A French correspondent's view of the war in America.
The following is an extract from the translation of an American correspondence, which appears in the Paris
journal, L'Opinion Nationale, of the 19th August. It is interesting, and obtains some importance from the fact of its appearing exclusively in Prince Napoleon's home organ — a New York paper going so far as to assert that the letter was written by the Prince
himself, or at his dictation.--The letter is dated New York, July 31st:
In the United States
the individual initiative is everything, just as in France
the governmental initiative is everything.
And so even the military organization rest naturally among Americans
on principles entirely at variance with those on which we act. I confess that in this respect the system of self-government reaches almost the extreme limit of the possible.
Up to the present the enrollment of volunteers goes on pretty well, but it cannot be expected that four hundred thousand fighting men can be raised in that way. You know better than any one that four hundred thousand fighting men is no small affair when they have to be raised, supported, paid, and made to fight.
But yet I do not see why, at the rate at which things go on, the Union
might not reassemble sixty thousand volunteers, which would be quite a respectable force.
At present, or within a few days, when the last of the militia regiments shall have withdrawn, there are not, or will not be, any but volunteers under the standard of the Union
and in the positions that protect Washington
You will probably inquire, among what classes of the population volunteers are recruited, and what is the motive that impels the volunteers to enlist — patriotism or the eleven dollars a month?
I confess that I have seen enough volunteer regiments to hazard an opinion on that point.
The opinion of those who look upon the worst side of things is that, in contrast with the personnel
of the militia, which represents the middle, industrious, honest, but not very warlike class of the population, the volunteer army will only present the scum of emigration, and will be recruited among that floating mass of adventurers whom Europe
sends to the United States
, and whom work disgusts as well in the New
as in the Old World.
It is certain on one side, that it is not the millionaire bankers of Philadelphia
and New York that become simple Zouaves; and on the other, that foreigners prevail in the ranks of the new corps.
Hence the tendency you must have remarked to nationalize companies, and even regiments.
have given their names, varied in a thousand shapes, to a great number of corps, the elements of which have been furnished by those countries respectively.--In the clashing of warlike nationalities, that which eclipses all others is the French
nationality, personified, of course, in the Zouave
Everything at New York is in the Zouave
style — fashions, handbills, theatrical spectacles.
More Zouaves (the uniform of the Imperial Guard) are met in the streets of New York than in the streets of Paris
.--Whole companies are really composed of Frenchmen, who have served less or more, and who seem to look down upon all other soldiers — Americans
, Germans, &c.--from the top of the tower of Solferino
or the Malakoff.
I should be sorry to pass a rash judgment upon brave compatriots, who appear to me to be very careless, very gay, very sociable; but I cannot help reflecting upon what series of adventures have been able to bring these Parisians from the Place
Manbert to the shores of the Potomac
, there to risk their lives for the greater glory of President Lincoln
, at the rate of eleven dollars per month.
Seriously, I do not believe that the eleven dollars go for everything.
At first, with more clearness of vision than Americans
, English and Germans, they appeared to me to reckon little upon the eleven dollars; but what I can certify is, that they are quite insensible to the glory of the flag with the thirty-four stars and the fate of the unfortunate negroes.
You see by this what the weak side of all this organization is; it is not an affair of appreciation, it is an affair of arithmetic.
The weak side, the very weak side is the $11. For 100,000 men, and on that footing, the expense is five and a half millions of franc per month, or sixty millions per year.
For 400,000 men the expense is quadrupled--two hundred and sixty-four millions per year.
And recollect that this enormous figure represents only the soldiers' pocket money; that the provisioning of American soldiers is more abundant and more expensive than with us by nearly double; that, in fine, the most frightful dilapidation and disorder confessedly reign in what is called the military administration, and which is really only a continuation of measures adopted from day to day by localities for the account of the Federal Government
for the purpose of supplying the prime necessities of the troops.
So the North Americans estimate the cost of the war at over a million dollars a day. That is enormous for a country reduced to about twenty millions of inhabitants, deprived of its great element of commerce — cotton — and enjoying a doubtful credit.
