Chapter XX

  • Brussels
  • -- deciding to visit eastern Europe -- Austria -- down the Danube -- in Constantinople -- the Ladies of the harem -- the Sultan -- Turkish soldiers -- a banquet -- a visit in Athens -- King George of Greece -- Victor -- Emmanuel -- “Bedeviled with cares of State” -- deer shooting -- a Military dinner -- return to Versailles -- Germans entering Paris -- criticism on the Franco -- Prussian war -- conclusion.

On reaching Brussels, one of the first things to do was to pay my respects to the King of Belgium, which I did, accompanied by our Minister, Mr. Russell Jones. Later I dined with the King and Queen. meeting at the dinner many notable people, among them the Count and Countess of Flanders. A day or two in Brussels sufficed to mature our plans for spending the time up to the approximate date of our return to Paris; and deciding to visit eastern Europe, we made Vienna our first objective, going there by way of Dresden.

At Vienna our Minister, Mr. John Jay, took charge of us-Forsyth was still with me-and the few days' sojourn was full of interest. The Emperor being absent from the capital, we missed seeing him; but the Prime Minister, Count von Beust, was very polite to his, and at his house we had the pleasure of meeting at dinner Count Andrassy, the Prime Minister of Hungary.

From Vienna we went to Buda-Pesth, the Hungarian capital; and thence, in a small, crowded, and uncomfortable steamboat, down the Danube to Rustchuck, whence we visited Bucharest-all who travel in eastern Europe do so-and then directing our course southward, we went first to Varna, and from that city by steamer through the Black Sea to Constantinople.

We reached the Turkish capital at the time of Ramadan, the period of the year (about a month) during which the Mohammedans are commanded by the Koran to keep a rigorous fast every day from sunrise [526] till sunset. All the followers of the Prophet were therefore busy with their devotions-holding a revival, as it were; hence there was no chance whatever to be presented to the Sultan, Abdul Aziz, it being forbidden during the penitential season for him to receive unbelievers, or in fact any one except the officials of his household. However, the Grand Vizier brought me many messages of welcome, and arranged that I should be permitted to see and salute his Serene Highness on the Esplanade as he rode by on horseback to the mosque.

So, the second day after arrival, the Grand Vizier drove me in a barouche to the Esplanade, where we took station about midway of its length an hour or so before the Sultan was to appear. Shortly after we reached the Esplanade, carriages occupied by the women of the Sultan's harem began to appear, coming out from the palace grounds and driving up and down the roadway. Only a few of the women were closely veiled, a majority of them wearing an apology for veiling, merely a strip of white lace covering the forehead down to the eyebrows. Some were yellow, and some white-types of the Mongolian and Caucasian races. Now and then a pretty face was seen, rarely a beautiful one. Many were plump, even to corpulence, and these were the closest veiled, being considered the greatest beauties I presume, since with the Turk obesity is the chief element of comeliness. As the carriages passed along in review, every now and then an occupant, unable or unwilling to repress her natural promptings, would indulge in a mild flirtation, making overtures by casting demure side-glances, throwing us coquettish kisses, or waving strings of amber beads with significant gestures, seeming to say: “why don't you follow?” But this we could not do if we would, for the Esplanade throughout its entire length was lined with soldiers, put there especially to guard the harem first, and later, the Sultan on his pilgrimage to the mosque.

But as it was now time for His Serene Highness to make his appearance, the carriages containing his wives drove off into the palace grounds, which were inclosed by a high wall, leading the Esplanade wholly unencumbered except by the soldiers. Down between the two ranks, which were formed facing each other, came the Sultan on a white steed — a beautiful Arabian-and having at his side his son, a boy about ten or twelve years old, who was riding a pony, a diminutive copy of his father's mount, the two attended by a numerous body-guard, dressed in gorgeous Oriental uniforms. As the procession passed our carriage, I, as pre-arranged, stood up and took off my hat, His Serene Highness promptly acknowledging the salute by raising his hand to the forehead. This was all I saw of him, yet I received every kindness at his hands, being permitted to see many of his troops, to inspect all the ordnance, [527] equipment, and other military establishments about Constantinople, and to meet numbers of the high functionaries of the Empire.

