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The Civil War Diary of Gideon Welles, Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy

The Civil War Diary of Gideon Welles, Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy: The Original Manuscript Edition

William E. Gienapp
Erica L. Gienapp
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 824
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  • Book Info
    The Civil War Diary of Gideon Welles, Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy
    Book Description:

    Gideon Welles's 1861 appointment as secretary of the navy placed him at the hub of Union planning for the Civil War and in the midst of the powerful personalities vying for influence in Abraham Lincoln's cabinet. Although Welles initially knew little of naval matters, he rebuilt a service depleted by Confederate defections, planned actions that gave the Union badly needed victories in the war's early days, and oversaw a blockade that weakened the South's economy. Perhaps the hardest-working member of the cabinet, Welles still found time to keep a detailed diary that has become one of the key documents for understanding the inner workings of the Lincoln administration. In this new edition, William E. and Erica L. Gienapp have restored Welles's original observations, gleaned from the manuscript diaries at the Library of Congress and freed from his many later revisions, so that the reader can experience what he wrote in the moment. With his vitriolic pen, Welles captures the bitter disputes over strategy and war aims, lacerates colleagues from Secretary of State William H. Seward to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, and condemns the actions of the self-serving southern elite he sees as responsible for the war. He can just as easily wax eloquent about the Navy's wartime achievements, extoll the virtues of Lincoln, or drop in a tidbit of Washington gossip. Carefully edited and extensively annotated, this edition contains a wealth of supplementary material. The appendixes include short biographies of the members of Lincoln's cabinet, the retrospective Welles wrote after leaving office covering the period missing from the diary proper, and important letters regarding naval matters and international law.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09643-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Series Editors’ Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Rodney O. Davis and Douglas L. Wilson
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    James M. McPherson

    I wish that this edition of Gideon Welles’s diary had been available when I was doing the research for my recent books on Abraham Lincoln as commander in chief and on Civil War navies. The diary was a valuable source for both studies, but like other historians who have consulted it before now, I had to use the volumes edited by Howard K. Beale in 1960. Beale applied professional standards to his editing process. His system of markings enabled the reader to distinguish between what Welles wrote in his almost-daily entries in the 1860s and his later revisions, additions, and...

  6. Editor’s Preface
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  7. Brief Biography of Gideon Welles
    (pp. xxiii-xl)

    When the Lincoln administration took office in 1861, the newly appointed secretary of the navy, Gideon Welles, was a relative unknown in this cabinet of political heavyweights. Alongside the likes of William H. Seward and Salmon P. Chase, he attracted little attention. Soon enough, however, he found himself thrust into the spotlight by a merciless press that delighted in using his unusual appearance to launch scathing personal attacks. He had certainly not helped himself in this regard by choosing an ill-fitting, curl-laden wig to wear with his flowing white beard, a combination that made him look far older than his...

  8. Editorial Policy
    (pp. xli-xlvi)

    • 1862

      • August 1862
        (pp. 3-23)

        On Sunday the 13th of July 1862, President Lincoln invited me to accompany him in his carriage to the funeral of an infant child of Mr Stanton.¹ Secretary Seward² and his dauter-in-law Mrs. Frederick Seward³ were also in the carriage. Mr Stanton occupied at that time for a summer residence, the house of a naval officer, I think Hazzard⁴—some two or three miles west, or north westerly of Georgetown. It was on this occasion and on this ride, that he first mentioned to Mr Seward and myself the subject of emancipating the slaves by Proclamation in case the rebels...

      • September 1862
        (pp. 24-64)

        Monday1’ September. The wounded have been coming in to day in large numbers. From what I can learn, Genl Pope’s estimate of the killed and wounded greatly exceeds the actual number. He should, however, be best informed, but he is greatly given to exaggeration.

        Chase tells me that McClellan sends word that there are twenty thousand stragglers on the road between Alexandria & Centerville, which C. says is infamously false, and done for infamous purposes. He called on me to day with a more carefully prepared, and less exceptionable address to the President, stating the signers did not deem it...

