- 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
Our projected visit to the Southern armies had to be reconsidered. For two days we tried in vain to make our views known to Mr. Seward and General Scott without however mentioning it openly. The Prince finally came to the conclusion that we had been too vague and too reserved in expressing our desires, and that the inertia he met was due to the fact that they were not understood. It was decided that Baron Mercier would ask for authorization to cross the Union lines for the Prince. The American Minister received our request with great favor, which proved to us that in America one must not, in business, be too scrupulous or too sensitive. On the evening of August 7, our request was officially handed down at Mr. Seward’s house. He answered it immediately by offering his full co-operation. The news travelled rapidly throughout the room and all persons present (generals, senators, representatives) came to compliment the Prince on his plan which, they thought, was quite in the American taste: “You saw one side,” they said, “you must now see the other, and we hope, for the honor of America, that they will welcome you as well as we did.”
The next morning, at 5 o’clock, a small cavalry squadron, with a bugle and a truce flag, waited at the door of the French legation. They were to take us under the protection of the truce flag to the closest outpost of the Confederate Army, and introduce the Minister of France and the Prince to the enemy. We left in two open carriages. Our party included the same persons who had gone to Mount Vernon a few days earlier, except for Commandant Bonfils, who was detained in Washington because of violent sunburn.
Five leagues from Alexandria, around noon, our escort suddenly stopped. The commanding officer, preceded by the truce flag and the bugle, rode ahead. We had encountered the first outposts of the Southern Army.
Things went in the best possible and most courteous way. A Confederate officer came to speak with the Union officer who told him of his mission. The exchange of the new Southern guests carried out, the two officers shook hands and exchanged names. The Prince made them drink, and drank with them, a bottle of French wine, toasting the prosperity of the American people—a vague formula, but the only one a foreigner can use, under the circumstances, to wish to this noble nation the continuation of her glorious destiny.
After a two hours’ ride under the protection of Southern cavalrymen we reached Fairfax, which was occupied by considerable forces. A higher officer who commanded the camp, Colonel Stuart, received the Prince without surprise or embarrassment and in a cordial and noteworthy manner. He invited us for lunch which we accepted with great pleasure for two reasons: first we were hungry, and second, we realized that the invitation was a polite way to detain us in Fairfax while the Colonel asked for orders from his Commanding General. Indeed, hardly had we started to eat when the Colonel received a wire from Manassas, in answer to the one he had just sent. General Beauregard ordered Colonel Stuart to receive the Prince wholeheartedly and to furnish him with the means to reach Manassas where the chiefs of the Confederate Army would be happy to receive him. Our carriages were drawn by Northern horses; we abandoned them to the Southern cavalry and they jave us four military mounts to continue our travels.
From our first encounter we were able to gain an idea of the outside appearance of the Confederate soldier. We noted that the question of uniform, not very well solved in the North, was not solved at all in the South. It did not seem that an attempt to regularize dress had gone beyond the distribution of a grey coat (made in Virginia, we were told) to a few groups. These “uniforms,” and the others, were in sad condition. Yet despite these rags the soldiers maintain a rather martial appearance; also, perfect order is exhibited in the camps as well as in the smallest outposts.
What struck us, however, was the cavalry, very numerous, admirably mounted, and composed of splendid men. It is clear, at first glance, that all these men are from English stock, not German. Also, they are proprietors’ and farmers’ sons, they own their horses, and they are accustomed to outdoor life—if not to the handling of weapons. On the whole, nothing is as picturesque as the Southern cavalry. They wear the most impossible outfits: mostly rags, hats without bottoms, boots without soles. Yet, they could make Don Bazan jealous for their martial bearing and countenance. Furthermore, their beautiful male Virginian faces, their magnificent mounts, and the boldness of their riding technique make it impossible not to admire these ragged riders, just as one cannot prevent from admiring the fantastic pictures of men-of-war created by Salvator Rosa.
A little distance from Manassas the Prince was welcomed by the Staffs of Generals Beauregard and Johnston. If we were not amidst Republicans I would say that these Staffs are composed of the cream of the Southern gentry. Several of them have huge fortunes. Disinterested as we were in this Civil War, alien to the hatreds, passions and special interests which ignited it, we could not but be touched by the sight of some of these men with white mustaches, aristocratic and martial appearances, and distinguished manners who, leaving home, family and ease behind, chose to serve in the hardest of wars as aides-de-camp to a formerly unknown young General.