Among other compliments tendered through his direction, and which I gladly accepted, was a review of all the troops then in Stamboul — about 6,000-comprising infantry, cavalry, and artillery. They were as fine looking a body of soldiers as I ever saw-well armed and well clothed, the men all large and of sturdy appearance.

After the review we attended a grand military dinner given by the Grand Vizier. At the hour set for this banquet we presented ourselves at the palace of the Grand Vizier, and being ushered into a large drawing-room, found already assembled there the guests invited to meet us. Some few spoke French, and with these we managed to exchange an occasional remark; but as the greater number stood about in silence, the affair, thus far, was undeniably a little stiff. Just before the dinner was announced, all the Turkish officers went into an adjoining room, and turning their faces to the east, prostrated themselves to the floor in prayer. Then we were all conducted to a large salon, where each being provided with a silver ewer and basin, a little ball of highly perfumed soap and a napkin, set out on small tables, each guest washed his hands. Adjacent to this salon was the dining-room, or, rather, the banqueting room, a very large and artistically frescoed hall, in the centre of which stood a crescent-shaped table, lighted with beautiful silver candelabra, and tastefully decorated with flowers and fruits. The viands were all excellent; cooked, evidently, by a French chef and full justice was done the dishes, especially by the Turks, who, of course, had been fasting all day.

At the close of the banquet, which consisted of not less than fifteen courses, we withdrew to a smoking-room, where the coffee was served and cigarettes and chibouks offered us — the latter a pipe having a long flexible stem with an amber mouthpiece. I chose the chibouk, and as the stem of mine was studded with precious stones of enormous value, I thought I should enjoy it the more; but the tobacco being highly flavored with some sort of herbs, my smoke fell far short of my anticipations. The coffee was delicious, however, and I found this to be the case wherever I went in Constantinople, whether in making calls or at dinner, the custom of offering coffee and tobacco on these occasions being universal.

The temptations to linger at Constantinople were many indeed, not the least being the delightful climate; and as time pressed, we set out with much regret on the return journey, stopping a few days at Athens, whence we made several short excursions into the interior. King George and Queen Olga made our stay in Athens one of extreme interest [528] and exceeding pleasure. Throwing aside all ceremony, they breakfasted and dined us informally, gave us a fine ball, and in addition to these hospitalities showed us such personal attention, his Majesty even calling upon me, and the Queen sending her children to see us at our hotel.

Of course we visited all that remained of the city's ancient civilization — the Acropolis, temples, baths, towers, and the like; nor did we omit to view the spot where St. Paul once instructed the Athenians in lessons of Christianity. We traveled some little through the country districts outside of Athens, and I noticed that the peasantry, in point of picturesqueness of dress and color of complexion, were not unlike the gypsies we see at times in America. They had also much of the same shrewdness, and, as far as I could learn, were generally wholly uneducated, ignorant, indeed, except as to one subject-politics — which I was told came to them intuitively, they taking to it, and a scramble for office, as naturally as a duck to water. In fact, this common faculty for politics seems a connecting link between the ancient and modern Greek.

Leaving Athens with the pleasantest recollections, we sailed for Messina, Sicily, and from there went to Naples, where we found many old friends; among them Mr. Buchanan Reed, the artist and poet, and Miss Brewster, as well as a score or more of others of our countrymen, then or since distinguished in art and letters at home and abroad. We remained some days in Naples, and during the time went to Pompeii to witness a special excavation among the ruins of the buried city, which search was instituted on account of our visit. A number of ancient household articles were dug up, and one, a terra cotta lamp bearing upon its crown in bas-relief the legend of “Leda and the Swan,” was presented to me as a souvenir of the occasion, though it is usual for the Government to place in its museums everything of such value that is unearthed.

