Gideon Welles on Grant, Republicans and Conscription
Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles (1802-1878), was Connecticut-born, a Democrat until 1848, left for the Free-Soil party and then joined the nascent Republicans in 1854. Claiming to be anti-slavery, his father had been a Connecticut shipping merchant and very likely participated in New England’s transatlantic slave trade. He was appointed to Secretary of the Navy by Lincoln as a reward for past party support.
The following is excerpted from The Diary of Gideon Welles.
August 2, 1864, Tuesday: “[Grant is reticent] and, I fear, less able than he is credited. Admiral Porter has always said there was something wanting in Grant, which Sherman could always supply, and vice-versa, as regards Sherman, but that the two together made a very perfect general officer and [they] ought never to be separated. Grant relies on others but does no know men – can’t discriminate. I feel quite unhappy over this Petersburg [Crater battle] – less however from the result, bad as it is, than from an awakening apprehension that Grant is not equal to the position assigned him.
God grant that I may be mistaken, for the slaughtered thousands of my countrymen who have poured out their rich blood for three months in the soil of Virginia from the Wilderness to Petersburg. Under his generalship[, and who] can never be atoned in this world or the next if he without Sherman prove a failure. A nation’s destiny almost has been committed to this man, and if it is an improper committal, where are we?”
August 27, Saturday: Much party machinery is just at this time in motion. No small portion of it is a prostitution and abuse. The Whig element is venal and corrupt, to a great extent. I speak of the leaders of that party now associated with the Republicans. They seem to have very little political principle, they have no belief in public virtue or popular intelligence, they have no self-reliance . . . [and] little regard for constitutional restraint. Their politics and their ideas of government consist of expedients, and cunning management with the intelligent, and coercion and subordination of the less-informed.”
August 31, 1864, Wednesday: The complaints in regard to recruiting are severe and prolonged. They come in numbers. The impending draft of the army indirectly benefits the Navy, or induces persons to enter it. Their doing so relieves them and their localities from the draft. Hence the crowd and competition. Then come in the enormous bounties from the State and municipal authorities over which naval officers have no control, and which lead to bounty-jumping and corruption.”
(Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Volume II, Howard K. Beale, editor, W.W. Norton & Company, pp. 92; 122; 129)