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.

June 1, 2014

Diary of Gideon Welles

June 1, Wednesday. Called on the President relative to the appointment of midshipmen. After looking over the list with some care, he finally designated two sons of officers [and] one apprentice, and desired me to complete the nominations.

When I called on the President, Major-General Schenck was with him, and, as I went in, was giving the President a list of names of persons to be selected to fill the board about to be appointed on the question of retired officers, his brother, Commodore Schenck, being one. It was a cool proposition, but characteristic of General Schenck, and I think of the Schencks generally.

We have to-day the results of a meeting of strange odds and ends of parties, and factions, and disappointed and aspiring individuals at Cleveland. Frémont is nominated as their candidate for President and John Cochrane for Vice-President. The gathering had the nomination of Frémont in view, though other objects were professed.

I very earnestly supported Frémont in 1856. He was then put forward as the representative of the principles for which we were contending, and I have no reason to give that he was not faithful to the cause. He was, however, as soon as nominated, surrounded, to a great extent, by bad men, in whom no good man had confidence. His bearing was very well so far as he appeared before the public. I saw that he was anxious to be elected but not offensively so; he was not obtrusive, but, on the contrary, reserved and retiring. In nothing did he show extraordinary ability or character, but my conclusions were that his real traits were undeveloped. He did not grow upon me as reserved men usually do. Colonel Benton had in former years extolled him, though opposed to his candidacy. Governor Marcy, no friend of Benton, and not partial to Frémont, had, when Secretary of War, given him name and fame by a most remarkable indorsement in his able report in (I think) 1848.

I have since learned that that part of Marcy’s report was written by Colonel Benton himself, and that President Polk compelled Marcy to incorporate it in the annual report of the War Department. The affair seems incredible almost to me, who knew the several parties, but I learn it in a way that leaves no doubt of its truth. Marcy had ability but was timid and subservient. Frémont has gained no reputation during the War. In power his surroundings have been awful. Reckless, improvident, wasteful, pompous, purposeless, vain, and incompetent. In his explorations, however, he showed perseverance and endurance, and he had the reputation of attaching his men to him. His journals were readable, but I have been told they were prepared and mostly written by Colonel Benton. On all occasions he puts on airs, is ambitious, and would not serve under men of superior military capacity and experience. Frémont first and country after. For a long time he has been in foolish intrigues for the Presidency, and the Cleveland meeting is a Frémont meeting, though others have been concerned.

I am surprised that General Cochrane should have embarked in the scheme. But he has been wayward and erratic. A Democrat, a Barnburner, a conservative, an Abolitionist, an Anti-abolitionist, a Democratic Republican, and now a radical Republican. He has some, but not eminent, ability; can never make a mark as a stateman. It will not surprise me if he should change his position before the close of the political campaign, and support the nominees of the Baltimore Convention. There is not a coincidence of views and policy between him and Frémont, and the convention which has nominated them is a heterogeneous mixture of weak and wicked men. They would jeopard and hazard the Republican and Union cause, and many of them would defeat it and give success to the Copperheads to gratify their causeless spite against the President. He is blamed for not being more energetic and because he is despotic in the same breath. He is censured for being too mild and gentle towards the Rebels and for being tyrannical and intolerant. There is no doubt he has a difficult part to perform in order to satisfy all and do right.

This war is extraordinary in all its aspects and phases, and no man was prepared to meet them. It is much easier for the censorious and factious to complain than to do right. I have often thought that greater severity might well be exercised, and yet it would tend to barbarism.

No traitor has been hung. I doubt if there will be, but an example should be made of some of the leaders, for present and for future good. They may, if taken, be imprisoned or driven into exile, but neither would be lasting. Parties would form for their relief, and ultimately succeed in restoring the worst of them to their homes and the privileges they originally enjoyed. Death is the proper penalty and atonement, and will be enduringly beneficent in its influence.

There was, moreover, an aristocratic purpose in this Rebellion. An aristocracy of blood and wealth was to have been established. Consequently a contrary effect would work benignantly. Were a few of the leaders to be stripped of their possessions, and their property confiscated, their families impoverished, the result would be salutary in the future. But I apprehend there will be very gentle measures in closing up the Rebellion. The authors of the enormous evils that have been inflicted will go unpunished, or will be but slightly punished.

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