Fascinating Details from the Gettysburg Campaign
Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Lyon Fremantle, an Englishman who was a member of Her Majesty’s Coldstream Guards, wanted to take an unusual “vacation” in the spring of 1863. He was keenly interested in the civil war then raging in America, and so requested an official leave of absence to travel in the United States and see the war for himself.
From April 2 to July 16, 1863, Fremantle was a tourist with a front-row seat to the U.S. Civil War. He observed the Battle of Gettysburg perched in a tree, and had striking encounters with General Longstreet, and later General Lee, right after the epic clash known as Pickett’s Charge.
Fremantle had a great eye for detail, and wrote everything down in his diary. When he returned to England, he published portions of his diary in the September issue of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. A copy of that magazine made its way to the editors of the Daily Richmond Examiner in the Confederate capital, and they printed the following excerpts in the Oct. 8, 1863, issue of their newspaper.
Tuesday, June 30
This morning, before marching from Chambersburg, General Longstreet introduced me to the commander-in-chief. 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 -- a thorough soldier in appearance; and his manners are most courteous and full of dignity. He is a perfect gentleman in every respect. I imagine no man has so few enemies, or is so universally esteemed. Throughout the South, all agree in pronouncing him to be as near perfection as a man can be. He has none of the small vices, such as smoking, drinking, chewing, or swearing, and his bitterest enemy never accused him of any of the greater ones. He generally wears a well-worn long grey jacket, a high black felt hat, and blue trousers tucked into his Wellington boots. I never saw him carry arms, and the only mark of his military rank are the three stars on his collar. He rides a handsome horse, which is extremely well groomed. He himself is very neat in his dress and person, and in the most arduous marches he always looks smart and clean.
Wednesday, July 1 (first day of the Battle of Gettysburg)
At 2 P.M., firing became distinctly audible in our front, and although it increased as we progressed, it did not seem to be very heavy.
At 3 P.M., we began to meet wounded men coming to the rear, and the number of these soon increased most rapidly, some hobbling alone, others on stretchers carried by the ambulance corps, and others in the ambulance wagons; many of the latter were stripped nearly naked, and displayed very bad wounds. This spectacle, so revolting to a person unaccustomed to such sights, produced no impression whatever upon the advancing troops, who certainly go under fire with the most perfect nonchalance; they show no enthusiasm or excitement, but the most complete indifference. This is the effect of two years’ almost uninterrupted fighting.
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 around Gettysburg. We could see the enemy retreating upon one of the opposite ridges, pursued by the Confederates with loud yells.
The position into which the enemy had been driven was evidently a strong one. His right appeared to rest on a cemetery, on the top of a high ridge to the right of Gettysburg, as we looked at it.
General Hill now came up and told me he had been very unwell all day, and in fact he looks very delicate. He said he had had two of his divisions engaged, and had driven the enemy four miles into his present position, capturing a great many prisoners, some cannon, and some colors; he said, however, that the Yankees had fought with a determination unusual to them. He pointed out a railway cutting, in which they had made a good stand; also, a field in the centre of which he had seen a man plant the regimental colour, round which the regiment had fought for some time with much obstinacy, and when at last it was obliged to retreat, the colour-bearer retired last of all, turning round every now and then to shake his fist at the advancing rebels. General Hill said he felt sorry when he saw this gallant Yankee meet his doom.
At 4:45 P.M., all became comparatively quiet on our left and in the cemetery, but volleys of musketry on the right told us that Longstreet’s infantry were advancing, and the onward progress of the smoke showed that he was progressing favourably; but about 6:30 there seemed to be a check, and even a slight retrograde movement. Soon after 7 General Lee got a report, by signal, from Longstreet to say “we are doing well.”
A little before dark the firing dropped off in every direction, and soon ceased altogether.
In the fight to-day near 6,000 prisoners had been taken, and 10 guns. About 20,000 men must have been on the field on the Confederate side. The enemy had two corps d'armee engaged. All the prisoners belong, I think, to the First and Eleventh corps. This day’s work is called a “brisk little scurry,” and all anticipate a “big battle” to-morrow.
At supper this evening, General Longstreet spoke of the enemy’s position as being very formidable. He also said that they would doubtless entrench themselves strongly during the night.
Thursday, July 2
We all got up at 3:30 A.M., and breakfasted a little before daylight.
What I remarked especially was, that during the whole time the firing continued, he only sent one message and only received one report. It is evidently his system to arrange the plan thoroughly with the three corps commanders, and then leave to them the duty of modifying and carrying it out to the best of their abilities.
I arrived at 5 A.M., at the same commanding position we were on yesterday, and 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 -- the two latter assisting their deliberations by the truly American custom of whittling sticks.
At 7 A.M., I rode over part of the ground with General Longstreet, and saw him disposing McLaws’ division for to-day’s fight. The enemy occupied a series of high ridges, the tops of which were covered with trees, but the intervening valleys were mostly open, and partly under cultivation. The cemetery was on their right, and their left appeared to rest upon a high rocky hill. The enemy’s forces, which were now supposed to comprise nearly the whole Potomac army, were concentrated into a space apparently not more than a couple of miles in length.
