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FROM March 4, 1861, to April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was the commander-in-chief of the navy of the United States. During these years the duties of this office were more important, varied and difficult than at any other period of the history of our nation. Early in the Civil War the task of administering the navy was suddenly augmented and complicated by a large increase in the number of ships, officers and seamen, by far-reaching changes in the art of naval construction, and by the employment of the fleet in actual warfare. From 1861 to 1865 the naval ships increased from 90 to 670, the officers from 1300 to 6700, and the seamen from 7500 to 51,500. Some two hundred vessels were built either at the navy-yards by the government or at private shipyards under contract, and more than three hundred vessels were purchased. The net annual expenditures of the navy rose from $12,000,000 to $123,000,000.1

During the Civil War naval architecture was in a state of transition. Iron was superseding wood as a material of construction, and steam engines were taking the place of sails as a means of propulsion. When the war began more than one-half of our naval vessels were sailing-ships; when it ended four-fifths of them were steamships. Many of the latter were ironclads, the modern type of warvessel, now first introduced into our navy. Of the ironclads, not a few were monitors, the well-known invention of that distinguished engineer and naval architect, John Ericsson. The construction of naval machinery and of ordnance was rapidly improved. Nearly every variety and type of engine, valve-gear, screw-propeller and boiler were tried. A chief engineer was sent to Europe to collect information relating to steam engineering. The various kinds of coal in the seaboard states were experimented with in order to ascertain their comparative value for naval vessels. New cannon of different kinds were introduced, the largest of which were the 15-inch guns brought into use by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox. These numerous changes in the art of naval construction greatly increased the difficulties of administration.2

* Senate Ex. Doc., 45 Cong., i sess., no. 3, pp. 156-157; House Ex. Doc., 40 Cong., 2 sess., no. 280 ; Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, for 1864, pp. xii-xxiv; for 1865, pp. xii-xiii; Navy Registers, for 1860, pp. 18-81; for 1865, pp. 12-216. Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, for 1864, p. xxix.

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The naval operations of the Civil War were the most extensive ever undertaken by our navy. A blockade of the Southern States was successfully enforced, many important naval expeditions were projected and executed, numerous rivers of the South and West were actively patrolled, and the commerce-destroyers of the enemy were tracked over distant seas. At the beginning of the war the blockading of the extensive coast of the Confederacy was deemed impossible by many men both at home and abroad. To their surprise this difficult undertaking was soon accomplished. The length of the coast blockaded, measured from Alexandria, Virginia, to the Rio Grande, was 3549 miles. One hundred and eighty-nine harbors, openings to rivers, or indentations of the coast were guarded. On the Mississippi and its tributaries the gunboats traversed and patrolled 3615 miles; and on the sounds, bayous, rivers and inlets of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, about 2000 miles. Next in importance to the blockade, were the naval operations against the batteries, forts and fortified towns and cities on the sea-coast and rivers of the Confederacy. As examples of this class of operations, it is sufficient

. to mention the memorable achievements of Farragut at New Orleans, Vicksburg and Mobile, of Porter at Fort Fisher, and of Dupont and of Dahlgren at Charleston. The most important event of the war in connection with the Confederate commerce-destroyers was of course the capture of the Alabama by the Kearsarge, off Cherbourg, in June, 1864.

President Lincoln has briefly described the work of the navy in a letter written on August 26, 1863, in response to an invitation to attend a mass-meeting of “unconditional Union men”, to be held at Springfield, Illinois, the President's home-town. Having referred to the achievements of the army at Antietam, Murfreesboro and Gettysburg, and on fields of lesser note, he paid his respects to its sisterservice:

Nor must Uncle Sam's web-feet be forgotten. At all the watery margins they have been present. Not only on the deep sea, the broad bay, and the rapid river, but also up the narrow, muddy bayou, and wherever the ground was a little damp, they have been and made their tracks. Thanks to all.“

The immediate representatives of the President in naval affairs were the two leading officials of the Navy Department, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox. These two men, with the assistance of their bureau chiefs, largely conducted the naval business of the war. Their relations with the President were exceedingly cordial and intimate. They saw him almost daily, visited him at all hours at the White House, and discussed with him the various phases of naval policy and administration. Upon them largely depended the success or failure of the navy. Differing widely in temperament, training and experience, the two men were complementary. Each would have been weak without the other. Together they were a remarkably strong force in conducting the war. So closely were they associated with the President, and so large and predominant a part in naval affairs did they play, that no account of Lincoln and the navy would be complete without some reference to their work and character.

* Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, for 1863, p. iii.

* Nicolay and Hay, Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln (Gettysburg ed. ", IX. 101.

Gideon Welles was descended from the best stock of Connecticut. The original emigrant of his family to that state, Thomas Welles, held many important public offices between 1639 and 1659, being twice elected governor of the infant colony. Gideon was educated at the Episcopal Academy in Cheshire, Connecticut, and at the Vorwich University in Vermont. He read law, and at the age of twenty-three became editor and one of the proprietors of the Hartford Times, which he edited until 1837. From 1827 to 1835 he was a member of the Connecticut legislature. For several years Welles served his state as comptroller of public accounts, and for some five years he was postmaster of Hartford. From 1846 to 1849 he was chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing in the Navy Department at Washington.

