The Intrepid American Journey of
ARTHUR. J L. FREMANTLE
Featuring extracts from his diary
"Three Months in the Southern States April - June 1863 "
© Roger Hughes. 1997
Arthur James Lyon Fremantle was born in London on 11th November 1835(1) into an old and well-to-do army family. His father, General Sir John William Fremantle CB commanded a battalion of the Coldstream Guards in Wellington’s Peninsula campaign(2). The Guards were themselves the oldest regiment in the modern army, formed in 1650, taking their name from the small English town of Coldstream near the Scottish border.
At the age of 26 Fremantle was assistant military secretary to Governor Coddrington in Gibraltar, himself a Coldstreamer, when the American Civil War started,(1)where. "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 an Englishman naturally feels at the idea of slavery." (Preface of the Diary)
All that changed in January 1862 when Raphael Semmes made landfall in the Confederate raider Sumter. Captain Fremantle was undoubtedly fascinated and influenced by the cultivated Southerner, so much so that, "I was unable to repress a strong wish to go to America and see something of this wonderful struggle."(Preface)
Referring to Fremantle as "Captain" may cause eyebrows to rise amongst readers of "The Killer Angles," or the movie Gettysburg. Nevertheless "Lieutenant Colonel" Fremantle was in fact only a Captain in the Coldstream when he visited America. The apparent promotion arose from the time honored double-rank system, (dispensed with in 1871 ), which allowed the Household Division to assume two ranks higher than their regular army rank. Fremantle was therefore entitled to be addressed as Lieutenant Colonel, but would only wear the insignia of a Captain on his Guards tunic.
In 1863 he wangled six months leave of absence in order to visit America, but not in any official capacity. He was not "Her Majesty’s observer," as depicted in the movie, but simply on a private vacation. He did however have the good sense not to risk the blockade and a possible repeat of the Trent Affair—but in reverse. One can imagine Mr. Lincoln’s face upon hearing that one of Her Majesty’s Guards Officers had been apprehended trying to enter the Confederacy on a blockade runner.
He therefore sailed by regular steamer first to Havana, then hitched a ride on H.M.S. Immortality, a Royal Navy ship, to Mexico. He landed on 2nd April, "at the miserable village of Bagdad, on the Mexican bank of the Rio Grande"( Page 8 )and entered the Confederacy officially on 3rd April 1863, throughBrownsville.
He also took another wise precaution; he did not to bring his conspicuous scarlet dress uniform with him. During the whole trip he only ever wore civilian clothes. A photograph, purporting to be that of Fremantle, shows him with a huge wide brimmed top hat perched precariously on his head. His "gray shooting suit," and plus-twos, ( American translation—Norfolk jacket and knickers ) along with English riding boots were normal civilian clothes ( mufti is not a term used in the Guards ) for any serving officer. The shawl thrown over the left shoulder was a tartan throw and the strap over the shoulder might have carried either field glasses or canteen.
Mr. Ron Maxwell, director and screenwriter of Gettysburg readily admitted to this author that they were perfectly aware Fremantle never wore a uniform, and that in any case the red tunic was inaccurate, ( in more ways than one ), since field officers wore a dark blue frock-coat. The dress tunic was therefore purely for theatrical effect, as was the cup of tea, and to be accurate they should have topped him off in the large black bearskin hat worn by all the Guards Regiments. Indeed one wonders how long he might have lasted like that, more conspicuous than a Robin Redbreast in the snow, within sharpshooter range on Seminary Ridge.
Great Britain is only 730 miles long and like many who arrive in America, even to this day, Fremantle completely failed to comprehend the vastness and wilderness. It took him eleven days, ( 13 - 24 April ), to struggle from Brownsville to San Antonio, but he was no doubt further encumbered by the company of a drunken judge. He also found his baggage such a hindrance he decided to auction most of it, and here he benefited from scarcities caused by the very blockade he had avoided. He valued his portmanteau at, "not more than eight or nine pounds [ Sterling ] in England," ( page 56 ). Even considering an exchange rate of five dollars to one pound it fetched a magnificent $ 323.
On the trek San Antonio to Houston ( 27-30 April ), he experienced the American stagecoach for the first time, which proved somewhat hazardous. "the custom for the outsiders to sit round the top of the carriage, with their legs dangling over….rendered it dangerous to put one’s head out of the window, for fear of a back kick from the heels, or of a shower of tobacco juice from the mouths of the Southern chivalry on the roof." ( Page 60 ) Fremantle was to experience more than one shower of tobacco-juice throughout his journey.
On a visit to Galveston he met Sam Houston. "…a tall handsome old man, much given to chewing tobacco, and blowing his nose with his fingers." ( Page 69 ).
