Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Diary of Gideon Welles

June 11, Saturday. There is very little from the army that is decisive or satisfactory. Constant fighting is going on, killing without any battle. The bodies of our brave men, slain or mutilated, are brought daily to Washington by hundreds. Some repulse we have had beyond what is spoken of, I have no doubt. But our army holds on with firmness, and persistency, and courage, – being constantly reinforced.

June 10, Friday. The caucus of the New Hampshire members of the legislature friendly to the Administration has resulted in the substitution of Cragin for John P. Hale. This will be a sore and sad disappointment to Hale, who had until recently thought himself invincible in New Hampshire. Although I have no doubt he would make terms with the Copperheads if he could, they would not with him, and it therefore seems scarcely possible that it can be otherwise than he will be fully and finally defeated. I rejoice at it, for he is worthless, a profligate politician, a poor Senator, an indifferent statesman, not without talents, though destitute of industry, and I question his integrity. He has some humor, is fond of scandal, delights in defaming, loves to oppose, and is reckless of truth in his assaults. The country will sustain no loss from his retirement. As chairman of the Naval Committee and the organ of communication between the Navy Department and the Senate, he has rendered no service, but has been a constant embarrassment and obstruction. During the whole of this civil war, when all our energies and efforts were exerted in the cause of the Union and the country, no assistance, no word of encouragement even, has ever come to the Department from John P. Hale; but constant assaults, insinuations, and pronounced, if not wilful and deliberate, misrepresentations have emanated from him. Of course, I shall not regret his defeat, for though his term does not expire till the close of this Administration, and my connection with the Government may terminate at the same time, I am glad that his factious conduct is not indorsed by his State, and that the buffoon and vilifier will not be in a position to do further injury. He has been less offensive this session than heretofore, whether because he had become aware that his conduct did not meet the approval of the people and the election was at hand, I care not to judge.

A letter from Admiral Gregory, inclosing a report from himself and Chief Engineer King on the Chimo, one of the light-draught monitors, gives a bad account. There have been mistakes and miscalculations in this class of vessels of a serious character. Stimers and Fox have had them in charge, and each has assured me that my apprehensions were groundless. Fox has been persistent in this matter, and assumed that the objections were wholly groundless. Admiral Gregory has also given me strong assurances that all was right. The Chimo, the first, would, he said, be a little deep, but this would be obviated in all the others, and not very bad in her case. I am not satisfied with Stimers’s management, yet Fox has in this matter urged what has been done. The report indicates unfitness on the part of Stimers, who miscalculated or made no calculation for displacement, has become vain, and feared to acknowledge his error.

June 9, Thursday. There seems to be general satisfaction with the nominations made at Baltimore, and with the resolutions adopted. Except the nomination for Vice-President, the whole proceedings were a matter of course. It was the wish of Seward that Hamlin should again be the Vice, and the President himself was inclined to the same policy, though personally his choice is Johnson. This, I think, was the current Administration opinion, though with no particular zeal or feeling. Blair inclined to the policy of taking Hamlin, though partial to Johnson. I took no part and could not well take any. Yet to-day from several quarters it is said to me that Connecticut overthrew Hamlin, and that it was my doings which led to it. While this is not correct, I am nowise disposed to be dissatisfied with the change that has been made.

Concluded to retire the marine officers who are past the legal age, and to bring in Zeilin as Commandant of the Corps. There seems no alternative. . . .

June 8, Wednesday. The President was renominated to-day at Baltimore. A contest took place in regard to Missouri, and the wrong delegates were admitted by an almost unanimous vote. A strange perversion. There was neither sense nor reason nor justice in the decision. Rogues, fanatics, hypocrites, and untruthful men secured and triumphed over good and true men. Prejudice overcame truth and reason. The Convention exhibited great stupidity and actually stultified itself in this matter.

When the vote of the Convention was taken on the nomination for President, it was found the Missouri delegation who had been admitted were not in harmony with the Convention. They would not vote for Mr. Lincoln. He had all the rest of the votes. There was much intrigue and much misconception in this thing.

