The Diary of Gideon Welles
THE WINTER OF 1863-1864
Monday, September 28, 1863.
The President read to Seward and myself a detailed confidential despatch from Chattanooga very derogatory to Crittenden and McCook, who wilted when every energy and resource should have been put forth, disappeared from the battlefield, returned to Chattanooga, and — went to sleep. The officers who did their duty are dissatisfied. We had their statements last week, which this confidential despatch confirms. It makes some, but not a very satisfactory, excuse for Rosecrans, in whom the President has clearly lost confidence. He said he was urged to change all the officers, but thought he should limit his acts to Crittenden and McCook — said it would not do to send one of our generals from the East. I expressed a doubt if he had any one suitable for that command or the equal of Thomas if a change was to be made. There was no one in the army who, from what I had seen and known of him, was so fitted for that command as General Thomas. Rosecrans had stood well with the country until this time, but Thomas was a capable general, had undoubted merit, and was a favorite with the men. Seward thought the whole three, Rosecrans, Crittenden, and McCook, should be removed.
Tuesday, September 29, 1863.
No matter of special importance; nothing but current business in Cabinet. Seward and Stanton were not present. The latter seems to make it a point recently not to attend. Others, therefore, run to him. I will not. Military operations are of late managed at the War Department irrespective of the rest of the Cabinet, or of all who do not go there. This is not difficult, for the President spends much of his time there. Seward and Chase make daily visitations to Stanton, sometimes two or three times. I have not the time, nor do I want the privilege, though I doubtless could have it, for Stanton treats me respectfully and with as much confidence as he does any one when I approach him. except Seward. But I cannot run to the War Department and pay court in order to obtain information that should be given. Chase does this; complains because he is compelled to do it, and then, when not bluffed, becomes reconciled. To-day he expressed great disgust towards Halleck, says Halleck has done nothing while the rebels were concentrating, has sent no reinforcements to Rosecrans, and did not propose to send any. Those that had gone were ordered by Stanton. Halleck. he said, was good for nothing, and everybody knew it but the President.
A large delegation of extreme party men is here from Missouri to see the President and Cabinet. So intense and fierce [are they] in their party animosities that they would if they had the power be more revengeful, inflict greater injury on these republicans, friends of the administration, who do not conform to their extreme radical and fanatical views than on the rebels in the field. The hate and narrow partisanship exhibited in many of the states, when there should be some forbearance, some tolerance, some spirit of kindness, are among the saddest features of the times.
Saturday, October 10, 1863.
Dining at Lord Lyons’ this evening, Admiral Milne, who sat next to me, stated that he is the first British Admiral who has visited New York since the government was established, certainly the first in forty years. He said that it had been the policy of his government to avoid such visitations, chiefly from apprehensions in regard to their crews, their language and general appearance being the same as ours. There were doubtless other reasons which neither of us cared to introduce. He was exceedingly attentive and pleasant ; said he had tried to preserve harmony and good feeling, and to prevent, as far as possible, irritation and vexatious questions between us; complimented the energy we had displayed, the forbearance exercised, the comparatively few vexatious and conflcting questions which had arisen under the extraordinary condition of affairs, the management of the extensive blockade, and the general administration of our naval matters, which he had admired and in his way sustained without making himself a party in our conflict.
Chase has gone to Ohio preparatory to the election which takes place next Tuesday. Great interest is felt throughout the country in the result. Chase is understood to have special interest in this election.
Monday, October 12, 1863.
At Seward’s yesterday with Lord Lyons and Admiral Milne to dine. Miss Cushman, the actress, who is visiting at Seward’s, was present. I took her to dinner.
The city is full of rumors of fighting, and of Meade’s falling back. Much is probably trash for the Pennsylvania and Ohio elections which take place to-morrow. Still I am prepared for almost any news but good news from the front. Cannot expect very good news from Meade’s command. He would obey orders and faithfully carry out the plans of a superior mind, but there is no one here more capable than himself to plan, to advise, to consult. It will not surprise me if he is out-generalled by Lee.
Tuesday, October 18, 1863.
No news from the front. President read this noon a despatch from Meade written last night, in which he says if the rebels do not attack him to-day, he will attack them. I doubt it. He cannot do much on the offensive except under orders. As second, or in any capacity under an intelligent superior, I think Meade would do well. He will never have another such opportunity to do the rebels harm, as when he supinely let Lee and his army cross the Potomac and escape unmolested.
GOOD NEWS FROM THE ELECTIONS
[The elections of 1863 were generally merely for state offices, but in Ohio, where Vallandigham was the Democratic candidate for Governor, the contest was, as John Sherman said, substantially between the government and the rebels. In Pennsylvania, Governor Curtin was running for re-election on his patriotic war record.]
