- 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 carriage took us rapidly to the Planter’s Hotel. A few moments later an aide-de-camp of General Frémont’s arrived. [General John C. Frémont, then Federal commander in the West.] There seemed to have been some confusion. The General had prepared a reception for the Prince, but at a different hour. The Prince had lodging awaiting him at the General’s headquarters, and another at the Barnum’s; I do not know how the owner of the Planter’s managed to outdo the others; at any rate, here we are, and here we will stay.
I left with the aide-de-camp to bring to General Frémont the thanks of the Prince. We crossed the whole city. It is poorly constructed, the roads are badly managed, and the whole city seems dull. In the deserted and poorly lit streets, we saw no stores and no bars open. I do not know if it is because of the time (nine o’clock) or because of the state of siege.
After an endless journey throughout the poorest sections, the carriage stops in front of a luxurious and well-lighted house, surrounded by a garden. At the front gate and on the staircase leading to a wide open door, soldiers are on the watch, or smoking, or playing, their rifles between their legs. There lives General Frémont. The house, which belongs to one of his friends, is one of the most beautiful in Saint Louis. Here he has installed his headquarters with a military luxury and a display of military authority unknown in the United States and suggesting at once both a Commander in Chief and a pro-consul.
Greeted at the door by an aide-de-camp, according to our own customs and military protocol, I am soon presented to the General, seated at his desk. General Frémont is a man about 50 years old, average height, very thin and nervous. Obviously he is made of iron and accustomed to physical fatigue. His face, surrounded by graying hair and beard, is thin, dark, and tired, yet full of vivacity and intelligence. The fiery glance of two extremely deep black eyes lighten his face. His whole appearance impresses and gives matter to reflection, although I could not say that it awakens sympathetic ideas.
I left with a very good impression of him. His ardent, ambitious personality obviously is inclined to dictatorship. The military and dictatorial prestige which he seems to like, his headquarters guarded like a fortress amidst a silent and dead city, everything suggests that we are no longer with Virginians or Yankees —in the ancient cradle of the American mores—but on some vague boundary where the Irish and German make the transition between the Latin and English.
General Frémont is French, but revolutionary French, just as Beauregard was conservative French. This dual background particularly suits him to personify a whole series of ideas belonging to the Old World, brought over by the more recent emigration, and stifled until now by the moral, liberal, austere, but egotistic and exclusive influence of the British genius. If General Frémont is ever President of the Republic, his election will be the symptom of a deep change in the mind of the American nation.
Everyone knows the history of General Frémont. He is one of the Americans best known in Europe. His travels to the Rockies and to California are legends on the other side of the Atlantic. For us he personifies the American genius on his way to conquer, through unknown dangers, the faraway lands of the West and the fabulous treasures scattered over the banks of the Sacramento and the Pacific coast. In the times of the Greek myths, he would have been a Jason bringing back the Golden Fleece, or a Hercules, conqueror of the Dragons of the Garden of the Hesperides.
In California Frémont had an adventure which undoubtedly exercised a great influence on his political destiny. He was a lieutenant in the Federal Army, and his mission, both military and scientific (though perhaps not very clear), seemed to give him a certain administrative power over the new possessions of the Union then almost deserted. He found himself in opposition with the chief of a troop of Federal soldiers dispatched there to bring and assure the respect of the flag of the Republic.
Washington decided that Frémont was wrong. His opponent, a West Pointer who had better reasons to represent the military and administrative hierarchy, won the approval of the Department of War. Frémont resigned. It is easy to believe that this failure, a thorn in the pride of our intrepid engineer, was not alien to the choice of political line followed by Frémont ever since. He hated the Democratic Party, then in power, and the South, the main support of this party. He was one of the first to raise the flag of abolitionism, complete, simple, without compromise and immediate.
Perhaps Frémont’s hatreds are not all directed at the Democratic Party, which today is replaced in power by the Republicans. We found in him traces of a general dislike for all governmental parties, and also for all West Pointers, for whom he seems to have a particular antipathy—which apparently is reciprocated. He represents and would like to inaugurate a new policy; he would like to take the Union one more step away from the austere, but narrow, principles which attended its birth.
Such is the man recently appointed General of Division (like McClellan) by the President and the Senate. He was sent to Saint Louis to command the Army, or as they say, the Department of the West. He found the situation very difficult, and the political passions were still increased by all the hatred and love which his powerful personality has inspired in both his friends and his enemies.