      • October 1862
        (pp. 65-83)

        October 1st WednesdayCalled 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 near Harpers Ferry. None of his cabinet or not more than one, I think, can have been aware of this journy.

        Relieved Davis¹ and appointed D. D. Porter² to the Western flotilla, which is hereafter to be called a squadron. Porter is but a Commander but has stirring and positive qualities—is...

      • November 1862
        (pp. 84-87)

        November 1’ SaturdayThe work on the iron clad turret Steamer Passaic is nearly finished. Ericson¹ makes a proposition to fire the 15 inch gun through the orifice instead of protruding the piece through. I have no faith in it. Fox was at first disposed to consider it favorably but doubtingly. Have sent Fox, Adl Smith² and Dahlgren to New York to witness test experiment.

        Tuesday 4’ Novr—– # Farther news of depredations by the Alabama Ordered Dacotah, Ino, Augusta & c³ on her track.

        The President read in Cabinet to day his his sensible letter of the 13” of...

      • December 1862
        (pp. 88-112)

        Decr 3It is a month since I have opened this book and been able to make record of current events. A pressure of public business—the preparation of my Annual Report and domestic sorrows have consumed all my waking moments. A light, bright, cherub face which threw its sunshine on me when this book was last opened has disappeared forever. My dear Hubert, who was a treasure garnered in my heart is laid beside his four¹ brothers and Sisters in Spring-Grove. Well has it been for me that overwhelming public duties have borne down upon me in these sad...

    • 1863

      • January 1863
        (pp. 115-132)

        January 1’ Thursday- The new year opens with a bright and brilliant day. Exchanged congratulations at the Executive Mansion with the President and coll{e}agues, at 11 this morning. The usual formalities.—.— —Officers of the army and navy came in at half past eleven. I left before twelve.

        The Emancipation proclamation is published in this evening’s Star. This is a broad-step, and will be a land-mark in history. The immediate effect will not be all its friends anticipate or its opponents apprehend. Passing events are steadily accomplishing what is here proclaimed.——#——#——#— The character of the country...

      • February 1863
        (pp. 133-143)

        Febry 3’ TuesdayThe “I. P. Smith”¹ a purchased Steamer of 11 guns is reported captured in Stono river. We have information also that the Blockaders have captured the Princess Royal² with a valuable cargo that was attempting to get into Charleston.

        The Naval Contractors are becoming clamorous for advanced prices in consequence of the depreciation of money. I have been expecting this. Have warned Chase of it. It is only the begining of evil.

        The question of making an example by shooting a deserter was before the Cabinet. A case, considered a strong one of a young man named...

      • March 1863
        (pp. 144-150)

        Thursday 5 March—– Went on the evening of the 3’ inst to the Capitol. Spent most of the time until 11 o clock in the Presidents room. It is my first visit to the Capitol since the session commenced. Was for half an hour on the floor of the house. Thirty four years ago spent the night on the floor of the representatives chamber. It was in the old representatives hall. Andrew Stevenson¹ was speaker. I first saw Henry Clay² that night. He came from the Presidents room to the house about ten. It was the scene of old triumphs,...

      • April 1863
        (pp. 151-176)

        2’ April —– Had a call last evening and again to day from Senator Sumner. Our conversation was chiefly on our forign relations, the unfortunate condition of public affairs, the inexcusable attitude of England, and the question of Letters of Marque. On the latter subject he is much dissatisfied with Mr Seward. He informs me that he was opposed to the passage of the law at the late session, and is, I am glad to see quite sensitive on the subject. I thought the law well enough as a precautionary measure,—a warning to the mischivous spirits abroad—an authorization a...

      • May 1863
        (pp. 177-202)

        May 1’ Friday——– after cabinet meeting walked over with Attorny General Bates to his office. Had a very full and unreserved talk with him concerning the question of captured mails, — the jurisdiction of the courts, — the law, and usage, and rights of the government. He is unqualifiedly with me in my views and principles — the law and our rights. He dwelt with some feeling on the courtesy which ought to exist between the several departments, and was by them generally observed. Although cautious and guarded in his remarks, he did not conceal his dissatisfaction with the conduct of the Secretary...