The elections in Ohio and Pennsylvania absorb attention. The President says he feels nervous. No doubts have troubled me. An electioneering letter of McClellan, in favor of Woodward for Governor of Pennsylvania, written yesterday, is published. It surprises me that one so cautious and intelligent as McC[lellan] should have been so indiscreet and unwise.
Preston King spent the evening with me. Young Ulric Dahlgren called. The gallant fellow lost a leg at Gettysburg and is just recovering, so that he gets around on crutches. It is the first of his calls and King was wonderfully interested in him — affected to tears, and listened to his modest account with the earnestness of a child.
Wednesday, October 14, 1863.
The election returns from Pennsylvania and Ohio2 are cheering in their results. The loyal and patriotic sentiment is strongly in the ascendant in both states, and the defeat of Vallandigham is emphatic. I stopped in to see and congratulate the President, who is in good spirits and greatly relieved from the depression of yesterday. He told me he had more anxiety in regard to the election results of yesterday than he had in 1860 when he was chosen. He could not, he said, have believed four years ago, that one genuine American would, or could, be induced to vote for such a man as Vallandigham, yet he has been made the candidate of a large party — their representative man — and has received a vote that is a discredit to the country. The President showed a good deal of emotion as he dwelt on this subject, and his regrets were sincere.
Thursday, October 15, 1863.
News from the front vague and unsatisfactory. Our papers dwell on the masterly movements of Meade, and street rumor glorifies him, but I can get nothing to authenticate or justify this claim of wonderful strategy. Lee has made a demonstration and our army has fallen back — “ changed its base,” they call it at the War Department; in the vernacular, retreated. This retreat may have been, and probably was, skilfully executed. It is well to make the most of it. It is claimed Meade has shown great tact in not permitting the enemy to outflank him. Perhaps so. I shall not controvert, if I doubt it. I would not decry our generals, nor speak my mind freely if unfavorably impressed concerning them, in public. Meade does the best he knows how; Halleck does nothing.
LINCOLN’S MAGNANIMITY TO MEADE<BR/> Friday,October 16, 1863.
The President read to the Cabinet a confidential despatch to General Meade, urging him not to lose the opportunity to bring on a battle — assuring him that all the honors of victory should be exclusively his (Meade’s), while in case of defeat he (the President), would take the entire responsibility. This is tasking Meade beyond his ability. If the President could tell him how and when to fight, his orders would be faithfully carried out, but the President is over-tasking Meade’s capability and powers. Where is Halleck, General-in-Chief, who should, if he has the capacity, attend to these things, and if he has not, should be got out of the way!
Saturday, October 31, 1863.
My time has been so occupied that I was unable to note down daily current events, which, however, have not been of special importance. It has been my practice to make a minute of transactions on the day they occurred — usually after my family had retired for the night, but for some days I have been occupied until midnight with matters that cannot be dispensed with.
December, 1863 [no exact date].
It has been some weeks since I have opened this book. Such time as I could spare from exacting and oppressing current duties at the Department has been devoted to gathering and arranging materials for, and in writing, my annual report.
I was invited and strongly urged by the President to attend the ceremonials at Gettysburg, but was compelled to decline, for I could not spare the time. The President returned ill, and in a few days it was ascertained he had the varioloid. We were in Cabinet meeting when he informed us that the physicians had the preceding evening ascertained and pronounced the nature of his complaint. It was in a light form, but yet held on longer than was expected. He would have avoided an interview, but wished to submit and have our views of the Message. All were satisfied, and that portion which is his own displays sagacity and wisdom.
The Russian government has thought proper to send its fleets into American waters for the winter. A number of their vessels arrived on the Atlantic seaboard some weeks since, and others in the Pacific have reached San Francisco. It is a politic movement for both Russians and Americans, and somewhat annoying to France and England. I have directed our Naval Officers to show them all proper courtesy, and the municipal authorities in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia have exhibited the right spirit.
Mr. Colfax was elected Speaker and the House was organized without difficulty.
The interference of Members of Congress in the organization of the Navy Yards and the employment of workmen is annoying beyond conception. In scarcely a single instance is the public good consulted in their interference, but a demoralized, debauched system of personal and party favoritism has grown up, which is pernicious. No person representing a district in which there is a Navy Yard ought ever to be placed on the naval committee, nor should a Member of Congress meddle with appointments unless requested by the Executive. It is a terrible and increasing evil.
PLAIN SPEECH WITH THE CHAIRMAN OF
THE NAVAL COMMITTEE
Tuesday, December 15, 1863.
