Gideon Welles

Gideon Welles

Infobox US Cabinet official
name=Gideon Welles

title=United States Secretary of the Navy
term_start=March 7, 1861
term_end=March 4, 1869
predecessor=Isaac Toucey
successor=Adolph E. Borie
birth_date=birth date|1802|7|1|mf=y
birth_place=Glastonbury, Connecticut, U.S.
death_date=death date and age|1878|2|11|1802|7|1
death_place=Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.
party=Democrat, Republican
spouse=Mary Jane Hale Welles
profession=Politician, Lawyer, Writer

Gideon Welles (July 1, 1802 – February 11, 1878) was the United States Secretary of the Navy from 1861 to 1869. His buildup of the Navy to successfully execute blockades of Southern ports was a key component of Northern victory of the Civil War. Welles was also instrumental in the Navy's creation of the Medal of Honor. cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url = | title = Types of the Medal of Honor: 1862 To Present | format = | work = | publisher = US Army | accessdate = 23 Jul | accessyear = 2006]


Born in Glastonbury, Connecticut, he was educated at the Episcopal Academy at Cheshire, Conn., and earned a degree at the American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy at Norwich, Vt. (later Norwich University). He became a lawyer through the then-common practice of reading the law, but soon shifted to journalism and became the founder and editor of the "Hartford Times" in 1826. After successfully gaining admission, from 1827-1835, he participated in the Connecticut state legislature as a Democrat. Following his service in the Legislature, he served in various posts, including State Controller of Public Accounts in 1835, Postmaster of Hartford (1836-41), and Chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing for the Navy (1846-49).

Welles was a Jacksonian Democrat, who worked very closely with Martin Van Buren and John Milton Niles. His chief rival in the Connecticut Democratic Party was Isaac Toucey, whom Welles would later replace at the Navy Department. While Welles dutifully supported James K. Polk in the 1844 election, he would abandon the Democrats in 1848 to support Van Buren's Freesoil campaign.

Mainly because of his strong anti-slavery views, Welles shifted allegiance in 1854 to the newly-established Republican Party, and founded a newspaper in 1856 (the "Hartford Evening Press") that would espouse Republican ideals for decades thereafter. Welles' strong support of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 made him the logical candidate from New England for Lincoln's cabinet, and in March 1861 Lincoln named Welles his Secretary of the Navy.

Tenure in Lincoln's Cabinet

Welles found the Naval Department in disarray, with Southern officers resigning en masse. His first major action was to dispatch the Navy's most powerful warship, the USS "Powhatan", to relieve Fort Sumter. Unfortunately, Lincoln had simultaneously ordered the Powhatan to both Fort Sumter and Pensacola, Florida, ruining whatever chance Major Robert Anderson had of withstanding the assault. Several weeks later, when William H. Seward argued for a blockade of Southern ports, Welles argued vociferously against the action but was eventually overruled by Lincoln. Despite his misgivings, Welles' efforts to rebuild the Navy and implement the blockade proved extraordinarily effective. From 76 ships and 7600 sailors in 1861, by 1865 the Navy expanded almost tenfold. His implementation of the Naval portion of the Anaconda Plan strongly weakened the Confederacy's ability to finance the war through limiting the cotton trade, and while never completely effective in sealing off all 3,500 miles of Southern coastline it was a major contribution towards Northern victory. Lincoln nicknamed Welles his "Neptune".

Despite his successes, Welles was never at ease in the United States Cabinet. His anti-English sentiments caused him to clash with William H. Seward, Secretary of State, and Welles's conservative stances led to arguments with Salmon P. Chase and Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretaries of the Treasury and of War, respectively.

Tenure in Johnson's Cabinet

After Lincoln's assasination Welles was retained by President Andrew Johnson as Secretary of the Navy. Welles ultimately left the Cabinet on March 3, 1869, having returned to the Democratic Party after disagreeing with Andrew Johnson's reconstruction policies but supporting him during his impeachment trial.

Later Life and Death

After leaving politics, Welles returned to Connecticut and to writing, editing his journals and authoring several books before his death, including a biography, "Lincoln and Seward", published in 1874. Towards the end of 1877, his health began to wane. A streptococcal infection of the throat killed Gideon Welles at the age of seventy-five on February 12th, 1878. His body was interred at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut.

The Diary of Gideon Welles

Welles' three-volume diary, documenting his Cabinet service from 1861-1869, is an invaluable archive for Civil War scholars and students of Lincoln alike, allowing readers rare insight into the complex struggles, machinations and inter-relational strife within the President's War Cabinet. Although offering a unique and quite non pareil portrayal of the immense personalities and problems facing the men who led the Union to ultimate victory, the first edition (published in 1911) suffers from rewrites by Welles himself and after his death, by his son; the 1960 edition is drawn directly from his original manuscript. The 1911 version of his diary may be found on Google Books: [,M1 Vol. I (1861-March 30, 1864)] , [ Vol. II (April 1, 1864-Dec. 31, 1866)] , [ Vol. III (Jan. 1, 1866-June 6, 1869)] .

Postumous Dedications

Two ships have been named USS "Welles" in his honor. The Dining Commons at Cheshire Academy and the Gideon Welles School in Glastonbury, Connecticut are also named after him.

Orson Welles

Despite the persistent urban legend, he was not the great-grandfather of the Academy Award-winning actor Orson Welles. Orson Welles’ father was Richard Head Welles, son of his paternal grandfather Richard Jones Welles; Gideon Welles had no son by that name. His sons were Hubert (1833-1862), John Arthur (1845-1883), Thomas G. (1846-1892), and Edgar Thaddeus Welles (1843-1914). The two families are unrelated.


External links

* [ Mr. Lincoln's White House: Gideon Welles]
* [ Gideon Welles] at the Naval Historical Center
* [ Gideon Welles] at Find A Grave

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