Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Confederate Cousin

The more research I conduct on my great-great-grandfather Henri de Büren and his voyage, the more interesting items I discover. The intersecting paths and connections have become almost comical in a six degrees of separation from Henri de Büren way.

The most recent discovery is about fellow Swiss Eugène Louis Frédéric de Freudenreich Falconnet (1832-1887). He was the son of Béat Frédéric de Freudenreich (1802-1872) and Eugenie Marthe de Palézieux Falconnet. He was born in the Château of Bremgarten in Bern and would leave for the Americas in 1849. He would spend a number of years in Mexico with his uncle, François de Palézieux Falconnet, the agent for the Committee of Mexican Bond holders with whom Henri stayed while in Mexico. Henri does not make mention of Eugène so they probably never met. Given the fact that Eugène was born a de Freudenriech it also makes him a cousin to Henri's second wife Natalie de Freudenreich.

de Freudenreich arms from the Catherdral in Bern

Château de Bremgarten where Eugène was born. © Christoph Hurni

After Mexico, Eugène who was an engineer, would settle in Tennessee, work for the railroad and later fight for the South during the Civil War. I find this all fascinating because until recently I was unaware of Swiss emigrants fighting for the Conferderacy.

The following passage on Eugène comes from Civil War Tales of the Tennessee Valley By William Lindsey McDonald

Major Eugene Falconnet is best remembered in Florence as the Confederate officer who was married to a local nurse in a wedding which occurred behind enemy lines, then spiriting her away to safety in a canoe. This daring adventure occurred at a time when Falconnet was being watched by the Federal authorities. As commanding officer of four cavalry companies, he was the "eye and ears", for Confederate Brigadier General Phillip D. Roddey, in Middle Tennessee and North Alabama.

Major Eugene Louis Frederic de Freudenreich Falconnet was born in 1832 at his ancestral home, Chateau Bremgarten in Bern, Switzerland. According to stories as remembered in Florence, the Falconnets had royal connections in that country. About 1849 he arrived in Mexico and became involved with the construction of a railroad. By 1852 he was in West Tennessee; nine years later Falconnet was in Nashville as Chief Engineer for the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad. Upon arrival in America he shortened his name to Eugene Frederic Falconnet.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Falconnet enlisted in the First Regiment, Tennessee Volunteer Artillery. Always ambitious, he was granted permission as a private to organize an artillery company, at which time he became its commanding officer. In April 1862 his company became part of the artillery which Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles fought against General Benjamin M. Prentiss in the Hornet's Nest at Shiloh. Seven months later Falconnet was assigned as a major to the 14th Alabama Partisan Rangers, known as Malone's Alabama Cavalry. This regiment performed brilliantly under General "Fighting" Joe Wheeler in Alabama and Tennessee. In the fall of 1863, when Malone's Cavalry moved eastward with the Army of Tennessee, Falconnet was attached to Brigadier General Roddey, with his headquarters usually at Pulaski or Decatur, It was at this time that Major Eugene Falconnet was married to the nineteen-year-old Ann America Burtwell of Florence.

In late 1864 with Hood's Army in Tennessee, Falconnet was cited by General H. D. Clayton for gallantry in action. With less than 100 men, Major Falconnet successfully drove off a Federal cavalry force of "more than, twenty times his number." Soon after the war, the Falconnets buried their infant son, Hunter, in the family cemetery overlooking today's Industrial Paris Road and Cox Creek Parkway in Florence. They then moved to Nashville where he resumed his work with the railroads, He was also credited with the invention of several new processes of metallurgy and was one of the first to propose making steel in an ordinary blast furnace by passing a current of electricity through the molten metal. In 1881 and 1886 he was granted patents in six countries, including the United States, for his proposed air ship. This was fifteen years prior to Count Zeppelien's first air flight in Germany. Sadly, Major Falconnet was never able to arrange for the financing of his inventions.

Disappointed, this brilliant and gifted Civil War veteran died in October, 1887, and was buried beside his wife in the Mt. Olivet Cemetery at Nashville. He bequeathed his weapons to his son, expressing regret for having served in the war. In a final message to his children he wrote; "I have tried to behave with becoming modesty... I have left my mark in Tennessee and have largely contributed to the development of this country."

Artistic Inspiration

Henri de Büren sketched his whole journey through the Americas, but he did not produce art solely during his journey, it was part of his daily life. Most of the artwork from his journey is tragically still missing and I hold out hope to find it again one day.

In a similar vein to Henri's artwork I came across a small book today among family papers dedicated to the 1832 Morocco voyage of master French artist Eugène Delacroix. Delacroix's studies are visually rich and descriptive. I find them exquisite and wanted to share.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Hôtel des Neuchâtelois

In one of Henri de Büren's 1853 letters home from Mexico he talks about climbing Popocatépetl. When he reaches the summit he talks about finding warmth and sharing a cordial with the sulfur miners in a hut on the rim of the volcano. He says it reminds him of the those you would find on the Aar glaciers back in Switzerland.

Unteraar Glacier

Oberaar Glacier

Oberaar Glacier on the left and Unteraar Glacier on the right. Image From Google Earth.

Henri's father, Albert would surely have understood what he meant and as they were both friends of Louis Agassiz, and he probably had the Hôtel des Neuchâtelois in mind when Henri described the hut in question. The Hôtel des Neuchâtelois was a grand name for a stone and wood structure that Louis Agassiz used for shelter while studying the Aar galciers.

From Appleton's cyclopædia of American biography in reference to Agassiz

"During the summers frequent scientific excursions were made in the Jura and the Alps. These expeditions led to his (Agassiz) study of the glaciers, and in 1840 he published his first Études sur les glaciers, which gave there suits of his observations during the eight preceding summers. He had erected a station on the middle of the Aar glacier at a height of 8,000 feet above the sea and twelve miles from any human habitation, and from this now celebrated Hôtel des Neuchâtelois he conducted his experiments. In 1847 he published his Système glaciaire, in which he thoroughly discussed the chief phenomena of glaciers and more fully developed his views on their earlier extension."

An engraving of Agassiz's Hôtel de Neuchâtelois

The Lauteraar Hut which stands on the same site as the original Hôtel de Neuchâtelois

To read more about Henri's journey please find the adaptation of his entire voyage on Amazon.com.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Inspired by 180° South

Along the long road to make my movie that retraces the voyage of my great-great-grandfather, Swiss explorer, naturalist and artist Henri de Büren, I have been inspired by many other creative endeavors. None however has touched me as deeply as the film 180° South.

"The film follows adventurer Jeff Johnson as he retraces the epic 1968 journey of his heroes Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins to Patagonia. Along the way he gets shipwrecked off Easter Island, surfs the longest wave of his life and prepares himself for a rare ascent of Cerro Corcovado. Jeff's life turns when he meets up in a rainy hut with Chouinard and Tompkins who, once driven purely by a love of climbing and surfing, now value above all the experience of raw nature and have come to Patagonia to help use their influence to help protect it." Synopsis by Tim Lynch

Besides the beautiful cinematography, and the important environmental message it is the idea of placing your own unique stamp on an historical journey, and seeing how it changes you which has moved me so. Please check out their website: http://www.180south.com/

Also if you have netflix, you can view it here: Watch 180° South
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