or with Seward in the library. Chase, Blair, and Bates have each expressed their mortification and chagrin that things were so conducted. To-day as we came away, Blair joined me, and said he knew not what we were coming to. That he had tried to have things different.

Saturday, June 6, 1863.
Am unhappy over our affairs.
How far Halleck is sustaining Grant at Vicksburg, I do not learn. He seems heavy and uncertain in regard to matters there. A further failure at V[icksburg], will find no justification. To-day he talks of withdrawing a portion of the small force at Port Royal. I am not, however, as anxious as some for an immediate demonstration on Charleston. There are I think strong reasons for deferring action for a time, unless the army is confident of success by approaches on Morris Island. Halleck is confident the place can be so taken. But, while he expresses this belief, he is not earnest in carrying it into effect. He has broken out with zeal for Vicksburg, and is ready to withdraw most of the small force at Port Royal and send it to the Mississippi. Before they could reach Grant the fate of Vicksburg will be decided. If such a movement is necessary now, it was, weeks ago, while we were in consultation for army work in South Carolina and Georgia.

Halleck inspires no zeal in the army or among our soldiers. Stanton is actually hated by many officers, and is more intimate with certain extreme partisans in Congress, the Committee on the Conduct of War and others, than with the Executive, Administration and military men. The Irish element is dissatisfied with the service, and there is an unconquerable prejudice on the part of many whites against black soldiers. But all our increased military strength now comes from the negroes. Partyism is stronger with many in the free states than patriotism. Every coward and niggardly miser opposes the war. The former from fear, lest he should be drafted; the latter, to avoid taxes.

Wednesday, June 10, 1863.
The accounts of piratical depredations disturb me. My views, instructions, and arrangements to capture the Alabama, which would have prevented these depredations, have failed through the misconduct of Wilkes. The rebel cruisers are now beginning to arm their prizes and find adventurers to man them. Our neutral friends will be likely to find the police of the seas in a bad way.

Friday,June 12, 1863.
The interference of members of Congress in the petty appointments and employment of laborers in the Navy Yards is annoying and pernicious. The public interest is not regarded by the members, but they crowd partisan favorites for mechanical positions in place of good mechanics and workmen, and when I refuse to entertain their propositions, they take offence. I can’t help it if they do. I will not prostitute trust to their schemes and selfish personal partisanship.

Sunday, June 14, 1863.
Farther reports of depredations. Got off vessels last night from New York and Hampton Roads. Sent to Boston for Montgomery to cruise off Nantucket.


[R. H. Milroy, Major General of Volunteers, in charge of a division of the eighth army corps, was stationed at Winchester, Virginia. Here, on June 15, he was attacked by the main body of Lee’s army marching north to Pennsylvania. The fighting lasted for three days, when Milroy succeeded in cutting his way out, with the loss of the major part of his forces. His conduct was made the subject of investigation, and in 1865 he resigned from the army.]

Scary rumors abroad of army operations and a threatened movement of Lee upon Pennsylvania. No doubt there has been a change. I fear our friends are in difficulty. Went to the War Dept. this evening. Found the President and General Halleck with the Secretary of War in the room of the telegraphic operator. Stanton was uneasy, said it would be better to go into another room. The President and myself went into the Secretary’s office. The other two remained. The President said, quietly, to me, he was feeling very badly, that he feared Milroy and his command were captured, or would be. He (Milroy) has written that he can hold out five days, but at the end of five days he wall be in no better condition, — for he can’t be relieved. “ It is,” said the President, “ Harper’s Ferry over again.”

I enquired why Milroy did not fall back, — if he had not been apprised by Hooker or from here, what Lee was doing ? etc. I added, if Lee’s army was moving, Hooker would take advantage and sever his forces, perhaps take his rear guard. The President said it would seem so, but that our folks appear to know but little how things are, and showed no evidence that they ever availed themselves of any advantage.

How fully the President is informed, and whether he is made acquainted with the actual state of things, is uncertain. He depends on the War Department which, I think, is not informed and is in confusion. From neither of the others did I get a word. Stanton came once or twice into the room where we were, in a fussy way. Halleck did not move from his chair where he sat with his cigar, the door being open between the two rooms. From some expressions which were dropped from H[alleck] I suspect poor Milroy is to be made the scapegoat, and blamed for the stupid blunders, neglects, and mistakes of those who should have warned and advised him.

I do not learn that any members of the Cabinet are informed of army movements. The President is kept in ignorance, and defers to the General in Chief, though not pleased that he is not fully advised of matters as they occur. There is a modest distrust of himself, of which advantage is taken. For a week, movements have been going on of which he has known none, or very few, of the details.

I came away from the War Department painfully impressed. After recent events Hooker cannot have the confidence which is essential to success, and all-important to the commander in the field. He has not grown in public estimation since placed in command. If he is intemperate, as is reported, God help us! The President, who was the first person to intimate this failing to me, has a personal liking for Hooker, and clings to him when others give way.


Monday, June 15, 1863.
Met Blair at the depot. Told him of the conversation I had last evening with the President and the appearance of things at the War Department. It affected him greatly. He has never had confidence in either Stanton, Halleck, or Hooker. He fairly groaned that the President should continue to trust them, and defer to them, when the magnitude of the questions is considered. “ Strange, strange,” he exclaimed, “ that the President, who has sterling ability, should give himself over so completely to Stanton and Seward!” Something of a panic pervades the city. Singular rumors reach us of rebel advances into Maryland. It is said they have reached Hagerstown, and some of them have penetrated as far as Chambersburg in Pennsylvania. These reports are doubtless exaggerations, but I can get nothing satisfactory from the War Department of the rebel movements, or of our own. There is trouble, confusion, uncertainty, where there should be calm intelligence.