In politics Welles was for many years a Jacksonian Democrat. His anti-slavery views carried him into the Republican party when it was organized, and in 1856 he was its candidate for governor of Connecticut. He was at that time the leading contributor to the Hartford Evening Press, the Republican organ of his state. For several years Welles was a member of the Republican National Committee. He was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions of 1856 and 1860, and during the presidential campaign of 1860 he labored earnestly for the election of Lincoln.

In November, 1860, when Lincoln began to consider various men for places in his Cabinet, Welles's name was one of the first presented to him, and was the subject of a special consultation. VicePresident Hannibal Hamlin urged his appointment. Senator John P. Hale, a New Hampshire politician, was rather earnestly pressed upon the President for Secretary of the Navy, and he was somewhat mortified that his pretensions for the place were not more seriously regarded. Other names may have been considered for the naval

5 Boynton, History of the Navy during the Great Rebellion, I. 22-24.


portfolio. Lincoln from the first was convinced of Welles's fitness, availability and representative character.

The assignment of Welles to the Navy Department instead of to some other Cabinet position may be ascribed to his three years' experience as chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing, and to his residence in New England, whose maritime interests have given her a claim upon the naval secretaryship. In making up his Cabinet, Lincoln apportioned its members according to their sectional residence and their party antecedents. Welles was chosen as the New England member, and as a representative of the Democratic element of the Republican party. The Whig faction of the party was not generally friendly to him. No love was lost between Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy and his Secretary of State, William H. Seward. Thurlow Weed, one of the leaders of the Whigs in New York, was not kindly disposed towards Welles and opposed his selection for the naval secretaryship. In December, 1860, Weed said to the President that if he would on his way to his inauguration in Washington stop long enough in New York, Philadelphia, or Baltimore to select an attractive figure-head from the prow of a ship, would adorn it with an elaborate wig and luxuriant whiskers, and would transfer it to the entrance of the Navy Department, this figure-head would be quite as serviceable to the navy as Welles, and much less expensive. “Oh”, Mr. Lincoln replied, “ wooden midshipmen answer very well in novels, but we must have a live secretary of the navy. Welles's “elaborate wig and luxuriant whiskers"

gave him a patriarchal appearance, which his age and vigor of intellect belied. When he entered the Cabinet, he was in his fifty-ninth year. Secretary of State Seward and Secretary of War Cameron were older than the Secretary of the Navy, and Attorney-General Bates was ten years his senior. Among the naval officers and seamen Welles's paternal and benevolent aspect won for him the familiar appellation of " Father Welles ", or the "Old Man of the Sea". Mr. Charles A. Dana, for a time an assistant of Secretary of War Stanton, has left us one of the best characterizations of Lincoln's naval secretary.

Welles was a curious-looking man: he wore a wig which was parted in the middle, the hair falling down on each side ; and it was from his peculiar appearance, I have always thought, that the idea that he was an old fogy originated. I remember Governor Andrew, of Massachusetts,

I coming into my office at the War Department one day and asking where he could find “that old Mormon deacon, the Secretary of the Navy.” • Papers of Gideon

possession his son Edgar T. Welles, of New York City; Nicolay and Hay, Abraham Lincoln, II. 367.

Weed, Autobiography, I. 606-607, 611.

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In spite of his peculiarities, I think Mr. Welles was a very wise, strong man. There was nothing decorative about him; there was no noise in the street when he went along; but he understood his duty, and did it efficiently, continually, and unvaryingly. There was a good deal of opposition to him, for we had no navy when the war began, and he had to create one without much deliberation; but he was patient, laborious, and intelligent at his task.

Welles has sometimes been unjustly regarded as a time-serving and routine-loving executive. It is true that he was not one of those dashing administrators, who'reach conclusions by intuition, put their decisions into effect with great strenuosity, and are at once the inspiration and the terror of their subordinates. Rather, he was the quiet, unswerving, fearless executive, who reasons carefully from the evidence presented and draws temperately his conclusions therefrom, who en forces his judgments with firmness and uniformity, and who gains the esteem of his fellows by reason of his patience, integrity and justice. While Welles had his antipathies, he nevertheless administered the navy as a rule with great impartiality. He applied the laws of the navy fearlessly and without favor, no matter what the rank of the offender. He stood, as few secretaries have, for naval discipline and an impartial administration of the naval code. More than once he rebuked a naval court for bringing in a verdict contrary to the evidence presented to it. A court-martial, of which Farragut was president, found the captain of a certain ship guilty of failing to do his utmost in overtaking and capturing a certain Confederate vessel, an offense punishable with death. The court sentenced the offending officer to be suspended from the navy for two years on leave-of-absence pay-a merely nominal penalty. Welles in reviewing these absurd findings pointed out that the sentence of the court would be too mild for a trivial offense, and declared that such punishment as the court had prescribed "no officer could obtain from the Department as a favor”.9

No man could be more generous than the Secretary of the Navy in praise of gallant and meritorious conduct. His congratulatory messages to the victorious naval officers were warm and hearty, and felicitously phrased. As a newspaper writer he had acquired considerable facility in composition. All of his writings reveal a faculty for lucid expression, clear thinking, and the discernment of the gist of any subject. His official reports are more interesting reading than are most documents of that sort. Unlike some of the naval secretaries, Welles did not depute to his subordinates the composi

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8 Dana, Recollections of the Civil War, p. 170.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, first series, vol. III., pp. 467-470.

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