From Naples to Rome by rail was our next journey. In the Eternal City we saw picture-galleries, churches, and ruins in plenty, but all these have been so well described by hundreds of other travelers that I shall not linger even to name them. While at Rome we also witnessed an overflow of the Tiber, that caused great suffering and destroyed much property. The next stage of our tour took us to Venice, then to Florence — the capital of Italy — for although the troops of the King of Italy had taken possession of Rome the preceding September, the Government itself had not yet removed thither.

At Florence, our Minister, Mr. Marsh, though suffering with a lame foot, took me in charge, and in due course of time I was presented to King Victor-Emmanuel. His Majesty received me informally at his palace in a small, stuffy room-his office, no doubt-and an untidy one it was [529] too. He wore a loose blouse and very baggy trousers; a comfortable suit, certainly, but not at all conducing to an ideal kingliness of appearance.

His Majesty's hobby was hunting, and no sooner had I made my bow than he began a conversation on that subject, thrusting his hands nearly up to the elbows into the pockets of his trousers. He desired to learn about the large game of America, particularly the buffalo, and when I spoke of the herds of thousands and thousands I had seen on the plains of western Kansas, he interrupted me to bemoan the fate which kept him from visiting America to hunt, even going so far as to say that he “didn't wish to be King of Italy, anyhow,” but would much prefer to pass his days hunting than “be bedeviled with the cares of state.” On one of his estates, near Pisa, he had several large herds of deer, many wild boars, and a great deal of other game. Of this preserve he was very proud, and before we separated invited me to go down there to shoot deer, adding that he would be there himself if he could, but feared that a trip which he had to take to Milan would interfere, though he wished me to go in any event.

I gladly accepted the invitation, and in two or three days was notified when I would be expected at the estate. At the designated time I was escorted to Pisa by an aide-de-camp, and from there we drove the few miles to the King's chateau, where we fortified ourselves for the work in hand by an elaborate and toothsome breakfast of about ten courses. Then in a carriage we set out for the King's stand in the hunting-grounds, accompanied by a crowd of mounted game-keepers, who with great difficulty controlled the pack of sixty or seventy hounds, the dogs and keepers together almost driving me to distraction with their yelping and yelling. On reaching the stand, I was posted within about twenty yards of a long, high picket fence, facing the fence and covered by two trees very close together. It was from behind these that the King usually shot, and as I was provided with a double-barreled shot-gun, I thought I could do well, especially since close in rear of me stood two game-keepers to load and hand me a second gun when the first was emptied.

Meantime the huntsmen and the hounds had made a circuit of the park to drive up the game. The yelps of the hounds drawing near, I cautiously looked in the direction of the sound, and the next moment saw I herd of deer close in to the fence, and coming down at full speed. Without a miss, I shot the four leading ones as they tried to run the gauntlet, for in passing between the stand and the fence, the innocent creatures were not more than ten to fifteen paces from me. At the fourth I stopped, but the game-keepers insisted on more butchery, saying, “No one but the King ever did the like” (I guess no one else had [530] ever had the chance), so, thus urged, I continued firing till I had slaughtered eleven with eleven shots — an easy task with a shot-gun and buckshot cartridges.

The “hunt” being ended — for with this I had had enough, and no one else was permitted to do any shooting — the aide-de-camp directed the game to be sent to me in Florence, and we started for the chateau. On the way back I saw a wild boar — the first and only one I ever saw-my attention being drawn to him by cries from some of the game-keepers. There was much commotion, the men pointing out the game and shouting excitedly, “See the wild boar!” otherwise I should not have known what was up, but now, looking in the indicated direction, I saw scudding over the plain what appeared to me to be nothing but a half-grown black pig, or shoat. He was not in much of a hurry either, and gave no evidence of ferocity, yet it is said that this insignificant-looking animal is dangerous when hunted with the spear — the customary way. After an early dinner at the chateau we returned to Florence, and my venison next day arriving, it was distributed among my American friends in the city.