I have a panic telegraph from Gov. Curtin, who is excitable and easily alarmed, entreating that guns and gunners may be sent from the Navy Yard at Philadelphia to Harrisburg without delay. We have not a gunner that we can spare. Commodore Stribling can spare men, temporarily, from the Navy Yard.

[“ Harrisburg,” says Rhodes, “ the capital of the state, was indeed in danger. If Harrisburg was captured it was thought the Confederates would march on Philadelphia. Men well informed believed that Lee had nearly 100,000 men and 250 pieces of artillery.”]

I went again, at a late hour, to the War Department, but could get no facts or intelligence from the Secretary, who either does not know or dislikes to disclose the position and condition of the army. He did not know that the rebels had reached Hagerstown, did not know but some of them had, — quite as likely to be in Philadelphia as Harrisburg. Ridiculed Curtin’s fears. Thought it would be well, however, to send such guns and men as could be spared to allay his apprehension. I could not get a word concerning Gen. Milroy and his command, whether safe or captured, retreating or maintaining his position. All was vague, — opaque, thick darkness. I really think Stanton is no better posted than myself, and from what Stanton says am afraid Hooker does not comprehend Lee’s intentions nor know how to counteract them. Halleck has no activity, never exhibits sagacity or foresight, though he can record and criticise the past. It looks to me as if Lee was putting forth his whole energy and force in one great desperate struggle which shall be decisive, — that he means to strike a blow that will be severely felt, and of serious consequence, and thus bring the war to a close. But all is conjecture.

Tuesday, June. 16, 1863.
We hear this morning that Milroy has cut his way through the rebels and arrived at Harper’s Ferry, where he joins Tyler. I cannot learn from the War Department how early Milroy was warned from here that the rebels were approaching him, and that it would be necessary for him to fall back. Halleck scolds and swears about him as a stupid worthless fellow. This seems his way to escape censure himself and cover his stupidity in higher position.

The President yesterday issued a proclamation calling for 100,000 volunteers to be raised in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia. This call is made from outside pressure, and intelligence received chiefly from Pennsylvania, and not from the War Department or Head-Quarters. Tom A. Scott, late Assistant Secretary of War, came on expressly from Pennsylvania, sent by Curtin, and initiated the proceeding.

Halleck sits, and smokes, and swears, and scratches his arm and hates it, but exhibits little military capacity or intelligence — is obfusticated, muddy, uncertain, stupid as to what is doing or to be done.

Neither Seward, nor Stanton, nor Blair, nor Usher, were at the Cabinet meeting. The two last are not in Washington. At such a time all should be here, and the meetings full and frequent for general consultation and general purposes. Scarcely a word on army movements. Chase attempted to make inquiries; asked whether a demonstration could not be made on Richmond, but the President gave it no countenance. No suggestions ever come from Halleck.

Young Ulric Dahlgren, who is on Hooker’s staff, came in to-day. He is intelligent and gallant. I asked where the army was. He said between Fairfax and Centreville, or most of it was there; that Lee and the rebel army are on the opposite side of the mountain, fronting Hooker. He knows little or nothing of the reported rebel advances into Pennsylvania, and thinks Hooker does not know it. This is extraordinary, but it accounts for the confusion and bewilderment at the War Office.

Wednesday, June 17, 1863.
Had a telegram at ten last night from Mr. Felton, president of the Philadelphia and Baltimore Railroad, requesting that a gun-boat might be sent to Havre de Grace to protect the Company’s ferryboat property. Says he has information that the rebels intend going down the river to seize it.


I went forthwith to the War Department to ascertain whether there was really any such alarming necessity, for it seemed to me, from all I had been able to learn, that it was a panic invocation. Found the President and Stanton at the War Department, jubilant over intelligence just received that no rebels had reached Carlisle as had been reported, and it was believed had not even entered Pennsylvania. Stanton threw off his reserve, and sneered and laughed at Felton’s call for a gun-boat. Soon a messenger came in from Gen. Schenck, who declares no rebels have crossed the Potomac, that the stragglers and baggage trains of Milroy had run away in affright, and squads of them, on different parallel roads, had alarmed each other, and each fled in terror in all speed to Harrisburg. This alone was asserted to be the basis of the great panic which had alarmed Pennsylvania and the country.

The President was relieved and in excellent spirits. Stanton was apparently feeling well, but I could not assure myself he was wholly relieved of the load which had been hanging upon him. The special messenger brought a letter to Stanton, which he read, but was evidently unwilling to communicate its contents, even to the President who asked about it. Stanton wrote a few lines which he gave to the officer, who left. General Meigs2 came in about this time, and I was sorry to hear Stanton communicate an exaggerated account of Milroy’s disaster, who, he said, had not seen a fight or even an enemy. Meigs indignantly denied the statement, and said Milroy himself had communicated the facts that he had fought a battle and escaped. While he (Meigs) did not consider Milroy a great general, or a man of very great ability, he believed him to be truthful and brave, and if General Schenck’s messenger said there had been no fight, he disbelieved him. Stanton insisted that was what the officer (whom I think he called Payson) said. I told him I did not so understand the officer. The subject was then dropped; but the conversation gave me uneasiness. Why should the Secretary of War wish to misrepresent and belittle Milroy? Why exaggerate the false rumor and try to give currency to, if he did not originate, the false statement that there was no fight, and a panic flight ?

