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NP: June 24, 1864 Washington Daily National Republican: Defending Admiral Lee Against the Herald


The editor of the New York Herald, in the issue of the 23d inst. [June 23, 1864], says he does not know “what took place” in Saturday last [June 18, 1864], on the occasion of the interview between Gens. Grant and Butler and Admiral Lee on the James river. We knew that before. But he adds, with the cool audacity which is characteristic of the Herald, “we know very well what ought to have taken place.”

After this important announcement, accompanied by the most profuse flattery of Gen. Grant, as “the victorious commander of our armies,” the wiseacre of the Herald expresses the hope that Admiral Lee “will go forward to the performance of his plain duty in opening the James and taking his iron-clads to the wharves of Richmond city.”

On this point we will remark, right here, that we understand that Gen. Grant proposes to conduct the expedition against Richmond on a line of his own selection, and not upon the plan of [Herald owner] James Gordon Bennett.

But to return. The editorial referred to contains the following false and malicious paragraph:

“But, as if mere idleness were not enough, Admiral Lee has just performed an act that, we doubt not, has called an honorable blush to the cheek of every officer in his fleet. He has sunk boats in the river—obstructed the channel—to prevent the rebel rams from getting out at his ships. He has iron-clad vessels enough to blow every ram in the confederacy to atoms; but he is afraid of the trial.”

This statement is intended to throw disgrace upon Admiral Lee. Without discussing the propriety of giving circulation to such a willful falsehood, in a journal like the Herald, which circulates largely abroad, we are authorized to state that Admiral Lee had no more to do with the sinking of vessels in the James river, to prevent the rebel rams from interfering with our transports, than to promptly obey the explicit order of Gen. Grant.

To use the language of Admiral Lee to the Department, after he was ordered to sink the vessels—

“The navy is not accustomed to putting down obstructions before it, and the act might be construed as an admission of superiority of resources on the part of the enemy. The object of the operation would be to make the river more secure against the attempts of the enemy upon our vessels by fire and explosive rafts, followed by torpedoes and iron-clad vessels.”

In another dispatch to the Navy Department on the same subject, under date of June 16th [1864], Admiral Lee says:

“June 16.—Last evening I saw Gen. Grant at City Point, who informed me that several days before his arrival here he had ordered Gen. Butler to sink these obstructions, and that, finding his order had not been received, he had renewed it.”

We happen to know that Admiral Lee preferred that the river would be left open, being satisfied that he could demolish the rebel fleet up the James, but we know that Gen. Grant considered it a military necessity that the river should be made secure by every available means, as vital to the success of the campaign and the cause. Admiral Lee obeyed the orders of Gen. Grant, and caused the obstructions to be placed in the river, and subsequent developments have demonstrated the wisdom of Gen. Grant’s foresight.

We could state several very important reasons why Gen. Grant desired to blockade the rebel iron-clads, but we do not cho[ose] to do so at this time.1

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  1. “Admiral Lee and the Rebel Rams in the James River.” Daily National Republican (Washington, DC), June 24, 1864, p. 2, col. 4.
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