Mr. John P. Hale called this afternoon, much excited — said there was something in the New York Herald respecting him and myself, which he was told came from the Department. I asked if he meant to say the statement (which I had not seen, whatever it was) originated with me. He answered, No, emphatically, no, for he considered me a gentleman, and had always experienced gentlemanly treatment from me; but he could not say as much of Fox,3 whom he denounced as coarse, impudent, and assuming, — constantly trespassing on my unsuspicious nature. Told me of incidents and intrigues which he had personally witnessed; alluded to Grimes,4 who he said favored Fox, and Fox favored Grimes, both conspiring against me. For me, he declared he entertained high respect, that we may have sometimes differed but it was an honest difference, that he had never opposed my administration of the Department, etc., etc.
I listened to his eulogies calmly, and told him frankly I was not aware he had ever favored me or the Department during the long and severe struggle we had experienced; that in this unparalleled war we had received no aid or kind word from him, though he was in a position above all others from which we might reasonably have expected it ; that from no man in Congress had we received more hostility than from him. I reminded him how I had invited him to my confidence and assistance in anticipation of the extra session of 1861, and of the manner in which my warm, cordial, sincere invitation had been met ; that I had, without reserve, and in honest zeal, laid open to him our whole case, all our difficulties; that I was grieved because he had not responded to my invitation and repaired to Washington as the Chairmen of the Committees of the other Departments had done; that my friendly greetings had been slighted or designedly treated with indifference. [I reminded him] that in that great crisis he declined to enter into any examination of affairs, declined to prepare, or to assist in preparing necessary laws, or to inform himself, or to consult respecting estimates; but that, as soon as the Senate met, and before any communication was received from the President, he, the Chairman of the Naval Committee, hastened to introduce a resolution, the first of the Extra Session, directing the Secretary of the Navy to communicate a statement of all contracts made from the day I entered upon my duties : whether they were legal, what prices I had paid, how the purchases compared with former purchases, and a variety of detail, all of which I had proposed to give him [in order] that he should have it in his power to explain to the Senate and defend the Department from virulent violent assault. I told him that when he arrived [in Washington] I requested him to examine the records and papers, and all ray acts, which he neglected to do; and that it was plain to me and to all others that his purpose in introducing that resolution, the first business motion of the Session, was to cast suspicion on my acts, and to excite prejudice against me. [I told him that] he did not succeed in doing me serious injury, though he was an old Senator, and I a new Secretary, — though I had a right in my great trials to expect that he, the Chairman of the Naval Committee, would take me by the hand instead of striking a blow in my face. The hostility manifested and the malignity of that resolution were so obvious that it reacted. It was my belief that from the time he aimed that blow he had fallen in the public estimation. I knew the President and many Senators had thought less of him. For myself I had never from that day expected, nor had I received, any aid or a word of encouragement from him. Neither the Department nor the Navy, in this arduous and terrific war, had been in any way benefitted by him, but each had experienced indifference and hostility. Occupying the official relations which we did to each other, I had a right to have expected friendly, cordial treatment, but it had been the reverse. If the Department and the Navy had been successful, he had not in the least contributed to that success.
He listened with some surprise to my remarks, for I had always submitted to his injustice without complaint, had always treated him courteously if not familiarly, and forborne through trying years any harsh expression or exhibition of resentment or wounded feelings. My frank arraignment was therefore unexpected. He had, I think, come to me with an expectation that we would lock hands for a time at least, and go forward together.
[Continuing, I remarked that] as regarded Mr. Grimes and Mr. Fox, my feelings towards them were different from his. They were my friends and I was glad of it. They were, I was rejoiced to say, earnest and sincere in their labors for the government and the country. The people were under great obligations to both. I assured him that I intended no one should sow strife, or stir up enmities, between them and me. Mr. Fox was a valuable assistant, and if, from any cause, we were to lose him, it would be difficult to supply his place.
Saturday, December 19, 1863.
Had a call from Senator Trumbull 5 who feels that the Senate ought not to continue Hale in the Chairmanship of the Naval Committee, but says the Department will not suffer in consequence, for Hale is well understood, and I must have seen that the Senators, as against him, always sustain the Department. Fessenden also called, with similar remarks and views.
Friday, December 25, 1863.
Though a joyful anniversary, the day in these later years always brings sad memories. The glad faces and loving childish voices that cheered our household with “ Merry Christmas ” in years gone by are silent on earth forever.