The President was in excellent humor. He said this flight would be a capital joke for Orpheus C. Kerr 3 to get hold of. He could give scope to his imagination over the terror of broken squads of panicstricken teamsters, frightened at each other and alarming all Pennsylvania. Meigs with great simplicity inquired who this person (Orpheus C. Kerr) was. “ Why,” said the President, “ have you not read those papers ? They are in two volumes. Anyone who has not read them must be a heathen.” He said he had enjoyed them greatly except when they attempted to play their wit on him, which did not strike him as very successful, but rather disgusted him. “ Now the hits that are given to you, Mr. Welles, or to Chase, I can enjoy, but I dare say they

may have disgusted you while I was laughing at them. So vice versa as regards myself.” He then spoke of a poem by this Orpheus C. Kerr, which mythologically described McClellan as a monkey fighting a serpent representing the rebellion, but the joke was [that] the monkey continually called for “ more tail,” “ more tail,” which Jupiter gave him, etc., etc.

Friday, June 19, 1863.
Chase informs me that he has just returned from a visit to Hooker’s headquarters, at or near Fairfax Court House. The troops he says are in good spirits and excellent condition, as is Hooker himself. He commends Hooker as in every respect all that we could wish. His (Chase’s) tone towards Halleck is much altered since our last conversation. All of which is encouraging. But Chase’s estimate and judgment of men fluctuates as he has intercourse with them, and they are friendly and communicative, or otherwise.

Saturday, June 20, 1863,
Tidings from New York to-day are sad respecting Admiral Foote. I fear he cannot recover and that his hours upon earth are few. His death will be a great loss to the country, — a greater one, in this emergency, to me, than to any other outside of his own family. Individual sorrows and bereavements, and personal friendships, are not to weigh in matters of national concernment, but I cannot forget that “ we were boys together,” and that in later and recent years we have mutually sustained each other. I need him, and the prestige of his name, in the place to which he has been ordered.

Sumner’s opinion and estimate of men does not agree with Chase’s. Sumner expresses an absolute want of confidence in Hooker; says he knows him to be “a blasphemous wretch; ” that after crossing the Rappahannock and reaching Centreville, Hooker exultingly exclaimed, “The enemy are in my power, and God Almighty cannot deprive me of them.” I have before heard of this, but not so directly and positively. The sudden paralysis that followed, when the army in the midst of a successful career was suddenly checked and commenced its retreat, has never been explained. Whisky is said by Sumner to have done the work. The President said if Hooker had been killed by the shot which knocked over the pillar that stunned him,4 we should have been successful.

Neither Seward nor Stanton was at the Cabinet meeting. Mr. Bates had left for Missouri. The President was with General Hooker at the War Department when we met, but soon came in. His countenance was sad and careworn, and impressed me painfully. Nothing of special interest was submitted. The accustomed rumors in regard to impending military operations continue.

Chase, who evidently was not aware that General Hooker was in Washington until I mentioned it, seemed surprised and left abruptly. I tried to inspire a little cheerfulness and pleasant feeling by alluding to the capture of the Fingal. For a few moments there was animation and interest, but when the facts were out and the story told, there was no new topic and the bright feelings subsided. Believing the President desired to be with General Hooker, who has come in suddenly and unexpectedly and for some as yet undisclosed reason, I withdrew. Blair left with me. He is much dispirited and dejected. We had ten or fifteen minutes talk as we came away. He laments that the President does not advise more with all his Cabinet, deprecates the bad influence of Seward, and Chase, and Stanton, Halleck and Hooker.


Had two interviews with Dahlgren today in regard to his duties as successor of Dupont in command of the South Atlantic Squadron. Enjoined upon him to leave me at no time in ignorance of his views if they underwent any change, or should be different in any respect from mine or the policy proposed. Told him there must be frankness and absolute sincerity between us in the discharge of his official duties; no reserve, though we might differ. I must know, truthfully, what he was doing, and have his frank and honest opinion at all times. He concurs, and I trust there will be no misunderstanding.

My intercourse and relations with Dahlgren have been individually satisfactory. The partiality of the President has sometimes embarrassed me, and given D[ahlgren] promotion and prominence which may prove a misfortune in the end. It has gained him no friends in the profession, but the officers feel and know he has attained naval honors without naval claims or experience. He has intelligence and ability without question; his nautical qualities are disputed — his skill, capacity, courage, daring, sagacity, and comprehensiveness in a high command, are to be tested. He is intensely ambitious, and I fear too selfish. He has the heroism which proceeds from pride and would lead him to danger and to death, but whether he has the innate, unselfish courage of the genuine sailor and soldier remains to be seen. I think him exact and a good disciplinarian, and the President regards him with special favor. In periods of trying difficulties here, from the beginning of the rebellion, he has never failed me. He would, I know, gallantly sustain his chief anywhere and make a good second in command, such as I wished to make him when I proposed that he should be associated with Foote. As a Bureau officer, he is capable and intelligent, but he shuns and evades responsibility. This may be his infirmity in his new position.

