Diary of Gideon Welles.

September 24, Wednesday. Secretary Smith called this morning. Said he had just had an interview with Judge- Advocate Turner, who related a conversation which had taken place between himself (T.) and Colonel Key, one of Halleck’s staff. T. had expressed to K. his surprise that McClellan had not followed up the victory last week by by pursuing the Rebels and capturing them or cutting them in pieces. That, said K., is not the policy. Turner asked what, then, was the policy. Key said it was one of exhaustion; that it would have been impolitic and injudicious to have destroyed the Rebel army, for that would have ended the contest without any compromise, and it was the army policy at the right time to compel the opposing forces to adopt a compromise.[1]

Smith assures me that Turner made to him this communication. It is most extraordinary, yet entirely consistent with current events and what Wilson and others have stated. While I can hardly give credit to the statement, the facts can be reconciled with every action or inaction, — with wasted energies, fruitless campaigns, and barren fights. Smith fully believes it.

Had an impertinent letter from Senator John P. Hale, who asks for copies of different opinions given me by the Attorney-General on the subject of appointing midshipmen, and cautioning me not to disregard the plain language of the law, whatever might be the opinion of the Attorney-General. Informed Senator Hale that I had the unofficial advice instead of the official opinion of the law officer of the Government, given as a patriot and statesman, recommending that the appointments should be made, whatever might be the preliminary forms rendered impossible by the anomalous condition of the country; that every person whom I had consulted — and I had consulted many — concurred in giving similar advice; that it accorded with my own views, etc., etc.; that I had made the appointments before receiving his letter indicating, on his part, an opposite policy.

That he will assail these appointments I have little doubt, his object being in this instance to attack the Attorney-General, whom he cannot use, rather than myself, though willing to assail both provided he can do so successfully. With some humor but little industry, some qualities as a jester and but few as a statesman, I have not much respect for this Senatorial buffoon, who has neither application nor fidelity, who is neither honest nor sincere. Such men are not useful legislators.

As I write, 9 P.M., a band of music strikes up on the opposite side of the square, a complimentary serenade to the President for the Emancipation Proclamation. The document has been in the main well received, but there is some violent opposition, and the friends of the measure have made this demonstration to show their approval.


[1] Major John J. Key was summarily railed upon by the President to account for his language, stingingly rebuked, and forthwith discharged from the service.


Diary of Gideon Welles

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