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.

October 1, 2012

Diary of Gideon Welles

October 1, Wednesday. Called this morning at the White House, but learned the President had left the city. The porter said he made no mention whither he was going, nor when he would return. I have no doubt he is on a visit to McClellan and the army. None of his Cabinet can have been aware of this journey.

Relieved Davis and appointed D. D. Porter to the Western Flotilla, which is hereafter to be recognized as a squadron. Porter is but a Commander. He has, however, stirring and positive qualities, is fertile in resources, has great energy, excessive and sometimes not over-scrupulous ambition, is impressed with and boastful of his own powers, given to exaggeration in relation to himself, — a Porter infirmity, — is not generous to older and superior living officers, whom he is too ready to traduce, but is kind and patronizing to favorites who are juniors, and generally to official inferiors. Is given to cliquism but is brave and daring like all his family. He has not the conscientious and high moral qualities of Foote to organize the flotilla, and is not considered by some of our best naval men a fortunate officer; has not in his profession, though he may have personally, what the sailors admire, “luck.” It is a question, with his mixture of good and bad traits, how he will succeed. His selection will be unsatisfactory to many, but his field of operation is peculiar, and a young and active officer is required for the duty to which he is assigned; it will be an incentive to juniors. If he does well I shall get no credit; if he fails I shall be blamed. No thanks in any event will be mine. Davis, whom he succeeds, is more of a scholar than sailor, has gentlemanly instincts and scholarly acquirements, is an intelligent but not an energetic, driving, fighting officer, such as is wanted for rough work on the Mississippi; is kind and affable, but has not the vim, dash, — recklessness perhaps is the better word, — of Porter.

Dahlgren, whose ambition is great, will, I suppose, be hurt that Porter, who is his junior, should be designated for the Mississippi command; and the President will sympathize with D., whom he regards with favor, while he has not great admiration or respect for Porter. Dahlgren has asked to be assigned to the special duty of capturing Charleston, but Du Pont has had that object in view for more than a year and made it his study. I cannot, though I appreciate Dahlgren, supersede the Admiral in this work.

The Emancipation Proclamation has, in its immediate effects, been less exciting than I had apprehended. It has caused but little jubilation on one hand, nor much angry outbreak on the other. The speculations as to the sentiments and opinions of the Cabinet in regard to this measure are ridiculously wild and strange. When it was first brought forward some six or eight weeks ago, all present assented to it. It was pretty fully discussed at two successive Cabinet-meetings, and the President consulted freely, I presume, with the members individually. He did with me. Mr. Bates desired that deportation, by force if necessary, should go with emancipation. Born and educated among the negroes, having always lived with slaves, he dreaded any step which should be taken to bring about social equality between the two races. The effect, he said, would be to degrade the whites without elevating the blacks. Demoralization, vice, and misery would follow. Mr. Blair, at the second discussion, said that, while he was an emancipationist from principle, he had doubts of the expediency of such a movement as was contemplated. Stanton, after expressing himself earnestly in favor of the step proposed, said it was so important a measure that he hoped every member would give his opinion, whatever it might be, on the subject; two had not spoken, — alluding to Chase and myself.

I then spoke briefly of the strong exercise of power involved in the question, and the denial of Executive authority to do this act, but the Rebels themselves had invoked war on the subject of slavery, had appealed to arms, and they must abide the consequences. It was an extreme exercise of war powers, and under the circumstances and in view of the condition of the country and the magnitude of the contest I was willing to resort to extreme measures and avail ourselves of military necessity, always harsh and questionable. The blow would fall heavy and severe on those loyal men in the Slave States who clung to the Union and had most of their property in slaves, but they must abide the results of a conflict which we all deplored, and unless they could persuade their fellow citizens to embrace the alternative presented, it was their hard fortune to suffer with those who brought on the War. The slaves were now an element of strength to the Rebels, — were laborers, producers, and army attendants; were considered as property by the Rebels, and, if property, were subject to confiscation; if not property, but persons residing in the insurrectionary region, we should invite them as well as the whites to unite with us in putting down the Rebellion. I had made known my views to the President and could say here I gave my approval of the Proclamation. Mr. Chase said it was going a step farther than he had proposed, but he was glad of it and went into a very full argument on the subject. I do not attempt to report it or any portion of it, nor that of others, farther than to define the position of each when this important question was before us. Something more than a Proclamation will be necessary, for this step will band the South together, make opponents of some who now are friends and unite the Border States firmly with the Cotton States in resistance to the Government.

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