Wednesday, June 24, 1863.
No definite or satisfactory information in regard to military movements. If it were clear that the Secretary of War and General-in-Chief knew, and were directing military movements intelligently, it would be a relief; but they communicate nothing, and really appear to have little or nothing to communicate. What at any time surprises us, surprises them. There is no cordiality between them and Hooker, not an identity of views and action, such as should exist between the general in command in the field and the headquarters and department, separated [by] only a few miles. The consequence is an unhappy and painful anxiety and uncertainty, the more distressing to those of us who should know and are measurably responsible because we ought to be acquainted with the facts. Were we not in that position, we should be more at ease.

Word is sent me by a credible person who left Hagerstown last evening, that Ewell and Longstreet with their divisions passed through that place yesterday to invade Pennsylvania with 60,000 men.5 The number is probably exaggerated, but I am inclined to believe there may be half that number, perhaps more. Where in the meantime is General Hooker and our army? I get nothing satisfactory from Head-Quarters or Stanton.

Friday, June 26, 1863.
Rumors are rife concerning the army. If Hooker has generalship in him, this is his opportunity. He can scarcely fail of a triumph. The President in a single remark to-day betrayed doubts of Hooker, to whom he is quite partial:— “We cannot help beating them if we have the man. How much depends in military matters on one master mind. Hooker may commit the same fault as McClellan and lose his chance. We shall soon see; but, it appears to me, he can’t help but win.”

[Clement L. Vallandigham, the Copperhead leader of the Western Democrats, had been arrested by U. S. troops, in May, on the charge of sedition. With the President’s approval, he was courtmartialed and banished to Confederate lines.]

A pretty full discussion of Vallandigham’s case and of tire committee from Ohio, which is here ostensibly in his behalf, but really to make factious party strength. Blair is for letting him return, — turning him loose, says he will damage his own friends. The President would have no objection but for the effect it would have in relaxing army discipline, and disgusting the patriotic sentiment and feeling of the country, which holds V[allandigham] in abhorrence.

Saturday, June 27, 1863.
A telegram last night informed me of the death of Admiral Foote. The information of the last few days made it a not unexpected event, yet there was a shock when it came. Foote and myself were schoolboys together at Cheshire Academy, under good old Doctor Bronson, and, though [he was] three or four years younger than myself, we were pursuing some of the same studies, and there then sprang up an attachment between us that never was broken.

Sunday, June 28, 1863.
The President convened the Cabinet at ten A. M. and submitted his reply to the Vallandigham committee. Save giving too much notoriety and consequence to a graceless traitor, who loves notoriety and office, and making the factious party men who are using him for the meanest purposes that could influence men in such a crisis, conspicuous, the letter is well enough, and well conceived.


After disposing of this subject, the President drew from his pocket a telegram from General Hooker, asking to be relieved. The President said he had, for several days, as the conflict became imminent, observed in Hooker the same failings that were witnessed in McClellan after the battle of Antietam: — a want of alacrity to obey, and a greedy call for more troops which could not, and ought not to be taken from other points. He would, said the President, strip Washington bare, had demanded the force at Harper’s Ferry, which Halleck said could not be complied with (Halleck was opposed to abandoning our position at Harper’s Ferry). Hooker had taken umbrage at the refusal, or at all events had thought it best to give up the command.

Some discussion followed, in regard to a successor. The names of Meade, Sedgwick, and Couch were introduced. I soon saw [that] this review of names was merely a feeler to get an expression of opinion, a committal, or to make it appear that all were consulted. It shortly became obvious, however, that the matter had already been settled, and the President finally remarked, he supposed General Halleck had issued the orders. He asked Stanton if it was not so. Stanton replied affirmatively, that Hooker had been ordered to Baltimore and Meade to succeed him. We were consulted after the fact.

Chase was disturbed more than he cared should appear. Seward and Stanton were obviously cognizant of what had been ordered before the meeting of the Cabinet took place, and had been consulted. Perhaps they had advised proceedings, but, doubtful of results, wished the rest to confirm their act. Blair and Bates were not present with us.

Instead of being disturbed, like Chase, I experienced a feeling of relief, and only regretted that Hooker, who I think has good parts, but is said to be intemperate at times, had not been relieved immediately after the battle of Chancellorsville. No explanation has ever been made of the sudden paralysis which befell the army at that time. It was then reported by those who should have known, that it was liquor; I apprehend from what has been told me that was the principal cause. It was so intimated, but not distinctly asserted in Cabinet. Nothing has been communicated by the War Department, directly, but there has been an obvious dislike of Hooker, and no denial or refutation of the prevalent rumor. I have once or twice made enquiries of Stanton, but could get no satisfactory reply of any kind. The War Department has been aware of these accusations, but has taken no pains to disprove or deny them, perhaps because they could not; perhaps because the War Department did not want to. The President has been partial to Hooker all this time and has manifested no disposition to give him up, except a casual remark at the last Cabinet meeting.

Whether the refusal to give him the troops at Harper’s Ferry was intended to drive him to abandon the command of the army, or is in pursuance of any intention of Halleck to control army movements, and to overrule the general in the field, is not apparent. The President has been drawn into the measure, as he was into withholding McDowell from McClellan, by being made to believe it was necessary for the security of Washington. In that instance, Stanton was the moving spirit, Seward assenting. It is much the same now, only Halleck is the forward spirit, prompted perhaps by Stanton.