Shortly after the hunt the King returned from Milan, and then honored me with a military dinner, his Majesty and all the guests, numbering eighty, appearing in full uniform. The banqueting hall was lighted with hundreds of wax candles, there was a profusion of beautiful flowers, and to me the scene altogether was one of unusual magnificence. The table service was entirely of gold — the celebrated set of the house of Savoy-and behind the chair of each guest stood a servant in powdered wig and gorgeous livery of red plush. I sat at the right of the King, who-his hands resting on his sword, the hilt of which glittered with jewels-sat through the hour and a half at table without once tasting food or drink, for it was his rule to eat but two meals in twenty-four hours-breakfast at noon, and dinner at midnight. The King remained silent most of the time, but when he did speak, no matter on what subject, he inevitably drifted back to hunting. He never once referred to the Franco-Prussian war, nor to the political situation in his own country, then passing through a crisis. In taking leave of his Majesty I thanked him with deep gratitude for honoring me so highly, and his response was that if ever he came to America to hunt buffalo, he should demand my assistance.

From Florence I went to Milan and Geneva, then to Nice, Marseilles, and Bordeaux. Assembled at Bordeaux was a convention which had been called together by the government of the National Defense for the purpose of confirming or rejecting the terms of an armistice of twenty-one days, arranged between Jules Favre and Count Bismarck in [531] negotiations begun at Versailles the latter part of January. The convention was a large body, chosen from all parts of France, and was unquestionably the most noisy, unruly and unreasonable set of beings that I ever saw in a legislative assembly. The frequent efforts of Thiers, Jules Favre, and other leading men to restrain the more impetuous were of little avail. When at the sittings a delegate arose to speak on some question, he was often violently pulled to his seat and then surrounded by a mob of his colleagues, who would throw off their coats and gesticulate wildly, as though about to fight.

But the bitter pill of defeat had to be swallowed in some way, so the convention delegated M. Thiers to represent the executive power of the country, with authority to construct a ministry. Three commissioners were appointed by the Executive, to enter into further negotiations with Count Bismarck at Versailles and arrange a peace, the terms of which, however, were to be submitted to the convention for final action. Though there had been so much discussion, it took but a few days to draw up and sign a treaty at Versailles, the principal negotiators being Thiers and Jules Favre for France, and Bismarck on the part of the Germans. The terms agreed upon provided for the occupation of Paris till ratification should be had by the convention at Bordeaux; learning of which stipulation from our Minister, Mr. Washburn, I hurried off to Paris to see the conquerors make their triumphal entry.

In the city the excitement was at fever heat, of course; the entire population protesting with one voice that they would never, never look upon the hated Germans marching through their beloved city. Now when the day arrived they would hide themselves in their houses, or shut their eyes to such a hateful sight. But by the 1st of March a change had come over the fickle Parisians, for at an early hour the sidewalks were jammed with people, and the windows and doors of the houses filled with men, women, and children eager to get a look at the conquerors. Only a few came in the morning, however — an advance-guard of perhaps a thousand cavalry and infantry. The main column marched from the Arc-de-Triomphe toward the middle of the afternoon. In its composition it represented united Germany-Saxons, Bavarians, and the Royal Guard of Prussia-and, to the strains of martial music, moving down the Champ Elysees to the Place de la Concorde, was distributed thence over certain sections of the city agreed upon beforehand. Nothing that could be called a disturbance took place during the march; and though there was a hiss now and then, and murmurings of discontent, yet the most noteworthy mutterings were directed against the defunct Empire. Indeed, I found everywhere that the national misfortunes were [532] laid at Napoleon's door-he, by this time, having become a scapegoat for every blunder of the war.

