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.

July 31, 2013

Diary of Gideon Welles

by Gideon Welles

July 31, Friday. I met at the President’s, and was introduced by him to, Colonel Rawlins of General Grant’s staff. He arrived yesterday with the official report of the taking ofVicksburg and capture of Pemberton’s army. Was much pleased with him, his frank, intelligent, and interesting description of men and account of army operations. His interview with the President and Cabinet was of nearly two hours’ duration, and all, I think, were entertained by him. His honest, unpretending, and unassuming manners pleased me; the absence of pretension, and I may say the unpolished and unrefined deportment, of this earnest and sincere man, patriot, and soldier pleased me more than that of almost any officer whom I have met. He was never atWest Point and has had few educational advantages, yet he is a soldier, and has a mind which has served his general and his country well. He is a sincere and earnest friend of Grant, who has evidently sent him here for a purpose.

It was the intention of the President last fall that General McClernand, an old neighbor and friend of his, should have been associated with Admiral Porter in active operations beforeVicksburg. It was the expressed and earnest wish of Porter to have a citizen general, and he made it a special point to be relieved from associations with a West-Pointer; all West-Pointers, he said, were egotistical and assuming and never willing to consider and treat naval officers as equals. The President thought the opportunity a good one to bring forward his friend McClernand, in whom he has confidence and who is a volunteer officer of ability, and possesses, moreover, a good deal of political influence inIllinois. Stanton and Halleck entered into his views, for Grant was not a special favorite with either. He had also, like Hooker, the reputation of indulging too freely in whiskey to be always safe and reliable.

Rawlins now comes fromVicksburgwith statements in regard to McClernand which show him an impracticable and unfit man, — that he has not been subordinate and

intelligent, but has been an embarrassment, and, instead of directing or assisting in, has been really an obstruction to, army movements and operations. In Rawlins’s statements there is undoubtedly prejudice, but with such appearance of candor, and earnest and intelligent conviction, that there can be hardly a doubt McClernand is in fault, and Rawlins has been sent here by Grant in order to enlist the President rather than bring dispatches. In this, I think, he has succeeded, though the President feels kindly towards McClernand. Grant evidently hates him, and Rawlins is imbued with the feelings of his chief.

Seward wished me to meet him and the President at the War Department to consider the subject of the immediate occupation of some portion ofTexas. My letters of the 9th and 23d ult. and conversation since have awakened attention to the necessity of some decisive action. [These letters follow.]

NAVY DEPARTMENT, 9 June, 1863.


In acknowledging the receipt of the copy of despatch No. 51, from the Vice Consul at Havana, transmitted to me with your letter of the 6th inst., I have the honor to state that the suggestions therein contained are worthy of consideration. It is, in every point of view, important that early and effective measures should be taken, not only to interdict the traffic carried on with the rebels on theRio Grande, but to afford protection to loyal citizens inWestern Texas.

I shall send a copy of the Vice Consul’s despatch to Rear Admiral Farragut and direct his attention to the subject; but without a military occupation ofBrownsville, I apprehend the naval force alone will be insufficient to either blockade, or protect our interests in that quarter. The navigation of theRio Grandemust be left unobstructed and until the left bank of the river shall be occupied by our troops, a large portion of the cargoes that are formally cleared for Matamoras have a contingent destination forTexas. Most of the shipments to Matamoras will, until such occupancy, pass into the rebel region.

The subject is one demanding the attention of the Government at the earliest available moment.

I am, respectfully,Your Obd’t Serv’tGIDEON WELLES, Secty. of Navy.

HON. WM. H. SEWARD, Secty. of State.

NAVY DEPARTMENT, 23 June, 1863.


I have the honor to return herewith the consular despatches which accompanied your letter of the 16th ultimo.

The suggestion of our commercial agent atBelize, in regard to the traffic carried on by the insurgents via Matamoras, deserves especial consideration. It appears to me some measures should be taken to interdict this trade; for as now permitted, the great purposes and ends of the Blockade are measurably defeated. That the clearances which these vessels have ostensibly for Matamoras, as Mr. Leas remarks, were subterfuges — decoys to cover up the true designs and purposes of the parties, which are to introduce, through French and other agencies, contraband of war into the hands of our enemies — is notorious.

It is desirable that the fraudulent practices mentioned by Mr. Leas should be discontinued, and I trust the attention of the British and Mexican Governments is called to them.

