- 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
His arrival in Saint Louis gave a livelier impulse to the spirit which presided in the Army of the West at the beginning of the war. The predominance of the German element has now been turned into the systematic exclusion of all others. The numerous staff of General Frémont includes only one American. His chief of staff is Colonel Asboth, an Hungarian officer; he was Kossuth’s friend and came with him to America. The chief of the engineer corps is a Bavarian. Several aide-de-camps come from the Rhineland, Germans mixed with a little French. The two officers who have been dispatched to serve the Prince are a Germanspeaking Swiss, Colonel Joliat, and a former lieutenant, Colonel Osterhaus.
These two gentlemen are quite distinguished and very moderate. They seemed somewhat embarrassed by the exaggerations of their colleagues. Often they even embarrassed us. We often heard the Yankees systematically dismissed—this proud American Nation whose guests we are—in terms so insulting that I do not want to repeat them. Their insults were so much the worse as they came from men walking under the American flag and supposedly defending American Institutions.
If one were to judge the United States by the talk heard around Saint Louis headquarters, one would easily believe that the heirs of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Jackson have become a people of selfish and cowardly nouveaux riches , whose only social mission is to pay the brave children of the German fatherland to defend them, their institutions—of which they are unworthy—and the great principles of freedom.
Still, on the whole, I am convinced that there are excellent military qualities in all those German officers. Without them and without the energetic appeal to the German population, the whole of Missouri would have been lost for the Union after the defeat of Springfield. The leader of the German military party is General [Franz] Sigel, a former officer in the Baden army. When part of this army revolted in 1848, he sided with the insurrection, and was one of the most energetic leaders. After Prussia crushed the revolt, Sigel was forced to emigrate to America. Thirteen years later, his military talents found an employment which he had certainly not foreseen. When the army of the volunteers of the West was created, Sigel was elected General because of his experiences in 1848 and because of his influence over the German emigrantsmany of whom are more or less “volunteer” political exiles. Later his election was implemented by an appointment.
During the rout at Springfield, his brigade was the only one that was not carried away. His cold-blooded bravery perhaps saved the Union army from complete destruction and maintained, alone, the honor of the flag. [Here Colonel Ferri Pisani is in error. Sigel’s command failed to distinguish itself in this fight.] His power over the troops, ever since has been both overwhelming and understandable. He is about 45 years old, very small and thin. He has long blond hair glued to his head, a bilious complexion, and wears glasses- the type of physiognomy which one finds often in Germany. He is reserved, perhaps a little somber.
Such is the foreign and military coterie which surrounds General Fremont and defends—in such singular ways—the honor of Washington’s and Jackson’s flag. The citizens of Saint Louis, most of them secretly attached to the South, pretend to bow under the crushing weight of the most intolerable tyranny. We saw many of them approach the Prince and confide their complaints and terrors to him, in whispers and with frightened and distrustful eyes. They feel that the General is motivated less by his opinions or by political necessities than by the hidden hatreds accumulated in his heart against the aristocracy of Saint Louis. These hatreds date from his youth when, poor and obscure, he held the humiliating position of a protégé of the grand families. As for the German oppression, they predict a terrible reaction. If the State of Missouri regains its independency, nothing less than a Saint Bartholomew will be required to wash, in the blood of an insolent race, the humiliations in which the glorious American Nation is now drenched.
I think these threats are as exaggerated as the complaints we hear about the terreur reigning in Saint Louis. I do not intend to defend the dictatorial measures of General Fremont, yet it seems to me that the most serious accusations against him can be limited to a few suppressed newspapers, some exiled suspects, a few others—a very small number—who were arrested but not threatened with death. Finally, there is the threat which has not been carried out, of confiscating the possessions of all those serving the southern flag. This regime is undoubtedly quite hard here, but much harder for Americans than it would be for us. Clearly these good men are not accustomed to a state of siege; neither are they used to the heavy hand of authority in time of crisis.
The Prince did not stop for a moment during the whole day. At noon we boarded a steamer especially prepared by the city to take the Prince to the middle of the river. General Sigel, almost the entire staff of General Fremont, the mayor and more than one hundred officers awaited the Prince to accompany him. A military band also boarded the steamer. The ship left the pier amidst the fanfare and acclamation of the crowd which had not had the pleasure for a long time, on account of the siege, of shouting “hurrah” as Americans love to do.