The Emperor William (he had been proclaimed German Emperor at Versailles the 18th of January) did not accompany his troops into Paris, though he reviewed them at Long Champs before they started. After the occupation of the city he still remained at Versailles, and as soon as circumstances would permit, I repaired to the Imperial headquarters to pay my respects to his Majesty under his new title and dignities, and to say good-bye.

Besides the Emperor, the only persons I met at Versailles were General von Moltke and Bismarck. His Majesty was in a very agreeable frame of mind, and as bluff and hearty as usual. His increased rank and power had effected no noticeable change of any kind in him, and by his genial and cordial ways he made me think that my presence with the German army had contributed to his pleasure. Whether this was really so or not, I shall always believe it true, for his kind words and sincere manner could leave no other conclusion.

General von Moltke was, as usual, quiet and reserved, betraying not the slightest consciousness of his great ability, nor the least indication of pride on account of his mighty work. I say this advisedly, for it is an undoubted fact that it was his marvelous mind that perfected the military system by which 800,000 men were mobilized with unparalleled celerity and moved with such certainty of combination that, in a campaign of seven months, the military power of France was destroyed and her vast resources sorely crippled.

I said good-bye to Count Bismarck, also, for at that busy time the chances of seeing him again were very remote. The great Chancellor manifested more joy over the success of the Germans than did anyone else at the Imperial headquarters. Along with his towering strength of mind and body, his character partook of much of the enthusiasm and impulsiveness commonly restricted to younger men, and now in his frank, free way he plainly showed his light-heartedness and gratification at success. That which for years his genius had been planning and striving for-permanent unification of the German States, had been accomplished by the war. It had welded them together in a compact Empire which no power in Europe could disrupt, and as such a union was the aim of Bismarck's life, he surely had a right to feel jubilant.

Thanks to the courtesies extended me, I had been able to observe the principal battles, and study many of the minor details of a war between two of the greatest military nations of the world, and to examine critically the methods followed abroad for subsisting, equipping, and maneuvering vast bodies of men during a stupendous campaign. Of course [533] I found a great deal to interest and instruct me, yet nowadays war is pretty much the same everywhere, and this one offered no marked exception to my previous experiences. The methods pursued on the march were the same as we would employ, with one most important exception. Owing to the density of population throughout France it was always practicable for the Germans to quarter their troops in villages, requiring the inhabitants to subsist both officers and men. Hence there was no necessity for camp and garrison equipage, nor enormous provision trains, and the armies were unencumbered by these impedimenta, indispensable when operating in a poor and sparsely settled country. As I have said before, the only trains were those for ammunition, pontoonboats, and the field telegraph, and all these were managed by special corps. If transportation was needed for other purposes, it was obtained by requisition from the invaded country, just as food and forage were secured. Great celerity of combination was therefore possible, the columns moving in compact order, and as all the roads were broad and macadamized, there was little or nothing to delay or obstruct the march of the Germans, except when their enemy offered resistance, but even this was generally slight and not very frequent, for the French were discouraged by disaster from the very outset of the campaign.

The earlier advantages gained by the Germans may be ascribed to the strikingly prompt mobilization of their armies, one of the most noticeable features of their perfect military system, devised by almost autocratic power; their later successes were greatly aided by the blunders of the French, whose stupendous errors materially shortened the war, though even if prolonged it could, in my opinion, have had ultimately no other termination.

As I have previously stated, the first of these blunders was the acceptance of battle by MacMahon at Worth; the second in attaching too much importance to the fortified position of Metz, resulting in three battles-Colombey, Mars-la-Tour, and Gravelotte-all of which were lost; and the third, the absurd movement of MacMahon along the Belgian frontier to relieve Metz, the responsibility for which, I am glad to say, does not belong to him.

With the hemming in of Bazaine at Metz and the capture of MacMahon's army at Sedan the crisis of the war was passed, and the Germans practically the victors. The taking of Paris was but a sentiment-the money levy could have been made and the Rhine provinces held without molesting that city, and only the political influences consequent upon the changes in the French Government caused peace to be deferred.

