- Historic Sites
A Princely Service
April 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 3
Among those who came to the aid of the Union when the Civil War broke out was François Ferdinand Philippe Louis Marie, Prince de Joinville, the third son of the exiled King of France, Louis Philippe. The Prince was doubly gifted, as both soldier and artist. A MERICAN H ERITAGE herewith present the story of his visit, recounted by a distinguished French novelist and essayist, along with a porfolio of the Prince’s water colors. Both recently appeared in a limited edition of A Civil War Album of Paintings by the Prince de Joinville ; together they give a fresh, behind-the-line glimpse of an ill-prepared nation fighting for its life.
On October 15, 1862, in Paris, an article was published in the Revue des Deux Mondes on “The Campaign of the Army of the Potomac.” The article was signed “A. Trognon,” and it summarized, the Revue: stated, the notes “of an officer who took part in the recent battles in Virginia.” Actually Trognon was a pseudonym, and the Prince de Joinville, the third son of King Louis Philippe, was the real author. Emperor Napoleon III ruled in France at that time, and a member of the dethroned royal [Orleanist] family was not authorized to sign an article, especially on such a subject. However, after the fall of the Empire in 1870, when the Revue published an Index of all the texts included between 1831 and 1871, the Prince de Joinville found his name there. …
Why did Joinville, his son, the Duc de Penthièvre, and his nephews, the Comte de Paris and the Duc de Chartres, put themselves at the disposal of the North during the War of Secession? There were two reasons. First of all they were liberals sincerely opposed to slavery. But they also suffered from the inactivity to which their exile had condemned them. Soldiers at heart, they wanted to fight. They were not permitted to fight for France. At least, while fighting for Lincoln, they would learn the use of new techniques in modern warfare. The Prince de Joinville had been an excellent admiral; so we can imagine how interested he was in the naval blockade, the new ironclad ships, and the landing operations. He could even give sound advice.
He arrived in 1861 after the defeat of the first Battle of Bull Run. The Confederate Army camped within sight of Washington. The cannon roared. In the midst of this excitement the Army of the Potomac was born. … For a long time Washington had hoped that “everything wotdd work out.” The North felt the stronger because of its potential and its population, and thought it was useless “to go to trouble in advance.” After Bull Run all illusions were dissipated. …
The Prince observed the Northerners’ lack of military organization. … [He believed] the North relied too much on volunteers. Joinville, a professional soldier, thought that 6,000 regular troops would be more effective than three times as many volunteers.
“In America, however he wrote, “they do not know (hat, and what is more, they do not want to know it. That would be repudiating their deeply rooted belief that every American, when he wants something, finds himself equal to the task without previous training, and that consequently there is no volunteer who, on donning the uniform, does not assume simultaneously the qualities of a soldier. Jn addition the officers of West Point are considered aristocrats simply because they recognize the necessity of a hierarchy. And everything that is aristocratic is bad.” To give much power to a professional army, the Northerners thought, would be to jeopardize their liberties. One cannot make a coup d’état , they said, with volunteers.
That, added Joinville, is understood, but neither is it easy to make an army of volunteers victorious. The regiments are raised by men who insist on commanding them, “and there is Mr. So-and-so, a doctor or a lawyer, who, without having ever touched a sword, becomes a colonel straight away … Then there is the problem of finding soldiers; it is difficult, for there is a great deal of competition.” One comes to an agreement with a few friends, imbued with the martial spirit, who promise to bring a certain number of recruits if this one will be commissioned captain, that one, lieutenant. The Catholic priests are approached “to get some Irishmen.” The soldiers have no illusions about these improvised officers. “They don’t know any more about it than we do,” they said, hence a lack of discipline and respect.
Just as the French princes arrived, Lincoln was trying to correct these serious deficiencies in his army; but he refused, like his adversary, Jefferson Davis, to resort to conscription. Far from blaming him, Joinville praised him: “If it was his duty to repress a revolt, the President did not want, except in the case of absolute necessity, to interfere in the rights that, until then, had made the American people the happiest, and at the same time, the freest people on earth.” ∗ Here one sees the liberalism of the Princes of Orlßans. Two of them, the Comte de Paris and the Duc de Chartres, had been attached to the staff of McClellan, the commander in chief. Joinville, on the other hand, remained a civilian observer and counselor.
∗In the spring of 1862, the Confederate congress passed a conscription act. The Federal government passed a similar act the following year.—Ed..