Of Meade I know very little. He is not great. His brother officers speak well of him, but he is considered rather a “smooth bore ” than a rifle. It is unfortunate that a change could not have been made earlier.

Monday , June 29, 1863.
Great apprehension prevails. The change of commanders is thus far well received. No regret is expressed that Hooker has been relieved. This is because of the rumor of his habits, the reputation that he is intemperate, for his military reputation is higher than that of his successor. Meade has not so much character as such a command requires. He is however kindly favored, will be well supported, [will] have the best wishes of all, but does not inspire immediate confidence. A little time may improve this, and give him name and fame.

Tuesday, June 30, 1863.
The President did not join us to-day in Cabinet. He was with the Secretary of War and General Halleck, and sent word there would be no meeting. This is wrong but I know no remedy. At such a time as this, it would seem there should be free and constant intercourse and interchange of views, and a combined effort.

Lee and his army are well advanced into Pennsylvania, and they should not be permitted to fall back and recross the Potomac. Halleck is bent on driving them back, not on intercepting their retreat; is full of zeal to drive them out of Pennsylvania. I don’t want them to leave the state, except as prisoners. Meade will, I trust, keep closer to them than some others have done. I understand his first request was for the troops at Harper’s Ferry to join him — which was granted. Hooker asked this, but it was denied him by the War Department and General Halleck.


Blair is much dissatisfied. He came from the Executive Mansion with me to the Navy Department and wrote a letter to the President urging that Dix’s command should be immediately brought up; says Halleck is good for nothing and knows nothing. I proposed that we should both walk over to the War Department, but he declined; said he would not go where Stanton could insult him, that he disliked at all times to go to the War Department, had not been there for a long period, although the government, of which he is a member, is in these days carried on, almost, in the War Department.

We have no positive information that the rebels have crossed the Susquehannah, though we have rumors to that effect. There is no doubt that the bridge at Columbia, one and a half miles long, has been burnt, and, it seems, by our own people. The officer who ordered it must have been imbued with Halleck’s tactics. I wish the rebel army had got across before the bridge was burnt. But Halleck’s prayers and efforts (especially his prayers) are to keep the rebels back, to drive them back across the “ frontiers ” instead of intercepting, capturing, and annihilating them. This movement of Lee and the rebel forces into Pennsylvania is to me incomprehensible, nor do I get any light from military men or others in regard to it. Sould they cross the Susquehannah, as our General-in-Chief and Governor Curtin fear, they will never recross it without being first captured. This they know, unless deceived by their sympathizing friends in the North, as in 1861; therefore I do not believe they will attempt it.

I have talked over this campaign with Stanton this evening, but I get nothing from him definite or satisfactory of fact or speculation, and I come to the conclusion that he is bewildered, that he gets no light from his military subordinates and advisers, and that he really has no information or opinion as to the rebel destination or purpose.

[Wednesday, July 1, was the first day of Gettysburg.]

Thursday, July 2, 1863.
Met Sumner and went with him to the War Department. The President was there, and we read despatches received from General Meade. There was a smart fight, but without results, near Gettysburg yesterday. A rumor is here that we have captured six thousand prisoners; and on calling again this evening at the War Department I saw a telegram which confirms it. General Reynolds is reported killed. The tone of Meade’s despatch is good.

Met the elder Blair this evening at his son’s, the Postmaster General. The old gentleman has been compelled to leave his pleasant home at Silver Spring, his house being in range of fire, and rebel raiders at his door. He tells me McClellan wrote Stanton after the seven days fight near Richmond, that he (Stanton) had sacrificed that army. Stanton replied cringingly, and in a most supplicating manner, assuring McClellan he, Stanton, was his true friend. Mr. F. P. Blair assures me he has seen the letters. He also says he has positive unequivocal testimony that Stanton acted with the secessionists early in the war, and favored a division of the Union. He mentions a conversation at John Lee’s house, where Stanton set forth the advantages that would follow from a division.

Mr. Montgomery Blair said Stanton was talking secession to one class, and holding different language to another. That while in Buchanan’s Cabinet he communicated Toucey’s6 treason to Jake Howard and secretly urged the arrest of Toucey. During the winter of 1860 and 1861, Stanton was betraying the Buchanan administration to Seward, disclosing its condition and secrets, and that for his treachery to his then associates and his becoming a tool of Seward, he was finally brought into the present Cabinet.

These things I have heard from others also, and there have been some facts and circumstances to corroborate them within my own knowledge.


