Although he had a distinguished career as a soldier and public servant, Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (1835-1901) is best known to Americans as the unofficial British observer of the Battle of Gettysburg.
About the Man
Born in 1835, Fremantle came from a military family, and followed in his father's footsteps to join the Coldstream Guards. At the time of the American Civil War, he was assistant secretary to the Governor of Gibraltar. Although only a captain, due to his membership in the Household Division of the Guards he was entitled to be addressed as Lieutenant-Colonel.
Fremantle married in September 1863, and eventually rose in rank to General. He held several important military posts, among them Governor of Malta (1894-1899). He was knighted twice for his work, and eventually died in London in 1901.
In 1862, while serving in Gibraltar, Fremantle met Confederate politician Raphael Semmes and was fascinated by his tales of the American South. Accordingly, the next year he took a leave of absence to visit America on his own.
Fremantle arrived in Texas via Mexico in April 1863, and proceeded on a grand tour of the American South, visiting Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and eventually up to Virginia. Along the way, he encountered many prominent Civil War figures such as General Joe Johnston, Braxton Bragg, PT Beauregard, and President Jefferson Davis. Unlike other journalists and observers of the time, Fremantle got to know and became very good friends with many of the people he encountered.
By mid-June he was with the Army of Northern Virginia, travelling in company with Times of London reporter Charles Lawley. The two were among several observers with the Army to witness Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania.
While he was able to witness living conditions in the ANV, Fremantle was only on the periphery of the Battle of Gettysburg (his hosts did not want a non-combatant at the forefront). He was able to observe some of the second day's action by climbing up a convenient tree, a fact remarked by General John B Hood several years later. On the third day, he caught the aftermath of the Southern forces' retreat from Pickett's Charge, as well as the reactions of Generals James Longstreet and Robert E Lee to the debacle.
Shortly afterwards, Fremantle left Lee's army to make his way through the North. (His status as a British citizen granted him safe passage.) He arrived in New York just in time to witness the Draft Riots, and sailed back to England, arriving on 15 July.
The Fremantle Diary
The following year, Fremantle published an account of his journey, based on entries from the diaries he kept during his voyage. It became a bestseller at the time, not only in Britain but in the Southern States as well. Fremantle had been charmed by the treatment he'd received from the Southerners and, despite his observations of rationing, politicking, and poor discipline in the Southern ranks, predicted a victory for the South. This was a much-needed morale booster for the Confederates, who were pleased with a sympathetic account of their troubles presented to the rest of the world.
Despite his erroneous conclusion, Fremantle's book has become a solid reference for Civil War historians and re-enactors because he makes several observations about the minutiae of life in the South, and in the Confederate army in particular.
Fremantle's book has been reprinted in recent years, most notably in 1954 as The Freemantle Diary: , edited and with a commentary by author Walter Lord. Fremantle appears as a character (who receives his own chapter) in Michael Shaara's Gettysburg novel The Killer Angels, and is portrayed onscreen by James Lancaster in the movie Gettysburg (1993). Lord's edition is currently published by Burford Books, ISBN 1-58080-085-8.
Among the Civil War re-enactors who portray Fremantle in re-enactment events is Roger Hughes, whose website colfremantle.com contains a wealth of information about this man.