He also quickly grasped that people were keen he should be impressed with the New South, where British intervention—not simply recognition—was a high expectation in 1863. "Sometimes a man remarks that it is rather mean of England not to recognize The South; but I can always shut him up by saying that a nation which deserves its independence should fight and earn it for itself." ( Page 81 ).
May 15th found him crossing the Mississippi at Nachez intent upon Vicksburg. On his way to a hotel in Jackson he was pounced on by an obnoxious fellowsporting an enormous revolver. The man was clearly ill-disposed to strangers, but that was because his house had been burned down by Grant’s army, which had swept through a few days earlier on its own way to Vicksburg. Fremantle was coldly informed, "if I could not prove myself to be an English officer, an event would happen which….caused a disagreeable sensation about the throat." ( Page 107 ). He was saved by a cavalry officer, whereupon his accusers insisted on, "shaking hands and liquoring up in horrible whiskey."( Page 109 ).
He however beat a hasty retreat to the camp of General Joseph E. "Joe" Johnstonwhere, "….seated round the campfire in the evening, one of the officers remarked, "I can assure you, Colonel, that nine out of ten in the South would sooner become subjects of Queen Victoria than return to the Union." "Nine out of ten!" said General Johnston—" Ninety-nine out of a hundred!"( Page 121 ).
After four days, ( 20 - 24 May ), he traveled to Mobile and dined at Brigadier General Slaughter’s house, where he was entertained with anecdotes of Major General Thomas J "Stonewall" Jackson, who had died only two weeks earlier after being wounded by his own men at the battle of Chancellorsville. No doubt tongue-in-cheek Slaughter told Fremantle, "After the terrific repulse of Burnside’s army at Fredericksburg, Jackson had made the following suggestion: "I am of the opinion that we ought to attack the enemy at once; and in order to avoid the confusion and mistakes so common in a night attack, I recommend that we should all strip ourselves perfectly naked." ( Page 132 ).
Upon hearing this particular order, and since the battle of Fredericksburg took place in the middle of winter, one could imagine that General Lee might have experienced an abnormal increase in the desertion rate.
As a footnote Fremantle comments, "I always forgot to ask General Lee whether this story was true or not."( Page 132 ). Perhaps under the circumstances, when he met him at Gettysburg it was just a well.
Arthur then commenced a three day train journey ( 26 -28 May ), through Montgomery; Atlanta; Chattanooga; to Shelbyville in Southern Tennessee.
Here, he camped with General Braxton Brag’s Army of Tennessee for nine days, ( 28 May - 5 June ), and encountered just about everyone. He recounts an amusing incident about General William J. Hardee, who he describes as having, "….the character of being a great admirer of the fair sex. [ Hardee was a widower ] During the Kentucky campaign last year, he was in the habit of availing himself of the privilege of his rank and years and insisting upon kissing the wives and daughters of all the Kentuckian farmers…...On one occasion General Hardee had conferred the "accolade" upon a very pretty Kentuckian to their mutual satisfaction, when, to his intense disgust, the proprietor produced two very ugly old females, saying "Now then General, if you kiss any you must kiss them all round," which the discomfited general was forced to do, to the great amusement of his officers, who often allude to this contretemps."( Page 138 ).
Fremantle again took to the rails and rolled into Charleston, South Carolina, where he stayed a week, ( 8 - 15 June ). He visited Fort Sumter and describes the works in great detail. He also went to a slave auction. "I saw buyers opening the mouths and showing the teeth of their new purchases to their friends in a very businesslike manner. This was certainly not a very agreeable spectacle to an Englishman." ( Page 191 ).Here we find him voicing the very essence of Britain's recognition problem.
He paid his respects to General Pierre G.T Beauregard, in charge of the defenses of Charleston, who remarked, "If England would join the South at once, the Southern armies, relieved of the present blockage and enormous Yankee pressure, would be able to march right into the Northern States…."( Page 194 ). Beauregard kindly loaned him a horse, the one he had used at the battles of Bull Run and Shiloh.
We then see our intrepid traveler moving on to Wilmington with a Major Norris, head of the Confederate Secret Intelligence Department. Norris was escorting Mr. Clement Vallandigham, the well known copperhead, making quite sure he caught a boat for Canada.
Falling in with Norris was a stroke of luck since he arranged for Fremantle to meet all the top people in Richmond. ( 17 - 20 June ). His first was with Judah P. Benjamin who he describes as, "a stout dapper little man, evidently of Hebrew extraction and of undoubted talent." Benjamin asserted, "England had always had it in her power to terminate the war by recognition…. He denied that the Yankees really would dare to go to war with Great Britain for doing so, however much they might swagger about it. He said that recognition would not increase the Yankee hatred of England, for this whether just or unjust, was already as intense as it could possibly be." ( Page 208 ).
