A Princely Service

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When the march toward the enemy lines finally began, Joinville was impressed by the corduroy roads constructed in muddy or flooded areas. “There the American pioneer was in his element; the roads were built as if by magic. The cannons and wagons arrived slowly, but they reached areas that seemed to be entirely inaccessible. At night the soldiers did not have an inch of dry soil to bivouac.” Here we have one of Joinville’s sketches: “I remember having seen a lieutenant general whose only quarters consisted of five or six poles covered with pine branches. One end lay in the water; the other leaned against a fallen tree. He slept there with a waterproof coat spread over his head.”

The siege of Yorktown, from April 5 to May 4, 1862, brought back historic memories common to French and Americans. There Washington and Rochambeau had secured the surrender that confirmed American independence. “At every step we found signs of the first siege. Here, in this old tumble-down cottage, Lafayette had his headquarters.” During his youth Joinville knew Frenchmen who had taken part in the siege of Yorktown, and had even known Lafayette. He regretted that France was not officially present at this new siege, but he was aware that she could scarcely intervene in a civil war. Besides, fighting with the Federal troops there was a battalion of French volunteers who called themselves the “Lafayette Guards.” …

A decisive victory at Yorktown perhaps would have re-established the Union. But the clever generals of the South, led at Yorktown by General Joe Johnston, succeeded in withdrawing in time. The Duc de Chartres, who pursued them on horseback, brought back some fifteen prisoners. But the roads were soon crowded. The absence of a staff of officers made it difficult to pass on commands and to collect intelligence. Finally the Federal army entered Williamsburg, and we have another sketch: “All the shops were closed. The inhabitants were standing, for the most part, in the doors or at the windows, anxiously and somberly looking on. Only the Negroes were smiling, and a number of them assumed ridiculous airs of conquerors.”

In the fallen city the Federal army was well behaved. McClellan gave safe-conducts to all the Confederate surgeons who wanted to care for their wounded. Although the extremely hostile residents refused to sell their goods, even for cash, nothing was pillaged. Joinville admired the fact that when the Southern ladies, followed by their Negroes, carried food to their wounded, ostensibly lifting their pleated skirts in order not to soil them as they met a Federal soldier, the latter would merely smile at the “childishness of these spoiled little girls. Others, in their stead,” the Prince added, “would have perhaps been less indulgent.”

In the valley through which the army marched on its way to Richmond, the welcome was warmer. Joinville never tired of admiring the flowers; magnolias, Virginia jasmine, azaleas, and the hummingbirds that flitted through the trees. At times, on crossing a plantation, they passed in front of “a handsome home, with large windows in the roof” which reminded him of the châteaux of France. Ladies in long muslin dresses appeared on the verandahs, surrounded by a suite of curly-headed little Negresses. If an officer introduced himself to the ladies, she offered him a glass of cool water and a conversation was begun. The ladies naturally expressed their ardent desires that their husbands’ and brothers’ side would win, but they hoped above all for peace. …

Joinville thought that the joining of McClellan’s and General Irvin McDowell’s two armies would have sufficed to decide the victory and take Richmond, but the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson made a bold thrust that held McDowell back and kept McClellan from striking a decisive blow to end the war. … [Because of the fear of Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, that Washington might be captured while McClellan was conducting his campaign against Richmond, McClellan was forced to leave some 40,000 of his 130,000 troops behind under the command of McDowell. McClellan was promised the use of these troops in his final push against Richmond, but the brilliant strategy of Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley convinced Stanton that a Confederate invasion of the North was imminent, and he sent McDowell’s troops, not to Richmond, but to the Shenandoah. Substantial numbers of these troops did reach McClellan in time for the climactic Seven Days’ Battles.]

Joinville saw bloody battles, wounded crawling beneath the June sun looking for a little shade under a cluster of rosebushes, newspaper vendors crying “ New York Herald ” on the battlefield during combat and finding buyers. He saw Federal officers invited by the Confederates to a ball in Richmond on the condition that they would let themselves be blindfolded, both going and coming. … He admired the skillfulness of the American soldier: an excellent navvy, hardy woodcutter, good carpenter, and even something of a civil engineer. In the first regiment to arrive, one immediately found men able to repair a mill, a saw, or a steam engine. “I remember a onehundred-acre wood of century-old oaks and hardwoods felled by a single battalion in one day.”