The Diary of Gideon Welles
THE ANXIOUS SUMMER OF ’63
Monday, July 13, 1863.
The army is still at rest. Halleck stays here in Washington, within four hours of the army, smoking his cigar, doing as little as the army. If he gives orders for an onward movement and is not obeyed, why does he not remove to headquarters in the field ? If this army is permitted to escape across the Potomac, woe be to those who permit it!
The forces which were on the Pamunkey have been ordered up, and are passing through Baltimore to the great army which is already too large, four times as large as the rebels who have been driven onto the banks of the Potomac, and are waiting for the river to fall so that they can get back into Virginia, without being captured or molested, and Meade is waiting to have them. Drive them back, is Halleck’s policy.
Wrote a congratulatory letter to Porter on the fall of Vicksburg. Called on the President and advised that Porter should be made a Rear Admiral. He assented very cheerfully, though his estimate of Porter is not so high as mine. Stanton denies him any merit, speaks of him as “ a gas bag,” who makes a great fuss and claims credit that belongs to others. Chase, Seward, and Blair agree with me, that Porter has done good service. I am aware of his infirmities. He is selfish, presuming, and wasteful, but is brave and energetic.
[On Saturday, July 11, the new draft began in New York City and was followed by four days of wild rioting.]
Tuesday, July 14, 1863.
We have accounts of mobs, riots and disturbances in New York and other places in consequence of the conscription act. Our information is very meagre; two or three mails are [over]due, the telegraph is interrupted. There have been powerful rains, which have caused great damage to the railroads and interrupted all land communication between this and Baltimore.
There are, I think, indubitable evidences of concert in these riotous movements, beyond the accidental and impulsive outbreak of a mob or mobs. Lee’s march into Pennsylvania, — the appearance of several rebel steamers off the coast, the mission of A. H. Stephens to Washington, seem to be parts of one movement, are all concerted schemes between the rebel leaders and northern sympathizing friends — the whole put in operation when the government is enforcing the conscription. The conjunction is not all accidental, but parts of a great plan.
In the midst of all this, and as a climax, comes word that Lee’s army has succeeded in re-crossing the Potomac. If there had been an understanding between the mob conspirators, the rebels, and our own officers, the combination of incidents could not have been more advantageous to the rebels.
The Cabinet meeting was not full today. Two or three of us were there when Stanton came in with some haste and asked to see the President alone. The two were absent about three minutes in the library. When they returned, the President’s countenance indicated trouble and distress. Stanton was disturbed, disconcerted. Usher asked Stanton if he had bad news. He said, “No.” Something was said of the report that Lee had crossed the river. Stanton said abruptly and curtly he knew nothing of Lee’s crossing. “ I do,” said the President emphatically, with a look of painful rebuke at Stanton. “ If he has not got all of his men across, he soon will.”
The President said he did not believe we could take up anything in Cabinet today. Probably none of us were in a right frame of mind for deliberation; he was not. He wanted to see General Halleck at once. Stanton left abruptly. I retired slowly. The President hurried and overtook me. We walked together across the lawn to the departments and stopped and conversed a few moments at the gate. He said, with a voice and countenance which I shall never forget, that he had dreaded, yet expected, this; that there has seemed to him for a full week a determination that Lee, though we had him in our hands, should escape with his force and plunder. “And that, my God, is the last of this Army of the Potomac! There is bad faith somewhere. Meade has been pressed and urged, but only one of his Generals was for an immediate attack. [He] was ready to pounce on Lee. The rest held back. What does it mean, Mr. Welles, Great God, what does it mean ? ”
I asked what orders had gone from him, while our troops had been quiet with a defeated and broken army in front, almost destitute of ammunition, and an impassable river to prevent their escape. He could not say that anything positive had been done, but both Stanton and Halleck professed to agree with him and he thought Stanton did. Halleck was all the time wanting to hear from Meade. “ Why,” said I, “ he is within four hours of Meade. Is it not strange that he has not been up there to advise and encourage him ? ” I stated I had observed the inertness, if not incapacity, of the General in Chief and had hoped that he, who had better and more correct views, would issue peremptory orders.
The President immediately softened his tone and said, “ Halleck knows better than I what to do. He is a military man, has had a military education, I brought him here to give me military advice. His view’s and mine are widely different. It is better that I who am not a military man should defer to him, rather than he to me.”
I told the President I did not profess to be a military man, but there were some things on which I could form perhaps as correct an opinion as General Halleck, and I believed that he, the President, could more correctly, certainly more energetically, direct military movements than Halleck, who it appeared to me could originate nothing, and was, as now, all the time waiting to hear from Meade or whoever was in command.
I can see that the shadows which have crossed my mind have clouded the President’s also. On only one or two occasions have I ever seen the President so troubled, so dejected and discouraged.
Two hours later I went to the War Department. The President lay upon a sofa in Stanton’s room completely absorbed, overshadowed with the news. He was, however, though subdued, sad, calm and resolute. Stanton had asked me to come over and read Dana’s 2 report of the materials found at Vicksburg. The amount is very great, and the force was large. Thirty-one thousand, two hundred prisoners have been paroled. Had Meade attacked and captured the army above us, as I verily believe he might have done, the rebellion would have been ended. He was disposed to attack, I am told, but yielded to his generals who were opposed. If the war were over those generals would drop into subordinate positions.