On the question of Vice-President there was greater diversity of opinion at the beginning, but ultimately and soon all united on Andrew Johnson. Personally I did not regret this result, although I took no part in its accomplishment. The delegates and papers of my State generally have disapproved of Hamlin’s course towards me, and I have no doubt it contributed to their casting a united vote at the start for Johnson. Hamlin and his friends will give me credit for influence which I do not possess, and ascribe to me revenge for malevolence I have never felt. Without cause and because I would not extend undue favor to one of his friends by official abuse, he has treated me coldly, discourteously, and with bad temper, – so much so as to attract attention and inquiry, and lead to opposition to his renomination.

June 7, Tuesday. The Convention to-day is the absorbing theme but there is something from the army relative to the late fights that disturbs me. We have had severe slaughter. Brave men have been killed and maimed most fearfully, but Grant persists.

June 6, Monday. Am urged to go to Baltimore but do not deem it advisable. Some talk with Blair respecting Chase and Seward, who, though not assimilating and unlike in many respects, continue to get along. Each has a policy which seems to me unsound, and Blair coincides with me, but is so intent on other matters, personal to the Blairs and the vindictive war upon them, that he is compelled to defer the differences on grave questions to what so nearly concerns him.

I am uncomfortable about the extradition, or rather the abduction, of Arguellis, the Spaniard. The act shocks me, and the Administration will justly be held accountable. Some of us who know nothing on the subject will have to share the responsibility. I knew nothing of the subject, nor that there was such a man, until after the wrong had been committed and the man was on his way to Cuba. Marshal Murray then informed me, and said he was here to escape the grand jury. A few days after the subject was alluded to in the Cabinet. Seward introduced it incidentally, partly as a feeler and partly to affirm hereafter that the subject had been mentioned. A few words passed between him and the President. As no one said a word by way of comment, I inquired if there was not a law in New York against abduction? Seward claimed there was no law prohibiting the extradition, – that we might do it or not. It was an act of comity merely; Spain could not demand it, etc., etc. It was in answer to these remarks that I put the inquiry. I saw it grated, and when I further remarked if there was no treaty or law for it. I should doubt the propriety of acting, I saw I was making discord, and the subject dropped. The arrest is an arbitrary and unauthorized exercise of power by the Secretary of State.

June 4, Saturday. Many delegates to Convention in town. Some attempts made by Members of Congress to influence them. The friends of Chase improve the opportunity to exclaim against Blair.

There has been continued fighting, though represented as not very important. Still there is heavy loss, but we are becoming accustomed to the sacrifice. Grant has not great regard for human life.

June 3, Friday. For several days the delegates to the National Convention have been coming in. Had a call from several. Met a number at the President’s. All favor the President. There is a spirit of discontent among the Members of Congress, stirred up, I think, by the Treasury Department. Chase has his flings and insinuations against the President’s policy, or want of policy. Nothing suits him.

There seems some difference among the delegates about the Vice-Presidency, but they will be likely to renominate Hamlin, though he has not much personal strength and has not the mind and temperament to build up a party for the country. There is an impression here that he has great strength in New England, but that is not my opinion. He has party cunning and management but not breadth and strength and is but little cared for there; is not offensive or obnoxious, but there is no zeal for him. As the President is a Western man and will be renominated, the Convention will very likely feel inclined to go East and to renominate the Vice-President also. Should New York be united on Dix or Dickinson, the nomination would be conceded to the Empire State, but there can be no union in that State upon either of those men or any other.

June 2, Thursday. There is intense anxiety in relation to the Army of the Potomac. Great confidence is felt in Grant, but the immense slaughter of our brave men chills and sickens us all. The hospitals are crowded with the thousands of mutilated and dying heroes who have poured out their blood for the Union cause. Lee has returned to the vicinity of Richmond, overpowered by numbers, beaten but hardly defeated.

June 1, Wednesday. Called on the President relative to the appointment of midshipmen. After looking over the list with some care, he finally designated two sons of officers [and] one apprentice, and desired me to complete the nominations.

