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.

August 20, 2012

Diary of Gideon Welles

August 20, Wednesday. Memo. Soon after hostilities commenced, in the spring or summer of 1861, a letter from William D. Porter to his son was published. The son had joined the Rebels, and so informed his father, who wrote him he thought he had committed a mistake. But, having taken this step, he advised him to adhere and do his duty. At that time W. D. P. was on duty in the Pacific. I immediately detached and ordered him home. He reported to me in great distress; disavowed the letter; said it was a forgery, that his son and himself were on bad terms and the letter had been written and published to injure him. There was, he informed me, much disagreement in the family; his son had been alienated from him, and, like David, sympathized with the Secessionists, while he (W.) had taken the opposite course. David, he remarked, was the intimate friend of Jefferson Davis and the Rebel conspirators, and he had expected that he would act with them, and he had no doubt that David’s course had injured him; confounding him with D., he was made accountable for D.’s acts. David said he had no doubt that Bill wrote the letter, and I was of that opinion.[1] William had, not without reason, the reputation of being very untruthful, — a failing of the Porters, for David was not always reliable on unimportant matters, but amplified and colored transactions, where he was personally interested especially, but he had not the bad reputation of William. I did not always consider David to be depended upon if he had an end to attain, and he had no hesitation in trampling down a brother officer if it would benefit himself. He had less heart than William.

Had a conversation with the President in relation to W. D. Porter, who was the efficient officer that attacked and destroyed the Rebel armored ram Arkansas. Porter is a bold, brave man, but reckless in many respects, and unpopular, perhaps not without reason, in the service. He has been earnest and vigorous on the Mississippi, and made himself. The Advisory Board under the late law omitted to recommend him for promotion. It was one of the few omissions that I regretted, for whatever the infirmities of the man I recognize his merits as an officer.

His courage in destroying the Arkansas was manifest. Both the flag officers were delinquent in the matter of that vessel at Vicksburg, and I so wrote each of them. Admiral Farragut cannot conceal his joy that she is destroyed, but is not ready to do full justice to Porter.

I canvassed the whole question, — the law, the proceedings, the difficulties, the man, the officer, the responsibility of promoting him and of my advising it, — yet I felt it a duty, if service rendered in battle and under fire were to govern. The President conversed with me most fully, and said,” I am so satisfied that you are right generally, and in this case particularly, that I say to you, Go ahead, give Porter as you propose a Commodore’s appointment, and I will stand by you, come what may.”

Sent a letter of reproof to Colonel Harris and also one to Lieutenant-Colonel Reynolds of the Marine Corps, between whom there is a bitter feud. Almost all the elder officers are at loggerheads and ought to be retired. Reynolds had been tried by court martial on charges preferred by Harris, and acquitted, though by confessions made to me personally guilty. But a majority of the anti-Harris faction constituted the court, and partisanship, not merit, governed the decision. I refused to approve the finding. In his turn, Reynolds brought charges against Harris, and of such a character as to implicate others. To have gone forward would have been to plunge into a series of courts martial for a year to come.

McClellan’s forces have left the banks of James River several days since. Their exodus I think was not anticipated at Richmond, nor believed until after all had left and crossed the Chickahominy. We are beginning to hear of the arrival of the advance guard at Acquia Creek, Alexandria, and Fredericksburg. In the mean time Pope is being heavily pressed at Culpeper by Stonewall Jackson and the whole accumulated forces from Richmond, which has compelled him to fall back on the left bank of the Rapidan, his policy being to keep the enemy in check until McClellan’s forces can unite with him.

[1] I some years later, and after William’s death, learned from Admiral Farragut and Mrs. Farragut that they knew the letter to be a forgery and that it was got up for mischievous purposes. — G. W.

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