Sumner tells me that France is still wrong-headed, or more properly speaking, the Emperor is. Mereier 6 is going home on leave, and goes with a bad spirit. S[umner] and M[ercier] had a long interview a few days since, when S[umner] drew M[ercier] out. Mercier said the Emperor was kindly disposed and at the proper time would tender kind offices to close hostilities, but that a division of the Union is inevitable. Sumner says he snapped his finger at him and told him he knew not our case.
Sumner also tells me of a communication made to him by Bayard Taylor, who last summer had an interview with the elder Saxe-Coburg. The latter told Taylor that Louis Napoleon was our enemy, and that the Emperor said to him (SaxeCoburg), There will be war between England and America ” — slapping his hands — “ and I can then do as I please.”
There is no doubt that both France and England have expected certain disunion, and have thought there might be war between us and one or more of the European powers. But England has latterly held back, and is becoming more disinclined to get into difficulty with us. A war would be depressing to us, but it would be perhaps as injurious to England. Palmerston and Louis Napoleon are the two bad men in this matter. The latter is quite belligerent in his feelings, but fears to be insolent towards us unless England is also engaged.
LINCOLN’S CANDIDACY FOR RE-ELECTION<BR/> Thursday, December 31, 1863
The year closes more satisfactorily than it began. The wretched faction in the free states which makes country secondary to party had then an apparent ascendancy. Its members were dissatisfied with the way in which the war was conducted, with what they called the imbecility of the administration. The country understands them better than it did. The war has been waged with success, although there have been in some cases errors and misfortunes. But the heart of the nation is sounder and its hopes brighter. The national faith was always strong and grows firmer. The rebels show discontent, distrust, and feebleness. They evidently begin to despair, and the loud declarations that they do not and will not yield confirm it.
The President has well maintained his position, and under trying circumstances acquitted himself in a manner that will be better appreciated in the future than now. It is not strange that he is sometimes deceived and fails to discriminate rightly between true and false friends, and has, though rarely, been the victim of the prejudices and duplicity of others.
The Cabinet, if a little discordant in some of its elements, has been united as regards him. Chase has doubtless some aspirations for the place of Chief Executive, which are conflicting. Seward has, I think, surrendered any expectation for the present, and shows wisdom in giving the President a fair support. Blair and Bates are earnest friends of the President, and so I think is Usher. Stanton is insincere, but will, I have no doubt, act with Seward under present circumstances.
AN ESTIMATE OF SUMNER
Saturday, January 2, 1864.
Double duty for yesterday’s holiday. Senator Sumner called on Saturday as usual. After disposing of some little matters of business, he spoke of the President and the election. He says the President is moving for a re-election and has, he knows, spoken to several persons on the subject very explicitly. I told him the President had exchanged no word with me on the subject, but that I had taken for granted he would be a candidate, that I thought all Presidents had entertained dreams of that nature, and that my impressions are that a pretty strong current is setting in his favor. To this Sumner made no response, affirmatively or negatively. I think his present thoughts are in another direction, but not very decidedly so. Neither of us cared to press the other. Whether he had in view to sound me I was uncertain, and am still.
In many very essential respects, Sumner is deficient as a party leader. Though he has talents, acquirements, sincerity, and patriotism, with much true and false philanthropy, he is theoretical rather than practical, is egotistical, credulous to weakness with those who are his friends, is susceptible to flattery from any quarter, but has not the suspicions and jealousies that are too common with men of position. There is want of breadth, enlarged comprehension, in his statesmanship. He is not a constitutionalist, has no organizing and constructive powers, and treats the great fundamental principles of the organic law much as he would the resolutions of the last national party convention. Toward the slaveholders he is implacable, and is ready to go to extremes to break up, not only the system of bondage, but the political industrial and social system in all the rebellious states. His theorizing propensities and the resentments that follow from deep personal injuries work together in his warfare against that domineering oligarchy which has inflicted great calamities on our country and wrongs on himself. He would not only free the slaves, but [would] elevate them above their former masters; yet, with all his studied philanthropy and love for the negroes in the abstract, he is not willing to [practice] fellowship with them, though he thinks he is. It is, however, ideal book-philanthropy.
As Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, his services at this time are invaluable. He is, fortunately, in many respects, the opposite of Seward, has higher culture, and on international law and the science of government is vastly better informed and greatly the superior of the Secretary of State. But the latter has greater tact, more practicability, and better knowledge of parties and men, greater versatility of genius, and unsurpassed pliability, so that he can more readily adapt himself to whatever may seem expedient. Sumner acts not always from fixed principles, but from earnest though prejudiced convictions (investigating elaborately questions in which he is interested) and brings learning and authorities to his support. Seward is earnest for his party, but has no great deference for political principles of any kind. His convictions or opinions are weak and change without hesitation if deemed expedient, or if his party can be benefitted. To such a Secretary an adviser like Sumner is valuable, yet Seward does not appreciate it. There is mutual want of confidence.
