Friday, May 27, 2011

Gosport Navy Yard-Welles Defends His Actions

The lost of the Gosport Navy Yard was considered in the North to be disaster of the War. There were many questions on how someone could let over 1,100 guns, one of the nation's only two dry docks, and the hull of the USS Merrimack fall into opposition's hands. After the war Republican Party activist/insider and newspaper editor Thurlow Weed wanted to make sure that world knew who he thought was to blame: Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles.

In an 1870 account published in the magazine The Galaxy, Weed recalled that "Meeting the Secretary at dinner the same day, I renewed the conversation, and was informed that the matter would be attended to. This did not quiet my solicitude, and leaving the Secretary to the placid enjoyment of his dinner, I repaired to the White House. Mr. Lincoln, however, had driven out to visit some fortifications. I made another attempt in the evening to see him, but he was again out- Early the next morning, however, I found him, and informed him what 1 had heard of the danger that threatened Gosport, and how, as I feared, I had failed to impress the Secretary of the Navy with the accuracy of my information or the necessity of immediate action."

Welles and Weed never liked each other from the time they first met. Welles thought Weed was nothing more than a political hack (Weed was instrumental in getting Abraham Lincoln elected and thus had ready acess to the President). Nevertheless, when Welles saw Weed's version of events on Gosport, he exploded. Weed's slander was not the first attack on Welles' reputation. But after reading an attack by one of his political enemies, he had enough. Welles responded with his own essay that was also published in The Galaxy.

He wrote "I do not affect to misunderstand the scope and purpose of the allusions to myself, nor the impressions which the autobiographer seeks to convey. They are in character and keeping with years of misrepresentation in relation to the abandonment of the navy-yard at Norfolk, and other events by which the administration of the Navy Department was for years maligned and wronged."

Welles defended his actions (or lack thereof) on saving Gosport by stating that there was a belief that Virginia might still stay in the Union.

"In regard to the navy-yard at Norfolk, [President Lincoln] was particulraly solicitous that there should be no action taken which would indicate a want of confidence in the authorities and people, or which would be likely to beget distrust. No ships were to be withdrawn, no fortifications erected. We had reports from that station and from others that there were ardent secessionists among the civil and naval officers, and assurances, on the other hand, that most of them were patriotic and supporters of the Union. "

The full essay titled "Mr. Welles Responds to Mr. Weed" can be found here.

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