August 27, 1864
The Army and Navy Journal
Sir: - The JOURNAL, I am glad to see by the number of August 16, is ventilating the foreign nuisances of our Army, in calling attention to that not insignificant class, in numbers, the restless, obtrusive adventurers from all lands, who are the pests of the military bureaus everywhere, in pushing their pretensions to military capacity in every quarter. This kind of thing commenced with our Revolutionary War, and has continued up to the present moment. Able American citizens have given in to it; and Mr. Jefferson, in organizing his grand scheme for the University of Virginia, laid it down, as a sine qua non, that foreigners alone should fill the principal chairs in it. The experiment was a signal failure, and it hardly rose above tho condition of a grammar school, until native-horn and educated persons were placed in charge of it. In my youth [...], James Monroe being President, a man was hardly thought eligible to the engineer corps unless he was a Frenchman, or had, at least, a French name. If you doubt it, look over our old Army lists of some forty years back. What did we do in the case of General Bernard, a man of no striking mark, inferior in talent and acquirement to McCree, Totten and Thayer? We passed a special act making him virtually a brigadier-general. What did we gain by it ? A loss, not only in national prestige, but in adopting plans of fortifications far from the best, because, forsooth, proposed by a man wholly unacquainted with our institutions and wants.
I have had some opportunity of looking into this matter, in two visits to Europe; in one of which I spent nearly eighteen mouths as a student in the first military school in Europe, that of Metz in France. I was then, in 1826, only two years out of our own school. Well, I found nothing they had to teach there, the elements of which, much to the surprise of both professors and pupils, I had not well acquired at, home, and learned with ease. As to the schools of other Powers, the programmes of their courses of study contain more matter, but nothing in substance differing materially from our own. It is no disparagement to French engineering skill and quite the reverse to that of the English to say, that both in our defensive works and in our siege operations they have nothing superior to them to show.
Upon the men of all nationalities, who have made themselves part and parcel of ourselves, and are perilling life and limb for the safety of their adopted country, be all honor conferred, in every form. I do not class them with the Gurowski and Cluseret genus, who are my admiration for the ineffable impudence with which they have constituted themselves our political and military Mentors and for the rollicking air with which they revel in their peculiar billingsgate diction; happily, having no longer before their eyes the slavish fears of Siberia and tho Knout, or a term of service in the penal colony of French Guiana, which, in Russia or France would have been their meed, had they dared to have let their tongues wag with a moiety of the impertinence they are now in the daily habit of indulging in towards persons in the highest civil and military positions. From such base comradeship I trust our brave soldiers, native and adopted, may for the future be rid.
Very truly yours,
August 18, 1864.