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 3, 2012

Diary of Gideon Welles

September 3, Wednesday. Washington is full of exciting, vague, and absurd rumors. There is some cause for it. Our great army comes retreating to the banks of the Potomac, driven back to the intrenchments by Rebels.

The army has no head. Halleck is here in the Department, a military director, not a general, a man of some scholastic attainments, but without soldierly capacity. McClellan is an intelligent engineer and officer, but not a commander to head a great army in the field. To attack or advance with energy and power is not in him; to fight is not his forte. I sometimes fear his heart is not earnest in the cause, yet I do not entertain the thought that he is unfaithful. The study of military operations interests and amuses him. It flatters him to have on his staff French princes and men of wealth and position; he likes show, parade, and power. Wishes to outgeneral the Rebels, but not to kill and destroy them. In a conversation which I had with him in May last at Cumberland on the Pamunkey, he said he desired of all things to capture Charleston; he would demolish and annihilate the city. He detested, he said, both South Carolina and Massachusetts, and should rejoice to see both States extinguished. Both were and always had been ultra and mischievous, and he could not tell which he hated most. These were the remarks of the General-in-Chief at the head of our armies then in the field, and when as large a proportion of his troops were from Massachusetts as from any State in the Union, while as large a proportion of those opposed, who were fighting the Union, were from South Carolina as from any State. He was leading the men of Massachusetts against the men of South Carolina, yet he, the General, detests them alike.

I cannot relieve my mind from the belief that to him, in a great degree, and to his example, influence, and conduct are to be attributed some portion of our late reverses, more than to any other person on cither side. His reluctance to move or have others move, his inactivity, his detention of Franklin, his omission to send forward supplies unless Pope would send a cavalry escort from the battle-field, and the tone of his conversation and dispatches, all show a moody state of feeling. The slight upon him and the generals associated with him, in the selection of Pope, was injudicious, impolitic, wrong perhaps, but is no justification for their withholding one tithe of strength in a great emergency, where the lives of their countrymen and the welfare of the country were in danger. The soldiers whom McClellan has commanded are doubtless attached to him. They have been trained to it, and he has kindly cared for them while under him. With partiality for him they have imbibed his prejudices, and some of the officers have, I fear, a spirit more factious and personal than patriotic. I have thought they might have reason to complain, at the proper time and place, but not on the field of battle, that a young officer of no high reputation should be brought from a Western Department and placed over them. Stanton, in his hate of McC, has aggrieved other officers.

The introduction of Pope here, followed by Halleck, is an intrigue of Stanton’s and Chase’s to get rid of McClellan. A part of this intrigue has been the withdrawal of McClellan and the Army of the Potomac from before Richmond and turning it into the Army of Washington under Pope.

Chase, who made himself as busy in the management of the army as the Treasury, said to the President one day in my presence, when we were looking over the maps on the table in the War Department, that the whole movement upon Richmond by the York River was wrong, that we should accomplish nothing until the army was recalled and Washington was made the base of operations for an overland march. McClellan had all the troops with him, and the Capital was exposed to any sudden blow from the Rebels. “What would you do?” said the President. “Order McClellan to return and start right,” replied Chase, putting his finger on the map, and pointing the course to be taken across the country. Pope, who was present, said, “If Halleck were here, you would have, Mr. President, a competent adviser who would put this matter right.”

The President, without consulting any one, went about this time on a hasty visit to West Point, where he had a brief interview with General Scott, and immediately returned. A few days thereafter General Halleck was detached from the Western Department and ordered to Washington, where he was placed in position as General-in-Chief, and McClellan and the Army of the Potomac, on Halleck’s recommendation, first proposed by Chase, were recalled from in the vicinity of Richmond.

The defeat of Pope and placing McC. in command of the retreating and disorganized forces after the second disaster at Bull Run interrupted the intrigue which had been planned for the dismissal of McClellan, and was not only a triumph for him but a severe mortification and disappointment for both Stanton and Chase.

Previous post:

Next post: