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Chapter 68: French army maneuvers, 1884; promotion to Major General, United States army, San Francisco 1886-88

In Paris, September 4, 1884, Lieutenant John P. Wisser, United States Army, who came to me by direction of our War Department, Captain Guy Howard, and myself joined the French officers who were designated to guide us during the maneuvers of the Seventeenth Corps d'arm~e in the south of France. A genial young officer, Colonel Rigault, had special charge of us because we were delegates from the United States. From that time to the closing review on September 13th, our delegation, with representative officers from various other nations, was taken by rail by carriages, or on horseback from place to place. At first, arriving at any desired station, horses, with mounted orderlies holding them, were ready that we might follow up and see the military exercises which were already mapped out. We hastened on through groves, forests, or open fields, often galloping to the most prominent knoll, where we could observe with clearness the movements of the troops.1

During my journeys in France I had the pleasantest relationship with General Kuropatkin, the officer who subsequently became famous in the war between Russia and Japan. He was very handsome, [540] and spoke French so slowly and clearly that with my limited knowledge of the language I could understand him. He had at the time the rank of field marshal, and wore many decorations, and was undoubtedly the most popular of the officers who were then suddenly thrown together in this unique and harmless campaign. He well illustrated a high order of comradeship, often telling of his odd experiences in Russia and pointing them with happy illustrations.

Furthermore, without any special design in my conduct, I so warmly took the part of the existing republican Government of France against all hostile criticism on the part of many French and foreign officers whom I met, that I shortly acquired rather an unenviable fame.

The aristocratic were against any republic, and particularly adverse to the French President. They insisted that the President, as is always customary in our country, should not be honored with a special toast at the closing banquet. I had a mind to offer a toast in his behalf on that occasion and defend it, but I could not speak French well enough to give me the necessary confidence.

Sunday, September 14th, we reached Vendome. Marquis Rochambeau, a descendant of Lafayette, whom I had the pleasure of entertaining when I was superintendent of our Military Academy, met us about midday at the station, and drove us in a fine carriage to his own home in the suburbs of the city. That evening we met many French people in a reception given by the noble marquis and his family; there were present distinguished civilians and well-known naval officers of high rank, and I was impressed by their attainments and high-toned gentility. The next day, my [541] son, Lieutenant Howard, and Lieutenant Wisser left me and went to Paris.

On Monday, September 15th, the marquis and his two boys, accompanied by a single manservant and two small hounds, entertained me by a short hunting expedition. We did not succeed in getting any rabbits or other game, yet we beat up the hedges and went through all the forms and exercises of a veritable hunt. As soon as this rather fruitless effort was over we visited the Castle Levidin, which was very old and crumbling, like so many other notable ruins in that part of France. Our host showed the ancient church-a brownstone edifice, distinguished by a cross and thick covering of beautiful vines. The marquis pointed out the peasants' small houses, grouped in little villages, and told me they were occupied by the men who cultivated the surrounding fields of his large estate. We had had a delightful ride, after our hunt, in “the village wagon,” the boys attending us on horseback. At the close of this pleasant day we dined again with the family, the parish priest favoring us with his lively company. The honored marquis had a delightful home of which his charming wife was the center, sprightly, cheerful, and happy, never at a loss to entertain those with whom she came in contact. The kindness of this family to all the people round about was marked and seemed to be reciprocated, though there were no signs of wealth on the part of the proprietor or of the villagers.

After an early breakfast Tuesday, the 16th, the good marquis accompanied me to Paris. When I bade their family good-by I hoped that I might return to them at some time and again enjoy their cheerful company. No society pleases more than that of the French people, [542] where they have, as these do, pure morals, elegant manners, and high culture.

I joined my friends in Paris in the middle of the afternoon. That evening our ambassador, the Hon. Levi P. Morton, returned the call that I had previously made upon him. Without previous warning he presented to me from the President of the French Republic, M. Carnot, the beautiful decoration of the Legion of Honor. Of course, I was surprised and pleased with this favor and I regarded it as a compliment to our Government, which I had represented in the maneuvers. That very night a great dinner was given to all of the foreign military officers by the war secretary. It was a brilliant affair, French officers of high rank and distinguished civilians being present. Encouraged by the ambassador, I ventured to wear the muchprized decoration which he had given me.

I was soon in England, where I again met my son Guy and his wife. One evening I had the great privilege of listening to Charles H. Spurgeon. It was difficult for me to get a seat in the remotest corner of the gallery, and surely there were 10,000 people present in the immense auditorium. The great majority of the people had Bibles in their hands and either read in concert or looked over what Mr. Spurgeon was reading. Though so far away, the instant I heard the man's voice, which permeated the audience and seemed to resound from floor to ceiling, and from the pulpit to the back of the upper gallery, it struck me as different from any voice that I had ever heard. It was as clear as a bell and each word of his simple prayer was heard by every man and woman in the vast assembly. His preaching was plain and clear, without any effort at rhetorical effects, and held us all in breathless attention. [543] Spurgeon's subject was “A call to duty.” Surely all present heard the call.

