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THE CLASSICS: Three Months in the Southern States: April - June 1863

Originally published on Published Online: June 12, 2006 
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Reviewed by Peter S. Carmichael
By Lt. Col. Arthur J. L. Freemantle

British officer Arthur J.L. Fremantle's three-month tour of the South, in April-June 1863, was a remarkable odyssey that covered 11 of the 13 Confederate states and ultimately carried him to Gettysburg, where he witnessed Pickett's Charge. Fremantle conversed with people of all social classes, including some of the most important Confederate leaders. He dutifully recorded these encounters in his diary, and taken together they comprise a gripping narrative of a people at war. This commentary, though colored by the Englishman's sympathies for the Southern cause, attests to the unity of purpose and spirit that prevailed in the Confederacy at one of the war's most critical junctures.

After visiting the Army of Tennessee and traveling across the Deep South, Fremantle reached the Army of Northern Virginia as it began the ill-fated Gettysburg campaign. The supreme confidence that Lee's men possessed in themselves and in their commander immediately impressed the Briton. When the troops crossed the Mason-Dixon line and entered Pennsylvania, Fremantle noticed that the men generally showed restraint, refusing to engage in the wholesale plunder of civilian property that Northern troops had been guilty of in Virginia.

He was shocked to find that most Pennsylvania civilians seemed indifferent toward the war. There were exceptions, of course, and Fremantle noted an incident that involved some Chambersburg women who taunted the invaders of Hood's Texas Brigade. One female adorned "her ample bosom with a huge Yankee flag," and she stood by the roadside, staring down the Southern soldiers as they marched by her house. A Texan grimly remarked, "Take care, madam, for Hood's boys are great at storming breastworks when the Yankee colors is on them." Fremantle noted "the patriotic lady beat a precipitate retreat."

Fremantle followed the Army of Northern Virginia's high command during the three days of fighting at Gettysburg, spending most of his time at the headquarters of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet. Defenders of the First Corps commander have justifiably used Fremantle's diary to prove that a deep personal and professional intimacy existed between Longstreet and Lee. "The relations between him [Lee] and Longstreet are quite touching — they are almost always together," noted Fremantle. But Longstreet supporters, particularly Michael Shaara, have glossed over Fremantle's important conversation with Longstreet on July 4. Rather than criticizing his superior for attacking, Longstreet complained to Fremantle that the mistake was the failure to concentrate more troops for a larger offensive on July 2. While this anecdote alone does not overturn the argument that Longstreet desired a more defensive-oriented battle, it reveals that Longstreet's thinking was more complex at Gettysburg than his defenders would like us to believe. Three Months in the Southern States is filled with priceless moments, captured by the war's finest foreign observer.

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