My impressions are that Sumner’s present leanings are, after vague and indefinite dreams of himself, for Chase, who has ultra notions; but Chase has to some extent modified his opinions since our conversation last summer, when we took a long evening’s ride. The subject of reconstruction was just then beginning to be earnestly discussed.
Sumner has not the arts that are the chief stock in trade (to use a mercantile phrase) of some tolerably successful politicians, and he is so credulous as to be often the victim of cunning fellows of greatly inferior capacity, who flatter and use him. When Senator Dixon of Connecticut desired, and was intriguing for, a re-election to the Senate he contrived to get a quasi indorsement from Sumner in a general letter, which was used effectually to defeat Sumner’s best friend in Connecticut and injure the cause nearest his heart. Dixon understood his weakness, and made skilful application of it to dupe and deceive Sumner. Too late, Sumner regrets his error, but will repeat it when a shrewd and cunning mind practices the deception. He can, right or wrong, stand firm and immovable on great questions, but is swayed by little social appeals to his kindness. His knowledge of men is imperfect and unreliable, and hence, while he will always have position with his party and influence its movements, he will never be the trusted leader.
Tuesday, January 5, 1864.
Congress re-assembled after a fortnight’s vacation — or rather was to have assembled, but there was not a quorum in either house. At the Cabinet Council only a portion are present. The President in discussion narrated some stories, very apt, exhibiting wisdom and sense. He requested me to read an article in the North American Review,7 just received, on the policy of the administration, which he thought very excellent, except that it gave him overmuch credit.
The Case of R. [L.] Law tried by Court Martial which has been in my hands for a month nearly was disposed of to-day. The Court found him guilty on both charges and sentenced him to be dismissed from the Navy, but recommended him to clemency. Proposed to the President three years suspension, the first six months without pay: — this to be the general order, but if, at the expiration of six or eight months, it is thought best to remit the remainder of the punishment, it can be done.
“ Look over the subject carefully,” said the President, “ and make the case as light as possible on his father’s account who is an old friend of mine. I shall be glad to remit all that you can recommend.”
To-day at the Executive Mansion. Only Usher and myself were present, and no business transacted. Mr. Hudson of Massachusetts, formerly member of Congress, was with the President. Conversation was general, with anecdotes as usual. They are usually very appropriate and instructive, conveying much truth in few words, well, if not always elegantly, told. The President’s estimate of character is usually very correct, a--nd he frequently divests himself of partiality with a readiness that has surprised me. In the course of conversation to-day, which was desultory, he mentioned that he had been selected by the people of Springfield to deliver a eulogy on the death of Mr. Clay, of whom he had been a warm admirer. This, he said, he found to be difficult to write so as to make an address of fifty minutes. In casting about for the material he had directed his attention to what Mr. Clay had himself done in the line of eulogy, and was struck with the fact that though renowned as an orator and speaker, he had never made any effort of the sort, and the only specimen he could find was embraced in a few lines on the death of Mr. Calhoun. Referring to the subject and this fact on one occasion when Seward was present, that gentleman remarked that failure was characteristic and easily accounted for. Mr. Clay’s self-esteem was so great that he could tolerate no commendation of others, eulogized none but the dead, and would never himself speak in laudatory terms of a contemporary.
Both the President and Seward consider Clay and Webster to have been hard and selfish leaders, whose private personal ambition had contributed to the ruin of their party. The people of New England were proud of the great mind of Webster. But he had no magnetism, there was not intense personal devotion for him such as manifested itself for Clay. For years the Whig cause consisted in the adulation of these two men, rather than in support of any well-established principles. In fact, principles were always made secondary to them.
Tuesday , February 2, 1864.
But little of importance was done at the Cabinet meeting. Several subjects discussed. Seward was embarrassed about the Dominican question. To move either way threatened difficulty. On one side Spain, on the other side the Negro.
The President remarked that the dilemma reminded him of the interview between two Negroes, one of whom was a preacher endeavoring to admonish and enlighten the other. “There are,” said Josh, the preacher, “ two roads for you. Jo. Be careful which you take. One ob dem leads straight to hell, de oder go right to damnation.” Jo opened his eyes under the impressive eloquence and awful future and exclaimed: “ Josh, take which road you please, I go troo de wood.”
“ I am not disposed to take any new trouble,”said the President, “ just at this time, and shall neither go for Spain or the Negro in this matter, but shall take to the woods.”
Wednesday, February 3, 1864.
