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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Bonapartes in America

Clarence Edward Macartney and Gordon Dorrance

published by
Dorrance and Company,
Philadelphia, 1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 12

 p216  XI
Marshal Ney and North Carolina

Was Marshal Ney shot by the Bourbons? A plain stone in the Luxembourg Gardens says that he was, December 7, 1815. But another stone in the cemetery of the Third Creek Presbyterian Church, in Rowan County, North Carolina, says that he was not, and that his ashes rest in that quiet churchyard.1

Crossing the lawn in front of this church, where the inscription over the doorway reads, "Holiness to the Lord," and passing the little brick Session House where many an anxious applicant for church member­ship was questioned as to his knowledge of Justification, Sanctification, and the Decrees of God, we enter the churchyard, where the names on the tombstones, the "Macs" of all degrees and kinds, speak of the Scotch-Irish pioneers. In the midst of these graves is a stone on which we read the following epitaph:

In Memory


Peter Stewart Ney

A Native of France

And Soldier of the French Revolution


Napoleon Bonaparte

Who departed this life

November 15, 1846

 p217  All through the Carolinas there are intelligent persons who are fully and firmly convinced that this Peter Stewart Ney, schoolmaster and wanderer, was none other than Michel Ney, Napoleon's Marshal, and that Ney therefore was not executed, as has been generally supposed, on a dark morning of the 7th of December, 1815, in the Luxembourg Gardens, but escaped to America, where he lived as a schoolmaster for thirty‑one years, until his death in 1846.

Very soon after Ney's supposed death before the firing squad, stories that he had not been shot began to make their appearance. In his "Memoirs of Napoleon," Bourrienne, the Emperor's secretary, refers to these rumors, and says, "It was impossible to get the public to believe that Ney had really been killed in this manner, and nearly to this day we have had fresh stories recurring of the real Ney being discovered in America."

Michel Ney, son of a cooper, Duke of Elchingen and Marshal of France, was born at Saarlouis, January 10, 1769. He had some schooling, and at an early age, because of his fine hand, was made the town notary. At nineteen years of age he enlisted in a regiment of Hussars at Metz, and in 1794 commanded a special corps of light troops under Kleber. He commanded a division in Hoche's army, fought in the Swiss campaign of Massena and, "On Linden when the sun was low" fought in the battle of Hohenlinden. When Napoleon declared himself Emperor, Ney was made a Marshal of France. After Napoleon's victory over the Russians at Friedland, he bestowed upon Ney the title, "The Bravest of the Brave." Ney was close to Napoleon all  p218 through the disastrous Russian campaign, and in the retreat commanded the rear guard. When the last thirty soldiers he had gathered about him at Wilna deserted him, Ney fought his way singlehanded through the town and was the last Frenchman to cross the Niemen. After the fall of the Empire, Ney became an ardent adherent of the Bourbons. When he heard of Napoleon's return from Elba he assured Louis XVIII of his loyalty and boasted that he would bring Napoleon to Paris in an iron cage. But when the two warriors met at Lons-le‑Saulnier, old memories and affections overcame Ney, and he went over to Napoleon with all his troops. This marked him as a traitor in the eyes of the Bourbons and the Allies.

At the Battle of Waterloo, Ney led in person and on foot the charge of the Old Guard against the center of the Allied armies. He was arrested on the 5th of August and brought to trial for treason. Among many equally guilty, Ney was selected as the victim to appease the anger of the Allies and the Bourbons. His arrest was a violation of the Treaty, one article of which was that no person should be molested for his political conduct or opinions during the Hundred Days. The attempt to try him by martial law failed because of the refusal of many of his former brothers-in‑arms to serve on the court-martial. But the Chamber of Peers found him guilty of treason, and he was sentenced to be shot on the morning of December 7, 1815, near the Observatory in the Luxembourg Gardens.

When they were reading to Ney his sentence and calling off his numerous titles, he broke in, "Why cannot  p219 you simply call me Michel Ney, now a French soldier, and soon a heap of dust?" As an officer was about to bandage his eyes, Ney stopped him and said, "Are you ignorant that for twenty-five years I have been accustomed to face both ball and bullets?" In a calm voice he cried, "I declare before God and man that I have never betrayed my country. May my death render her happy. Vive la France!" Then, placing his hand on his heart, he said, "My comrades, fire on me!" Ten balls pierced him and he fell dead.

