Learning Lincoln On-line



Part Seven-- Gideon Welles (1802-78)Secretary of the Navy during the Civil War

Successfully Managing the Union Navy

U.S. Civil War Naval Ships, Men and Battles--Confederate and Union
A Part of My Civil War Weapons & Warfare Activity Page
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Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles & the Lincolns


Death Scene

Gideon Welles served Lincoln as Secretary of the Navy. On the night of April 14, he was awakened with the news that Lincoln had been shot. Together with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, he rushed to Ford's Theater. They found the area packed with an excited crowd and learned that Lincoln had been taken to a house across the street. Clamoring up the stairs, Welles asked a doctor he recognized about Lincoln's condition. The physician replied that the President might live another three hours. We pick up his story as he enters the room where Lincoln lay:

"The President had been carried across the street from the theater to the house of a Mr. Peterson. We entered by ascending a flight of steps above the basement and passing through a long hall to the rear, where the President lay extended on a bed, breathing heavily. Several surgeons were present, at least six, I should think more. Among them I was glad to observe Doctor Hall, who, however, soon left. I inquired of Doctor Hall, as I entered, the true condition of the President. He replied the President was dead to all intents, although he might live three hours or perhaps longer."

More details of Gideon Welles at the hotel can be read at http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/lincoln.htm


Mrs. Welles was Mary Lincoln's best friend in Washington.  The story of the Welles and the Lincolns continue . . .

From:  Witness To History: Lincoln's Trusted Friend Gideon Welles by DAVE DRURY  February 08, 2009

Even after so many years, the scene inside the White House in February 1862 remains heart-wrenching.

With civil war raging across the country, Willie and Tad Lincoln, the two youngest sons of President Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, lay deathly ill, stricken with typhoid fever.

Willie (Lincoln), 11, eventually succumbs after an agonizing bedside vigil, leaving his 8-year-old brother clinging to life. The grieving president, his wife exhausted and on the verge of a breakdown, sends a brief, desperate note to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and his wife, Mary Jane Hale Welles, a Connecticut couple who have become one of Mary Lincoln's few friends in Washington, D.C.

"Mr. and Mrs. Welles please call and see us," the president pleads. The Welles arrive at once, and Mary Welles spends the following days and weeks nursing Tad back to health and comforting her friend.



A . . . Gideon Welles of Glastonbury, Connecticut, became the Secretary of Navy under President Abraham Lincoln.  Read the biography and find out why Lincoln chose Welles.  List the main reasons and then write an essay using this list. 

B . . . President Lincoln and Secretary Welles did not always agree on decisions or solutions to problems concerning the Navy.  Sometimes the President went against Welles.  Regardless of losing his decision, Secretary Welles continued his job of building a strong Navy, and he and Lincoln remained friends.  Read the biography and find example of when the Secretary was over-ruled.  Read the Civil War (Secretary of Navy section) of the biography.    Read Gideon Welles, "Dig the Hair," for information about cabinet dealings.

C . . . Secretary Welles put the Navy as a priority and was involved in it's quick growth.  Read the article from Dictionary of American Fighting Ships about Welle's role and input into building America's first modern Navy.  Gather facts that describe "what he did," and how he led. 

D . . . Secretary Welles and his wife became friends of the Lincolns.


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Hartford Library Article on Gideon Welles