It seems to me some measures should be taken in concert with Mexico, by which illicit traffic with the rebels, by the way of the Rio Grande, may be prevented; or if that Government will not come into an arrangement, then by some legitimate means assert our right to carry into effect an efficient and thorough blockade of that river. The trade of Matamoras has nominally increased an hundred fold since the blockade of the insurgent States was instituted. Admiral Bailey informs the Department that over two hundred vessels are off the mouth of theRio Grande, when ordinarily there are but six or eight. Our rights as a nation ought not to be sacrificed because a new question has arisen that has not heretofore been adjudicated or settled by diplomatic arrangement. Because theRio Grandeis a neutral highway, it is not to be used to our injury, — yet we know such to be the fact, and it seems to me some effectual steps should be taken to correct the evil. It can be done, I apprehend, in a manner satisfactory to both countries, and a principle be established that will be con­formable to international law. I must ask you to excuse me for pressing this subject upon your consideration.

I would also invite your special attention to that portion of the despatch which refers to a mail arrangement, by which Captain Lombard, of the schooner “Robert Anderson,” with British papers, was to run a regular mail fromBelizeto Matamoras for the “Confederate Government.” Would it not be well to inform the Secretary of War of the facts in relation to “Vallez,” atNew Orleans, that General Banks may be apprized of the schemes and purposes of that gentleman?

I am, respectfully,Your Obd’t Serv’tGIDEON WELLES,Secty. of Navy.

HON. WM. H. SEWARD, Secty. of State.

The European combination, or concerted understanding, against us begins to be developed and appreciated. The use of the Rio Grande to evade the blockade, and the establishment of regular lines of steamers to Matamoras did not disturb some of our people, but certain movements and recent givings-out of the French have alarmed Seward, who says Louis Napoleon is making an effort to get Texas; he therefore urges the immediate occupation of Galveston and also some other point. At the Cabinet-meeting to-day, he took Stantonaside and had ten minutes’ private conversation with him in a low tone. I was then invited to the conversation and received the above information. I agreed to call as requested at the appointed time, but why this partial, ex-parte, half-and-half way of doing these things? Why are not these matters unfolded to the whole Cabinet? Why a special meeting of only three with General Halleck? It is as important that the Secretary of the Treasury, who is granting clearances fromNew York to Matamoras and thereby sanctions the illicit trade of the English and French, should be advised if any of us. The question which Mr. Seward raises is political, national, and so important to the whole country that the Administration should be fully advised, but for some reason is restricted. The Secretary of State likes to be exclusive; does not want all the Cabinet in consultation, but is particular himself to attend all meetings. It exhibits early bad training and party management, not good administration.

Soon after two I went to the War Department. Seward, Stanton, and Halleck were there, and the Texassubject was being discussed. Halleck, as usual, was heavy, sluggish, not prepared to express an opinion. Did not know whether General Banks would think it best to move on Mobileor Galveston, and if on Galvestonwhether he would prefer transportation by water or would take an interior route. Had just written Banks. Wanted his reply. I turned to Seward, and, alluding to his morning conversation, I inquired what a demonstration on Mobilehad to do with foreign designs in another section. How far Halleck had been let into a knowledge of measures which were withheld from a majority of the Cabinet I was uninformed, though I doubt not Halleck was more fully posted than myself. Halleck, apprehending the purport of my inquiry, said he mentioned Mobilebecause there had been some information from Banks concerning operations in that direction before the new question came up. I then asked, if a demonstration was to be made on Texasto protect and guard our western frontier, whether Indianola was not a better point than Galveston. Halleck said he did not know, — had not thought of that. “Where,” said he, “is Indianola? What are its advantages?” I replied, in western Texas, where the people had been more loyal than in eastern Texas. It was much nearer the Rio Grandeand the Mexican border, consequently was better situated to check advances from the other side of the Rio Grande; the harbor had deeper water than Galveston; the place was but slightly fortified, was nearer Austin, etc., etc. Halleck was totally ignorant on these matters; knew nothing of Indianola,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> was hardly aware there was such a place; settled down very stolidly; would decide nothing for the present, but must wait to hear from General Banks. The Secretary of State was profoundly deferential to the General-in-Chief, hoped he would hear something from General Banks soon, requested to be immediately informed when word was received; and we withdrew as General Halleck lighted another cigar.

This is a specimen of the management of affairs. A majority of the members of the Cabinet are not permitted to know what is doing. Mr. Seward has something in regard to the schemes and designs of Louis Napoleon; he cannot avoid communicating with the Secretaries of War and the Navy, hence the door is partially open to them. Others are excluded. Great man Halleck is consulted, but is not ready, — has received nothing from others, who he intends shall have the responsibility.Therefore we must wait a few weeks and not improbably lose a favorable opportunity.

The truth is that Halleck, who has been smuggled into position here byStanton, aided by Pope and General Scott, is unfit for the place. He has some scholastic attainments but is no general. I can pass that judgment upon him, though I do not profess to be a military man. He has failed to acquit himself to advantage as yet, and the country needs other talents to be successful.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>Indianola,Texas, is no longer to be found on the map. It was situated on the western shore of Matagorda Bay on the site now occupied by Port Lavaca, about 125 miles west-southwest of Galveston, but was destroyed by cyclones in 1885 and 1888.

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