Had a brief talk to-day with Chase on financial matters. He seems embarrassed how to proceed, but being futile in resources [himself] is listening to others still more futile. There will, however, come a day of reckoning, and the Nation will have to pay for all these expedients. In departing from the specie standard and making irredeemable paper its equivalent, I think a great error was committed. By inflating the currency, loans have been more easily taken, but the artificial prices are ruinous. I do not gather from Chase that he has any system or fixed principles to govern him in his management of the Treasury. He craves, even beyond most of the others, a victory ; for the success of our arms inspires capitalists with confidence. He inquired about Charleston, regretted that Farragut had not been ordered there. I asked what F[arragut] could do beyond Dahlgren at that point. Well, he said, he knew not that he could do more, but he was brave and had a name which inspired confidence. I admitted he had a reputation which Dahlgren had not, but no one had questioned D[ahlgren’s] courage or capacity and the President favored him. The moral effect of taking Charleston was not to be questioned. Beyond that I knew not any thing [that] could be gained. The port was closed.
The conversation turned upon army and naval operations. He lamented the President’s want of energy and force, which he said paralyzed everything. His weakness was crushing us. I did not respond to this distinct feeler, and the conversation changed.
LINCOLN AS A POLITICIAN
Almost daily we have some indications of Presidential aspirations and incipient operations for the campaign. The President does not conceal the interest he takes; and yet I perceive nothing unfair or intrusive, He is sometimes, but not often, deceived by heartless intriguers who impose upon him. Some appointments have been secured by mischievous men which would never have been made had he known the fact. In some respects he is a singular man, and not fully understood. He has great sagacity and shrewdness. When he relies on his own right intentions and good common sense, he is strongest.
Wednesday, February 17, 1864.
Went this A. M. to Brady’s room with Mr. Carpenter, an artist, to have photograph taken. Mr. C[arpenter] is to paint an historical picture of the President and Cabinet at the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
I called to see Chase in regard to Steamer Princeton, but he was not at the Department. Thought best to write him, and also Stanton. These schemes to trade with the rebels be-devil both the Treasury and the Army.
Friday, February 19, 1864.
As I went into the Cabinet meeting, a fair plump lady came forward and insisted she must see the President only for a moment — wanted nothing. I made her request known to the President, who directed that she be admitted. She said her name was Holmes, that she belonged in Dubuque, Iowa, was passing East and came from Baltimore expressly to have a look at President Lincoln. “ Well, in the matter of looking at one another,” said the President laughing, “ I have altogether the advantage.” She wished his autograph. She was a special admirer and enthusiastic.
Saturday, February 20, 1864.
Two or three committees are investigating naval matters — contracts, supplies, engineering, etc. Senator Hale labors hard to find fault with the Department. [He] is searching, as with a Ianthorn, for errors and mistakes. Has detectives, rotten and disappointed contractors, and grouty party men of the Navy as well as politicians of every kind of politics to aid him, but has thus far seemed to injure his friends as well as himself, and not the Department.
Monday, February 22, 1864.
A circular, “ strictly private,” signed by Senator Pomeroy, and in favor of Mr. Chase for President, has been detected and published. It will be more dangerous in its recoil than its projectile. That is, it will damage Chase more than Lincoln. The effect on the two men themselves will not be serious. Both of them desire the position, which is not surprising; it certainly is not in the President, who would be gratified with an endorsement. Were I to advise Chase, it would be not to aspire to the position, especially not as a competitor with the man who has given him his confidence, and with whom he has acted in the administration of the government at a most eventful period. The President well understands Chase’s wish, and is somewhat hurt that he should press forward under the circumstances. Chase tries to have it thought that he is indifferent and scarely cognizant of what is doing in his behalf, but no one of his partisans is so well posted as Chase himself.
Thursday, February 25, 1864.
I called at the Treasury Department this morning relative to funds to pay the hands in the Navy Yard at Brooklyn. Chase appeared very well and calm. We talked of many difficulties. He wants the Bank circulation suppressed. I told him we could not have two currencies, for the baser would always expel the better. He said the banks and individuals were hoarding the government paper, and there must be some legislation to prevent the banks from circulating their paper, and it was desirable there should be a public sentiment in that direction. I do not think he has a very sound, well-matured comprehensive plan of finance, or correct ideas of money and currency, but he is quick of apprehension, has mental resources, and is fertile in expedients not always sound, but which have thus far been made available.
Friday, February 26, 1864.
Only three of us were at the Cabinet council to-day. Some matters of interest were touched upon, but there was soon a discussion on recent political movements. The President has been advised of the steps taken to forward the Chase operations. Circulars were put in his hands before [they were] signed.
