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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
Already the public bitterly reproach the Party of the civilian leaders—and their instrument, General Scott—for the disaster at Bull Run. There can be no doubt that General Scott ordered McDowell to attack only under pressure from the President, the Cabinet and the Senators. It is even said that the old soldier, upon signing the fateful order, admitted he was committing a cowardly act—the first in his life—by agreeing to wage a battle with an Army such as the one he had under his command.
The second of our military companions was General McClellan.
After fifteen years in the cavalry of the regular army—as a lieutenant and a captain—General McClellan resigned his commission to re-enter civilian life. For four years he placed his talents of administrator and engineer at the disposal of the Grand Central of Illinois. [McClellan had been, successively, chief engineer and vice president of the Illinois Central railroad, and president of the Ohio and Mississippi railroad.] The Civil War awakened in him an ardor and a military aptitude which had been dormant only because of lack of employment. The President appointed him General in the volunteer army. Then he was sent to West Virginia, a half-faithful and halfseceded province invaded by the Confederates. He successfully returned it to the Federal authority; ot the two Generals who opposed him, one was captured with all his column, the other killed and his army disbanded.
This double victory, coinciding with the first defeats of the Union armies gave McClellan an immense popularity. Immediately after Bull Run, the President, complying with the popular wish, gave him the command of the Army of the Potomac, with the rank of Major General. These events took place about fifteen days ago. In this new position, his relations with General Scott are about the same as those of an Army General with the Minister of War.
General McClellan is about forty, very short, black mustache and hair, an intelligent physiognomy, open and quite pleasant; on the whole, a remarkably simple and modest appearance. Each of the European armies presents a well-defined type of officer; within a group, all the individual varieties of appearance, manners, language and even physical traits go more or less unnoticed. An English officer does not look like an Austrian, neither does a French resemble a Russian. Well, McClellan recalls, in a striking manner, the type represented by our artillery officers. This is because he graduated from West Point—an institution half way between our Military School and Ecole Polytechnique—where he received, to the highest degree, the marks of this special character which make of former West Pointers a class apart, unlike any other, either Yankees, or Virginians, or Westmen.
The West Pointer speaks foreign languages, chiefly French. He is educated—in literature, science and military art—in the cult of the great European models. He is alien to the narrow nationalism, to the exclusivism which, in general, limits all the ideas, studies and admiration of the Americans to their own country alone. The study of pure Sciences and Mathematics gives him a liking for theoretical speculations, for systematical and abstract conceptions—a taste perhaps too far developed with us, but which, to be sure, is not enough so in America. The military profession which he chooses after leaving school, instead of stifling his liberal instincts, gives him ideas of order, hierarchy, respect for social and moral superiorities, which are rather rare in the rest of the Nation.
To this date this class of men—so different from the mass of the Yankees—does not seem to have a part in the direction of the State in keeping with its merits, its knowledge, and the scrupulous probity of most of its members. The military Presidents, Jackson, Pierce, Taylor, were militia Generals, not West Pointers or regular Army men. The Civil War, the governmental anarchy and the humiliating position of the United States vis-à-vis the rest of the world were needed to bring about the appearance in the foreground of a pleiad of new men, formed at West Point, some from the regular Army, others former soldiers, but all shaped on a somewhat uniform mold.
First they appeared on the militarv scene; but everyone feels that it will not be long before they enter the political arena. Already the South has chosen a West Pointer for President—for West Point, divided too like the rest of the Nation, now gives leaders to both parties—and entrusted their armies to Generals Beauregard and Johnston. McDowell and McClellan likewise are the heroes of the Union. Their names are in all mouths, replacing those of the political leaders whose mistakes led the United States to the edge of the abyss.
In order better to understand the value of this new military element slowly making its way into the Party struggle in the United States, one must observe closely the personalities struggling for the direction of the affairs of the State. Since Washington and Jefferson, in fact ever since de Tocqueville wrote his well-known book on America, American mores have been deeply altered. Amidst an unheard-of prosperity and an unparalleled industrial and commercial activity, the intellectual and moral standards of the nation have sensibly lowered, principally in political circles. Men who enjoyed some authority on account of their knowledge, their moral character or their fortune, slowly withdrew from public life, disgusted with electoral struggles, repulsed by venality and frightened by a violent, passionate press.