Thursday, January 16, 2014

December 26, 1863

December 26, 1863

---Gideon Welles, the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, writes in his journal, musing over his reputation and the critics who censure him for his policies—and finding arguments to settle in his own mind how effective his policies and practices have been:

December 26, Saturday. The Dictator, turret vessel, was launched this A.M. in New York. This is one of a class of vessels that has become famous. She is of greatly increased dimensions to any hitherto constructed. I have full confidence that she will be a formidable fighting craft, but am not prepared to indorse her, or the Puritan, which is not yet launched, as cruisers. There are differences among naval men on this subject, but the turret vessels are steadily gaining friends among them, and early friends are becoming enthusiastic. . . .  For harbor or coast defense these vessels are, I think, invaluable, and almost invulnerable. The fight with the Merrimac made for them rapid converts. When the first turret vessel, the Monitor, was building, many naval men and men in the shipping interest sneered at her as a humbug, and at me as no sailor or judge, until she vindicated her power and worth in that first remarkable conflict. Then I was abused by party men because I had not made preparations for and built more.

There is constant caprice in regard to the Navy. Those who know least clamor most. It is difficult to decide what course to pursue, and yet I must prescribe a policy and be held accountable for it. If I go forward and build large and expensive vessels, I shall be blamed for extravagance, particularly if peace takes place. On the other hand, if I should not build, and we have, not only continued hostilities, but war with England or France, I shall be denounced for being unprepared. Yet it is patent that powerful, and expensive because powerful, structures are conducive to peace. A few strong, powerful vessels will conduce to economy because they will deter commercial nations from troubling us, and if not troubled, we need no large and expensive navy.

During the whole of this civil war, I have been beset and annoyed by interested patriots who had old steamers to sell which no one would buy. The agents of these parties crowded the Department, got Members of Congress to besiege it, and, because I did not think their crafts adapted to our wants, they, and in some instances the press and certain Members of Congress, engaged in abuse of me.

What we needed for this war and the blockade of our extensive coast was many vessels of light draft and good speed, not large, expensive ships, for we had no navy to encounter but illicit traders to capture. I acted accordingly and I have no doubt correctly, though much abused for it. A war with one or more of the large maritime powers would require an entirely different class of vessels.

In naval matters, as in financial, those who are most ignorant complain loudest. The wisest policy receives the severest condemnation. My best measures have been the most harshly criticized. I have been blamed for procuring so many small vessels from the merchant service. But those vessels were not only the cheapest and the most available, but the most effective. In no other way could we have established an effective blockade of our extended coast. We wanted not heavy navy-built ships but such vessels as had speed and could capture neutral unarmed blockade-runners. . . . The grumblers have said our small naval-built gunboats have not great speed. Small propellers of light draught on duty for months cannot carry sufficient fuel and have great speed. . . . Unreasonable and captious men will blame me, take what course I may. I must, therefore, follow my own convictions.

---Gen. Thomas Rosser completes a raid entirely around the Army of the Potomac, destroying supplies, gaining intelligence, and keeping out of reach the Union cavalry, under Gen. Gregg.

---The CSS Alabama captures and burns two Union merchantmen, the Sonora and Highlander, a few miles east of Singapore.

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