      • June 1863
        (pp. 203-232)

        1863 June 1’ Monday- Gave the President this a.m. a list of applicants for appointment to the Naval Academy. A great crowd was in attendance, I therefore left the list for him to examine and deferred action to another interview.

        Gave Adl Lardner written instructions at some length, and had a pretty full conversation in regard to his duties. He is discreet, prudent—perhaps over-cautious and I fear may want energy and force, but until tested will not pass judgement.

        June 2Tuesday —– ——– Chase, Blair, Bates and myself were at the Cabinet meeting. Seward was absent but the a...

      • July 1863
        (pp. 233-264)

        July 1’ Wednesday——–#———# — We have reports that the rebels have fallen back from York, and I shall not be surprised if they escape capture, or even a second fight,—though we have rumors of hard fighting to day.

        July 2’A telegram this morning advises me of the death of Genl R. C. Hale,¹ the brother of Mrs. Welles, at Reedsville in the county of Mifflin Penna. He was, and for some time has been Quarter Master General of Pennsylvania—a good capable and upright man—the public never had a more faithful and honest officer.

        Met Seward...

      • August 1863
        (pp. 265-287)

        August 1’ Saturday- Made a selection of midshipmen for naval school. An immense number of applicants and of course many disappointments. Some of the young men, and among them probably those who are deserving feel this first disappointment grivously. It is a pleasure to bestow the favor in many instances but not sufficient to counterbalance the pain one feels for those who are rejected. Last year there were captious and censorious members of congress who abused me for filling the school,—the same will probably be the case this year. Were I however to omit filling the school the...

      • September 1863
        (pp. 288-303)

        September 11- Friday— ——– / — # I left Washington on the 31’ ult’ on an official visit to the several Navy Yards. Have a good report of affairs during my absence. Met the members of the Cabinet with the exception of Stanton at the regular meeting. All appeared glad to see me, — none more so than the President—who cordially and earnestly greeted me. I have been less absent than any other and was therefore perhaps more missed.

        Had a call from Admiral Farragut of a most cheerful and friendly character. Also from Commodore Pennock¹ from Cairo.

        Septr12’ Saturday evening...

      • October 1863
        (pp. 304-315)

        October 1” Thursday——————–. —–. Complaints of slow progress at Charleston reach us. Censure is thrown upon Dahlgren which is not altogether just. His undue promotion requires extraordinary ability and effort to lift him above the rivalries and jealousies of his contemporaries in the profession. He has prudence, caution, intelligence but not the dash and fearless daring which would reconcile them to the favoritism he has experienced. Then, worse than this, the navy, and he as commander in a conjoint movement encounter the army jealousy. All failures, and any want of success is imputed to the navy, though a a...

      • December 1863
        (pp. 316-336)

        DecemberIt has been some weeks since I have opened this book. Such time as I could spare from current duties at the Department have been devoted to gathering and arranging materials for, and in writing my report. Most of this latter labor has been done in the evening when I was fatigued and exhausted, yet extending often to midnight. Likely the document itself will in style and manner show something of the condition of the author’s mind. In examining, analyzing and weighing matters, I have sometimes felt discouraged and doubted my ability to do equal and exact justice to...

    • 1864

      • January 1864
        (pp. 339-353)

        1864 January 1 Friday

        A bright day ushers in the year. Yesterday’s N.E storm has disappeared, and the clouds fell to the earth in heavy rain last night.

        Went with my family to the Ex Mansion at 11 a.m. to pay our respects to the President. Forign ministers and attaches were there. Naval & Army officers came in at half past eleven. The house was full when we left a little before twelve.

        Received company at our house until 4 p.m. Had calls from Navy & Army officers—Judges, forign ministers &c &c. with such old friends of my own...