One thing that is certain is, that the militia soldiers have as yet seen nothing of the pay promised them; that at New York there have been disturbances caused by the tumultuary demands of soldiers' wives, to whom the pay of their absent husbands should have been handed, and who have made a useless outcry for it even at the doors of the City Hall.
As to the volunteers, those who are being formed in New York are well supported, but have not touched a cent.
I cannot speak of those who are with the army — because I have not seen them — but I am assured that their wretchedness was great, and that the streets of Washington
were full of soldiers stretching out one hand for charity, and often handing a revolver with the other.
But, I repeat, I will not see the army for a fortnight, and I am anxious not to let that which I have seen be confounded with, that which I have only heard.
One thing very singular for a Frenchman in this military system, and which I propose to look at more closely, is the absence of all organization superior to the regimental organization.
Thus, up to the present, I have not been able to realize that regiments form brigades, constituted with titular generals; that brigades are collected in divisions, in corps d' armce,
with generals of division and of corps d'armce,
and with staff-majors that are not changeable.
It appears to me, until there is proof of the contrary, that when it concerns any operation having a character more or less special — such as the occupation of a frontier, the attack or the defence of a place, even a battle — the general-in-chief
, and sometimes Congress designates a general who takes the temporary command of the regiments assembled for that operation.
It is thus that American generals pass and repass before our eyes, without the possibility of following them, step by step, in all the places of a war, as we do with our generals, whose military destiny is in variably linked with that of the constituted fractions, of which the titular command is confided to them.
When the great battle of the 21st was fought at Manassas Junction
, the direction of it was given to a General McDowell
, without its being easy to say why; and what is still less comprehensible, is that General Scott
, the generalissimo, a very brave, capable and esteemed soldier, gave the order to the whole army to attack the enemy, and to engage in a general affair, without going himself on the field of battle I reserve to myself to write you hereafter on the strategic position of the armies, as well on the Potomac
as in the provinces, and I will endeavor to learn the truth on the subject of the battle of the st which was so shameful an affair for the North
That which I can tell you is that here, at New York, they have taken the matter very unconcernedly.
They have not appeared the discouraged or humiliated.
The regiments that fled, abandoning everything — guns, baggage,&c.--return to the city dully because their term of service has expired, and because they confess they have had enough of war. Never mind; these brave people enter, and are received as conquerors, with music at their head, processions and acclamations of the people, flowers and illuminations.
It is not that they disseminate their retreat, or rather their rout.
They relate to their fellow-citizens how they have been utterly routed, and these stories inflame the imaginations and exalt the enthusiasm of their hearers.
That is, doubtless, one of the traits of the American
There is no question about peace or conciliation, and the public mind in the North
is move opposed to it than ever.
The hate between the two parties is driven to an extraordinary degree.
It must even be said that the Northern States
have completely forgotten the original motives of the quarrel — tariffs, negroes, &c. They have but one thing at heart — that is, the honor of the Confederation, the insult done to the flag of the Union
The South has trodden it under foot; therefore the South
must be subdued.
Necrophilism has always had an inconsiderable place in the quarrel, and has been only a pretext; to-day the word ‘"abolition"’ is not even heard pronounced.
It is a war purely political, a war of passion; and it is really strange to see a people so positive, so attached to their material interests, so foreign to our traditional errors and to our Old World prejudices, if you choose, fight each other only for a sentiment, for a point of honor, and almost through a chivalrous spirit.
But there is nothing save contrast, or rather inconsequence, in the United States
They vote hundreds of millions, well knowing that they will not pay them; they vote soldiers well knowing that the soldiers will not come; and in spite of an apparently very pacific disposition, they continue with an unequalled obstinacy a war which ruins them — a war without object, for all this affair can have but one issue — the political separation of the North and South, and the resumption of commercial affairs between them on the same footing as in the past.
Prodigality and avarice, enthusiasm for the war, enthusiasm to stay at home, political fanaticism and egotistical speculations — there is the incomprehensible melange which I have found here.