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 2, 2012

Diary of Gideon Welles

September 2, Tuesday. At Cabinet-meeting all but Seward were present. I think there was design in his absence. It was stated that Pope, without consultation or advice, was falling back, intending to retreat within the Washington intrenchments. No one seems to have had any knowledge of his movements, or plans, if he had any. Those who have favored Pope are disturbed and disappointed. Blair, who has known him intimately, says he is a braggart and a liar, with some courage, perhaps, but not much capacity. The general conviction is that he is a failure here, and there is a belief and admission on all hands that he has not been seconded and sustained as he should have been by McClellan, Franklin, Fitz John Porter, and perhaps some others. Personal jealousies and professional rivalries, the bane and curse of all armies, have entered deeply into ours.

Stanton said, in a suppressed voice, trembling with excitement, he was informed McClellan had been ordered to take command of the forces in Washington. General surprise was expressed. When the President came in and heard the subject-matter of our conversation, he said he had done what seemed to him best and would be responsible for what he had done to the country. Halleck had agreed to it. McClellan knows this whole ground; his specialty is to defend; he is a good engineer, all admit; there is no better organizer; he can be trusted to act on the defensive; but he is troubled with the “slows” and good for nothing for an onward movement. Much was said. There was a more disturbed and desponding feeling than I have ever witnessed in council; the President was greatly distressed. There was a general conversation as regarded the infirmities of McClellan, but it was claimed, by Blair and the President, he had beyond any officer the confidence of the army. Though deficient in the positive qualities which are necessary for an energetic commander, his organizing powers could be made temporarily available till the troops were rallied.

These, the President said, were General Halleck’s views, as well as his own, and some who were dissatisfied with his action, and had thought H. was the man for General-in-Chief, felt that there was nothing to do but to acquiesce, yet Chase earnestly and emphatically stated his conviction that it would prove a national calamity.

Pope himself had great influence in bringing Halleck here, and the two, with Stanton and Chase, got possession of McC.’s army and withdrew it from before Richmond. It has been an unfortunate movement. Pope is denounced as a braggart, unequal to the position assigned him.

Stanton and Halleck are apprehensive that Washington is in danger. Am sorry to see this fear, for I do not believe it among remote possibilities. Undoubtedly, after the orders of Pope to fall back, and the discontent and contentions of the generals, there will be serious trouble, but not such as to endanger the Capital. The military believe a great and decisive battle is to be fought in front of the city, but I do not anticipate it. It may be that, retreating within the intrenchments, our own generals and managers have inspired the Rebels to be more daring; perhaps they may venture to cross the upper Potomac and strike at Baltimore, our railroad communication, or both, but they will not venture to come here, where we are prepared and fortified with both army and navy to meet them.

In a conversation with Commodore Wilkes, who came up yesterday from Norfolk to take command of the Potomac Flotilla, consisting now of twenty-five vessels, he took occasion to express his high appreciation of McClellan as an officer. This can be accounted for in more ways than one. The two have been associated together in a severe disappointment, and persuade themselves they should have accomplished something important if they had not been interrupted. I have no doubt Wilkes, who has audacity, would have dashed on, and perhaps have compelled McClellan to do so, but with what prudence and discretion I am not assured. They both believe they would have taken Richmond. I apprehend they would have disagreed before getting there, even if McClellan could have been brought to the attempt. An adverse result has made them friends in belief, and they condemn the decision which led to their recall. I had no part in that decision. Probably should not have advised the order had I been consulted, although it may have been the proper military step. But whether recalled or not, McC. would never have struck a blow for Richmond, even under the impulsive urging of Wilkes, who is often inconsiderate; and so strife would have arisen between them.

Wilkes says they would have captured Richmond on the 1st inst., had there been no recall. His last letter to me, about the 27th, said they would have made an attempt by the 12th if let alone. I have no doubt that, could he have had the cooperation of the army, Wilkes would have struck a blow; perhaps he would alone.

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