Seward's foreigners

One of the lamest digs against McClellan and Fremont is that they had large "glittering" staffs of foreigners, implying that this was ego gratification and an early warning sign of mental debility.

The better-read have some inkling that these foreign volunteers were foisted on Fremont and McClellan by the Lincoln Administration. Since governors appointed regimental commanders and would not surrender this patronage to strangers, and since foreign high-profile military volunteers were often the business of Mr. William Seward, Seward imposed upon McClellan and Fremont to accept otherwise unplaceable foreigners with military experience.

Why Fremont and McClellan? Without getting into some very interesting but detailed chronology, the short answer is that Fremont was Seward's client from his early appointment. Fremont's intake of foreign officers was immediate upon his arrival in St. Louis; McClellan's only began with GBM's federalization and transfer to Washington (after which Seward claimed him as a client). Seward had a third client, of course, the irascible Winfield Scott, but Scott was an outspoken opponent of enlarged staffs and would not be moved on what he considered points of principle.

The Seward-McClellan relationship is complex and worth a few posts in the future but the Fremont and Scott connections to Seward are easy to explain. The Seward-Weed team funded national Whig projects out of their rich New York political machine. They backed Winfield Scott's presidential run on the last Whig ticket. Scott was a creature of the old Whig political establishment - recall, he attended McClellan's wedding and I would say not based on interest in GBM, for it was Dr. McClellan (GBM's father) who was a linchpin in the Philadelphia and national Whig establishments and a major supporter of Scott's presidential run. (Thank you, Ethan Rafuse.) Recall, too, that in feuding with the Democratic Secretary of War, a certain Jefferson Davis, General-in-Chief Scott moved Army Headquarters from Washington to New York City, where it subsisted under the angel's wings of his Whig sponsors.

Weed and Seward also funded the national Republican Party in its early years and backed Fremont's presidential campaign against Buchanan and Fillmore - a reasonably close race run by a new party. The Fremont/Dayton ticket was impossible without Weed and Seward and this is likely the source of Seward's leverage.

The astute reader is lodging a protest at this point. "Every schoolchild in America knows that Fremont was the Blairs' candidate to replace General Harney." Of course they do, as do I. But I have a few untested ideas here: Fremont was the Blair's candidate by the contrivance of Seward who put Fremont's name forward. (Admission: I need to do more work on this.) Further, Seward let Fremont (and later McClellan) understand that the appointments were due to him. There are hints of how Seward worked these angles in Welles' diary: he took credit where credit was not due. He reaped where he did not sow. More grist for a future mill.

In sum, we see foreign officers assigned to the most prestigious staffs of those generals where Seward has leverage. The sheer volume of officers initially falls most heavily on Fremont, where the bloat is ridiculed by critics, and then later the deluge hits McClellan, with the attendant scoffing.

I would add another personal observation needing more research. It seems to me that Fremont gets the European revolutionaries and McClellan the European conservatives. If true, this again suggests a higher, guiding intelligence.

The question remains, what was Seward's motivation in these foreign appointments?

A lot of bits and pieces came together for me recently while reading Hungarians in the American Civil War, a forgotten and out-of-print book from the turn of the last century. Before going to the revelations in its footnotes, we'll look at McClellan's comic anecdotes about these interventions by Seward.