So soon as the firing began, General Lee joined Hill just below our tree, and he remained there nearly all the time, looking through his field glass -- sometimes talking to Hill and sometimes to Colonel Long, of his staff. But generally he sat quite alone on the stump of a tree.
The Confederates enclosed them in a sort of semi-circle, and the extreme extent of our position must have been from five to six miles at least. Ewell was on our left; his headquarters in a church (with a high cupola) at Gettysburg; Hill in the centre; and Longstreet on the right. Our ridges were also covered with pine woods at the tops, and generally on the rear slopes. The artillery of both sides confronted each other at the edges of these belts of trees, the troops being completely hidden. The enemy was evidently entrenched, but the Southerners had not broken ground at all. A dead silence reigned till 4:45 P.M., and no one would have imagined that such masses of men and such powerful artillery were about to commence the work of destruction at that hour.
Only two divisions of Longstreet were present to-day -- viz., McLaws’ and Hood’s -- Pickett being still in the rear.
At 2 P.M., General Longstreet advised me, if I wished to have a good view of the battle, to return to my tree of yesterday. I did so, and remained there with Lawley and Captain Schreibert during the rest of the afternoon. But until 4:45 P.M. all was profoundly still, and we began to doubt whether a fight was coming off to-day at all. At that time, however, Longstreet suddenly commenced a heavy cannonade on the right. Ewell immediately took it up on the left. The enemy replied with at least equal fury, and in a few moments the firing along the whole line was as heavy as it is possible to conceive.
Friday, July 3 (third and final day of battle, the following excerpt beginning right after Pickett’s Charge)
But finding that to see the actual fighting, it was absolutely necessary to go into the thick of the thing, I determined to make my way to General Longstreet. It was then about 2:30. After passing General Lee and his staff, I rode on through the woods in the direction in which I had left Longstreet. I soon began to meet many wounded men from the front; many of them asked in piteous tones the way to a doctor or an ambulance. The further I got, the greater became the number of the wounded. At last I came to a perfect stream of them flocking through the woods in numbers as great as the crowd in Oxford street in the middle of the day. Some were walking alone on crutches composed of two rifles, others were supported by men less badly wounded than themselves, and others were carried on stretchers by the ambulance corps; but in no case did I see a sound man helping the wounded to the rear, unless he carried the red badge of the ambulance corps. They were still under a heavy fire; the shells were continually bringing down great limbs of trees, and carrying further destruction amongst this melancholy procession. I saw all this in much less time than it takes to write it, and although astonished to meet such vast numbers of wounded, I had not seen enough to give me any idea of the real extent of the mischief.
When I got close up to General Longstreet I saw one of his regiments advancing through the woods in good order; so, thinking I was just in time to see the attack, I remarked to the General that “I wouldn’t 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 unperturbed. 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!”
For the first time I then had a view of the open space between the two positions, and saw it covered with Confederates slowly and sulkily returning towards us in small broken parties, under a heavy fire of artillery. But the fire where we were was not so bad as further to the rear; for although the air seemed alive with shell, yet the greater number burst behind us.
The General told me that Pickett’s division had succeeded in carrying the enemy’s position and capturing his guns, but after remaining there twenty minutes, it had been forced to retire, on the retreat of Heth and Pettigrew on its left.
Soon afterwards I joined General Lee, who had, in the meanwhile, come to the front on becoming aware of the disaster. General Lee was perfectly sublime. He was engaged in rallying and encouraging the broken troops, and was riding about a little in front of the wood quite alone – the whole of his staff being engaged in a similar manner farther to the rear. His face, which is always placid and cheerful, did not show signs of the slightest disappointment, care, or annoyance, and he was addressing to every soldier he met a few words of encouragement, such as “all this will come right in the end; we’ll talk it over afterwards; but, in the meantime, all good men must rally. We want all good and true men just now,” etc. He spoke to all the wounded men that passed him, and the slightly wounded he exhorted “to bind up their hurts and take up a musket” in this emergency. Very few failed to answer his appeal, and I saw many badly wounded men take off their hats and cheer him.
He said to me, “This has been a sad day for us, colonel – a sad day; but we can’t expect always to gain victories.” He was also kind enough to advise me to get into some more sheltered position.
Notwithstanding the misfortunes which had so suddenly befallen him, General Lee seemed to observe everything, however trivial. When a mounted officer began licking his horse for shying at the bursting of a shell, he called out, “Don’t whip him, captain, don’t whip him, I’ve got just such another foolish horse myself, and whipping does no good.”
I happened to see a man lying flat on his face in a small ditch, and I remarked that I didn’t think he seemed dead; this drew General Lee’s attention to the man, who commenced groaning dismally. Finding appeals to his patriotism of no avail, General Lee had him ignominiously set on his legs by some neighbouring gunners.
I saw General Wilcox (an officer who wears a short round jacket and a battered straw hat) come up to him, and explained, almost crying, the state of his brigade. General Lee immediately shook hands with him and said, cheerfully, “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 the best way you can.”