The tombstone in the Presbyterian churchyard in North Carolina finds no fault with this history, up to the crash of the muskets of the firing squad in the Luxembourg Gardens. But what is generally supposed to have followed the crash of those muskets, the death of Ney, and his burial in Pere la Chaise Cemetery, it denies. The true history, says this stone in the Carolina churchyard, is that Marshal Ney escaped execution, fled with two companions to Bordeaux and took passage in a vessel sailing for America. His companions, Pasqual Luciani and Count Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes, left the ship at Philadelphia, but Ney continued on to Charleston, South Carolina. Henceforth, his career was that of a schoolmaster and wandering gentleman. He conducted schools in North and South Carolina, and later prepared young men for Davidson College, which was founded in 1837. There is no doubt that a person passing under the name of Peter Stewart Ney did land in Charleston and became a well known personality in the Carolinas. There is no doubt either that there was a mystery about his past and his personality;  p220 and no doubt whatever that a great number of his friends and pupils were convinced that Peter Stewart Ney was Napoleon's old Marshal. This Peter Stewart Ney died at the house of Osborne Foard, in Rowan County, in 1846, and was buried in the churchyard of the Third Creek Presbyterian Church.

Is it then possible that this Peter Stewart Ney could have been Napoleon's Marshal? If so, then he must have escaped execution on that December day in the Luxembourg Gardens. This itself is not beyond the bounds of possibility, whatever one may think of probability. Ney was the idol of the French officers and troops, and it would have been possible, through collusion with those in charge of the execution, to go through a mock execution and a mock burial. We know, at least, that many of Ney's comrades did not want him executed; that his execution violated the treaty made by the Allies, safe-guarding the persons of those who took part in the events of the Hundred Days; and it is hard to believe that Wellington, who was in command of the Allies, could have desired the death of Ney. It is a matter of history that the French King feared that Wellington would intervene, and for this reason refused to grant him an audience, much to the indignation of Wellington.

The escape of Ney thus was within the realm of possibilities. The question is, "What sound reason is there to believe that Ney actually did escape execution, and came to America, where he lived and died under the name of Peter Stewart Ney?"

 p221  First of all, there is the testimony of those who had known Ney in France. A man's claim as to his identity, in itself, would not be sufficient. It would have to be corroborated by those who were familiar with him. One of those whose testimony is of interest is Pasqual Luciani. Luciani's grave is in Oakwood Cemetery, Montgomery, Alabama. On the stone is this inscription:

Pasqual Luciani


July 22, 1786


Oct. 21, 1853

A faithful soldier for nine years

under Napoleon 1st

Luciani was appointed French Consul at Philadelphia, and afterwards settled in Montgomery, Alabama. Together with Count Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes, he helped to establish a French colony at Demopolis, Alabama. Luciani's daughter married Herman Arnold, a notable musician of German extraction. When Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as the President of the Confederacy at Montgomery, Alabama, Arnold was asked to play suitable music. At his wife's suggestion, he played "Dixie," which was a transcription of an old German hymn. Arnold had written the music on the wall of the old theater in Montgomery, where he led the orchestra. Dan Emmett, a then noted minstrel, was impressed by the music, and when he returned to his  p222 home in Ohio, wrote the words of the famous song. Jefferson Davis was highly pleased with the orchestration of Dixie, and complimented Arnold on his production. Henceforth, Dixie was the national anthem of the Confederacy.​a

In 1926 Arnold's wife, the daughter of Luciani, made an affidavit concerning the history of her father. In this she asserts that her father, together with Lefebvre and Ney, escaped to Bordeaux and came to America. Luciani frequently related to his family the incidents of Ney's escape. When they reached Bordeaux, Luciani was about to give his watch to a peasant as payment for food, but Ney interposed, saying, "Don't give him your watch, just give him the outer case." This watch, minus the outer case, is now in the family of one of Luciani's grandchildren.

Another supposed link, in the chain of evidence that Peter S. Ney in reality was Marshal Ney, is the declaration of Dr. E. M. C. Neyman that he was a son of the Marshal. This Dr. Neyman graduated from Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, in 1836. He practiced medicine at Saltillo, Indiana, where he died January 4, 1909, aged 101 years. He was regarded in Indiana as a remarkable man, not only for his great age, but for his character and intelligence. He frequently declared that he was a son of Marshal Ney, and the inscription on his grave reads: "E. M. Neyman, Son of Marshal Ney of France." In 1876, Dr. Neyman made a visit to Peter S. Ney's grave in the Third Creek Presbyterian Churchyard, and sought permission to remove the remains. This permission was not granted. Before his  p223 death he spoke of documents which would prove that he was the son of Ney. These documents have never come to light.

Col. J. J. Lehmanowsky, a Pole by birth, and an officer under Napoleon, escaped the firing squad after Waterloo, came to America and became a minister of the Lutheran Church. Sitting one day on the porch of his house at Knightstown, Indiana, he saw a man coming down the street who at once reminded him of Marshal Ney. Knowing that the Marshal had been executed, Lehmanowsky thought that he saw a ghost. But when Ney spoke to him in French he at once knew him to be the Marshal and the next moment had him in his arms.​b

Questions will be asked as to similarity in appearance, battle wounds, and handwriting. In each instance there is a sufficient similarity to make the identification of Peter Stewart Ney with Marshal Ney possible, although not conclusive. Competent handwriting experts after a study of the handwritings of Marshal Ney and Peter Stewart Ney have expressed the conviction that they are by one and the same person. Among the experts who so testified was David N. Carvalho, whose testimony played so important a part in the trial of Dreyfus.

