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

Diary of Gideon Welles.

September 8, 2012

Diary of Gideon Welles

September 8, Monday. Less sensation and fewer rumors than we have had for several days.

The President called on me to know what we had authentic of the destruction of the Rebel steamer in Savannah River. He expressed himself very decidedly concerning the management or mismanagement of the army. Said, “We had the enemy in the hollow of our hands on Friday, if our generals, who are vexed with Pope, had done their duty; all of our present difficulties and reverses have been brought upon us by these quarrels of the generals.” These were, I think, his very words. While we were conversing, Collector Barney of New York came in. The President said, perhaps before B. came, that Halleck had turned to McClellan and advised that he should command the troops against the Maryland invasion. “I could not have done it,” said he, “for I can never feel confident that he will do anything effectual.” He went on, freely commenting and repeating some things said before B. joined us. Of Pope he spoke in complimentary terms as brave, patriotic, and as having done his duty in every respect in Virginia, to the entire satisfaction of himself and Halleck, who both knew and watched, day and night, every movement. On only one point had Halleck doubted any order P. had given; that was in directing one division, I think Heintzelman’s, to march for the Chain Bridge, by which the flanks of that division were exposed. When that order reached him by telegraph, Halleck was uneasy, for he could not countermand it in season, because the dispatch would have to go part of the way by courier. However, all went off without disaster; the division was not attacked. Pope, said the President, did well, but there was here an army prejudice against him, and it was necessary he should leave. He had gone off very angry, and not without cause, but circumstances controlled us.

Barney said he had mingled with all descriptions of persons, and particularly with men connected with the army, and perhaps could speak from actual knowledge of public sentiment better than either of us. He was positive that no one but McClellan could do anything just now with this army. He had managed to get its confidence, and he meant to keep it, and use it for his own purposes. Barney proceeded to disclose a conversation he had with Barlow some months since. Barlow, a prominent Democratic lawyer and politician of New York, had been to Washington to attend one of McClellan’s grand reviews when he lay here inactive on the Potomac. McClellan had specially invited Barlow to be present, and during this visit opened his mind, said he did not wish the Presidency, would rather have his place at the head of the army, etc., etc., intimating he had no political views or aspirations. All with him was military, and he had no particular desire to close this war immediately, but would pursue a line of policy of his own, regardless of the Administration, its wishes and objects.

The combination against Pope was, Barney says, part of the plan carried out, and the worst feature to him was the great demoralization of his soldiers. They were becoming reckless and untamable. In these remarks the President concurred, and said he was shocked to find that of 140,000 whom we were paying for in Pope’s army only 60,000 could be found. McClellan brought away 93,000 from the Peninsula, but could not to-day count on over 45,000. As regarded demoralization, the President said, there was no doubt that some of our men permitted themselves to be captured in order that they might leave on parole, get discharged, and go home. Where there is such rottenness, is there not reason to fear for the country?

Barney further remarked that some very reliable men were becoming discouraged,and instanced Cassius M. Clay, who was advocating an armistice and terms of separation or of compromise with the Rebels. The President doubted if Clay had been rightly understood, for he had had a full and free talk with him, when he said had we been successful we could have had it in our power to offer terms.

In a conversation this morning with Chase, he said it was a doubtful matter whether my declining to sign the paper against McClellan was productive of good or harm. If I had done it, he said, McClellan would have been disposed of and not now in command, but the condition of the army was such under his long manipulation that it might have been hazardous at this juncture to have dismissed him. I assured him I had seen no moment yet when I regretted my decision, and my opinion of McClellan had undergone no change. He has military acquirements and capacity, dash, but has not audacity, lacks decision, delays, hesitates, vacillates; will, I fear, persist in delays and inaction and do nothing affirmative. His conduct during late events aggravates his indecision and is wholly unjustifiable and inexcusable.

But I will not prophesy what he will do in his present command. He has a great opportunity, and I hope and pray he may improve it. The President says truly he has the “slows,” but he can gather the army together better than any other man. Let us give him credit when he deserves it.

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