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 20, 2012

Diary of Gideon Welles

September 20, Saturday. Am troubled by Preble’s conduct. There must be a stop put to the timid, hesitating, and I fear sometimes traitorous course of some of our officers. Tenderness, remonstrance, reproof do no good. Preble is not a traitor, but loyal. An educated, gentlemanly officer of a distinguished family and more than ordinary acquirements, but wants promptitude, energy, decision, audacity, perhaps courage. I am inclined to believe, however, an excess of reading, and a fear that he might violate etiquette, some point of international law, or that he should give offense to Great Britain, whose insolence the State Department fears and deprecates and submits to with all humility, had its influence. He paused at a critical moment to reflect on what he had read and the state of affairs. A man less versed in books would have sunk the pirate if she did not stop when challenged, regardless of her colors. No Englishman had a right to approach and pass the sentinel on duty. Preble was placed there to prevent intercourse, — was a sentinel to watch the Rebels and all others, — and no Englishman had a right to trespass. A board of officers would be likely to excuse him, as in the case —— of and ——,[1]on account of his amiable qualities, general intelligence, and good intentions. The time has arrived when these derelictions must not go unpunished. I should have preferred that some other man should have been punished. I have had the subject under consideration with some of the best minds I could consult, and found no difference of opinion. I then took the dispatches to the President and submitted them to him. He said promptly: “Dismiss him. If that is your opinion, it is mine. I will do it.” Secretary Seward and Attorney-General Bates, each of whom I casually met, advised dismissal. It is painful, but an unavoidable duty. I am sorry for Preble, but shall be sorry for my country if it is not done. Its effect upon the Navy will be more salutary than were he and fifty like him to fall in battle.

Commander Joe Smith,[2] who died at his post when the ill-fated Congress went down from the assault of the Merrimac, perished in the line of duty. I have never been satisfied with the conduct of the flag-officer[3] in those days, who was absent in the waters of North Carolina, — purposely and unnecessarily absent, in my apprehension, through fear of the Merrimac, which he knew was completed, and ready to come out. It was like dread of the new Merrimac at Richmond, which was nearly ready, that led him finally to resign his squadron command. He has wordy pretensions, some capacity, but no hard courage. There is a clan of such men in the Navy, varying in shade and degree, who in long years of peace have been students and acquired position, but whose real traits are not generally understood. The Department is compelled to give them commands, and at the same time is held responsible for their weakness, errors, and want of fighting qualities.

Nothing conclusive from the army. The Rebels have crossed the river without being hurt or seriously molested, — much in character with the general army management of the war. Little is said on the subject. Stanton makes an occasional sneering remark, Chase now and then a better one, but there is no general review, inquiry, or discussion. There is no abatement of hostility to McClellan.

[1] No names in original.

[2] Lieutenant Joseph B. Smith.

[3] Captain, afterwards Rear-Admiral, Louis M. Goldsborough.

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