Mr. Seward, who has no very strong convictions and will never sacrifice his life for an opinion, had no belief that the insurrection would be serious or of long continuance. Familiar with the fierce denunciations and contentions of parties in New York, where he had, from his prominent position and strong adherents, been accustomed to excite and direct, and then [to] modify the excesses aroused by anti-masonry and antirent outbreaks by pliable and liberal action, he entertained no doubt that he should have equal success in bringing about a satisfactory result in national affairs by meeting exaction with concessions. He was strengthened in this by the fact that there was no adequate cause for a civil war, or for the inflammatory, excited and acrimonious language which flowed from his heated associates in Congress. Through the infidelity of Stanton, he learned the feelings and designs of the Buchanan administration, which were not of the ultra character of the more impassioned secession leaders. One of the Cabinet already paid court to him — Dix 7 — and some others he knew were not disunionists; and, never wanting faith in his own skill and management, he intended, if his opponents would not go with him, as the last alternative, to go with them and call a convention to remodel the constitution. Until some weeks after Lincoln’s inauguration, Seward never doubted that he could by some expedient, a convention or otherwise, allay the storm. Some who ultimately went into the rebellion also hoped [for] it. Both he and they overestimated his power and influence. Stanton in the winter of 1861 whispered in his ear state secrets, [so] it was understood, because Seward was to be first in the Cabinet of Lincoln, who was already elected. The Blairs charge Stanton with infidelity to party and to country from mere selfish considerations, and with being by nature treacherous and wholly unreliable. Were any overwhelming adversity to befall the country, they look upon him as ready to betray it.


Friday, July 3, 1863.
I met the President and Seward at the War Department this morning. A despatch from General Meade, dated 3 P. M. yesterday, is in very poor tone. The Sixth Army Corps, he says, has just arrived entire but exhausted, having been on the march from 9 P. M. of the preceding evening. In order that they may rest and recruit he will not attack, but is momentarily expecting an onset from the rebels.

They were concentrating for a fight and, unless Meade is greatly deceived, there will be a battle in the neighborhood of Gettysburg. I hope our friends are not deceived, so that the rebel trains with their plunder can escape through the valley.

Saturday,July 4, 1863.
I was called up at midnight precisely by a messenger with telegram from Byington, dated at Hanover Station, stating that the most terrific battle of the war was being fought at or near Gettysburg; that he left the field at half-past six P. M. with tidings, and that everything looked hopeful. The President was at the War Department where this despatch, which is addressed to me, was received. It was the first word of the great conflict. Nothing had come to the War Department. There seems to have been no system, no arrangement for prompt, constant, and speedy intelligence. I had remained at the War Department for news till about eleven. Some half an hour later the despatch from Byington to me came over the wires, but nothing from anyone to Stanton or Halleck. The operator in the War Department gave the despatch to the President, who remained. He asked, “ Who is Byington? ” None in the Department knew anything of him, and the President telegraphed to Hanover Station, asking, “ Who is Byington ?” The operator replied, “ Ask the Secretary of Navy.” I informed the President that the telegram was reliable. Byington is the editor and proprietor of a weekly paper in Norwalk, Connecticut, active and stirring, is sometimes employed by the N. Y. Tribune, and is doubtless so employed now.

The information this morning and despatches from General Meade confirm Byington’s telegram. There is much confusion in the intelligence received. The information is not explicit. A great and bloody battle was fought and our army has the best of it, but the end is not yet. Everything, however, looks encouraging.

Later in the day despatches from Haupt and others state that Lee with his army commenced a retreat this A. M. at 3 o’clock. Our army is waiting for supplies to come up before following — a little of the old lagging infirmity. Couch is said to be dilatory, has not left Harrisburg. His force has not been pushed forward with alacrity. Meade sent him word, “ the sound of my guns should have prompted your movement.” Lee and the rebels may escape in consequence. If they are driven back Halleck will be satisfied. That has been his great anxiety, and too many of our officers think it sufficient if the rebels quit and go off; that it is unnecessary to capture, disperse, and annihilate them.

Extreme partisans fear that the success of our arms will mean success to the administration. Gov. Curtin is in trepidation, lest, if our troops leave Harrisburg to join Meade, the rebels will rush in behind them and seize the Pennsylvania Capitol. On the other hand, Stanton and Halleck ridicule the sensitiveness of the governor, and are indifferent to his wishes and responsibilities. Of course, matters do not wash well.


[Before the sanguine expectations of the Confederacy concerning the invasion of Pennsylvania by Lee’s army were crushed by Gettysburg, Vice-President A. H. Stephens determined, as he afterwards asserted, to “ deeply impress the growing constitutional party at the North with a full realization of the true nature and ultimate tendencies of the War,” or, more plainly speaking, to open ostensible peace negotiations which, while they would be sure to fail, would be reported in the newspapers and rouse in men’s minds the suspicion that the Federal government was not willing to secure peace by generous terms. After discussing this shrewd notion very fully with the Confederate Cabinet, Stephens sent to Admiral Lee a letter stating that he was the bearer of acommunication in writing from “ Jefferson Davis, Commander in Chief of the land and naval forces of the Confederate States to Abraham Lincoln, Commander in Chief of the land and naval forces of the United States,” and that he desired to proceed direct to Washington on his own steamer, the Torpedo. The phraseology of the note was studiously framed to avoid a controversy over the title of Jefferson Davis. The request was transmitted to Washington after Gettysburg had been fought, and Lincoln’s action in the matter cut short Stephens’s undertaking.]

Received this evening a despatch from Admiral Lee, stating he had a communication from A. H. Stephens,8 who wishes to go to Washington with a companion, as military Commissioner “ from Jefferson Davis, Commanding General of Confederate forces, to Abraham Lincoln, President and Commanding General of the Army and Navy of the United States,” and desired permission to pass the blockade in the steamer Torpedo on this mission, with Mrs. Olds, his private secretary. Showed the despatch to Blair whom I met. He made no comment. Saw Stanton directly after, who swore and growled indignantly. The President was at the Soldiers’ Home, and not expected for an hour or two. Consulted Seward, who was emphatic against having anything to do with Stephens or Davis. Did not see the President till late. In the meantime Stanton and others had seen him, and made known their feelings and views. The President treats the subject as not very serious nor very important, and proposes to take it up to-morrow. My own impression is, that not much good is intended in this proposition, yet it is to be met and considered. It is not necessary that the vessel should pass the blockade, or that Stephens should come here, but I would not repel advances, or refuse to receive Davis’s communication.

