- Historic Sites
The Tour Of Prince Napoleon
A FRENCH VISIT TO CIVIL WAR AMERICA Selections from the letters of Lieutenant Colonel Camille Ferri Pisani, who accompanied Prince Napoleon on his state visit, touring the fronts, both North and South, visiting the West and meeting Lincoln and the men around him during the Union’s darkest days
August 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 5
The next morning the Federal Army began a wide manoeuvre toward the Confederate left. Twelve thousand men, scattered in front of and to the left of Centerville, moved noisily along the Bull Run—in front of the enemy lines—to conceal the march of an 18,ooo-man column commanded by McDowell himself. Leaving Centerville at dawn, this column filed off through thick woods before reaching the river. They crossed it about two kilometers above the bridge, and at io o’clock began to deploy on the bare plateau overseeing the right bank. At this point, the manoeuvres of the two Generals were: for McDowell, to establish a regular line of battle with the long column then painfully coming out of the defile; for Beauregard, to call successively on his different groups, from right to left, and to send them against the enemy intent upon overtaking the Confederate position from the rear. It seems that Beauregard not only succeeded in opposing a parallel front to the enemy, but also turned the enemy’s right flank by filing off some of his units through the woods.
It is difficult to say whether it was Beauregard’s successful manoeuvres or a senseless panic which accounted for the complete rout of the Northern Army. At any rate, about 3 o’clock, McDowell’s 18,000 men, after advancing beyond the Centerville-Warrenton road and driving back the enemy left wing, began to engage its center and reserves, when suddenly the Northern regiments yielded along the whole battle line. In less than thirty minutes the runaway soldiers, in terrible disorder, had crossed back over Bull Run, abandoning their wounded, their cannons and ammunitions on the battlefield. The panic spread as well to the left flank, then engaged in action in Centerville and along the river.
The retreat, a senseless rout unjustified by any enemy pursuit, became general. Most of the soldiers travelled the twelve leagues separating the battlefield from Washington without stopping and on the morning of the twenty-second entered the city, spreading terror and consternation.
Such were, on the whole, the details of this singular affair. It cost the North 468 dead (450 soldiers and 18 officers) and about 1,500 wounded. The South paid only about half this price.
McDowell is too good a patriot to reveal his real views as to the causes of the disaster. It seems difficult to believe that he did riot attempt to explain it by the cowardice of some of his troops. As for Beauregard, he attributes his victory as much to the energy of his men as to the rapidity with which he acted and to his idea of throwing men behind the enemy lines.
At 11 A.M. the visit to the battlefield came to an end. We walked as far as the stone bridge where our carriages were waiting. The Generals took leave of the Prince who received a warm ovation as we crossed back over the Bull Run. A squadron accompanied us to the last Southern outpost and at 8 P.M. the same day we were back at the French legation in Washington.
After these few days in the East, Prince Napoleon and his party headed for the Great Lakes region, always a pole of attraction for French visitors because of its close historical ties with France. In Cleveland, which they reached by train, they embarked on the North Star , an American steamer bound for Bayfield, the westernmost point on Lake Superior. Letters III, IV, and V deal with the two weeks spent aboard the North Star .
From Bayfield they went to Chicago, which they left by train on September 4 for St. Louis. They spent the next two weeks in and around St. Louis, visiting the western theater of operations. Their experiences in St. Louis are recounted in Letter VI, which follows. Late in September they sailed from Boston for their return trip to France.
Saint Louis, September 5, 1861
From Chicago about ten railroad lines leave in all directions—at least three lead more or less directly to Saint Louis. As you can see, here they practice the system of free competition without any restriction or any limit. All these railroads cross the state of Illinois, a huge plain as smooth as a pool table and as large as England.
In a straight line, the distance between Chicago and Saint Louis is 100 leagues. Illinois has two million inhabitants. The three railroad lines cross no important city, but only a few agricultural centers of a very primitive character. It is true that Chicago and Saint Louis are the two important stops for travellers and goods between North and South through the Mississippi. Corn (for the Negroes) and wheat (for the whites in the slave states) arrive by railroad at Saint Louis and Cairo and then go downstream to New Orleans. Hence these two products are distributed by sea all along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. At any rate, these three railroad lines are roughly parallel.