Ney was noted in the French army as a swordsman. As a youth he was selected by his regiment to challenge the fencing master of another regiment for a real or fancied insult. He wounded him in the hand so that he was unable to follow his profession and was reduced to poverty. But in the day of his prosperity the magnanimous Ney settled on the disabled fencing master a pension  p224 for life. Scholars of Peter Stewart Ney in North Carolina frequently referred to his great skill in fencing. On one occasion a French fencing master appeared at Ney's school and wished to form a class. The boys told him that they would join a class if he would fence with their teacher. After a few passes, Ney cut the fencing master's beaver hat in two, whereupon he threw down his sword and exclaimed, "Gentlemen, you have a master and don't need me."

In 1887, Peter Stewart Ney's grave in the Third Creek Presbyterian Church graveyard was opened in search of evidences of identification of the body with the Marshal's. A silver plate, left in Ney's head after a trepanation, was being sought; but the work was done carelessly and nothing of importance was discovered.

We turn now to the theme of Peter Stewart Ney himself. He showed the greatest familiarity with the campaigns of Napoleon and recounted with enthusiasm the part played by Marshal Ney, although keeping his identity in the background. Several times, however, when under the influence of drink, he declared himself to be Napoleon's Marshal. On one occasion Thomas F. Houston found Ney lying intoxicated in the snow near his father's house. Houston had Ney lifted out of the snow and placed across his horse's shoulders, in front of a negro boy. Awakening from his stupor, Ney exclaimed, "What! put the Duke of Elchingen on a horse like a sack? Let me down!" With that, he struck the negro, got down from the horse, and walking a few paces to the fence, leaned on the rails, weeping bitterly  p225 at his humiliation.' A daughter of a Colonel John Swift Meroney remembered having heard her father say that he had been a pupil of Peter Stewart Ney, and that sometimes, when under the influence of liquor, he would thrill his hearers by his grand soldierly bearing and his orders for action — to the Old Guard.

In the vaults of the library of Davidson College is a history of Napoleon by L'Ardesche,​c with an interesting inscription by Peter Stewart Ney. On one of the pages is a portrait of Marshal Ney. It is one of the characteristic portraits of the period, showing Ney in full uniform, with the right hand thrust in the breast of his coat. On the upper left hand corner of this page, Peter Stewart Ney drew a bust of himself and wrote under it, "Ney, by himself." Under the other likeness, he wrote: "He was bald. This is not a true likeness, but I am surprised at it. I have not read the book. I have only turned the leaves."

On several occasions Peter Stewart Ney referred to the circumstances of his escape from the firing squad in the Luxembourg Gardens. When he walked by the file of soldiers, who had belonged to his old command, he whispered to them, "Aim high!" His familiar command to them in battle had always been, "Aim low — at the heart." Ney had secreted in his bosom a small sack filled with a reddish fluid. It is a well certified fact that before he gave the order to fire, Ney placed his hand under his coat and over his heart. According to what he related to Thomas F. Houston and Valentine  p226 Stirewalt, scholars in his North Carolina school, Ney, when he gave the command "Fir!" struck the sack with his right hand and the liquid spurted out on his face and clothes, as if the blood came from his wounds. He fell to the ground, was pronounced dead, and his body delivered to his friends for interment.

Col. John A. Rogers, one of Ney's pupils in his school at Florence, S. C., related that when a boy brought a newspaper to the schoolroom telling of the death of Napoleon at St. Helena in 1821, Ney fell to the floor in a faint. The next morning he was found in his bedroom with his throat cut. When resuscitated, he was asked by Col. Benjamin Rogers why he had attempted to take his life. He answered, "I was overcome by my troubles, Colonel. It was a cowardly act; but I lost control of myself. I had set my heart upon returning to France and my family, and when I read of the death of Napoleon I was overcome with despair."

In 1832, when he was living at the home of Thomas Foster, near Mocksville, North Carolina, Ney read in a newspaper an account of the death of Napoleon's son, "l'Aiglon," Francis Joseph Napoleon. The tidings overwhelmed him with grief, and so distraught was he that his friends watched him day and night lest he should put an end to his life. This immense sorrow and distress is understandable if he were indeed Marshal Ney and saw in the death of Napoleon's son the end of the Napoleonic dynasty.