Wednesday, July 15, 1863.
We have the back mails this morning. The papers are filled with accounts of mobs, riots, burnings, and murders in New York. There have been outbreaks to resist the draft in several other places. This is anarchy, the fruit of the seed sown by Seymour and others.
Thursday, July 16, 1863.
It is represented that the mob in New York is about subdued. Why it was permitted to continue so long, and commit such excess, has not been explained. Governor Seymour, whose partisans constituted the rioters, and whose partisanship encouraged them, has been in New York talking namby-pamby. This Sir Forcible Feeble is himself chiefly responsible for the outrage.
Lee’s army has re-crossed the Potomac unmolested, carrying off all its artillery and the property stolen in Pennsylvania. When I ask why such an escape was permitted, I am told that the generals opposed an attack. What generals ? None are named. Meade is in command there. Halleck is General in Chief here. They should be held responsible. There are generals who, no doubt, will acquiesce without any regret in having this war prolonged.
In this whole summer’s campaign I have been unable to see, hear, or obtain evidence of power or will, or talent or originality on the part of General Halleck. He has suggested nothing, decided nothing, done nothing, but scold and smoke and scratch his elbows. Is it possible the energies of the nation should be wasted by the incapacity of such a man!
Friday, July 17, 1863.
At the Cabinet Council Seward expressed great apprehension of a break-up of the British ministry. I see in the papers an intimation that should Roebuck’s motion for a recognition of the Confederacy prevail, Earl Russell would resign. I have no fears that the motion will prevail. The English, though mischievously inclined, are not demented. I wish the policy of our Secretary of State, who assumes to be wise, was as discreet as theirs. He handed me consular despatches from Mr. Dudley [our consul] at Liverpool who is exceedingly alarmed, fears England will let all the ironclads and rovers go out, and that the sea-robbers will plunder and destroy our commerce. Mr. Dudley is an excellent consul, vigilant, but somewhat, and excusably, nervous, and he naturally presents the facts which he gets in a form that will not do injustice to the activity and zeal of the consul. Seward gives, and always has given, the fullest credit to the wildest rumors.
[Three days earlier, General Meade, stung by criticism, had asked to be relieved of the command of the army, but the request had been refused.]
Some remarks on the great error of General Meade in permitting Lee and the rebel army with all their plunder to escape, led the President to say he would not yet give up that officer. He has committed, said the President, a terrible mistake, but he would try him farther. No one expressed his approval, but Seward said that excepting [for] the escape of Lee, Meade has shown ability. It was evident that the retention of Meade had been decided [upon].
In a conversation with General Wadsworth who called on me, I learned that at the council of General Officers. Meade was disposed to make an attack, and was supported by Wadsworth, Howard, and Pleasanton, but Sedgwick, Sykes, and the older regular officers dissented. Meade, rightly disposed, but timid and irresolute, hesitated and delayed until too late. Want of decision and self-reliance in an emergency has cost him and the country dear, for had he fallen upon Lee it could hardly have been otherwise than the capture of most of the rebel army. Had Meade done his duty, we should have witnessed a speedy change throughout the South.
It is a misfortune that the command of the army had not been in stronger hands and with a man of broader views, and that he had not a more competent superior than Halleck. The late infirm action will cause a postponement of the end Lee has been allowed to retreat unmolested, with his army and guns, and the immense plunder which the rebels have pillaged. The generals have succeeded in prolonging the war. Othello’s occupation is not yet gone!
Friday, July 24, 1863.
This being Cabinet day, Mr. Seward spent an hour with the President, and when the rest came in, he immediately withdrew. Some inquiry was made in regard to army movements and Meade in particular, but no definite information was communicated. Meade is watching the enemy as fast as he can since he let them slip and get away from him.
[In the operations against Charleston, the fleet under Dahlgren was coöperating with a land force under Gen. A. Gilmore.]
Sunday, July 26, 1863.
Despatches from Admiral Dahlgren under date of the 21st were received. He says Gilmore had but 8000 men when he commenced operations, that of these he has lost by casualties, killed, wounded, and prisoners about 1200, and a like number are useless by illness, the result of over-exertion, etc., so that he has actually less than 6000 effective men. The War Department does not propose to strengthen him. Dahlgren three or four times has said the force was inadequate, and expressed a hope for reinforcements. I sent Assistant Fox with these despatches to Halleck, who rebuffed him, said General Gilmore had called for no more troops, and if he would take care of the navy, he would take care of the army.
I went this noon (Sunday) to the President with Dahlgren’s despatches, [and] told him the force under Gilmore was insufficient for the work assigned him; that it ought not now to fail, that it ought not to have been begun unless it was understood his force was to have been increased; that such was his expectation, and I wished to know if it could not be done. It would be unwise to wait until Gilmore was crushed and repelled, and to then try and regain lost ground, which seemed to be the policy of General Halleck; that instead of remaining inactive till Gilmore, exhausted, cried for help, his wants should be anticipated.
The President agreed with me fully, but said he knew not where the troops could come from, unless from the Army of the Potomac. but if it was going to fight it would want all its men. I asked if he really believed Meade was going to have a battle. He looked at me earnestly for a moment and said, “Well, to be candid I have no faith Meade will attack Lee. Nothing looks like it to me. I believe he can never have another as good opportunity as that which he trifled away. Everything since has dragged with him. No, I don’t believe he is going to fight.”