Friday, March 4, 1864.
A pleasant Cabinet meeting. Chase and Blair both absent, Seward and Stanton had a corner chat and laugh about Chase, whose name occasionally escaped them, and whom they appeared to think in a dilemma. They were evidently not unwilling we should know the subject even of their comments. I could not avoid hearing some of their remarks, though I changed my position to escape them.
[The foolish and unsuccessful raid on Richmond under the command of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren has never been perfectly understood. On Dahlgren’s body were discovered papers “which seemed to indicate,” says Rhodes, “ that his design was to release the Federal prisoners on Belle Isle and in Richmond, and furnish them with oakum and turpentine so that they might burn the hateful city.” These “ orders,” which threatened to give the Confederates an opportunity for reprisals, were categorically disavowed by superior Union officers.]
Monday, March 7, 1864.
Called yesterday to see Admiral Dahlgren. While there the President and Secretary of War came in with a telegram from General Butler announcing that his son, Colonel Dahlgren, was alive and well with a force of about one hundred at King’s and Queen’s. Of course we were all gratified. The President was much affected.
Tuesday, March 8, 1864.
Received a telegram from Admiral Lee this P. M. confirming a rumor that was whispered yesterday of the death of young Dahlgren. He was surrounded, it seems, by superior forces near King’s and Queen’s Court House, and fell attempting to cut his way through. Most of his command was captured. A few escaped and got aboard of the gunboat which had been sent up for their relief.
A more gallant and brave-hearted fellow was not to be found in the service. His death will be a terrible blow to his father, who doted upon him, and not without reason. I apprehend this raid was not a wise and well-planned scheme. Tested by results, it was not. Whether the War Department advised it I do not know. I heard it spoken of indefinitely and vaguely, but with no certainty until the expedition had started.
A PORTRAIT OF GRANT
Wednesday, March 9, 1864.
Went last evening to the Presidential reception. Quite a gathering. Very many that are not usually seen at receptions were attracted thither, I presume, from the fact that General Grant was expected to be there. He came about half past nine. I was near the centre of the reception room, when a stir and buzz attracted attention, and it was whispered that General Grant had arrived. The room was not full, the crowd having passed through to the East Room. I saw some men in uniform standing at the entrance and one of them, ashort, brown, dark-haired man, was talking with the President. There was hesitation, a degree of awkwardness in the General and embarrassment in that part of the room, and a check or suspension of the moving column [occurred]. Soon word was passed around, “ Mr. Seward, General Grant is here ;” and Seward, who was just behind me, hurried and took the General by the hand and led him to Mrs. Lincoln, near whom I was standing. The crowd gathered around the circle rapidly, and it being intimated that it would be necessary the throng should pass on, Seward took the General’s arm and went with him to the East Room. There was clapping of hands in the next room as he passed through, and all in the East Room joined in it as he entered; a cheer or two followed. All of which seemed rowdy and unseemly. An hour later the General, Mr. Seward, and Stanton returned. Seward beckoned me, and introduced me and my two nieces.
To-day I received a note from the Secretary of State to be at the Executive Mansion a quarter before one P. M. The Cabinet was all there, and General Grant and his staff with the Secretary of War and General Halleck entered. The President met him and presented to the General his commission, with remarks, to which the latter responded. Both read their remarks. General Grant was somewhat embarrassed.
A conversation of half an hour followed on various subjects, but chiefly the war and the operations of Sherman.
Friday, March 11, 1864.
A pleasant meeting at the Cabinet, and about the time we had concluded General Grant was announced. He had just returned from a visit to the Army of the Potomac, and appeared to better advantage than when I first saw him ; but he is without presence. After a very brief interview, he remarked to the President that he should leave this P. M. for Nashville, to return in about two weeks, and should be glad to see the Secretary of War and General Halleck before he left. There was in his deportment little of the dignity and bearing of the soldier, but more of an air of business than his first appearance indicated; and he showed latent power.
Tuesday, March 15, 1864.
At the Cabinet the principal subject was the issue of a new Proclamation, calling for a new draft of 200,000 men in consequence of the Navy draft and other demands. There are about 800,000 men in the field, among them some sailors drawn into the army by improper legislation, and the reckless, grasping policy of the army managers, who think less of the general welfare than of narrow and selfish professional display. It did not seem to me that the call was necessary or even expedient, but I perceived it had been determined upon by Halleck, Seward, and Stanton, that the President had yielded his acquiescence and opposition was useless. Blair said nothing. Usher gave a slow but affectedly earnest affirmative. Seward said the object was to compel certain democratic localities to furnish their proportion — and it was desirable to take advantage of the current which was setting in strong for enlistment. The movement did not strike me favorably.
