Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Witness to History: Arthur James Lyon Fremantle

AT the outbreak of the American war, in common with many of my countrymen, I felt very indifferent as to which side might win; but if I had any bias, my sympathies were rather in favor of the North, on account of the dislike which an Englishman naturally feels at the idea of slavery. But soon a sentiment of great admiration for the gallantry and determination of the Southerners, together with the unhappy contrast afforded by the foolish bullying conduct of the Northerners, caused a complete revulsion in my feelings, and I was unable to repress a strong wish to go to America and see something of this wonderful struggle.

                                                                                                 -- Arthur Fremantle, 1864

  Arthur James Lyon Fremantle was a Lieutenant Colonel in the British army who traveled to the Confederacy to observe the Civil War as a neutral. Courted by the Confederate government in hopes he could influence a British intervention Fremantle was given unprecedented access to the highest levels of civilian and military leadership. He kept an amazing diary that was later published in England and both North and South in the divided American states the following year entitled, Three Months in the Southern States: April-June 1863.

 Lt. Colonel Arthur James Lyon Fremantle in 1860. 

  His account is most well known because he was uniquely placed just before and during the battle of Gettysburg to General Lee and his senior officers and gave us one of the finest accounts from the Confederate side. This is why Michael Shaara used Fremantle as one of the key protagonists in his epic novel The Killer Angels in 1974 (superbly portrayed in the film Gettysburg in 1993 based on this book by actor James Lancaster.)

James Lancaster as Colonel Fremantle in the 1993 film Gettysburg.

  What makes the Fremantle diary such an outstanding primary source was his keen eye for detail, and a thoughtful commentary on the people, places and events he was seeing as an outsider. While he was sympathetic to the Confederate cause, he kept his journal impressively objective. It should also be noted it was written without mind for publication. Fremantle published it later in England at the insistence of friends who were curious to know about his American travels.

  I think it would be fascinating to use his diary in a series of blog entries as we approach the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg battle this July.

  It is fitting that we begin on an entry regarding slavery. On this day, June 12, 1863, Fremantle had found his way to Charleston, South Carolina where he had arrived on June 8th to meet with General P.G.T. Beauregard. Informed the general was on a trip to Florida but expected to return in a few days Fremantle set about taking in all the sights and meetings he could, inspecting the defensive fortifications and meeting naval officers defending Charleston harbor.

  On the 12th he decided to see a slave auction first hand and later was finally able to meet with General Beauregard:

  12th June, Friday.--I called at an exchange office this morning, and asked the value of gold; they offered me six to one for it. I went to a slave auction at 11:00... The negroes--about fifteen men, three women, and three children -- were seated on benches, looking perfectly contented and indifferent. I saw the buyers opening the mouths and showing the teeth of their new purchases to their friends in a very business-like manner. This was certainly not a very agreeable spectacle to an Englishman, and I know that many Southerners participate in the same feeling; for I have often been told by people that they had never seen a negro sold by auction, and never wished to do so. 

 An illustration of a slave auction held in the 1840's.

  It is impossible to mention names in connection with such a subject, but I am perfectly aware that many influential men in the South feel humiliated and annoyed with several of the incidents connected with slavery; and I think that if the Confederate States were left alone, the system would be much modified and amended, although complete emancipation cannot be expected; for the Southerners believe it to be as impracticable to cultivate cotton on a large scale in the South, without forced black labor, as the British have found it to produce sugar in Jamaica; and they declare that the example the English have set them of sudden emancipation in that island is by no means encouraging...

  At 1 P. M. I called on General Beauregard, who is a man of middle height, about forty-seven years of age. He would be very youthful in appearance were it not for the color of his hair, which is much grayer than his earlier photographs represent. Some persons account for the sudden manner in which his hair turned grey by allusions to his cares and anxieties during the last two years; but the real and less romantic reason is to be found in the rigidity of the Yankee blockade, which interrupts the arrival of articles of toilet. He has a long straight nose, handsome brown eyes, and a dark mustache without whiskers, and his manners are extremely polite. He is a New Orleans Creole, and French is his native language....

General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard C.S.A.

  He spoke to me of the inevitable necessity, sooner or later, of a war between the Northern States and Great Britain; and he remarked that, if England would join the South at once, the Southern armies relieved of the present blockade and enormous Yankee pressure, would be able to march right into the Northern States, and by occupying their principal cities, would give the Yankees so much employment that they would be unable to spare many men for Canada. He acknowledged that in Mississippi General Grant had displayed uncommon vigor and met with considerable success, considering that he was a man of no great military capacity. He said that Johnston was certainly acting slowly and with much caution; but then he had not the veteran troops of Bragg or Lee. 

(to be continued...)


Read more about the James Fremantle and the Gettysburg campaign my new book for teens just published by Sky Pony Press, Gettysburg: The True Account of Two Young Heroes in the Greatest Battle of the Civil War, available at Amazon and

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