“Why then,” I asked, “not send a few regiments to Charleston. Gilmore ought to be reinforced with ten thousand men. We intend to send additional seamen and marines.”
“Well,” said the President, “I will see Halleck. I think we should strain a point. May I say to him that you are going to strengthen Dahlgren.” “Yes.” I replied. “But it would be better you should say you ordered it, and that you also ordered the necessary army increase. Let us all do our best.”
Our interview was in the library, and was earnest and cordial. If, following the dictates of his own good judgment, instead of deferring to Halleck who lacks power, sagacity, ability, comprehension and foresight to devise, propose, plan, and direct great operations, and who is reported to be engaged on some literary work at this important period, the President were to order and direct measures, the army would be inspired and the country benefited. A delicacy on the part of Gilmore to ask for aid is made the excuse of the inert General-in-Chief for not sending the troops which are wanted; and when he learns from a reliable source of the weak condition of the command he will not strengthen it, or move till calamity overtakes it, or he is himself ordered to do his duty. Halleck originates nothing, anticipates nothing to assist others, takes no responsibility, plans nothing, suggests nothing, is good for nothing. His being at Headquarters is a national misfortune.
Monday, July 27, 1863.
Had a strange letter from Senator John P. Hale 3 protesting against the appointment of Commodore Van Brunt to the command of the Portsmouth Navy Yard, because he and V[an] B[runt] are not on friendly terms. He wishes me to become a party to a personal controversy, and to do injustice to an officer for the reason that he and that officer are not on cordial relations. The pretensions and arrogance of Senators become amazing, and this man, or Senator, would carry his private personal disagreement into public official actions.
Tuesday, July 28, 1863. The Secretary of War promises that he will reinforce General Gilmore with 5000 men. I thought it should be 10,000 if we intended thorough work. but am glad of even this assurance. General Halleck excuses his non-action, by saying Gilmore had not applied for more men. Vigilance is not one of Halleck’s qualifications.
AN INTERVIEW WITH RAWLINS
Friday, July 31, 1863.
I met at the President’s, and was introduced by him to, Colonel Rawlins, of General Grant’s staff. He arrived yesterday with the official report of the taking of Vicksburg and capture of Pemberton’s army. Was much pleased with him, his frank, intelligent and interesting description of men and account of army operations. His interview with the President and Cabinet was of nearly two hours duration, and all, I think, were entertained by him. His honest, unpretending, and unassuming manners pleased me, the absence of pretension, and I may say the unpolished and unrefined deportment of this earnest and sincere man, patriot and soldier pleased me more than that of almost any officer whom I have met. He was never at West Point and has had few educational advantages, yet he is a soldier, and has a mind which has served his general and his country well. He is a sincere and earnest friend of Grant, who has evidently sent him here for a purpose.
It was the intention of the President last fall that General McClernand, an old neighbor and friend of his, should have been associated with Admiral Porter in active operations before Vicksburg. It was the expressed and earnest wish of Porter to have a citizen general, and he made it a special point to be relieved from associations with a West Pointer; all West Pointers. he said, were egotistical and assuming, and never willing to consider and treat naval officers as equals.
The President thought the opportunity a good one to bring forward his friend McClernand in whom he has confidence, and who is a volunteer officer of ability, and possesses moreover a good deal of political influence in Illinois. Stanton and Halleck entered into his views, for Grant was not a special favorite with either.
Rawlins now comes from Vicksburg with statements in regard to McClernand which show him an impracticable and unfit man. He has not been subordinate and intelligent, but has been an embarrassment, and, instead of directing or assisting, has been really an obstruction to any movements and operations. In Rawlins’s statements there is undoubtedly prejudice, but with such appearance of candor, and earnest and intelligent conviction, that there can be hardly a doubt McClernand is in fault; and Rawlins has been sent here by Grant in order to enlist the President rather than bring despatches. In this I think he has succeeded, though the President feels kindly toward McClernand. Grant evidently hates him, and Rawlins is imbued with the feelings of his chief.
[“ Appreciating the benefit and even the necessity,” says Rhodes, “of support from the Democratic Executive of the chief State of the Union, the President wrote Seymour a serious letter, with the design of becoming ‘ better acquainted,’ and with the wish for ‘ a good understanding ’ in the common purpose of ‘ maintaining the nation’s life and integrity.’ ” During the course of the correspondence thus originated, the military arrest of Vallandigham roused Seymour’s wrath and widened the breach between one of the more patriotic of the Democratic leaders and the Republican President.]
Tuesday, August 4, 1863.
The President read to us a letter received from Horatio Seymour, Governor of New York, on the subject of the draft, which he asks may be postponed. The letter is a party political document, filled with perverted statements, and apologizing for and diverting attention from his mob.
The President also read his reply, which is manly, vigorous, and decisive. He did not permit himself to be drawn away on frivolous and remote issues, which was obviously the intent of Seymour.
Sunday, August 9, 1863.
Have not been well for the last two days, and am still indisposed, but cannot omit duties.
Monday, August 10, 1863.
Admiral Farragut has arrived in New York, and telegraphs me that he will report in person when I direct. I congratulated him on his safe return, but advised repose with his family and friends during this heated term, and to report when it should suit his convenience.
At the Cabinet Council the President read another letter from Governor Seymour. I have little respect for him. It may be politic for the President to treat him with respect in consequence of his position.