It would have delighted me could I have seen the British Houses of Parliament in session, especially the House of Lords, that conservative body which has preserved the equipoise of government through so many centuries between the throne and the people. I enjoyed the Department of War, comparing it with ours in Washington, but more than anything St. Paul's Church and the statue of John Howard the philanthropist. Quite early in life I obtained as good a picture as I could of his features and I was glad to study them in sculpture.

At the Woolwich arsenal, I was astonished at the extent of the buildings, so well filled with every class of proper supplies. To the British we can apply the words “Semper paratus,” --especially in war material.

October 1st I met Lieutenant Wisser at the London Exchange. We were both looking for advices from home. From there we passed on to the famous Morley House, and thence, taking leave of him, I stayed a while at the Paternoster Row. There I saw Mr. Hodder, President of the Young Men's Christian Association, whom I met in the United States. He took me to Sir George Williams, who was the founder of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the world, and whom Queen Victoria knighted for this, the magnificent work of his life. He appeared very glad to meet me again, for we had been together in Germany, and invited me to a lunch. He was still intensely interested in the Y. M. C. A. work, especially just then in France. To this work he was constantly making contributions. Sir George appeared to be a man of decided business ability, and was always remarkable for [544] an unfailing kindness-indeed, large-heartedness was plainly written in his face.

October 2d, when I arrived in Birmingham, Mr. Howard Lloyd, the banker, took me in his carriage through part of the city and then out into the country. After a swift suburban ride, we stopped at his residence. All the country round about reminded me of the beautiful suburbs of Philadelphia. Mr. Lloyd's wife was a Howard and the daughter of a well-known physician. I found here a charming family-at least a half dozen beautiful children. I had come to give a promised address, having engaged to do so at our Y. M. C. A. Convention in Berlin. That evening Mr. Lloyd took me to a large auditorium belonging to the Y. M. C. A. of Birmingham and I had a full house and a very attentive audience. On this occasion I endeavored to show them something of the work of our United States Christian Commission which the young men had set in motion during the Civil War. In England one thing was evident, that the young men themselves, members of the association, were striving all the while to do good to others, and not simply to be the recipients of bounty.

From Birmingham I passed on rapidly via London to Antwerp. Our journeys had been so timed that my son Jamie and Miss Adelheid von Bodemeyer, accompanied by a friend from Gottingen, met me. We four took passage on the steamer Nederland October 4, 1884. The weather was rough and the waves troublesome till we passed beyond the North Sea, then the weather was fine.

October 18th, early in the morning, we were at last at Sandy Hook and by twelve noon were at Jersey City. The Customhouse officers were polite [545] and pleasant to us, so that we were not long detained.

I hastened to Brooklyn. There Mrs. Buck and her sister were in great sorrow. Mr. R. P. Buck, almost the last one to bid me Godspeed on my departure, had died during my absence. I had not a better friend outside my family, and I sorrowed with them.

After a few days in New York, October 20th, with my party I set out for the West. My boys and the officers met us at the depot in Omaha, and all the family were soon gathered around the home table once more.

In the spring of 1885, having an inspection tour to make to the Yellowstone National Park, which was within the limits of my department, I enjoyed a brief sojourn with Mrs. Howard and a party of friends amid the wonders of that region. The traces of my route when pursuing Chief Joseph in the Nez Perces War, were still visible.

Our four years stay in Omaha was delightful in every respect and many were the friends we made there. Our Y. M. C. A. work was well started and especially did I enjoy my relations with the First Congregational Church, whose pastor, Dr. A. F. Sherrill, became the closest of friends to me and my family.

Early in February the death of General Hancock was announced. My own promotion followed March 19, 1886. Immediately there was excitement for my family and that of my personal staff. Possessions that had accumulated had to be disposed of and everything prepared for a move. The order came with my promotion to major general for me to pass from Omaha to California and. assume command of the military division which then embraced the entire Pacific coast. [546] The journey was quickly made and on April 17th I issued an order assuming command according to my instructions. At first I made my military headquarters, as my predecessor had done, at the Presidio; but I took my family to reside in a charming spot about halfway between the Presidio and the Oakland landing in San Francisco. There was here a large residence which General McDowell had remodeled, the very place where Mrs. Howard and I had been entertained by the McDowells some years before. Near it was an army post of two companies commanded by Major John A. Darling. The post was officially called Fort Mason, but habitually by civilians Black Point. One aid-de-camp occupied a pretty cottage at the post. The grounds of our main house were very charming-the trees of the southern and tropical growth, the hedges all around of geranium, larger than I had ever seen before, and seventy-five varieties of roses beautified a square. After passing through a high gateway, and by the watchful sentinel, we were within a veritable paradise. Taken in connection with the climate, at all times genial, our residence as a family in San Francisco will never be forgotten.

Soon after our arrival here, we received the happy news that our third son, Chancey, whom we had left in Omaha, had married Miss Alice G. Rustin of that city. We had named him Chancey as he was born on the second day of the battle of Chancellorsville. He has for some years been a Special Examiner of Pensions for the Government. His happy household-a wife, three sons and a daughter-constantly remind me of our own earlier family.

1 In my report made to the War Department after returning to America, full accounts were given of these interesting exercises.

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