      • February 1864
        (pp. 354-367)

        1864 Febry

        I had yesterday a call from Mr Sedgwick¹ who proposed visiting Stover² in fort Lafayette and get from him a confession as to those who have participated in or been cognizant of frauds on the government. Gave him a letter to Marshal Murray. An hour or two later Provost Marshal Baker called on me and related the particulars of conveying Stover after arrest. Says Stover is alarmed and ready to make disclosures. Told him many facts. Many persons implicated. Says Henderson clerk in Treas ury has been arrested—that Clarke³ will be tomorrow. Thinks Sedgwick will not do...

      • March 1864
        (pp. 368-382)

        Tuesday March 1 - Very little of importance to day at the Cabinet. Neither Chase nor Blair was present. Gen F. Blair made, I am told a severe speech against Chase,¹ in the house on Saturday. It is unfortunate that these assaults should be made on friends, or those who should be friends. I shall be sorry if, under the existing circumstances, Chase should be a candidate. If he asks my opinion I shall advise him not to enter the field; but I do not expect that he will seek my advice. Some of his trading measures do not strike...

      • April 1864
        (pp. 383-400)

        1864 April 1 Friday

        The Chronicle of this morning contains my letter with some errors, to the Senate in response to a call relating to transfers.¹ It makes some commotion among the members of congress, and will cause some in the War Department I presume.

        There was nothing of special interest to day in the cabinet. Stanton was not present, nor was Blair. Chase calls for largely additional taxes, which I have no doubt are necessary. There should have been heavier taxes the last two years. At least double what have been collected. Undoubtedly demagogues will try to prevent this...

      • May 1864
        (pp. 401-418)

        May 2’ Monday Rumors thick and unpleasant in regard to the clerks and girls {later in pencil Welles changed “girls” to “women”} employed at the Treasury.¹ Much is doubtless exaggeration but there are some disagreeable truths.

        Tuesday 3’ At the cabinet meeting the President requested each member to give him an opinion as to what course the government should pursue in relation to the recent massacre at Fort Pillow.² The committee from congress who have visited the scene returned yesterday & will soon report. All the reported horrors are said to be verrified. The President wishes to be prepared to...

      • June 1864
        (pp. 419-436)

        1864 June 1’ Wednesday

        Mary St John who has lived with us some years was maried to day. 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—one apprentice, and desired me to complete the nominations.

        When I called on the President Maj Gen Schenck¹ 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 Comdr Schenck²...

      • July 1864
        (pp. 437-458)

        1864 July 1st Friday

        This day is the anniversary of my birth. I am sixty two years of age. Life is brief. Should I survive another year I shall then have attained my grand climacterac. Yet it is but the journy of a day, and of those who set out with me as companions in the morning of life how few remain. Each year thins out the ranks of those who went with me to the old district school in my childhood.

        Gov’ Tod has declined the position of Secretary of the Treasury. It does not surprise. Senator Fessenden has...

      • August 1864
        (pp. 459-492)

        1864 August 1 Monday

        We yesterday had word that our forces had mined and blown up a fortification in front of Petersburg¹ All sorts of stories were current—some of them absurdly wild and ridiculous. Petersburg was said to be in flames. Our army was reported to have undermined a large portion of the city. Men of sense give credit to the absurdity. I went over to the War Department and Stanton showed me a telegram from Grant, stating the mine had been sprung, but the result is inconclusive, and evidently, I think, a disappointment. Stanton seemed uncertain & confused....

      • September 1864
        (pp. 493-520)

        1864 Sept’ 1’ Thursday

        Great is the professed enthusiasm over the doings at Chicago,¹ as if it were not a mere matter of course. Guns are fired, public meetings held, speeches made with dramatic effect, but I doubt if the actors succeed even in deceiving themselves. Notwithstanding the factious and petty intrigues of some professed friends—a species of treachery which has lurked in others who are disappointed, and much mismanagement and much feeble management, I think the President will be re-elected, and I shall be surprised if he does not have a large majority. At Chicago there were extreme...

