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 21, 2013

Diary of Gideon Welles

September 21, Monday. A battle was fought on Saturday near Chattanooga and resumed yesterday. Am apprehensive our troops have suffered and perhaps are in danger. As yet the news is not sufficiently definite.

The President came to me this afternoon with the latest news. He was feeling badly. Tells me a dispatch was sent to him at the Soldiers’ Home shortly after he got asleep, and so disturbed him that he had no more rest, but arose and came to the city and passed the remainder of the night awake and watchful. He has a telegram this P.M. which he brings me that is more encouraging. Our men stood well their ground and fought like Union heroes for their country and cause. We conclude the Rebels have concentrated a large force to overpower Rosecrans and recapture Chattanooga. While this has been doing, Halleck has frittered away time and dispersed our forces. Most of Grant’s effective force appears to have been sent across the Mississippi, where a large force is not needed. Burnside is in northeastern Tennessee, two hundred miles away from Chattanooga. While our men are thus scattered, a large division from Lee’s army in our front has been sent under Longstreet to Bragg; and Hill’s and Ewell’s corps, it is reported, are there also. I trust this account is exaggerated, though the President gives it credence. I do not learn, nor can I ascertain, that General Halleck was apprised of, or even suspected, what was being done; certainly he has made no preparation. The President is, I perceive, not satisfied, but yet he does not censure or complain. Better, perhaps, if he did.

I expressed surprise to the President at the management and his forbearance, and it touched him. I asked what Meade was doing with his immense army and Lee ’s skeleton and depleted show in front. He said he could not learn that Meade was doing anything, or wanted to do anything. “It is,” said he, “the same old story of this Army of the Potomac. Imbecility, inefficiency — don’t want to do — is defending the Capital. I inquired of Meade,” said he, “what force was in front. Meade replied he thought there were 40,000 infantry. I replied he might have said 50,000, and if Lee with 50,000 could defend their capital against our 90,000, — and if defense is all our armies are to do, — we might, I thought, detach 50,000 from his command, and thus leave him with 40,000 to defend us. Oh,” groaned the President, “it is terrible, terrible, this weakness, this indifference of our Potomac generals, with such armies of good and brave men.”

“Why,” said I, “not rid yourself of Meade, who may be a good man and a good officer but is not a great general, has not breadth or strength, certainly is not the man for the position he occupies? The escape of Lee with his army across the Potomac has distressed me almost beyond any occurrence of the War. And the impression made upon me in the personal interview shortly after was not what I wished, had inspired no confidence, though he is faithful and will obey orders; but he can’t originate.”

The President assented to all I said, but “What can I do,” he asked, “with such generals as we have? Who among them is any better than Meade? To sweep away the whole of them from the chief command and substitute a new man would cause a shock, and be likely to lead to combinations and troubles greater than we now have. I see all the difficulties as you do. They oppress me.”

Alluding to the failures of the generals, particularly those who commanded the armies of the Potomac, he thought the selections, if unfortunate, were not imputable entirely to him. The Generals-in-Chief and the Secretary of War should, he said, know the men better than he. The Navy Department had given him no trouble in this respect; perhaps naval training was more uniform and equal than the military. I thought not; said we had our troubles, but they were less conspicuous. In the selection of Farragut and Porter, I thought we had been particularly fortunate; and Du Pont had merit also. He thought there had not been, take it all in all, so good an appointment in either branch of the service as Farragut, whom he did not know or recollect when I gave him command. Du Pont he classed, and has often, with McClellan, but Porter he considers a busy schemer, bold but not of high qualities as a chief. For some reason he has not so high an appreciation of Porter as I think he deserves, but no man surpasses Farragut in his estimation.

In returning to Secretary Seward a dispatch of Minister Dayton at Paris, in relation to the predatory Rebel Florida, asking one or more fast steamers to intercept that vessel, which is now at Brest, I took a different view from the two gentlemen. To blockade Brest would require not less than five vessels. If we could spare five such vessels, whence would they get supply of fuel, etc.? England and France allow only sufficient to take the vessel home; and for three months thereafter our vessels receiving supplies are excluded from their ports. As England and France have recognized the Rebels, who have no commerce, no navy, no nationality, as the equals of the United States, with whom they have treaties, and, professedly, amicable relations, I deem it best under the circumstances to abstain from proceedings which would be likely to complicate and embroil us, and would leave those countries to develop the policy which shall govern themselves and nations in the future. They must abide the consequences.

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