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

Post image for Diary of Gideon Welles.

Diary of Gideon Welles.

September 1, 2012

Diary of Gideon Welles

September 1, Monday. The wounded have been coming in to-day in large numbers. From what I can learn, General Pope’s estimate of the killed and wounded greatly exceeds the actual number. He should, however, be best informed, but he feels distressed and depressed and is greatly given to exaggeration.

Chase tells me that McClellan sends word that there are twenty thousand stragglers on the road between Alexandria and Centreville, which C. says is infamously false and sent out for infamous purposes. He called on me today with a more carefully prepared, and less exceptionable, address to the President, stating the signers did not deem it safe that McClellan should be intrusted with an army, etc., and that, if required, the signers would give, their reasons for the protest against continuing him in command. This paper was in the handwriting of Attorney-General Bates. The former was in Stanton’s. This was signed by Stanton, Chase, Smith, and Bates. A space was left between the two last for Blair and myself; Seward is not in town, and, if I am not mistaken, is purposely absent to be relieved from participation in this movement, which originates with Stanton, who is mad—perhaps with reason — and determined to destroy McClellan. Seward and Stanton act in concert, but Seward has opposed or declined being a party to the removal of McClellan, until since Halleck was brought here, when Stanton became more fierce and determined. Seward then gave way and went away. Chase, who has become hostile to McClellan, is credulous, and sometimes the victim of intrigue; was taken into Stanton’s confidence, made to believe that the opportunity of Seward’s absence should be improved to shake off McClellan, whom they both disliked, by a combined Cabinet movement to control the President, who, until recently, has clung to that officer. It was not difficult, under the prevailing feeling of indignation against McClellan, to enlist Smith. I am a little surprised that they got Mr. Bates, though he has for some time openly urged the removal of McClellan. Chase took upon himself to get my name, and then, if possible, Blair was to be brought in. In all this, Chase flatters himself that he is attaching Stanton to his interest; not but that he is himself sincere in his opposition to McClellan, who was once his favorite, but whom he considers a deserter from his faction and whom he now detests.

I told Chase I thought this paper an improvement on the document of Saturday; was less exceptionable; but I did not like, and could not unite in, the movement; that in a conference with the President I should have no hesitation in saying or agreeing mainly in what was there expressed; for I am satisfied the earnest men of the country would not be willing McClellan should hereafter have command of our forces in the field, though I could not say what is the feeling of the soldiers. Reflection had more fully satisfied me that this method of conspiring to influence or control the President was repugnant to my feelings and was not right; it was unusual, would be disrespectful, and would justly be deemed offensive; that the President had called us around him as friends and advisers, with whom he might counsel and consult on all matters affecting the public welfare, not to enter into combinations to control him. Nothing of this kind had hitherto taken place in our intercourse. That we had not been sufficiently intimate, impressive, or formal perhaps, and perhaps not sufficiently explicit and decisive in expressing our views on some subjects.

Chase disclaimed any movement against the President and thought the manner was respectful and correct. Said it was designed to tell the President that the Administration must be broken up, or McC. dismissed. The course he said was unusual, but the case was unusual. We had, it was true, been too informal in our meeting. I had, he said, been too reserved in the expression of my views, which he did me the compliment to say were sound, etc. Conversations, he said, amounted to but little with the President on subjects of this importance. Argument was useless. It was like throwing water on a duck’s back. A more decisive expression must be made and that in writing.

It was evident there was a fixed determination to remove, and if possible to disgrace, McClellan. Chase frankly stated he desired it, that he deliberately believed McClellan ought to be shot, and should, were he President, be brought to summary punishment. I told him he was aware my faith in McClellan’s energy and reliability was shaken nine months ago; that as early as last December I had, as he would recollect, expressed my disappointment in the man and stated to him specially, as the friend and indorser of McClellan, my misgivings, in order that he might remove my doubts or confirm them. McClellan’s hesitating course last fall, his indifference and neglect of my many applications to cooperate with the Navy, his failure in many instances to fulfill his promises, when the Rebels were erecting batteries on the west bank of the Potomac, that they might close the navigation of the river, had shaken my confidence in his efficiency and reliability, for he was not deficient in sagacity or intelligence. But at that time McClellan was a general favorite, and neither he (Chase) nor any one heeded my doubts and apprehensions.

A few weeks after the navigation of the river was first interrupted by the Rebel batteries last November, I made known to the President and Cabinet how I had been put off by General McClellan with broken promises and frivolous and unsatisfactory answers, until I ceased conversing with him on the subject. To me it seemed he had no plan or policy of his own, or any realizing sense of the true condition of affairs, — the Rebels in sight of us, almost within cannon-range, Washington beleaguered, only a single railroad track to Baltimore, the Potomac about to be closed. He was occupied with reviews and dress-parades, perhaps with drills and discipline, but was regardless of the necessities of the case, — the political aspect of the question, the effect of the closing of the only avenue from the National Capital to the ocean, and the embarrassment which would follow to the Government itself were the river blockaded. Though deprecating his course and calling his attention to it, I did not think, as Chase now says he does, and as I hear others say they do, that he was imbecile, a coward, a traitor; but it was notorious that he hesitated, doubted, had not self-reliance, any definite and determined plan, or audacity to act. He was wanting, in my opinion, in several of the essential requisites of a general in chief command; in short, he was not a fighting general. These are my present convictions. Some statements of Stanton and some recent acts indicate failings, delinquencies of a more serious character. The country is greatly incensed against him, but he has the confidence of the army, I think.

Chase was disappointed, and I think a little chagrined, because I would not unite in the written demand to the President. He said he had not yet asked Blair and did not propose to till the others had been consulted. This does not look well. It appears as if there was a combination by two to get their associates committed, seriatim, in detail, by a skillful ex parte movement without general consultation.

McClellan was first invited to Washington under the auspices of Chase, more than of any one else, though all approved, for Scott was old, infirm, and changeable. Seward soon had greater intimacy with McClellan than Chase. Blair, informed in regard to the qualities of army officers, acquiesced in McClellan’s selection; thought him intelligent and capable, but dilatory. In the winter, when Chase began to get alienated from McC. in consequence of his hesitancy and reticence, or both, if not because of greater intimacy with Seward, Blair seemed to confide more in the General, yet I do not think McC. was a favorite, or that he grew in favor.

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