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tion of his annual reports, although he availed himself of their criticisms and suggestions. From the diary which he kept during and after the war, an unpublished document of great historical value, one infers that its author was a methodical man, painstaking and honest, and fearless and coldly precise in estimating the character and ability of his colleagues. 10
In determining the policy of the government, Welles's advice was valued by the President, and his judgment was sober and wellbalanced. His counsel, however, may not always have been politic. It is recollected that at the time of the Mason and Slidell episode he wrote a warmly-congratulatory letter to Captain Wilkes. That the Secretary of the Navy should have a profound knowledge of international law, was, however, hardly to be expected. Regarding the government's powers under the Constitution, Welles took a middle ground, being neither a strict nor a broad constructionist. He and the Secretary of State were instinctively opposed to each other, and were usually on opposite sides of the questions that came before the Cabinet. Welles regarded Seward as an intriguing and designing politician. He held, on plausible grounds, that Seward's conduct during the first weeks of Lincoln's administration was, if not traitorous, certainly highly unpatriotic. The Secretary of the Navy possessed none of those superb delusions that sometimes afflicted Lincoln's brilliant Secretary of State. On matters lying within the field of his information his judgment was certainly as reliable as that of his more famous colleague.
To a technical and intimate knowledge of the navy, Welles made no pretensions. He, however, was better equipped than most naval secretaries have been. His three years' service in one of the naval bureaus had given him a considerable acquaintance with the business
a of the navy and the department. Fortunately, the limitations of Welles's naval knowledge were adequately compensated by the extensive professional information of his Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Gustavus V. Fox, whose selection by President Lincoln as Welles's assistant was a most happy one.
At the beginning of the war Fox was in his fortieth year. He was born in Saugus, Essex County, Massachusetts. His father was a country physician, in moderate circumstances. At the age of sixteen young Fox was appointed a midshipman in the navy, where he remained for eighteen years. During a varied career he saw service in the squadrons of the Mediterranean, the East Indies, the Pacific, the coast of Brazil and the west coast of Africa; and he participated in the naval operations of the Mexican War. For a time he was
10 Diary of Gideon Welles, in possession of Edgar T. Welles.
attached to the Coast Survey. In 1853 and 1854 he commanded a mail steamer plying between New York and the Isthmus of Panama and belonging to one of the three lines subsidized at that time by the United States government. In July, 1856, having reached the rank of lieutenant, he resigned from the navy and accepted the position of “agent” of the Bay State Woolen Mills, of Lawrence, Massachusetts. Early in 1861, he came to Washington with a plan for the relief of Fort Sumter, and in April President Lincoln permitted him to put it into operation. In planning, promoting and conducting this daring adventure, he displayed such energy and initiative that the President formed a high estimate of his character. The Fort Sumter expedition paved the way to his political preferment. On May 9, 1861, he was appointed chief clerk of the Navy Department, and on July 31 he was promoted to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a newly-created position.11
Fox's career both in and out of the navy admirably fitted him for the assistant secretaryship. His long service in the navy gave him a wide acquaintance among the naval officers. He had acquired the habit of the navy and of the sea, and knew well the practice of the naval profession. On the other hand, his experience as a New England manufacturer had familiarized him with the currents of thought and action outside of the navy; with the methods of business, its economies and administration, and the qualities of commercial men.
In the science of the naval profession, in contradistinction to its art, Fox was not specially well-grounded. His knowledge of naval architecture was naturally limited, and his strategy proved to be at times faulty. To Rear-Admiral C. H. Davis he appeared more ready to plan, than laboriously to execute. Fox was decisive, quick of mind, and self-confident. No matter how dark and gloomy were the prospects of the North, the buoyancy of his spirits never failed him. Urbane and suave, the amenities of social life came easy to him. His brother-in-law was Lincoln's Postmaster-General, Montgomery Blair. Few men, who in the eventful spring of 1861 came to the surface of that tempestuous political sea at Washington, were so likely as Gustavus V. Fox to survive in its rough waters and ride its waves to preferment and eminence.12
Both the Secretary and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy had a great capacity for work, and each wrote with his own hands a vast number of letters. To their subordinates they often appeared fatigued and overworked. Night after night they toiled over their
11 Biographical details in Boynton, History of the Navy during the Great Rebellion, pp. 58-59.
12 Nicolay and Hay, Abraham Lincoln, V. 4-5; Davis, Life of Charles Henry Davis, pp. 132-133.
desks at the department. In the course of his duties Fox now and then visited the navy-yards or some of the principal seaports of the North. Infrequently, Welles or his assistant went to the “ front”, the latter more often than the former. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy witnessed the fight at Hampton Roads, in March, 1862, between the Monitor and the Merrimac. In May of that year the Secretary of the Navy invited two or three members of the Cabinet, the chief clerk of the department, and several naval officers with the ladies of their families to make a special cruise on the steamer City of Baltimore and visit the Union fleets between Washington and Richmond. Such excursions must have brought to the Secretary and his assistant a welcome relief from the anxieties, vexations and arduous toil of their offices.
