- 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
It is undeniable that there is much more passion and ardor among Southern officers than there is in the North. In the Confederate camp they maintain that this ardor and devotion to the common cause are shared by the privates as well. They say that Southern soldiers serve through patriotism and honor, while in the North the soldier is attracted only by the pay, since his incentive is misery, acknowledged as the best recruiter in the large northern cities. I suspect the Southerners of generalizing what is probably true to some extent. It seems to me, that the value of the individual is really greater in the Confederate camp: yet, the Union Army compensates for this with a more advanced military organization and better training. Thus, these factors counterbalance each other, and make it difficult to predict which side will eventually be favored by the fortune of war.
At seven in the evening we arrived at the headquarters of General Johnston, who was expecting the Prince. A moment later General Beauregard joined us.
Beauregard is forty years old, short and rather thin. Though his features are tired and his hair white, he seems extremely strong. Face, physiognomy, language and accent, everything about him denotes his French origin. He is very brave. Everything in him points to a remarkable military aptitude, if not to superior intelligence. He is quick and cutting. Though well brought up, he often hurts others, less by the things he says than by the way he says them. He does not attempt to restrain his ardent personality, and he is well aware of his reputation, to which a brilliant military success has added a legitimate amount of self-confidence. He is extremely passionate in the defense of the cause he is serving. At least, he does not try to temper his passion with a cold and calm appearance, like most of his friends in both armies.
General Johnston, also a West Pointer, is a little older than Beauregard. He was a Colonel in the regular Army at the time of the Secession. Brilliant in the Mexican War, he enjoys in the United States a great reputation for ability and probity. Whether his inability to converse in French forced him to assume a passive role with the Prince, or whether the striking personality of his brilliant colleague overshadowed his own, all I can say is that he seemed extremely reserved and excessively modest. A kind of general sadness seemed to paralyze him and hide the brilliant qualities everyone recognizes in him.
During dinner, which began at 8 o’clock, and the conversation which followed, General Beauregard and the higher Officers assembled around him were always a step ahead of our questions about military, political and economic matters in the South. There is a strikingly common feature in their views of the situation as a whole: they dismiss as secondary problemssettled, judged or postponed—questions concerning slavery, tariffs, territories, Lincoln’s election, even the constitutionality of the Secession. They raise the debate to a plane where, they feel, there can be neither discussion nor controversy: they are waging an implacable war because the North invaded, by force, their territory, their native land. They have a deadly hatred for the North; they will defend their homes, their honor and their liberty against the invaders. From the General down to the last private, everyone in the South speaks the same language. It is the password of the Party, and perhaps, I should add, its conviction.
At midnight, after a very tiring day, everyone retired. General Johnston offered his bed and room to the Prince. I slept in the same room on a sofa. Baron Mercier slept in another room of the house. De Geoffroy slept in Beauregard’s quarters, Ragon and Sand in the carriages.
The next morning at dawn I got up to leave the room to the Prince, who was sleeping soundly. From a little gallery surrounding the house I recognized the area we reached the preceding day in the dark of night. General Johnston’s headquarters is a very small house, half cottage and pioneer’s log cabin. This seems to be the uniform type of architecture for the rare and isolated constructions inhabited by the scant population of Northern Virginia. Near the house was a field enclosed in a fence and planted with corn, the only produce of the region. The whole domain was inside a large open area made of abandoned clearings.
As I opened the door of the gallery, the end of the night was announced by a sudden ice-cold, penetrating humidity. A white fog, a few feet above the ground, gave the clearing the aspect of a huge marshland cut through with a few meadows. Above the fog the tops of the huge trees brightened with the first reflections of dawn. A vague murmur began to rise from the closest bivouac, whose tents were half drowned in the fog. Near the house, the colored slaves began their morning duties. Magnificent Virginian mounts, tied and shivering from the morning dampness, neighed for their morning hay. A herd of cattle, the Army’s no doubt, was slowly moving toward the silvery ponds, amidst a green vegetation mixed with water plants.
How many times and under how many different climates and skies I have admired this forever picturesque spectacle of a camp awakening! At the foot of the Atlas, on the Propontis, in Crimea, atop the Apennines, near the Geyser Crater, in deserted and cold Ireland! It is striking how this combined awakening of soldiers and Nature does not vary, no matter the country and the soldiers. It always follows the same pattern: the traditional whitish tents, the fog, the half-naked actors busying themselves with the necessities of a primitive and nomadic life. Though we were in the middle of an American forest, we were reminded of a French camp—.