When I called on the President, Major-General Schenck was with him, and, as I went in, was giving the President a list of names of persons to be selected to fill the board about to be appointed on the question of retired officers, his brother, Commodore Schenck, being one. It was a cool proposition, but characteristic of General Schenck, and I think of the Schencks generally.

We have to-day the results of a meeting of strange odds and ends of parties, and factions, and disappointed and aspiring individuals at Cleveland. Frémont is nominated as their candidate for President and John Cochrane for Vice-President. The gathering had the nomination of Frémont in view, though other objects were professed.

I very earnestly supported Frémont in 1856. He was then put forward as the representative of the principles for which we were contending, and I have no reason to give that he was not faithful to the cause. He was, however, as soon as nominated, surrounded, to a great extent, by bad men, in whom no good man had confidence. His bearing was very well so far as he appeared before the public. I saw that he was anxious to be elected but not offensively so; he was not obtrusive, but, on the contrary, reserved and retiring. In nothing did he show extraordinary ability or character, but my conclusions were that his real traits were undeveloped. He did not grow upon me as reserved men usually do. Colonel Benton had in former years extolled him, though opposed to his candidacy. Governor Marcy, no friend of Benton, and not partial to Frémont, had, when Secretary of War, given him name and fame by a most remarkable indorsement in his able report in (I think) 1848.

I have since learned that that part of Marcy’s report was written by Colonel Benton himself, and that President Polk compelled Marcy to incorporate it in the annual report of the War Department. The affair seems incredible almost to me, who knew the several parties, but I learn it in a way that leaves no doubt of its truth. Marcy had ability but was timid and subservient. Frémont has gained no reputation during the War. In power his surroundings have been awful. Reckless, improvident, wasteful, pompous, purposeless, vain, and incompetent. In his explorations, however, he showed perseverance and endurance, and he had the reputation of attaching his men to him. His journals were readable, but I have been told they were prepared and mostly written by Colonel Benton. On all occasions he puts on airs, is ambitious, and would not serve under men of superior military capacity and experience. Frémont first and country after. For a long time he has been in foolish intrigues for the Presidency, and the Cleveland meeting is a Frémont meeting, though others have been concerned.

I am surprised that General Cochrane should have embarked in the scheme. But he has been wayward and erratic. A Democrat, a Barnburner, a conservative, an Abolitionist, an Anti-abolitionist, a Democratic Republican, and now a radical Republican. He has some, but not eminent, ability; can never make a mark as a stateman. It will not surprise me if he should change his position before the close of the political campaign, and support the nominees of the Baltimore Convention. There is not a coincidence of views and policy between him and Frémont, and the convention which has nominated them is a heterogeneous mixture of weak and wicked men. They would jeopard and hazard the Republican and Union cause, and many of them would defeat it and give success to the Copperheads to gratify their causeless spite against the President. He is blamed for not being more energetic and because he is despotic in the same breath. He is censured for being too mild and gentle towards the Rebels and for being tyrannical and intolerant. There is no doubt he has a difficult part to perform in order to satisfy all and do right.

This war is extraordinary in all its aspects and phases, and no man was prepared to meet them. It is much easier for the censorious and factious to complain than to do right. I have often thought that greater severity might well be exercised, and yet it would tend to barbarism.

No traitor has been hung. I doubt if there will be, but an example should be made of some of the leaders, for present and for future good. They may, if taken, be imprisoned or driven into exile, but neither would be lasting. Parties would form for their relief, and ultimately succeed in restoring the worst of them to their homes and the privileges they originally enjoyed. Death is the proper penalty and atonement, and will be enduringly beneficent in its influence.

There was, moreover, an aristocratic purpose in this Rebellion. An aristocracy of blood and wealth was to have been established. Consequently a contrary effect would work benignantly. Were a few of the leaders to be stripped of their possessions, and their property confiscated, their families impoverished, the result would be salutary in the future. But I apprehend there will be very gentle measures in closing up the Rebellion. The authors of the enormous evils that have been inflicted will go unpunished, or will be but slightly punished.