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A Connecticut Yankee in Lincoln’s Cabinet

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles Chronicles the Civil War

Gideon Welles

Publication Year: 2014

Gideon Welles, the Connecticut journalist-politician who served as Lincoln’s secretary of the navy, was not only an architect of Union victory but also a shrewd observer of people, issues, and events. Fortunately for posterity, he recorded many of his observations in his extensive diary. A Connecticut Yankee in Lincoln’s Cabinet brings together 250 of the most important and interesting excerpts from the diary, dealing with topics as varied as the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Marine Band’s concerts in Washington’s Lafayette Square, Lincoln’s sense of humor, rivalries among cabinet members, Welles’s often caustic opinions of prominent politicians and military leaders, demands for creation of a navy yard in his home state, the challenge of blockading 3,500 miles of Confederate coastline, the struggle against rebel commerce raiders, the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, the Fort Pillow massacre of African American troops, and Lincoln’s assassination. Together, the excerpts provide a candid insider’s view of the Civil War as it unfolded, and an introduction provides the reader with context. Published by the Acorn Club.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright Page, Dedication

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J. Ronald Spencer

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pp. ix-x

A Connecticut Yankee in Lincoln’s Cabinet is the thirty-seventh publication of the Acorn Club, which was founded in 1899 to publish books of enduring value in Connecticut history. The book is dedicated to the five former members of the Club who have died since the appearance of the Club’s...

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pp. 1-13

Gideon Welles, a native of Glastonbury, Connecticut, was one of the state’s most influential journalists and politicians during the three decades preceding the Civil War. Today, however, he is usually remembered as Lincoln’s secretary of the navy – “Father Neptune” (or just “Neptune”)...

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Editorial Note

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pp. 14-16

The excerpts in this book come from the first published edition of Gideon Welles’s diary. It was edited by his son Edgar, with an introduction by historian John T. Morse, Jr., and published in three volumes by the Houghton Mifflin Company in 1911. The main purpose of this note is to...

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Chapter 1: The Emancipation Proclamation and Beyond

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pp. 17-32

Welles’s entries on Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation constitute one of the diary’s most important contributions to historical knowledge. In Section I of this chapter those entries are reproduced in their entirety. Section II consists of excerpts about a number of related topics, including the possible...

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Chapter 2: Cabinet Problems and Cabinet Crisis

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pp. 33-47

This chapter deals with two interrelated topics. Section I contains a selection of Welles’s numerous complaints that Lincoln failed to make fuller, more-regular use of the cabinet as a consultative and advisory body, a failing he usually blamed on Secretary of State Seward at least much as on the president. The second section...

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Chapter 3: Welles on Lincoln

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pp. 48-56

The first section of this chapter presents some of Welles’s judgments about Lincoln as president – judgments in which admiration and commendation are leavened with criticism. The excerpts in Section II illustrate Lincoln’s sense of humor, his knack for making a serious point by telling an amusing story, his compassion...

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Chapter 4: Taking the Measure of Men

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pp. 57-73

One of the conspicuous features of Welles’s diary is his blunt, often highly critical characterizations of his cabinet colleagues and other politically influential figures. The excerpts in Section I of this chapter are about cabinet members. The focus is on Secretaries Seward, Stanton, and Chase, but brief comments about Postmaster...

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Chapter 5: Generals and Admirals at War

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pp. 74-105

Welles’s characterizations of senior army and navy officers were just as candid and often as caustic as his comments about his cabinet colleagues and other prominent civilians. This chapter focuses on his views of Generals George B. McClellan, Henry W. Halleck, George G. Meade, Ulysses S. Grant, and William T. Sherman...

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Chapter 6: Navy Department Challenges

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pp. 106-131

Running the Navy Department, Welles faced a multitude of challenges that tested his administrative skills, judgment, political astuteness, and more than once, his patience. This chapter examines a diverse selection of these challenges. It concludes with diary entries recording both the criticism and the praise Welles received from...

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Chapter 7: Home-State Matters

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pp. 132-145

During his eight-year sojourn in Washington, Welles remained at heart a Connecticut Yankee, professing continued love for his native state and maintaining a keen interest in its people and politics. But as a member of Lincoln’s cabinet, he dealt with national issues and had to adopt a national perspective. Thus he refused to...

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Chapter 8: Sidelights and Personal Notes

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pp. 146-156

As a sober-sided Connecticut Yankee, Welles filled his diary mainly with entries about the serious business of war, government, and politics. But scattered here and there are entries of a different sort. Some of them record interesting sidelights on the wartime years, including glimpses of social life in official Washington...

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Chapter 9: Reflections on the War

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pp. 157-167

The material in this chapter derives from those occasions when Welles stepped back from the daily rush of events and viewed the war in broader perspective. Section I consists of his reflections on the progress of the war effort (or the lack thereof) and such related questions as how to restore national unity once the war...

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Chapter 10: Lincoln’s Assassination

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pp. 168-177

Welles’s extended diary entry is the only account of Lincoln’s assassination written by a member of the cabinet at the time of the event. (The two other cabinet members who kept diaries – Bates and Chase – had left the administration in 1864.) It is notable for its narrative drama, its attention to small but revealing details, such...

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pp. 178-184

Late in the afternoon of March 3, 1869 – the day before Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration as president – Gideon Welles left his office at the Navy Department for the final time. He and Seward were the only cabinet officers to have served from the start of Lincoln’s administration through...

Appendix: The Members of Lincoln’s Cabinet

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pp. 185-186

Members of the Acorn Club

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pp. 187

E-ISBN-13: 9780819574985
E-ISBN-10: 0819574988
Print-ISBN-13: 9780615961033

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2014

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Subject Headings

  • Welles, Gideon, 1802-1878 -- Diaries.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1861-1865.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Naval operations.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Sources.
  • Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865 -- Friends and associates.
  • Cabinet officers -- United States -- Diaries.
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