Throughout the war Lincoln's gaunt form was a familiar figure in the Old Navy Department Building, situated a stone's throw to the westward of the White House. The rooms of Welles and Fox were on the second floor, in easy reach of each other. Here the President often called and chatted in the most informal way. A clerk, who is still living, remembers seeing him appear in the department with carpet slippers” on his feet. Sometimes he wore a shawl around his shoulders. Of a visit of Lincoln to the department made in April, 1863, Rear-Admiral Dahlgren writes: “The President came into Fox's room while I was there, and sat some time, talking generally of matters. . . . Abe was in good humor, and at leaving said, 'Well I will go home; I had no business here; but as the lawyer said, I had none anywhere else '."'13
The following entry occurs in the diary of Dahlgren for March 29, 1863:
I went to the Department. Found the President in the Chief Clerk's room with the Secretary and Fox. He looks thin and badly, and is very nervous. Complained of everything. They were doing nothing at Vicksburg or Charleston. Dupont was asking for one iron-clad after another, as fast as they were built. He said the canal at Vicksburg was of no account, and wondered that a sensible man would do it. I tried my hand at consolation, without much avail. He thought the favorable state of public expectation would pass away before anything was done. Then levelled a couple of jokes at the doings at Vicksburg and Charleston. Poor gentleman!"
Lincoln kept in close touch with the navy. Almost every day, and often several times a day, he consulted with the Secretary, the Assistant Secretary, the officials of the naval bureaus, and the officers holding important commands. Of these, the most frequent visitor at the White House was the Assistant Secretary, to whom fell, among many other duties, that of obtaining from Congress proper naval legislation. Whenever the leading naval officers were in Washington they always called upon the President and found him an eager listener to all that they had to relate about their plans and operations. Chief among the President's naval advisers were Farragut, Porter, Dahlgren, Dupont, Davis, Foote and Wise. In the conferences on naval affairs Lincoln took an active part, and as a result of them he often reached a decision or issued an order. As no minutes of them were kept, it is impossible in most cases to determine precisely what was said or done. The voluminous papers of Welles and Fox, only a small part of which was accessible to me, will doubtless throw some additional light upon the President's achievements in naval administration.
13 Dahlgren, Memoir of John A. Dahlgren, p. 390. 14 Ibid., p. 389.
The planning of the naval operations was largely a composite work. Lincoln's share in it was confined for the most part to criticisms and suggestions respecting the plans formulated by others. As to naval movements upon the Mississippi, however, he seems to have had original opinions of his own, derived doubtless from his early experiences as a flatboatman on that river. In the summer of 1861 the Commission of Conference, composed chiefly of naval officers, served as a board of strategy. The commanding officers often originated their own plans, and the Assistant Secretary was always fertile in suggestions respecting naval operations. In all co-operative movements with the army, much consultation took place between the officers of the army and the navy, the officials of the two departments, and the President.
As a rule, the orders to the officers were drafted in the Navy Department and were issued and signed by either Welles or Fox. Sometimes, however, when the need of action was very great, the President himself wrote or dictated orders. For instance, in April, 1863, when Admiral Dupont was operating against Charleston, South Carolina, Lincoln, fearing that the admiral was about to abandon the movement against the city, telegraphed him to hold his position “inside the bar near Charleston ".15 Before the telegram reached him Dupont had withdrawn his ships from the bar. He regarded it as a reflection upon his management of the fleet, and he soon retired from the command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. It was unusual for the President to interfere in this manner with the work of his officers.
Early in 1862 Commodore Foote, who was then in command of the Mississippi flotilla and had his headquarters at Cairo, Illinois, encountered many difficulties in procuring mortars at Pittsburgh. Much exasperated by the slowness with which the work proceeded, the President ordered Foote to telegraph daily to Captain H. A. Wise, the assistant inspector of naval ordnance at Washington, his progress in obtaining the mortars. For several weeks Wise went to the White House every day, read the telegrams to the President, and received orders for Foote. In this way Lincoln conducted a small part of the business of the navy independent of both Welles and Fox. “With reference to the mortar rafts”, Wise wrote to Foote on January 27, 1862, “L'ncle Abe, as you already know, has gone into that business with a will, making his first demonstration, entre nous, by pitching General Ripley out of his Ordnance Bureau." On January 31 Wise wrote of the President thus, “He is an evidently practical man, understands precisely what he wants, and is not turned aside by anyone when he has his work before him."'16
15 Official Records, first series, vol. XIV., p. 132.
In selecting officers for the higher commands Lincoln generally followed the advice of the department. Admiral Porter, however, was of the opinion that the President selected him to command the Mississippi squadron, in opposition to the wishes of Welles. Porter said that Lincoln seemed to be familiar with the name, character and reputation of every officer of rank in the army and navy, and " appeared to understand them better than some whose business it was to do so; he had many a good story to tell of nearly all, and if he could have lived to write the anecdotes of the war, I am sure he would have furnished the most readable book of the century”. 17
The Navy Department was conspicuously successful in selecting officers for the higher commands. Its good fortune in this respect as compared with the bad fortune of the War Department was commented upon by President Lincoln. He once said to Welles that the qualities of the officers of the navy must run more even, and the task of selecting officers for the higher commands must be less difficult, than in the army. The Secretary of the Navy assured the President that this was not true, and that the good fortune of the navy in choosing commanders had resulted from the wise judgment exercised by his department.18 It is a fact that the Navy Department did no experimenting corresponding with that of the War Department with McClellan, Halleck, Hooker and Pope. Before the end of 1862 the navy officers who achieved fame had already received the highest position within the gift of the President. Even at this early date the roll of great naval names could have been made out-Farragut, Porter, Foote, Davis, Dahlgren, Rodgers and Lee.