TO WEAR OR NOT TO WEAR, THAT IS THE QUESTION
Let me begin by saying, I am perfectly aware of the anacronism, and agree that it is unlikely Arthur Fremantle even brought his dress uniform with him when he visited America. This question all stems from the Gettysburg movie, and has presented me with a special problem since I started portraying the British Coldstream Guards Officer, more than eleven years ago.
To being with, the correct officers headwear with the dress tunic is the bearskin cap, like the one loaned to me by HM Guards tailors for the grave ceremony, (it did not have a chin strap because these are individually fitted and they did not have time). This was requested to be adopted by Queen Victoria for all her guards regiments, after the victory at Waterloo in 1815. To further complicate matters, the red tunic was not even field dress for officers at the time - it was the black undress coat - (a bit like a Union officers frock coat, but with frogs across the front). Therefore, even if he did bring his dress tunic it is unlikely Fremantle would have been on a battlefield dressed like in the movie.
As an aside, I personally have no problem with the way he was presented in the film. It may have been incorrect and a bit of a caricature, but it certainly put Fremantle, and me, on the civil war map.
How can we know he did not have his dress tunic? There are two instances in the diary when he declined to attend social functions because he felt he did not have proper attire. If he had his uniform, or even field dress for that matter, this would hardly have been an excuse. There is also the question of recognition, firstly, of a conspicuous British Guardsman by Union troops and secondly, the Confederacy by The British Government. Coming from a very auspicious Army, Navy and political family, Fremantle would not have wished to risk a diplomatic incident similar to the "Trent affair," by being identified on the Confederate side, (a “sitting duck” as I have been described by the opposition - I tell them it’s a good job it’s red, because it is so full of bullet holes you can’t see them). This was one reason why he entered through Mexico, instead of taking the instant route on a blockade runner. If a Lt.Colonel from the Queens Household Brigades had been apprehended on a blockade runner by the Union Navy, Mr. Lincoln would have had a field-day.
So what did Fremantle wear? His diary mentions a "shooting suit." In Great Britain this is plus-two's and a shooting jacket - in America it’s knickers and a Norfolk jacket, somewhat like he first briefly appears in the movie.
These anachronisms present a conundrum in trying to accurately portray Fremantle. On the one hand, to wear the uniform is incorrect, but it is the only way I am recognized by most re-enactors and all spectators. On the other, when wearing the shooting suit people constantly ask who I am - or worse - "What’s Sherlock Homes doing here?," has been shouted more than once from the spectator line.
Here’s an example:
At the 138th Gettysburg I camped in the living history area, to raise money for the grave restoration. When I wore civilian garb few people stopped at my tent, however, when the scarlet tunic appeared I attracted an immediate audience, many of whom chiped-in for the cause. I have had many similar experiences, so I conclude the best way to educate everyone is to use the uniform to draw attention, then inform those who are interested of the historical facts - which is not that many because most want their picture taken with The British Colonel in the dress tunic. However, I also sometimes wear civilian clothes on battlefields, but only at events where I am known. Then when reenactors ask why I am not wearing “the red” I put them straight?
Incidentally, before I had my first tunic made I rented a Canadian Mounted Policeman’s tunic from Universal Studios in Orlando, which as all they had. Then I had a tunic made by a British seamstress here in America, in lightweight cotton, which lasted six years. Finally, in 1999 I had a unique opportunity to have a real tunic made by Her Majesty’s tailors, Shorditch, London. They incorporated alterations from the present day tunic, to the style of the period, and transfered my authentic brass buttons (26 of em’ at $5 each) to the new jacket. I experience an immediate elevation and feeling of authenticity when I put this on, (even though it does weigh ten tons), and being a true-blood Englishman, I would be the first to admit I am proud to wear it in reenactments.
Many have asked me how much it cost? To which the only reply I have at the moment is, “we also operate on the policy in the British army - don’t ask and don’t tell.”
I hope this answers questions from living history re-enactors and The Guards themselves, about anomalies.