I did not have much opportunity to observe the German cavalry, either on the march or in battle. The only time I saw any of it engaged [534] was in the unfortunate charge at Gravelotte. That proved its mettle good and discipline fair, but answered no other purpose. Such of it as was not attached to the infantry was organized in divisions, and operated in accordance with the old idea of covering the front and flanks of the army, a duty which it thoroughly performed. But thus directed it was in no sense an independent corps, and hence cannot be said to have accomplished anything in the campaign, or have had a weight or influence at all proportionate to its strength. The method of its employment seemed to me a mistake, for, being numerically superior to the French cavalry, had it been massed and maneuvered independently of the infantry, it could easily have broken up the French communications, and done much other work of weighty influence in the prosecution of the war.

The infantry was as fine as I ever saw, the men young and hardy in appearance, and marching always with an elastic stride. The infantry regiment, however, I thought too large-too many men for a colonel to command unless he has the staff of a general-but this objection may be counterbalanced by the advantages resulting from associating together thus intimately the men from the same district, or county as we would call it; the celerity of mobilization, and, in truth, the very foundation of the German system, being based on this local or territorial scheme of recruiting.

There was no delay when the call sounded for the march; all turned out promptly, and while on the road there was very little straggling, only the sick falling out. But on such fine, smooth roads, and with success animating the men from the day they struck the first blow, it could hardly be expected that the columns would not keep well closed up. Then, too, it must be borne in mind that, as already stated, campaigning in France — that is, the marching, camping, and subsisting of an army-is an easy matter, very unlike anything we had during the war of the rebellion. To repeat: the country is rich, beautiful, and densely populated, subsistence abundant, and the roads all macadamized highways; thus the conditions are altogether different from those existing with us. I think that under the same circumstances our troops would have done as well as the Germans, marched as admirably, made combinations as quickly and accurately, and fought with as much success. I can but leave to conjecture how the Germans would have got along on bottomless roadsoften none at all-through the swamps and quicksands of northern Virginia, from the Wilderness to Petersburg, and from Chattanooga to Atlanta and the sea.

Following the operations of the German armies from the battle of Gravelotte to the siege of Paris, I may, in conclusion, say that I saw no [535] new military principles developed, whether of strategy or grand tactics, the movements of the different armies and corps being dictated and governed by the same general laws that have so long obtained, simplicity of combination and maneuver, and the concentration of a numerically superior force at the vital point.

After my brief trip to Versailles, I remained in Paris till the latter part of March. In company with Mr. Washburn, I visited the fortifications for the defense of the city, and found them to be exceptionally heavy; so strong, indeed, that it would have been very hard to carry the place by a general assault. The Germans, knowing the character of the works, had refrained from the sacrifice of life that such an attempt must entail, though they well knew that many of the forts were manned by unseasoned soldiers. With only a combat here and there, to tighten their lines or repulse a sortie, they wisely preferred to wait till starvation should do the work with little loss and absolute certainty.

The Germans were withdrawn from Paris on the 3d of March, and no sooner were they gone than factional quarrels, which had been going on at intervals ever since the flight of the Empress and the fall of her regency on the 4th of September, were renewed with revolutionary methods that eventually brought about the Commune. Having witnessed one or two of these outbreaks, and concluding that while such turbulence reigned in the city it would be of little profit for me to tarry there, I decided to devote the rest of the time I could be away from home to travel in England, Ireland, and Scotland. My journeys through those countries were full of pleasure and instruction, but as nothing I saw or did was markedly different from what has been so often described by others, I will save the reader this part of my experience. I returned to America in the fall, having been absent a little more than a year, and although I saw much abroad of absorbing interest, both professional and general, yet I came back to my native land with even a greater love for her, and with increased admiration for her institutions.

the end.

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