Wednesday, August 12, 1863.
The President has a brief reply to Governor Seymour’s rejoinder, which is very well. Stanton said to me he wished the President would stop letter-writing, for which he has a liking, and particularly when he feels he has facts and right reasons. I might not disagree with Stanton as regards some correspondence, but I think the President has been more successful with Seymour than [with] some others. His own letters and writing are generally unpretending and abound in good sense.
Thursday, August 13, 1863.
Chase spent an hour with me on various subjects. Says the administration is merely departmental, which is true, that he considers himself responsible for no other branch of the government than the Treasury, nor for any other than financial measures. His dissent to the war management has been very decided, though he says he is on particularly friendly terms with Stanton. In many respects, he says, Stanton has done well, though he has unfortunate failings, making intercourse with him at times exceedingly unpleasant. He thinks he is earnest and energetic, though wanting in persistency, steadiness. General Halleck, Chase considers perfectly useless, a heavy incumbrance — with no heart in the cause, no sympathy for those who have. These are Chase’s present views. They are not what he at one time entertained of Halleck, but we all know H[alleck] better than we did.
We had some talk on the policy that must be pursued respecting slavery, and the relation of the state and Federal government thereto. It was, I think, his principal object in the interview, and I was glad it was introduced, for there has been on all sides general avoidance of the question, though it is one of magnitude, and has to be disposed of. His own course, Chase said, was clear and decided. No one of the rebel states must be permitted to tolerate slavery for an instant. I asked what was to be done with Missouri, when the recent convention had decided in favor of emancipation, but [with the proviso] that it should be prospective [and that] slavery should not be extinguished until 1870. He replied that the people might over-rule that; whether they did or not, Missouri is one of the excepted states, where the proclamation did not go into effect.
Friday, August 14, 1863.
Had a call from Governor Tod of Ohio who says he is of Connecticut blood. Governor Tod is a man of marked character, and of more than ordinary ability — has a frank and honest nature that wins confidence and attaches friends.
PERSONAL IMPRESSIONS OF GENERAL MEADE
General Meade called at the Executive Mansion whilst the Cabinet was in session. Most of the members, like myself, had never met him. Blair and he were classmates at West Point, but they have never met since they graduated until today. He has a sharp visage and a narrow head. Would do better as second in command than as General-in-Chief. Is doubtless a good officer, but not a great and capable commander. He gave some details of the battle of Gettysburg clearly and fluently. Shows intelligence and activity, and on the whole [I] was as well or better pleased with him than I expected I should be, for I have had unfavorable impressions, prejudiced perhaps, since the escape of Lee. This interview confirms previous impressions of the calibre and capacity of the man.
Seward leaves to-day for a rambling excursion with the foreign ministers. Stanton did not come to the meeting whilst I remained. Chase left early, followed by Mr. Bates and myself.
Saturday, August 15, 1863.
I had to-day a very full and interesting account of the campaign and fall of Vicksburg from General F. P. Blair, who has done good service in the field and in politics also. He was a fearless pioneer in the great cause of the Union, and breasted the storm in stormy Missouri with a bold front. Of the factions and feuds in St. Louis, I pretend to no accurate knowledge; and am no partisan of either [side]. Frank is as bold in words as in deeds, fearless in his utterances as in his fights. He is uncalculating, impolitic it would be said, rash without doubt, but sincere and patriotic to the core. I detect in his conversation to-day a determination to free himself from personal and local complications, and if possible to reconcile differences. It is honorable on his part, but I apprehend he has materials to deal with that he cannot master.
CHASE’S VIEWS ON RECONSTRUCTION
[Ex-Governor Chase of Ohio had, from the outset, been the Cabinet representative of the more aggressive Emancipationists.]
Saturday, August 22, 1863.
Mr. Chase called and took me this evening for a two hours’ ride. We went past Kalorama north, crossed Rock Creek near the Stone Mill, thence over the hills to Tenallytown, and returned through Georgetown. The principal topic of conversation, and the obvious purpose of this drive, was a consultation on the slavery question, and what in common parlance is called the reconstruction of the Union with the incidentals. After sounding me without getting definite and satisfactory answers, he frankly avowed his own policy and determination. It is unconditional and immediate emancipation in all the rebel states — no retrograde [step] from the Proclamation of Emancipation, no recognition of a rebel state as a part of the Union, or any terms with it except on the extinction, wholly, at once and forever, of slavery.
I neither adopted nor rejected his emphatic tests, for such he evidently meant them. The questions are of vast magnitude and have great attending difficulties. The re-establishment of the Union is a practical and important question, and it may come up in a way and form which we cannot now anticipate, and not improbably [may] set aside any hypothetical case which may at this time be presented. I consider slavery, as it heretofore existed, has terminated in all the states, and am not for intruding speculative political theories in advance, to embarrass official action.
North Carolinians are just now beginning to discuss the subject of disconnecting their state from the Confederacy. I asked Chase if he believed Congress would refuse to recognize her, and the government attempt to exclude her from the Union if she came forward and proposed to resume her place, with slavery, like Maryland and the other border states. He said much would depend on the President, — all, in fact; for, were the President to acquiesce in her return, it could not be prevented. But, on the other hand, if he planted himself firmly, and with Jacksonian will, on the proclamation, he had no doubt North Carolina would be excluded or refused her original place in the Union unless she modified her constitution and abolished slavery. He was confident, if the government persisted in emancipation, the state would ultimately yield.