When Peter Stewart Ney was on his deathbed in the home of Osborne Foard, on a November day in 1846,  p227 Dr. Matthew Lock, his physician and a former pupil, said to the dying man, "Mr. Ney, you have but a short time to live, and it is my duty to tell you." Ney responded, "I know that, Matthew. I'm not afraid to die. I believe in the Christian religion." Dr. Locke then said, "You know you have lived among us a long time in a great mystery, and as you are about to leave us forever, will you please tell me who you really are?" With that Ney raised his head and said, "I am Marshal Ney. I am Marshal Ney of France."

Dying soldiers have often called by name their comrades in arms. When he lay dying in the Lacy house after Chancellorsville, Stonewall Jackson cried out, "Order A. P. Hill to prepare for action!" In his last hours at Lexington, Lee was murmuring orders to this same corps commander, A. P. Hill. On his deathbed Ney exclaimed, "Bessieres is dead, and the Old Guard is defeated. Now let me die!" Bessieres was one of Napoleon's marshals and commanded the Guard Cavalry in the retreat from Moscow. He was killed by a musket ball on the evening before the battle of Lutzen, May 2, 1813.

On his deathbed Peter Stewart Ney told Foard, in whose house he was living, that in his writing desk he would find a manuscript which would "tell all and startle the world." The desk was broken open and the manuscript was found, but being written in shorthand, no one could read it. Some time afterward, one Pliny Miles, a lecturer on tour in North Carolina, secured from Foard the loan of the manuscript, promising that  p228 he would get some French scholar in New York to decipher it, and that he would send back the original with the transcription. After a series of communications between Foard in North Carolina and Miles in New York, there was silence on the part of Miles and nothing more was heard of the manuscript. Should this lost manuscript ever be found, it may throw light on the mystery of that grave under the trees in the little Presbyterian churchyard in North Carolina.2

It is not impossible that Peter Stewart Ney was none other than the Bravest of the Brave, Napoleon's Marshal. Conclusive proof, however, probably will never be forthcoming. If the grave of Marshal Ney in Pere la Chaise Cemetery could be opened, that would settle the question; but it is unlikely that the grave ever will be opened. If Peter Stewart Ney was not Marshal Ney, who was he? This much we know, at least, that whoever he was, he was a man of genius, a man who had passed through great world events, and also a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. His sorrows, his struggles, and his hopes are summed up in the two verses he wrote in the autograph album of Anne Stirewalt of Catawba, North Carolina, September 1, 1842. On the page is a picture showing the sail of a ship tossed on an angry sea, with the moon appearing through the clouds. Above and below this picture of the night storm are the following lines:

 p229  "Hope shall not die, though tempest tossed,

With foresail rent and mainmast lost;

The ship still darts along the main,

And hopes the distant port to gain.

"Thus man through life's tempestuous waves,

The fury of misfortune braves;

While hope sustains his Solitude,

To struggle for Beatitude."​3

The Author's Notes:

1 Smoot, Ney Before and After Execution, p438. Queen City Printing Co., Charlotte, N. C. 1929.

Thayer's Note: Additional — earlier — books are cited in Thomas W. Martin, French Military Adventurers in Alabama; who mentions in passing (p12) the belief prevalent among these adventurers, the Bonapartist refugees of the so‑called Vine and Olive colony, that Ney had indeed not been executed and was living in North Carolina.
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2 In the introduction to LeGette Blythe's recent book, Marshal Ney — a Dual Life, Dr. Frank Graham, president of the University of North Carolina, writes that Richard F. Little, of Richmond County, N. C., is deciphering recovered notes which may solve the mystery of Peter Stewart Ney.

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3 Ney Before and After Execution, p228. Queen City Printing Co., Charlotte, N. C. 1929.

Thayer's Notes:

a The origins of Dixie (never officially the national anthem of the Confederacy) are uncertain; this is one of many versions. Herman Arnold was indeed involved in its use at the inauguration of President Davis, and Daniel Emmett had something to do with it, most modern scholars believing he was the author of the music rather than just the words. The outlier in our authors' account is that the tune was that of an old German hymn.

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b A good deal of additional interesting information on John J. Lehmanowsky (or Lehmanowski), including a version of this story, as well as a photograph of his house, which still stands, may be found at Knightstown History and Memories.

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c So the spelling in the printed text; a much more usual one is L'Ardèche. Paul-Mathieu Laurent de l'Ardèche wrote an Histoire de l'Empereur Napoléon (Aucher-Eloy et Cie, Paris, 1827) which underwent several subsequent editions, illustration by Horace Vernet, and translations into at least English and Italian. All the editions of his works of which I've seen readable photographs online, the earliest being an 1839 edition of the Histoire (Dubochet, Paris), spell his name L'Ardèche. The text is available online as a GoogleBook.

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