Benjamin took him to see Jefferson F Davis, and they had tea, "uncommonly good tea too—the first I had tasted in the Confederacy." The President struck him, "as looking older than I expected. He is only fifty-six, but his face is emaciated and much wrinkled. He is nearly six feet tall, but is extremely thin and stoops a little." ( Page 211 ).
James A. Sedan, Secretary of War, furnished him with letters to Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet, already marching north on their second invasion of the North.This was clearly not to be missed, he therefore left the capital after only four days, took a train to Cullpepper, then on horseback with an escort, who happened to be a cousin of Major Norris, into the Valley of the Shenandoah. Was the secret service keeping a watchful eye on their unusual tourist?
In the Shenandoah they had difficulty obtaining feed for their horses, but undaunted, "to Norris’ astonishment I was impudent enough to get food for ourselves, by appealing to the kind feelings of two good-looking female citizens of Front Royal," ( Page 224 ).One could well imagine this eloquent British Guards officer, aged 27 and single, might have obtained anything he wished, as he roamed merrily throughout the South with what appeared to be an endless supply of money.
Fremantle and his escort caught up with the tail-end of The Army of Northern Virginia at Berryville, near Winchester, ( 22nd June ), where Fremantle met one of his own countrymen. Charles Francis Lawley had been a member of parliament and one-time governor of Western Australia. He was now the correspondent for the London TIMES and they decided to fall in together.
Naturally the residents of Pennsylvania could hardly have been expected to welcome the invaders with open arms. "One female had seen fit to adorn her ample bosom with a huge Yankee flag and stood at the door of her house, her countenance expressing the greatest contempt for the barefooted Rebels. Several companies passed her without taking any notice; but at length a Texan gravely remarked, "Take care madam, for Hood’s boys are great at storming breastworks when the Yankee colors is on them." After this speech the patriotic lady beat a precipitate retreat." ( Page 239 ).
They eventually caught up with Major General James Longstreet on 27th June, near Chambersburg. Fremantle saw him as, "a thick-set, determined looking man, forty-three years of age….never far from General Lee, who relies very much upon his judgment." ( Page 237 ). They fixed him up in a tent with Major Raphael Moses the Chief Commissary. Lawley had quickly found himself three surgeons, who apparently lived much more luxuriously than even their generals.
On 30th June Longstreet introduced Fremantle to his Commander-in-Chief, of whom he wrote, "General Lee is, almost without exception, the handsomest man of his age I ever saw. He is fifty-six years old, tall, broad-shouldered, very well made, well set up…... He has none of the small vices, such as smoking, drinking, or swearing." ( Page 248 ). No doubt Fremantle was relieved to hear this also included not chewing tobacco. He was surprised to hear that Lee still considered himself a member of the Church of England.
On 1st July the two Englishmen were as ignorant as anyone about the state of things to the east, where fighting could be heard. "A spy who was with us insisted upon there being, "a pretty tidy bunch of blue-bellies in or near Gettysburg." ( Page 252 ).
They were late getting forward but, "At 4.30 p.m. we came in sight of Gettysburg and joined General Lee and General Hill, who were on the top of one of the ridges which form the peculiar feature of the country round Gettysburg."( Page 254 ).
The next morning Fremantle reconnoitered in company with Colonel Gilbert M. Sorrel, Longstreet’s Chief of Staff, who said he had, "A quick, observant eye and indefatigable sightseer, apparently nothing escaped him." Evidently, this also did not preclude a little exercise, " I climbed up a tree in company with Captain Schreibert of the Prussian Army. Just below us were seated Generals Lee, Hill, Longstreet and Hood in consultation…" ( Page 257 ).
About 4.30 p.m. as Hood’s boys went in, Fremantle heard an unusual sound. "The Southern troops, when charging….always yell in a manner peculiar to themselves. …officers declare that the rebel yell has a particular merit and always produces a salutary and useful effect upon their adversaries. A corp is sometimes spoken of as a "good yelling regiment."( Page 259 ).
On 3rd July they all knew a massive frontal attack was planned and Fremantle at first tried to watch it from a church steeple in the town, but so many shells were screaming over, no doubt from the two British breach loading Whitworth rifles which the Confederates had placed far to the north, he soon scurried back behind the lines.He now seems to have dithered about somewhat, not coming across Longstreet until, "Thinking I was just in time to see the attack, I remarked to the General that, "I would not have missed this for anything." Longstreet was seated at the top of a snake fence at the edge of the wood and looking perfectly calm and imperturbed. He replied laughing " The devil you wouldn’t! I would like to have missed it very much; we’ve attacked and been repulsed: look there!" ( Page 265-6 ).