It is difficult to exaggerate the critical state of affairs as they appeared about this time. If the enemy or their General had shown any enterprise, there is no saying what might have happened. General Lee and his officers were evidently fully impressed with a sense of the situation; yet there was much less noise, fuss, or confusion of orders than at any ordinary field day; the men, as they were rallied in the wood, were brought up in detachments and lay down quietly and coolly in the positions assigned to them.
At 6 P.M., we heard a long and continuous Yankee cheer, which we at first imagined was an indication of an advance; but it turned out to be their reception of a general officer, whom we saw riding down the line, followed by about thirty horsemen.
Soon afterwards I rode to the extreme front, where there were four pieces of rifled cannon almost without any infantry support. To the non-withdrawal of these guns is to be attributed the otherwise surprising inactivity of the enemy.
I was immediately surrounded by a sergeant and about half-a-dozen gunners, who seemed in excellent spirits and full of confidence in spite of their exposed situation. The sergeant expressed his ardent hope that the Yankees might have spirit enough to advance and receive the dose he had in readiness for them. They spoke in admiration of the advance of Pickett’s division, and of the manner in which Pickett himself had led it. When they observed General Lee they said, “We’ve not lost confidence in the old man; this day’s work won’t do him no harm. ‘Uncle Robert’ will get us into Washington yet; you bet he will!” &c.
Whilst we were talking, the enemy’s skirmishers began to advance slowly, and several ominous sounds in quick succession told us that we were attracting their attention, and that it was necessary to break up the conclave. I therefore turned round and took leave of these cheery and plucky gunners.
Saturday, July 4
I was awoke at daylight by Moses complaining that his valuable trunk, containing much public money, had been stolen from our tent whilst we slept.
Lawley, the Austrian, and I walked up to the front about eight o’clock, and on our way we met General Longstreet, who was in a high state of amusement and good humor. A flag of truce had just come over from the enemy, and its bearer announced among other things that “General Longstreet was wounded and a prisoner, but would be taken care of.” General Longstreet sent back word that he was extremely grateful, but that, being neither wounded nor a prisoner, he was quite able to take care of himself. The iron endurance of General Longstreet is most extraordinary; he seems to require neither food nor sleep. Some of his staff now fell fast asleep directly they got off their horses, they were so exhausted from the last three days’ work.
General Longstreet talked to me a long time about the battle. He said the mistake they had made was in not concentrating the army more, and making the attack yesterday with 30,000 men instead of 15,000. The advance had been in three lines, and the troops of Hill’s corps who gave way were young soldiers, who had never been under fire before. He thought the enemy would have attacked had the guns been withdrawn. Had they done so at that particular moment immediately after the repulse, it would have been awkward; but in that case he had given orders for the advance of Hood’s division and McLaws’ on the right. I think, after all, that General Meade was right not to advance -- his men would never have stood the tremendous fire of the artillery they would have been exposed to.
Rather over 7,000 Yankees were captured during the three days -- 3,500 took the parole; the remainder were now being marched to Richmond, escorted by the remains of Pickett’s division.
Wagons, horses, mules and cattle captured in Pennsylvania, the solid advantages of this campaign, have been passing slowly along this road (Fairfield) all day; those taken by Ewell are particularly admired. So interminable was this train that it soon became evident that we should not be able to start till late at night. As soon as it became dark we all lay round a big fire, and I heard reports coming in from the different generals that the enemy was retiring, and had been doing so all day long. McLaws reported nothing in his front but cavalry videttes.
But this, of course, could make no difference to General Lee’s plans; ammunition he must have -- he had failed to capture it from the enemy (according to precedent); and as his communications with Virginia were intercepted he was compelled to fall back towards Winchester, and draw his supplies from thence.
General Milroy had kindly left an ample stock at that town when he made his precipitate exit some weeks ago. The army was also encumbered with an enormous wagon train, the spoils of Pennsylvania, which it is highly desirable to get safe over the Potomac.
Sunday, July 5
The night was very bad – thunder and lightning, torrents of rain – the road knee deep in mud and water, and often blocked up with wagons “come to grief.” I pitied the wretched plight of the unfortunate soldiers who were to follow next.
Monday July 6
I am now about to leave the Southern States, after travelling quite alone throughout their entire length and breadth, including Texas and the trans-Mississippi country, for nearly three months and a half, during which time I have been thrown amongst all classes of the population – the highest, the lowest, and the most lawless. Although many were sore about the conduct of England, I never received an uncivil word from anybody, but, on the contrary, I have been treated by all with more than kindness. I have never met a man who was not anxious for the termination of the war; and I have never met a man, woman or child, who contemplated its termination possible without an entire separation from the now detested Yankee. I have never been asked for alms or gratuity by any man or woman, black or white. Every one knew who I was, and all spoke to me with the greatest confidence. I have rarely heard any person complain of the almost total ruin which has befallen so many. All are prepared to undergo still greater sacrifices – they contemplate and prepare to receive great reverses which it is impossible to avert. They look to a successful termination of the war as certain, although few are sanguine enough to fix a speedy date for it, and nearly all bargain on its lasting at least all of Lincoln’s presidency. I have lived in bivouacs with all the Southern armies, which are as distinct from one another as the British is from the Austrian, and I have never once seen an instance of insubordination.
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