Two intercepted despatches were received, captured by Captain Dahlgren. One was from Jeff Davis, the other from Adjutant General Cooper, both addressed to General Lee. They disclose trouble and differences among the rebel leaders. Lee, it seems, had an understanding with Cooper that Beaureguard should concentrate a force of forty thousand at Culpepper for a demonstration, or something more, on Washington, when the place became uncovered by the withdrawal of the Army of the Potomac in pursuit of Lee. Davis appears not to have been informed of this military arrangement, nor satisfied with the programme when informed of it. Lee is told of the difficulty of defending Richmond and other places, and that he must defend his own lines, instead of relying upon its being done from Richmond.

Sunday July 5, 1863.
A Cabinet meeting to-day at 11 A. M. The principal topic was the mission of Alexander H. Stephens. The President read a letter from Col. Ludlow, U. S. Agent for exchange of Prisoners, to Secretary Stanton, stating that Stephens had made a communication to Admiral Lee, which the Admiral had sent to the Secretary of the Navy. After reading it, the President said he was at first disposed to put this matter aside without many words, or much thought, but a night’s reflection and some remarks yesterday had modified his views. While he was opposed to having Stephens and his vessel come here, he thought it would be well to send someone, perhaps [to] go himself, to Fortress Monroe. Both Seward and Stanton were startled when this remark was made. Seward did not think it advisable the President should go, nor any one else. He considered Stephens a dangerous man, who would make mischief anywhere. The most he (Seward) would do would be to allow Stephens to forward any communication through General Dix. Seward passes by Admiral Lee and the Navy Department through whom the communication originally came. Stanton was earnest and emphatic against having anything to do with Stephens, or Jeff Davis, or their communication. Chase was decided against having any intercourse with them. Blair took a different view. He would not permit Stephens to come here with his staff, but would receive any communication he bore, and in such a case as this he would not cavil about words; something more important was involved.


While this discussion was going on, I wrote a brief answer to Lee, and said to the President, I knew not why Colonel Ludlow was intruded as the medium of communication, or General Dix — that neither of them was in any way connected with this transaction. Admiral Lee, in command of the blockading force, received a communication from Mr. Stephens, and had made known to the Navy Department, under whose orders he is acting, the application of the gentleman who had a mission to perform, and was now with Admiral Lee waiting an answer. In this stage of the proceeding, the Secretary of State proposes that Admiral Lee should be ignored and the subject transferred from the Navy to some military officer, or one of his staff. Was it because Admiral Lee was incompetent or not to be trusted ? Admiral Lee has informed Stephens he cannot be permitted to pass until he has instructions from the Navy Department. Nothing definite has yet been suggested in reply. He and the parties are waiting to hear from me, and I propose to take some notice of this application, and, unless the President objects, send an answer as follows to Admiral Lee: —

“The object of the communication borne by Mr. Stephens is not stated or intimated. It is not expedient from this indefinite information that you should permit that gentleman to pass the blockade with the Torpedo.”

None of the gentlemen adopted or assented to this, nor did they approximate to unity or anything definite on any point. After half an hour’s discussion and disagreement, I read what I had pencilled to the President, who sat by me on the sofa. Under the impression that I took the same view as Chase and Stanton, he did not adopt it. Seward, in the mean time, had reconsidered his proposition that the communication should be received, and thought with Stanton it would be best to have nothing to do with the mission in any way. The President was apprehensive my letter had that tendency.

Mr. Blair thought my suggestion the most practical of anything submitted. Chase said he should be satisfied with it. Stanton the same. Seward thought that both Stanton and myself had better write, each separate answers — Stanton to Ludlow, and I to Lee — but to pretty much the same effect.

The President said my letter did not dispose of the communication which Stephens bore. I told him the despatch did not exclude it. Though objection was made to any communication, an answer must be sent Admiral Lee. Everything was purposely left open, so that Stephens could, if he chose, state or intimate his object. I left the despatch indefinite in consequence of the diversity of opinion among ourselves, but I had not the least objection, and should for myself prefer to add, “I am directed by the President to say that any communication which Mr. Stephens may have, can be forwarded.”

This addendum did not, as I knew it would not, meet the views entertained by some of the gentlemen. The President prefers that a special messenger should be sent to meet Stephens to which I see no serious objection, but which no one favors. I do not anticipate anything frank, manly or practical in this mission, though I do not think Stephens so dangerous a man as Seward represents him. It is a scheme without doubt, possibly for good, perhaps for evil — but I would meet it in a manner not offensive, nor by a rude refusal would I give the rebels and their sympathizers an opportunity to make friends at our expense or to our injury. This, I think, is the President’s purpose. Mr. Blair would perhaps go further than myself; the others not so far.

We must not put ourselves in the wrong by refusing to communicate with these people. On the other hand, there is difficulty in meeting and treating with men who have violated their duty, disregarded their obligations, and who lack sincerity.

