Sure, after the bloody battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), the soldiers under Union General George McClellan were exhausted and could not immediately pursue the retreating Confederate army led by General Robert E. Lee. But five weeks after Antietam was the Union army still too tired? Gideon Welles, Navy Secretary under President Abraham Lincoln, wrote in his diary entry of October 18, 1862, “We have sinister rumors of peace intrigues and strange management. I cannot give them credit, yet I know little of what is being done. The Secretary of War [Edwin Stanton] is reticent, vexed, disappointed, and communicates nothing. Neither he nor McClellan will inspire or aid the other.”
“Sinister rumors.” Was a 90-day truce being secretly negotiated with General Robert E. Lee so as to allow McClellan to turn his army towards Washington, DC and demand the eviction of Edwin Stanton from the Cabinet as well as a “no interference” policy on slavery? (Background: “Secret Meeting on Mechanicsville Bridge”, Ersjdamoo’s Blog entry of April 2, 2013)
“McClellan is not accused of corruption, but of criminal inaction… Many believe him to be acting on the army programme avowed by Key,” wrote Gideon Welles in his October 18, 1862 diary entry.
By “Key”, Welles meant either Major John J. Key or his brother, Colonel Thomas Key, “alter-ego” of General McClellan. Key is reported to have said Union army policy was not to destroy the Confederate army, but to “compel the opposing forces to adopt a compromise.” (Background: “Colonel Key is the Key”, Ersjdamoo’s Blog entry of April 1, 2013)
General McClellan was a Democrat. Some charged he was aligned with the “peacenik” faction of that party, the Copperheads. And his “alter-ego”, via his secret authorship of the notorious Harrison’s Landing letter, suggests at least that McClellan was being manipulated by the Copperheads. (“Secret Meeting on Mechanicsville Bridge”, op. cit.)
As for the word “peacenik,” it may derive from the Chicago Tribune’s Civil War “tales of conspiracies” and its “contempt for ‘peace sneaks.'” (Cited in Van der Linden, Frank: The Dark Intrigue. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2007)
General McClellan was not accused of corruption by Gideon Welles, but of “criminal inaction.” So too was General John Dix (image at top) himself not corrupt. Norfolk, Virginia had been occupied by Federal troops, yet the naval blockade of the Confederacy was still in force there. Why not allow certain ships through the blockade at Norfolk? But Gideon Welles was against this, arguing you cannot have a half-blockade. However General Dix, aided by the War and Treasury Departments, prevailed as to Norfolk. Vessels would be allowed to pass if they had a permit from General Dix’s military staff. “To allow exports and imports is inconsistent with a rigid and honest blockade,” wrote Welles in his diary entry of December 3, 1862. “There has been a good deal of maneuvering, much backing and filling. The prize is great. Civilians, quasi-military men, etc., are interested – men of political influence.”
General John Dix himself was not corrupt in the affair of the “sham blockade” at Norfolk. But special permits were being given to “favorites” and “army corruptionists”.
Gideon Welles spelled it out: “Dix is, I presume, as clear of pecuniary gain as [Salmon] Chase, but he has on his staff and around him a set of bloodsuckers who propose to make use of the blockade as a machine to enrich themselves. A few favorites design to monopolize the trade of Norfolk, and the Government is to be at the expense of giving them this monopoly by absolute non-intercourse, enforced by naval vessels to all but themselves.”
One item which the Federally-sanctioned monopoly could trade via Norfolk was cotton. Due to the naval blockade of the South, cotton became worth a lot of money. Authors Leonard F. Guttridge and Ray A. Neff claim in their book, Dark Union, that the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln was woven through an even more complex scheme to pay for and profit from the Union war effort by trading in Confederate cotton.