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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
Mr. Seward did not take the Prince into the tribunes, but right on the floor of both Houses. Without any mannerisms he would call successively the most important members of Congress and introduce them to the Prince. They exchanged a few words with their guest without even bothering to lower their voices. Mr. Seward called men of both parties indiscriminately, even those with whom he must be in open and violent warfare. Such an attitude on the part of a Minister would not escape notice in France in normal times. In America, at this moment, one can hardly think of any other man but Mr. Seward, a truly elevated mind, who would take upon himself to do so. One must not forget the explosion of passions, hatreds, fears which accompany necessarily this great tearing of the American Republic.
The Congress—except for the guillotine—finds itself in a position not unlike that of the Convention in France in the 1790’s, when its members returned furtively to their provinces in order to arouse them and begin the Civil War. Every day, some Congressmen from the Southern States break violently with the Union and disappear. Soon after they show up in the Richmond Congress or at the head of the rebels. Breckenridge, the orator and statesman of the Southern Party, is still in Washington, as his State, Kentucky, has not yet declared its attachment. [John Breckenridge, later a Confederate general, finally Confederate secretary of war.] One realizes easily what silent angers his presence—and that of some of his friends—must arouse in the hearts of the opposite partyl The tension must be particularly acute now, the day after the Union has been shamefully defeated, and here, as from the Capitol one can almost see the enemy outposts. [This took place about two weeks after the defeat of the Union troops at Bull Run.] Yet, Mr. Seward, with his customary frankness treats all that as if it were nothing but petty parliamentary intrigues! Friends and foes alike answer his calls, and he introduces them to the Prince as if he were the master of them all.
The man with whom the Prince entertains the most friendly relations is Mr. Charles Sumner, Senator from Massachusetts and an avowed partisan of abolition. Mr. Sumner is one of the most eloquent men in the United States. A well educated mind, he is particularly well at ease with French literature, which he studied in France. He was de Tocqueville’s friend, and still today maintains personal relationships with a great many of our writers and thinkers. His manners are as distinguished as his mind. He inspires a deep hatred of the Southerners. Yet, he is an avowed partisan of the French alliance and a warm friend of our Legation.
That same evening, the Prince dined with the President. We met, gathered in the White House, with the ministers and the leading members of Congress. But, for us at least, the main attraction of our presidential dinner was the presence of a new element, contrasting in all respects, with the governmental element, and overshadowing it today in importance- I mean the military. This group was represented by General Winfield Scott and General George B. McClellan.
General Scott is a man of huge stature. Seventy-five years old, he is afflicted with gout and walks painfully, so he entered the room leaning on the arm of the young general on whose shoulders rest the hopes of the Union, General McClellan. Furthermore, it is easy to realize that General Scott belongs to another generation, as much by his manners as by his age. He is a real gentleman, a type of old British General, well educated and well bred, and perfectly acquainted with the military history of Europe—that of the First Empire principally, in which he had too often the weakness to look for points of comparison with his own career—.
The present position of General Scott, his part in the conduct of the war, require a word of explanation for the French minds, accustomed as they are to the simplicity of the French military system.
The staff of the regular and permanent army of the United States comprises only one higher officer. General Scott occupies this post with the rank of Lieutenant General. The title gives him the over-all command of the Army, both in peace and war. It is a kind of non-political ministry, especially concerned with military personnel and the movement of troops. The Minister of War, on the other hand, is more especially in charge of the administration. This organization, copied on the English system, is one of the many traditions which outlived the War of Independence and which still attach—through a thousand invisible bonds—American mores to those of the former motherland. The functions of Lieutenant General, attached to the rank, are for life and cannot be revoked.
So, General Scott directs the War almost as in France the Minister of War directs the Armies in the field. It is easy to guess that the command of an impotent old man—whose pride revels in the memories of the past rather than the necessities of the presentis not accepted wholeheartedly by younger generals, full of ardor and self-confidence. Thus, the high command with which General Scott is invested is regarded in the Army as a useless and often harmful link maintained by the President and the Senate only to counteract the threatening influence of the Generals of the volunteer Army, who are the idols of the multitude.