“ That,” said I, “ brings up other questions touching the powers and limitations of the Federal Government. Where is the authority for Congress, or a fraction of Congress, to exclude a state, or to prescribe to one of the original states new conditions upon which one of the original commonwealths which founded and established a government shall hereafter [be permitted to] compose a part of the Federal Union? Where is the authority for the President, or Congress, to deprive her of rights preserved and guaranteed to all, or to dictate her local policy ? [such] restrictive conditions being new, not a part of the Federal compact or known to the constitution. The state must have equal political rights, or the government cannot stand on the basis of 1789.”
He replied that those states had severed their connection with the Union without cause, had broken faith and made war on the government. They had forfeited their rights. They no longer retained the positions they once had. They were to be subjugated, conquered. In order to be restored to the Union, they must be required to put away the cause of disturbance, the source of rebellion, disunion, and strife. The welfare of the nation, the security and perpetuity of the Union, demanded this. To admit them now to a full and equal participation with ourselves, without, extinguishing slavery, would be, with the aid of their sympathizing friends, to place the government in the hands of the slave-holders.
WELLES’S OWN VIEWS
“ That there may be something to be apprehended were all the rebels and their old party associates in the free states to reunite and act in concert, I admit may be true, but this is not a supposable case. The rebels would not all come back at once, were pardon and general amnesty extended to them. There is also, bear in mind, deep and wide hostility to the Confederate proceedings through almost the whole South; and the old party associates of Davis and others in the North are broken up and pretty thoroughly alienated. The re-establishment of the Union and harmony will be a slow process, requiring forbearance and nursing, rather than force and coercion. The bitter enmities which have been sown, the hate which has been generated, the blood which has been spilled, the treasure, public and private, which has been wasted and lost, and, saddest of all, the lives that have been sacrificed, cannot be forgotten and smoothed over in a day; we can hardly expect it in a generation. By forbearance and forgiveness, by wise and judicious management, the states may be restored to their place and the people to their duty, but let us not begin by harsh assumptions, for even with gentle treatment the work of reconciliation and fraternity will be slow. Let us be magnanimous. Ought we not to act on individuals, and through them on the states ? ”
This enquiry seemed to strike him favorably, and I elaborated it somewhat, bringing up old political doctrines and principles which we had cherished in other days. I reminded him that to have a cordial union of the states they must be equal in political rights, and that arbitrary measures do not conduce to good feeling and are not promotive of freedom and good will. As regards individuals who have made war on the government and resisted its laws, they have forfeited their rights, and could be punished and even deprived of life, but I know not how we could punish states as commonwealths except through its people. A state could not be struck out of existence like an individual or corporation.
Besides, it must be remembered, we should be classing the innocent with the guilty, punishing our true friends, who had already suffered severely in the Union cause, as severely as the worst rebels. We could have no post facto enactments, could not go beyond existing laws to punish rebels; we should not [then] do this with our friends, and punish them for wrongs committed by others. We could now exact of rebels the oath of allegiance before pardon, and could perhaps grant conditional or limited pardons, denying those who had been active in taking up arms the right to vote or hold office for a period. Such as came in on the terms granted would build up loyal communities.
In these general outlines we pretty much agreed; but there is, I apprehend, a radical difference between us as regards the status of the states, and their position in and relation to the general government.
I know not that I clearly comprehend the views of Chase, and am not sure that he has fully considered and matured the subject himself. He says he makes it a point to see the President daily and converse on this subject; that he thinks the President is becoming firm and more decided in his opinions, and he wants me to second him. Stanton, he says, is all right, but is not a man of firm and reliable opinion. Seward and Blair he considers opponents. Bates, he says, is of no account, and has no influence. Usher he classes with himself, though he considers him of no more scope than Bates. Seward, he says, is unreliable and untruthful. The President, he compliments for honesty of intentions, good common sense, more sagacity than he has credit for, but [thinks him] greatly wanting in will and decision, in comprehensiveness, in selfreliance, and clear well-defined purpose.
The re-establishment of the Union is beset with difficulties. One great embarrassment, the principal one, is the intrusion of partyism. Chase, I see, is warped by this. It is not strange that he should be, for he has aspirations which are likely to be affected by these issues. Others are in like manner influenced. I believe I have no personal ambition to gratify, no expectations. There is no office that I want or would accept in prospect, but my heart is [in] beholding us once more United States and a united people.
This subject should not become mixed with partyism, but yet it can scarcely be avoided. Chase gathers it into the coming presidential election. [He] feels that the measure of emancipation which was decided without first consulting him has placed the President in advance of him on a path which was his specialty.
Saturday, August 29,1863.
Have reluctantly come to the conclusion to visit the Navy Yards. It is a matter of duty, and physicians and friends insist it will be conducive to health and strength. If I could go quietly it would give me pleasure, but I have a positive dislike to notoriety.
Friday, September 11, 1863.
I left Washington on the 31st ult., on an official visit to the several Navy Yards. Have a good report of affairs during my absence. Met the members of the Cabinet, with the exception of Stanton, at the regular meeting. All glad to see me; none more so than the President, who cordially and earnestly greeted me. I have been less absent than any other member, and was therefore perhaps more missed.
Had a call from Admiral Farragut, of a most cheerful and friendly character.