It would therefore appear that after doggedly slogging his way through the length and breadth of the country, our intrepid observer actually missed the most impressive part of the greatest battle on American soil. He certainly does not make much of Picket’s Charge in his Diary.
He did however overhear a conversation between Generals Lee and Wilcoxwhere Lee confessed. "Never mind General, all this has been my fault. It is I that have lost this fight and you must help me out of it in the best way you can."( Page 269 ).
That night he slept soundly in Moses’ tent—evidently too soundly, since in the morning there was a great cuffuffle because the commissary trunk, containing some $ 15,000 in cash, had been purloined from under their very noses. ( Page 272 ). It was found nearby in a wood, broken open and the gold missing.
By this time Fremantle was becoming worried about his leave and asked Gen. Lee for a pass through the Confederate lines, On 9th July he bade an affectionate farewell to his friends and The South. "Longstreet is generally a very taciturn and undemonstrative man, but he was quite affectionate in his farewell."( Page 287 ). There was some good natured ribbing about him being taken for a spy, in his grey shooting suit.
He rented a buggy with a driver, at one dollar a mile, to convey him north whereupon he was indeed promptly intercepted by Union cavalry and escorted to the headquarters of General Benjamin F. Kelly. "The General asked me in an offhand manner whether all General Lee’s army was at Hagerstown; but I replied, laughing. "You understand General, that having got that pass from General Lee, I am bound by every principal of honor not to give you any information which can be of advantage to you." ( Page 294 ).Kelly evidently took him for exactly what he was, and he was packed on his way.
In Johnstown, Pennsylvania ( 11th July ), he witnessed a review of two militia companies who were receiving laurels from ladies for their daring in turning out to resist the invaders. "Most of the men seemed to be respectable mechanics, not at all adapted for an early interview with the Rebels…..Heaven help those Pennsylvanian braves if a score of Hood’s Texans had caught sight of them!"( Page 297 ).
He boarded a train and paid fifty cents for a sleeping berth in which he rode through the night, arriving in New York late the next evening. ( 12th July ). Here one might have expected our hero’s adventures to be over, but he ran smack into the worst riots in American history, against Lincoln’s draft proclamation, in which some 1200 people perished. Little wonder, "I was not at all sorry to find myself on board the [ Cunard steamer ] China." ( Page 303 ).
By then Fremantle had been in America for three months and thirteen days and covered some 3800 miles.The China sailed for England on 15th July, thus concluding a most amazing single-handed odyssey.
The following year, the diary, Three Months in The Southern States - April-June 1863 was published, being one of the first of a foreign military observer. He married Mary Susan Hall September 4th of that year at St. Paul’s Church, Kensington, London, ( not the St Paul’s ). They lived in the fine five story Georgian house at 5 Tilney Street overlooking Hyde Park, adjacent to the present Dorchester Hotel, but there were no children.(1) After a long career in the Guards Fremantle rose to command the Brigade of Guards and was twice knighted, ( KCMG. GCMG ), by Queen Victoria. He was Governor of Malta for five years, ( 1894 - 1899 ), a Justice of the Peace, and member of the exclusive Royal Yacht Squadron, on which premises he died on 25th September 1901 from an asthma attack, aged 64.(3). An obituary was published in THE TIMES the following day.
General Sir Arthur J.L Fremantle is interned on 28th September at Brighton Woodvale cemetery, plot H 10, in the south of England alongside a brother and sister.(4)The cost was one pound one shilling—about $ 2.90 in todays money. Unfortunately, the grave is now completely obliterated since the register shows the memorial ( headstone ), had become in an unsafe condition and was laid flat on the grave. Over the years this has become as level and smooth as a cricket pitch and no evidence of a grave is to be seen.
In a somewhat bizarre episode during a recent visit, this author complained to the cemetery officials. After all, here lies a full General in the Queen’s Guards, Knight Commander and one time Governor of a major British possession. The superintendent merrily suggested we might like to try to find the headstone and re-erect it, even furnishing implements, a spade and a fork, with which to undertake this. Arthur Fremantle’s indefatigable re-creator thereupon commenced digging into his grave in a public cemetery in broad daylight! A funeral turned out from the nearby crematorium and we did receive a few odd looks. However, no evidence of the stone, or any abutment was to be found—we did not want to go too deep. I dearly wished to have had my uniform with me.
We might have another go on some future visit, but it would be a nice touch if someone like the SCV, or some British reenactors undertook this, to restore someone who has given us a fine insight into the South of 1863 and who Sorrel called, "A fine officer and friend of ours."
Page references are from the University of Nebraska Press reprint of the diary,
Army service record of Arthur, J L. Fremantle, Coldstream Guards. return