Thursday, March 24, 1864.
Tom 8 and Admiral Dahlgren returned from Fortress Monroe, but without the remains of young Dahlgren.
We are running short of sailors, and I have no immediate remedy. The army officers are not disposed to lose good men, and seem indifferent to the country and general welfare if their service can get along. Commodore Rowan writes that the times of the men are running out, and no re-enlistments. The army is paying enormous bounties. Between thirty and forty vessels are waiting crews.
Friday, March 25, 1864.
At Cabinet to-day, I brought up the subject of a scarcity of seamen. The President seemed concerned, and I have no doubt was. Stanton was more unconcerned than I wished, but did not object to my suggestions. I had commenced, but not completed, a letter to the President urging the importance and necessity of an immediate transfer of 12,000 men to the Navy. The army has by bounties got thousands of sailors and seamen who are experts. This letter I finished and had copied after my return. On reading it to Fox, it stirred him up. The prospect is certainly most unpromising.
Chase, who sat beside me when I first made mention of the difficulty we were experiencing from the effects of the enrollment act and the policy pursued by the War Department, remarked that nothing could be expected when there were no Cabinet consultations and no concerted action. Stanton and the President were in private consultation at the time in a corner of the room. This is no unfrequent occurrence between the two at our meetings, and is certainly inconvenient and in exceeding bad taste. Chase was, I saw, annoyed and irritated.
Mr. Bates and others were left. Usher sat quiet and intent, not listening, perhaps, to catch a word; but U[sher] has great curiosity.
Wednesday, March 30, 1864.
A severe storm last night and to-day. Mrs. Welles had arranged for a party this evening. The rain ceased about sundown. The evening passed off pleasantly.
Secretary Seward fell in with Mr. Carpenter, the artist, in the parlor. Carpenter is getting out a large painting of the President and the Cabinet at the time when the Emancipation Proclamation was under consideration. The President and Cabinet have given him several sittings and the picture is well under way. Mr. C[arpenter] thinks that this act is the great feature of the administration, as do many others, likely; but Seward said it was but an incident and wholly subordinate to other and much greater events. When C[arpenter] asked what, Seward told him to go back to the firing on Sumter, or to a much more exciting one than even that, the Sunday following the Baltimore massacre,when the Cabinet assembled or gathered in the Navy Department, and with the vast responsibility that was thrown upon them, met the emergency and its awful consequences, put in force the war power of the government, and issued papers and did acts that might have brought them all to the scaffold.
Few comparatively know or can appreciate the actual condition of things and state of feeling of the members of the administration in those days. Nearly sixty years of peace had unfitted us for any war; but the most terrible of all wars — a civil one — was upon us and it had to be met. Congress had adjourned without making any provision for the storm, though aware it was at hand and soon to burst upon the country. A new administration, scarcely acquainted with each other, and differing essentially in the past, was compelled to act promptly and decisively.
JOHN M. FORBES’S OPINIONS
April 2, 1864.
John M. Forbes called. After talking on one or two subjects he spoke of the National Convention, and his regret that the call was so early, and asked me, as one of the committee, to reconsider the subject. Told him I would hear and consider anything from him, but that ray mind was deliberately made up, and I thought the sooner the nomination was made, the better united we should be. He went over the usual ground — if the summer campaign was unfortunate, etc., etc., how could we change our candidates ? I answered, we did not intend to be unfortunate; but if we were, I could not see how any different candidate would help the Union cause. Reverses might strengthen the Copperheads.
He then talked of the President, of his want of energy, decision, promptness, in consequence of which the country suffered. It was evident from what I gathered that Mr. Forbes wanted another candidate than Abraham Lincoln, and hence he desired delay. Forbes means well. His heart is right. He is shrewd and sagacious, but men betray their feelings and partialities unavoidably. I have no doubt he desires to have Mr. Chase a candidate, though he spoke only of Ben Butler, whom he dislikes.
Friday, April 8, 1864.
Called this evening on Admiral Dahlgren who is inconsolable for the loss of his son. Advised him to go abroad and mingle in the world, and not yield to a blow that was irremediable.
(To be continued.)
- Copyright, 1909, by EDGAR T. WKDLES.↩
- The Republican majority in Ohio was 101,000.↩
- Gustavus V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy.↩
- Senator Grimes of Iowa, a member of the Naval Committee.↩
- Lyman Trumbull, of Illinois.↩
- Count Mercier was the French Minister at Washington.↩
- This article, contributed by James Russell Lowell, was widely quoted.↩
- Thomas G. Welles, son of the Secretary.↩