Drama, Gossip, and Petty Politics Still Alive in Washington

May 19, 1865 (Friday)

Of late, Naval Secretary Gideon Welles’ diary entries had been short, a few sentences at best. But on this date, he returned to his windy and meandering ways, writing gossip, complaining, and recording the general drama of the time.

Preston King tells me he has a letter from Senator Dixon, speaking of me in very complimentary terms and expressing a wish that I may continue in the Cabinet, assuring K. that this is the sentiment of all parties in Connecticut. The President is not yet prepared to complete the Amnesty Proclamation, nor to issue the order for the reestablishment of the authority of the local State governments. Our North Carolina friends have not arrived.

Gideon Welles
Gideon Welles

Seward was to-day in the State Department, and the President with the rest of us went to his room. I noticed that his old crony and counterpart, Thurlow Weed, was with him as we entered. Seward was gratified and evidently felt complimented that we called. Was very decisive and emphatic on the subject of a proclamation, declar-ing the Rebel vessels pirates and also a proclamation for opening the ports. Both these measures I had pressed rather earnestly; but Stanton, and Speed under Stanton’s prompting, had opposed, for some assumed technical reason, the first, i. e. declaring the Rebel vessels pirates, and McCulloch the last, opening the ports. I was, therefore, pleased when Seward, unprompted, brought them both forward. I suggested that the proclamation already issued appeared to me to be sufficient, but I was glad to have his opinions on account of the opposition of Speed.

Received a telegram this P.M. from Commander Frailey and one from Acting-Rear-Admiral Radford, stating that the former, in command of the Tuscarora, had convoyed to Hampton Roads the William Clyde, having on board Jeff Davis, Stephens, etc. This dispatch, addressed to me, Stanton had in his hand when I entered his room, whither he had sent for me. The telegraph goes to the Department of War, where it has an office, and I before have had reason to believe that some abuse — a sort of an espionage — existed.

Half apologizing for an obvious impropriety, he said the custody of these prisoners devolved on him a great responsibility, and until he had made disposition of them, or determined where they should be sent, he wished their arrival to be kept a secret. He was unwilling, he said, to trust Fox, and specially desired me to withhold the information from him, for he was under the Blairs and would be used by them, and the Blairs would improve the opportunity to embarrass him. I by no means concur in his censures or his views.

Fox, like Stanton, will sometimes confide secrets which he had better retain, but not, I think, when enjoined. The Blairs have no love for Stanton, but I do not think he has any cause of apprehension from them in this matter. He wished me to order the Tuscarora to still convoy and guard the Clyde, and allow no communication with the prisoners except by order of General Halleck or the War Department, — General Halleck, Stanton has ordered down from Richmond to attend to this business, — and again earnestly requested and enjoined that none but we three — himself, General Grant, and myself — should know of the arrival and disposition of these prisoners.

I told him the papers would have the arrivals announced in their next issue. Stanton said no word could get abroad. He had the telegraph in his own hands and could suppress everything. Not a word should pass. I remarked he could not stop the mails, nor passenger-boats, and twenty-four hours would carry the information to Baltimore and abroad in that way. Twenty-four hours, he said, would relieve him.

Stanton is mercurial, — arbitrary and apprehensive, violent and fearful, rough and impulsive, — yet possessed of ability and energy. I, of course, under his request, shall make no mention of or allusion to the prisoners, for the present. In framing his dispatch, he said, with some emphasis, the women and children must be sent off. We did not want them. “They must go South,” and he framed his dispatch accordingly. When he read it I remarked, “The South is very indefinite, and you permit them to select the place. Mrs. Davis may designate Norfolk, or Richmond.” “True,” said Grant with a laugh. Stanton was annoyed, but, I think, altered his telegram.

And though the war was nearly over, and a new president filled the White House, politics, petty arguments and general distrust still reigned over all.

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