Friday, June 28, 2013

Battle of Gettysburg

Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (1835–1901)
From The Civil War: The Third Year Told by Those Who Lived It

Sharp Shooters on Round Top, 1869, oil on canvas by American artist Peter Frederick Rothermel (1817–1895). Image courtesy of the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Visit the Explore PA History site to see more of Rothermel’s Gettysburg paintings.
In 1877 former Confederate Army general John Hood wrote to James Longstreet, the second-in-command under General Robert E. Lee at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863). Hood’s letter recalls his role in the battle, up to the point where he was injured and carried off the field. Published in a special section of Southern History Society Papers on the “causes of the Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg,” the letter includes a curious aside. On the second day of the battle, when he accompanied Lee along the “heights of Gettysburg,” he noticed that a certain “Colonel Fremantle, of England, was ensconced in the forks of a tree not far off with glass in constant use examining the lofty position of the Federal army.”

Readers of Colonel Arthur Fremantle’s diary will discover that this British visitor to the South spent a lot of time in the trees around Gettysburg—and this gave him a superior view of both the Confederate leaders and the battlefield. On the first day, he “climbed up a tree in the most commanding place I could find, and could form a pretty good general idea of the enemy’s position.” On the morning of July 2 he was looking down on “Generals Lee, Hill, Longstreet, and Hood, in consultation—the two latter assisting their deliberations by the truly American custom of whittling sticks.” Later the same day, “General Longstreet advised me, if I wished to have a good view of the battle, to return to my tree of yesterday.”

During the days leading up to the battle, Fremantle, who was on a three-month leave in America, managed to ingratiate himself with virtually all the principal figures of the Confederacy. He caught up with Lee’s army only three days before the Battle of Gettysburg and was accompanied by Francis Lawley, a London Times reporter who fell ill from dysentery as soon as they arrived at the front. While Lawley was sick in bed, Fremantle encountered another Englishman on leave, Fitzgerald Ross, who had been a captain in the Austrian cavalry for thirteen years. Mockingly referred to by Fremantle as the “stout Austrian,” Ross dressed himself to the hilt each day as a Hungarian hussar—a costume ludicrously out of place among the Confederates.

From June 28 until the end of the battle, the more appropriately outfitted Fremantle mingled with the leaders of the Confederate Army. Not only did he record in his diary their mannerisms and idiosyncrasies—he also earned their trust; his account is filled with their confidences, hopes, plans, and disappointments. And, as Hood’s letter indicates, Fremantle made his own presence so noticeable and vital that they remembered him years later.

Dramatis personæ: Aside from Lee, Hood, and Longstreet, the principal Confederate leaders mentioned in Fremantle’s account are Richard S. Ewell and A.P. Hill, who each assumed half of the corps that had been led by the recently deceased Stonewall Jackson. In addition, Lee’s original battle plan called for Lafayette McLaws’s division to join Hood’s division in launching the attacks on the morning of July 2.

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1st July (Wednesday).—We did not leave our camp till noon, as nearly all General Hill’s corps had to pass our quarters on its march towards Gettysburg. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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