      • October 1864
        (pp. 521-531)

        October 1’The President yesterday made enquiry of me as to the disposition made of Farragut. Informed me that Genl Canby wanted him to remain at Mobile, and that F. preferred doing so to coming to Wilmington. I told him Farragut was relieved of the latter duty, and he could remain as long as he pleased in the gulf.

        This morning the President called at the Department and made farther enquiry. Said that Hallock and Sherman had some movements on hand, and the War Department also, and would like to know if F. could remain. I told him yes.


      • November 1864
        (pp. 532-540)

        1864 Novr 25

        For some weeks I have been unable to note down occurrences daily. On the evening of the election, the 8” I went to the War Department about nine o clock—took Fox with me who was a little reluctant to go lest he should meet Stanton who had for some days been ill. The Department was locked, but we were guided to the South Door. The President was already there and some returns from different quarters had been received. He detailed each telegram. Hay soon joined us, and after a little time Genl Eaton.¹ Mr. Eckart² the...

      • December 1864
        (pp. 541-566)

        1864 Decr Saturday 3’

        The President read his message at a Special Cabinet meeting to day, and verbal and general criticism took place. His own portion has been much improved. The brief submitted by the several members were incorporated pretty much in their own words. One paragraph proposing an amendment to the constitution recognizing the Deity in that instrument met with no favorable response from any one member of the Cabinet. The President, before reading it, expressed his own doubts in regard to it.

        I should have been glad had there been a more earnest appeal to the southern people,...

    • 1865

      • January 1865
        (pp. 569-582)

        1865 January 1 Sunday

        The date admonishes me of passing time and of accumulating years. Our country is still in the great struggle for national unity and national life; but progress has been made during the year that has just terminated and it seems to me the rebellion is not far from its close. The years that I have been here have been oppressive, wearisome and exhaustive, but I have labored willingly if sometimes sadly in the cause of my country and of mankind.

        What mischief has the press performed and is still doing in the rebel states by stimulating...

      • February 1865
        (pp. 583-595)

        Febry 1 Wednesday- The Board of which Adl Farragut is President is in session. Their duties to advise on the subject of promotions for meritorious conduct in battle. I am not disposed to act under this law without advice from earnest men in the service There is a disposition to place Porter in advance, by Fox, to which I cannot assent unless it comports with the views and opinions of senior men who are entitled to speak on a question that so nearly concerns them. Adl. Porter is a man of courage and resources but he has already been greatly...

      • March 1865
        (pp. 596-614)

        March 1’Wednesday - Judge J. T. Hale¹ called on me to say he had had a conversation with the President and had learned from him that I had his confidence and that he intended no change in the Navy Deptt. He said a great pressure had been made upon him to change. I have no doubt of it, and I have at no time believed he would be controlled by it. At no time have I given the subject serious thought.

        Mr. Eades² and Mr Blow³ inform me that Brandagee⁴ in his speech, while expressing opposition to me for...

      • April 1865
        (pp. 615-636)

        1865 April 1’ Saturday

        The President yet remains with the army, and the indications are that a great and perhaps final battle is near. Tom writes me dating his letter ”head quarters army of the James near Hachers run”—saying he had scarcely slept for forty eight (48)¹ hours—the army having commenced moving on the evening of the 27” and his letter was dated the evening of the 29th. Genl Ord² must therefore have moved his army from before Richmond, crossed the James and got below Petersburg. I infer therefore that the demonstration will be on that place, and...

  10. Appendixes

    • APPENDIX A. Retrospective March 6, 1861–July 1862
      (pp. 639-684)
    • APPENDIX B. Brief Biographies of Lincoln’s Cabinet
      (pp. 685-698)
    • APPENDIX C. Additional Diary Entries
      (pp. 699-708)
    • APPENDIX D. Letters
      (pp. 709-766)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 767-778)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 779-782)
  13. Index
    (pp. 783-826)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 827-834)