Saturday, September 12, 1863.
Exceedingly busy in bringing up and disposing of matters which accumulated during my absence. Admiral Farragut and a few friends to dine with me. The more I see and know of Farragut the better I like him. He has the qualities I supposed when he was selected; the ardor and sincerity which struck me during the Mexican War when he wished to take Vera Cruz, with the unassuming and the unpresuming gentleness of a true hero.
THE PRESIDENT AND THE JUDGES
[The suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus by Presidential proclamation in the autumn of the preceding year had raised such a storm of protest that Congress, in whom this power was properly vested, had passed, on March 3, 1863, an act authorizing the President to suspend the writ “ during the present rebellion . . . whenever in his judgment the public safety may require it.”]
Monday, September 14, 1863.
The President called a special Cabinet council this morning at 11. The course pursued by certain judges is, he says, defeating the draft. They are discharging the drafted men rapidly under habeas corpus, and he is determined to put a stop to these factious and mischievous proceedings if he has the authority. The Secretary of State and Attorney General have each been consulted, and declare they have no doubt of his authority. Mr. Blair was satisfied the President had the legal power, but [thought that] the measure proposed (which is an order from the President directing the provosts-marshal [either] to disregard the writ, or make return that the person to be discharged was held by the authority of the President) was perhaps not the best process. Mr. Chase feared civil war would be inaugurated if the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus was suspended. Mr. Usher had doubts and uncertainties.
The President was very determined, and intimated that he would not only enforce the law, but if Judge Lowry and others continued to interfere and interrupt the draft he would send them after Vallandigham. As considerable discussion had taken place, he was prepared to act, though willing to listen, and, if mistaken, to defer to others. Up to this point neither Mr. Stanton or myself had taken part in the discussion, though Stanton had undoubtedly expressed his opinion and prompted the proposed action.
I remarked that the subject was not new to me, that I had two or three times experienced this interference by judges to release men from service, not in relation to the recent draft, but that we were and had been suffering constant annoyance. Vessels were delayed on the eve of sailing, by interference of state judges, who assumed jurisdiction and authority to discharge enlisted men in the national service in time of war, on habeas corpus. I had as high regard and reverence for that act as any one, but it seemed to me there should be some way to prevent its abuse. A factious and evil-minded judge, and we had many such holding state appointments, could embarrass the government, could delay the departure of a vessel on an important mission, involving perhaps war or peace, or interrupt great military movements by an abuse of service of this writ. I had questioned whether a local state or municipal judge should have this power to control national naval and military operations in a civil war during the existence of hostilities, and suggested that, especially in time of war, United States judges were the only proper officers to decide in these naval and military cases affecting the law and service of the United States. Hitherto the army had suffered less than the navy, and I was not sorry the subject had been brought forward by others.
The President said he would prepare and submit a paper at an adjourned meeting for criticism to-morrow at 9 A. M.
Tuesday, September 15, 1863.
The President read the paper which he had drawn up. Mr. Chase proposed as a preferable course that the President, pursuant to the Act of the 3d of March last, suspend by proclamation the issuing of the writ of habeas corpus on military questions. This proposition after discussion met with favor from all, and the Council adjourned to 1 P. M. [to enable] Mr. Seward to prepare a proclamation. On meeting at one o’clock the draft which Mr. Seward had prepared was criticised and, after some modifications, was ordered to be re-copied and carried into effect. All came into the arrangement cordially after Stanton read the reports of sundry provosts-marshal and others, detailing the schemes practiced for defeating the draft.
The question is raised whether the Executive can suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus without Congressional action. If the Executive can suspend in the cases specified, which is generally admitted, the policy of falling back on the Act of 3rd of March last is more than questionable; for if Congress has, as claimed, the exclusive right, can it delegate away that right ? If the right is in the Executive, it is not wise nor proper to place the proclamation on the delegated grant in the law of last March, which is made the basis of the proclamation. I think I am not mistaken in my impression that Mr. Chase is one of those who has claimed that the President had the constitutional right to suspend the privilege of this writ, yet he was to-day sensitive beyond all others in regard to it, and proposed relying on the act of Congress instead of the constitutional Executive prerogative. He feared if the President acted on Executive authority a civil war in the free states would be inevitable. I have none of his apprehensions and, if it is the duty of the President, would not permit legislative aggression, but maintain the prerogative of the Executive.
Thursday, September 17, 1863.
A new panic is rising respecting the ironclads in England, and some of our sensational journals foster the excitement. It does not surprise me that the New York Times, Raymond’s paper controlled by Thurlow Weed, and all papers influenced by Seward, should be alarmed. The latter knows those vessels are to be detained, yet will not come out and state the fact, but is not unwilling to have apprehension excited. It will glorify him if it is said they are detained through protest from our minister.
If he does not prompt the Times, he could check its loud apprehensions. I am under restrictions which prevent me from making known facts that would dissipate this alarm. The Evening Post, I am sorry to see, falls in with the Times and its managers, and unwittingly assists those whom it does not admire. Both these journals are importunate, and insist that the Roanoke shall be returned to New York. But the Navy Department is not under newspaper control, though they have the coöperation of distinguished men. To station a steam frigate in New York would involve the necessity of stationing one also in the Delaware, and another at Boston. There would be no limit to the demand for naval defences, yet it is claimed the coast defences belong exclusively to the military.