I ought to answer Lee, and because I have not, Ludlow and Dix have been applied to. Seward will make the Secretary of War or himself the medium, and not the Secretary of the Navy; Ludlow or Dix, not Admiral Lee.

I propose to inform Admiral Lee that his communication should be answered to-morrow, it having been decided we would not reply to-day. Seward said the subject would not spoil by keeping. The President thought it best to send no word until we gave a conclusive answer tomorrow.

At five P. M. I received a telegram that the Torpedo with Mr. Stephens had gone up the river. Another telegram at eight said she had returned.

Monday,July 6, 1863.
There was a special Cabinet meeting at 9 A. M. on the subject of A. H. Stephens’ mission. Seward came prepared with a brief telegram, which the President had advised, to the effect that Stephens’ request to come to W[ashington] was inadmissible, but any military communication should be made through the prescribed military channel. A copy of this answer was to be sent to the military officer in command at Fortress Monroe by the Secretary of War, and the Secretary of the Navy was to send a copy to Admiral Lee. The President directed Mr. Seward to go to the telegraph office and see that they were correctly transmitted. All this was plainly pre-arranged by Seward, who has twice changed his ground, differing with the President when Chase and Stanton differed; but he is finally commissioned to carry out the little details which could be done by an errand boy or clerk.

The army news continues to be favorable. Lee is on the retreat, and Meade in hot pursuit, each striving to get possession of the passes of the Potomac.

Tuesday,July 7, 1863.
The President said this morning, with a countenance indicating sadness and despondency, that Meade still lingered at Gettysburg, when he should have been at Hagerstown or near the Potomac, to cut off the retreating army of Lee. While unwilling to complain, and willing and anxious to give all praise to the General and army for the great battle and victory, he feared the old idea of driving the rebels out of Pennsylvania and Maryland, instead of capturing them, was still prevalent among the officers. He hoped this was not so, said he had spoken to Halleck and urged that the right tone and spirit should be infused into officers and men, and that General Meade especially should be reminded of his, the President’s, wishes and expectations. But General Halleck gave him a short and curt reply, showing that he did not participate and sympathize in this feeling, and, said the President, “ I dropped the subject.”

This is the President’s error. His own convictions and conclusions are infinitely superior to Halleck’s, even in military operations more sensible and more correct always, but yet he says, “ It being strictly a military question, it is proper I should defer to Halleck whom I have called here to counsel, advise, and direct in these matters, where he is an expert.” I question whether he should be considered an expert. I look upon Halleck as a pretty good scholarly critic of other men’s deeds and acts, but as incapable of originating or directing military operations.


When I returned from the Cabinet council I found a delegation from Maine at the department, consisting of VicePresident Hamlin, the two Senators of that State, and Senator Wilson of Massachusetts. These gentlemen had first waited on the President in regard to the coast defences and protection of the fishermen, and were referred by him to me instead of the army which claims to defend the harbors. At the moment of receiving this delegation I was handed a despatch from Admiral Porter, communicating the fall of Vicksburg on the fourth of July. Excusing myself to the delegation, I immediately returned to the Executive Mansion. The President was detailing certain points relative to Grant’s movements on the map to Chase and two or three others, when I gave him the tidings. Putting down the map, he rose at once, said we would drop these topics, and “ I myself will telegraph this news to General Meade.” He seized his hat, but suddenly stopped, his countenance beaming with joy, he caught my hand and throwing his arm around me, exclaimed, “ What can we do for the Secretary of the Navy for this glorious intelligence! He is always giving us good news! I cannot, in words, tell you my joy over this result. It is great, Mr. Welles, it is great! ”

We walked across the lawn together. “This,” said he, “ will relieve Banks. It will inspire me.”

The opportunity I thought a good one to insist upon his own views; to enforce them, not only on him, but on Halleck.

Thursday, July 9, 1863.
The Secretary of War and General Halleck are much dissatisfied that Admiral Porter should have sent me information of the capture of Vicksburg in advance of any word from General Grant, and also with me for spreading it at once over the country without verification from the War Office.

Friday,July 10, 1863.
I am assured that our army is steadily, but I fear too slowly, moving upon Lee and the rebels. There are, I hope, substantial reasons for this tardiness. Why cannot our army move as rapidly as the rebels ? The high water in the river has stopped them, yet our troops do not catch up. It has been the misfortune of our generals to linger, never to avail themselves of success, to waste, or omit to gather the fruits of victory. Only success at Gettysburg and Vicksburg will quiet the country for the present hesitancy. No light, or explanation, is furnished by the General in Chief, or the War Department !

[Meade finally determined to make an attack on July 13, but with an overwhelming sense of his responsibility he called a council of war, and when a majority of the general officers present opposed the attack, he postponed battle indefinitely.]

(To be continued.)

  1. Copyright, 1909, by EDGAR T. WELLES.
  2. Quartermaster-General of the U. S. Army.
  3. Orpheus C. Kerr (Office Seeker) was the pseudonym of Robert H. Newell, whose burlesque sketches of current events were much in vogue at the time.
  4. An incident of Chancellorsville.
  5. A few days later, Meade, who estimated the Federal forces at 100,000 effective men, reckoned Lee’s entire army at above 80,000 men.
  6. Isaac Toucey, Secretary of the Navy under President Buchanan.
  7. John A. Dix was Secretary of the Treasury in 1861.
  8. Vice-President of the Confederacy.