Friday, September 18, 1863.
The proclamation suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus has been generally well received. I have never feared the popular pulse would not beat a healthful response even to a stringent measure in these times, if the public good demanded it.
A MYSTERIOUS INTERVIEW WITH SEWARD
At the Cabinet meeting Chase enquired of Seward how he and the Secretary of War got along with the English ironclad rams. Seward treated the matter lightly, and turned the conversation aside skillfully I thought, for I was interested in the question. No one could do this more adroitly than he. On returning from the Cabinet I found upon my table two letters received by the noon mail, one from Consul Dudley of Liverpool of the 5th, and one from Consul Cleaveland at Cardiff of the 3rd, both private, but each warning me, earnestly, that the English government manifested no intention to detain these vessels, and expressing their belief that they will be allowed to leave.
I went directly to the State Department with these letters, which I read to Seward, and reminded him of our conversation in August, when he quieted my apprehension so far that I left Washington to visit the Navy Yards, by assurances which he had received that we should not be disturbed by these formidable vessels.
He answered very pleasantly that he remembered the interview and the assurance he gave me, and seemed not in the least disturbed by the information of the threatened danger. On the contrary, he appeared gratified and self-satisfied. After a remark or two of assumed indifference, he saw I was in earnest, and not to be put off with mere words, [and] suddenly asked if I was a Mason. I replied I was, but [that] this [subject before us] was a matter of public concern. He said he wanted to tell me a secret which I must not communicate to a living person, and he should be unwilling to tell it to me on other consideration, while things were in their present condition. He must enjoin upon me especially not to tell the President nor let him know I had been informed, for he should himself probably let the President have the fact which he was about to disclose to me. “ You must promise me,” said he, “ that you will neither communicate nor talk about it.”
I said that any matter thus communicated I should not be likely to repeat, but I must necessarily talk about these rams and communicate with others concerning them. It was my business and duty to do it. I had come to him to talk about them, and I must, from the information I had, some of which I had just submitted, take action unless I had something from him to justify my abstaining to move.
He had a hesitating and enquiring look. “If,” said he, “ England lets these vessels out, we must let loose our privateers.”
This I had repeatedly said on previous occasions (and I now fully concurred), but I had delayed extra efforts in consequence of his assurances, and we are in no condition for these troubles. We must act, and with promptness and energy, unless he has something to say as a preventive.
“ Well, they won’t come out,” said he. “ The English Ministry are our friends, with the exception of the Chief. His course and conduct are execrable, and his organs are damnable. I don’t know,” continued S[eward] “ what he, the Premier [Lord Palmerston], means. For certain reasons they gave out on the 4th of November that the government would do nothing to prevent the rams from coming out. On the 5th of November, the next day, they gave us assurances they should not come out. They will be retained in port, but you must not know this fact, nor must any one else know it. Mr. Adams is not aware of it. No one but you and the President and I must know it here, and it is best that he should not know that you know it.”
“Do you mean to say,” I asked, “ that this state of facts was communicated to you last November — nearly one year ago?” “No,” replied he, “did I say November, I meant September. I have despatches here. I have not read all. I left the Cabinet early as you observed.”
After some farther remarks, some additional injunctions, assurances that no member of the Cabinet knew or must be allowed to know anything on the subject (there being a necessity that I should be informed, but yet appear to the world as if I were not informed), some allusions to the Emma recently captured and taken into service, our interview terminated. Before leaving, however, he expressed the wish that we had a fast steamer off Brest to capture the Florida, without recollecting that neither of our good neutral friends of England and France will allow us to coal or remain in port over twenty-four hours.
The information thus given in confidence relieves me of much labor and anxiety, yet I am not without some anxiety. I dislike this mystery, this reticence, toward our colleagues in the government. Should the English fail us, or Seward find it convenient under a calamitous condition of affairs to deny what he has told me, or claim that he was misunderstood, I could not escape censure and condemnation. There is no record or writing in my possession. I, with only verbal, confidential assurances, [have] omitted to take precautionary measures, which, without those assurances, I should have taken, and it was my duty to take last August and now. If the rams come out and damage us, the denunciations against me will be severe, and I am without remedy but must bear the odium of neglect and inaction, for I cannot make public what has been told me.
THE DREADFUL NEWS OF CHICKAMAUGA
[On September 20 the army of the Cumberland under General Rosecrans was disastrously defeated, and might have been destroyed but for the determined stand of General Thomas. Rosecrans telegraphed Halleck, “ We have met with a serious disaster. . . . Enemy overwhelmed us, drove our right, pierced our centre and scattered troops there.” This despatch, reinforced by another from Charles A. Dana, that “ Chickamauga is as fatal a name in our history as Bull Run,” was the cause of the President’s tense anxiety.]
Monday, September 21, 1863.
A battle was fought on Saturday near Chattanooga and resumed yesterday. Am apprehensive our troops have suffered, and perhaps are in danger. As yet the news is not sufficiently definite.
The President came to me this afternoon with the latest news. He was feeling badly. Tells me a despatch was sent to him at the Soldiers’ Home shortly after he got asleep, and so disturbed him that he had no more rest, but arose and came to the city and passed the remainder of the night awake and watchful. He has a telegram this P. M., which he brings me, that is more encouraging. Our men stood well their ground and fought, Union heroes for their country and cause. We conclude the rebels have concentrated a large force to overpower Rosecrans and recapture Chattanooga. While this has been doing, Halleck has frittered away time, and dispersed our forces. Most of Grant’s effective force appears to have been sent across the Mississippi, where a large force is not needed. Burnside is in northeastern Tennessee, two hundred miles away from Chattanooga. While our men are thus scattered, a large division from Lee’s army in our front has been sent under Longstreet to Bragg; and Hill’s and Ewell’s corps, it is reported, are there also. I trust this account is exaggerated, though the President gives it credence. I do not like [to think] nor can I ascertain that General Halleck was apprised of, or even suspected what was being done. Certainly he has made no preparation. The President is, I perceive, not satisfied, but yet he does not censure or complain. Better, perhaps, if he did. I expressed surprise to the President at the management [of the troops] and his forbearance, and it touched him. I asked what Meade was doing with his immense army and Lee’s skeleton and depleted show in front. He said he could not learn that Meade was doing anything, or wanted to do anything.
“ It is,” said he, “ the same old story of this Army of the Potomac. Imbecility, inefficiency — don’t want to do, — ‘Defending the Capital.’ I inquired of Meade,” said he, “ what force was in front. Meade replied he thought there was 40,000 infantry. I replied he might say 50,000 and if Lee with 50,000 could defend their Capital against our 90,000, — and if defence is all our armies are to do — we might, I thought, detach 50,000 from his command, and thus leave him with 40,000 to defend us. Oh,” groaned the President, “ it is terrible, terrible, this weakness, this indifference of our Potomac generals, with such armies of good and brave men.”
“ Why,” said I, “ not rid yourself of Meade, who may be a good man and a good officer, but is not a great general, has not breadth or strength, certainly is not the man for the position he occupies. The escape of Lee with his army across the Potomac has distressed me almost beyond any occurrence of the War. And the impression made upon me in the personal interview shortly after was not what I wished, had inspired no confidence. Though he is faithful, he can’t originate.”
The President assented to all I said, but “ what can I do,” he asked, “ with such generals as we have ? Who among them is any better than Meade. To sweep away the whole of them from the chief command and substitute a new man would cause a shock, and be likely to lead to combinations and troubles greater than we now have. I see all the difficulties as you do. They oppress me.”
Alluding to the failures of the generals, particularly those who commanded the armies of the Potomac, he thought the selections, if unfortunate, were not imputable entirely to him. The Generalsin-Chief and the Secretary of War should, he said, know the men better than he. The Navy Department had given him no trouble in this respect, perhaps naval training was more uniform and equal than the military. I thought not, [and] said we had our troubles, but they were less conspicuous. In the selection of Farragut and Porter, I thought we had been particularly fortunate; and Dupont had merit also. He thought there had not been, take it all in all, so good an appointment in either branch of the service as Farragut, whom he did not know or recollect when I gave him command. Dupont he classed, as he has often, with McClellan, but Porter he considers a busy schemer, bold but not of high qualities as a chief. For some reason he has not so high an appreciation of Porter as I think he deserves, but no man surpasses Farragut in his estimation.
Thursday, September 24, 1863.
I am more desponding than I care to acknowledge. The army management distresses all of us, but we must not say so. It is no time for fault-finding, besides I understand there is a move to reinforce the army in Tennessee.
Friday, September 25, 1863.
The President was not with us to-day at the Cabinet meeting, being at the War Department with Stanton. All were present but they. Little known of army movements, but anxiety on the part of each. The English government has interposed to prevent the armored ram built by Laird’s from coming out. Seward announced the fact, and also that he had placed me under injunctions of secrecy. This was the reason why no explanation had been given for my non-action for which I had been much blamed.
The Russian fleet has come out of the Baltic and is now in New York, or a large number of the vessels have arrived. They are not to be confined to the Baltic by a Northern winter. In sending them to this country at this time there is something significant. What will be its effect on France and the French policy we shall learn in due time. It may moderate — it may exasperate. God bless the Russians !
[At a conference in the War Department on the night of the 23d, the President, after much hesitation, acquiesced, at Stanton’s urgent request, to the plan of detaching two corps under Hooker from the Army of the Potomac and sending them to relieve Rosecrans, now intrenched in Chattanooga. Reinforcements sent from orders by Grant were also hurrying to his assistance.]
Saturday, September 26, 1863.
General Halleck has earnestly and constantly smoked cigars and rubbed his elbows while the rebels have been vigorously concentrating their forces to overwhelm Rosecrans. We all, except General Halleck, know that Longstreet with 20,000 men has gone from Lee’s army somewhere. The information does not seem to have reached Halleck; if it has, he has taken no measures in regard to it. Not a man, until within three days, and probably too late, was sent to Rosecrans, who has the key that controlled the rebel centre, and of which they must dispossess him or their cause is endangered. H[alleck] has never seemed to realize the importance of that position, nor, I am sorry to say, of any other.
I learned from the President that two divisions of the army under Hooker are moving to strengthen Rosecrans. It was decided at the War Department that an effort should be made. Seward and Chase were there, and I think the latter suggested the movement, which was warmly seconded and adopted by Stanton. The President does not say how active a part he took, but from our conversations I knew his anxiety for this step has been great.
The most reliable account we have of the battle leaves little doubt we were beaten, and only the skill and valor of General Thomas and his division saved the whole concern from a disastrous defeat.