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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

An Old Book; A New Chapter

Arthur Freemantle


I'm moving shortly and, as such, have been going through things deciding what to keep and what to leave.  I have a particular love for old books, and there's no shortage of them at the house.  As I enter this new chapter in my life, it's bittersweet finding old family objects.

So yesterday, I was pulling a bunch of old books out of a secretary when I came across a little volume called Three Months in The Southern States by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur James Lyon Freemantle (later known as General Sir Arthur James Lyon Freemantle, an English subject and member of Her Majesty's Coldstream Guards.)

The book had belonged to my great-great grandfather's son, Robert Rose, as evidenced by the signature on the front free endpaper.  Like his father, Robert committed suicide.  The suicide was such a family secret that I didn't learn about it until the mid-1980s.  I hear he hanged himself.  No idea why.  I have one painting of him as a child.

Anyway, finding these things that my ancestors read sometimes gives me insight into the ancestors, themselves, so I found my favorite spot in the library, laid down on the sofa and began to read.

The book was published in 1864, and was a diary describing Freemantle's experiences in the South during the Civil War.  The preface reads:

At the outbreak of the American war, in common with many of my countrymen, I felt very indifferent as to which side might win; but if I had any bias, my sympathies were rather in favor of the North, on account of the dislike which an Englishman naturally feels at the idea of slavery.  But soon a sentiment of great admiration for the gallantry and determination of the Southerners, together with the unhappy contrast afforded by the foolish bullying conduct of the Northerners, caused a complete revulsion in my feelings, and I was unable to repress a strong wish to go to America and see something of this wonderful struggle.

Having successfully accomplished my design, I returned to England, and found amongst all my friends an extreme desire to know the truth of what was going on in the South; for, in consequence of the blockade, the truth can with difficulty be arrived at, as intelligence coming mainly through Northern sources is not believed; and, in fact, nowhere is the ignorance of what is passing in the South more profound than it is in the Northern States.

In consequence of a desire often expressed, I now publish the Diary which I endeavored, as well as I could, to keep up day by day during my travels throughout the Confederate States.

I have not attempted to conceal any of the peculiarities or defects of the Southern people.  Many persons will doubtless highly disapprove of some of their customs and habits in the wilder portion of the country; but I think no generous man, whatever may be his political opinions, can do otherwise than admire the courage, energy, and patriotism of the whole population, and the skill of its leaders, in this struggle against great odds.  And I am also of opinion that many will agree with me in thinking that a people in which all ranks and both sexes display a unanimity and a heroism which can never have been surpassed in the history of the world, is destined, sooner or later, to become a great and independent nation.


Well, needless to say he got that last part wrong.  But it's a fascinating read and was a bestseller in its time.

Freemantle left England on March 6, 1863, and after landing in St. Thomas on the 17th and Havana on the 22nd,  arrived at the mouth of the Rio Grande on April 1st where over 70 vessels were anchored awaiting their cotton cargoes. Accompanied by a Mexican who promised to take him by buggy to Brownsville.  On the way to Brownsville, he got his first taste of the wild, lawless West after being introduced to half a dozen Confederate officers sitting 'round a campfire:

The captain was rather a boaster, and kept on remarking, "We've given 'em h___ll on the Mississippi, h___ll on the Sabine and h___ll in various other places."

He explained to me that he couldn't cross the river to see McCarthy, as he with some of his men had made a raid over there three weeks ago, and carried away some "renegades," one of whom, named Montgomery, they had "left" on the road to Brownsville; by the smiles of the other officers, I could easily guess that something very disagreeable must have happened to Montgomery.

Nine miles further down, they met General Bee, the commander at Brownsville, who stated that he regretted the action the others had taken on Montgomery.

Half an hour after parting company with General Bee, we came to the spot where Montgomery had been "left;" and sure enough, about two hundred yards to the left of the road, we found him.

He had been slightly buried, but his head and arms were above the ground, his arms tied together, the rope still round his neck, but part of it still dangling from quite a small mesquite tree.  Dogs or wolves had probably scraped the earth from the body, and there was no flesh on the bones.  I obtained this my first experience of Lynch law within three hours of landing in America.

Freemantle arrived in Matamoros, a Mexican city with a population of about nine thousand.  His description of the people and culture is fascinating.

The Mexicans look very much like their Indian forefathers, their faces being extremely dark, and their hair black and straight.  The wear hats with the most enormous brims, and delight in covering their jackets and leather breeches with embroidery.

Some of the women are rather good-looking, but they plaster their heads with grease, and paint their faces too much.

...At 10 p.m. Mr. Oetling conducted us to the grand fandango given in honor of the reported victory over the French.  

A Mexican fandango resembles a French ducasse, with the additional excitement of gambling.  It commences at 9:30, and continues until daylight.  The scene is lit up by numerous paper lanterns of various colors.

A number of benches are placed so as to form a large quare, in the centre of which the dancing goes on, the men and women gravely smoking all the time.  Outside the benches is the promenade bounded by the gambling tables and drinking booths.  On this occasion there must have been thirty or forty gambling tables, some of the smaller ones presided over by old women, and others by small boys.

Although the number of people at these fandangoes is very great, the whole affair is conducted with an order and regularity not to be equalled in an assembly of a much higher class in Europe.  If there ever is a row, it is invariably caused by Texans from Brownsville.  These turbulent spirits are at once seized and cooled in the caboose.

Freemantle traveled through Texas, speaking to officers, Mexicans and slaves.

I had a long talk with a big mulatto slave woman, who was driving one of Ward's wagons.  She told me she had been raised in Tennessee, and that three years ago she had been taken from her mistress for a bad debt, to their mutual sorrow.  "Both," she said, "cried bitterly at parting."  She doesn't like San Antonio at all, "too much hanging and murdering for me," she said.  She had seen a man hanged in the middle of the day, just in front of her door.

"...In the afternoon I saw many negroes and negresses parading about in their Sunday clothes -- silks and crinolines -- much finer than their mistresses.

"...The general took me out for a drive in his ambulance, and I saw innumerable negroes and negresses parading about the streets in the most outrageously grand costumes -- silks, satins, crinolines, hats with feathers, lace mantles, etc., forming an absurd contrast to the simple dresses of their mistresses.  Many were driving about in their masters' carriages, or riding on horses which are often lent to them on Sunday afternoons; all seemed intensely happy and satisfied with themselves.

He met Sam Houston on a train for Galveston:

In the cars I was introduced to General Samuel Houston, the founder of Texan independence.  He told me he was born in Virginia seventy years ago, that he was a United States senator at thirty, and governor of Tennessee at thirty-six.  He emigrated into Texas in 1832; headed the revolt of Texas, and defeated the Mexicans at San Jacinto in 1836.  

He then became President of the Republic of Texas, which he annexed to the United States in 1845.  As Governor of the State in 1860, he had opposed the secession movement, and was deposed.  Though evidently a remarkable and clever man, he is extremely egotistical and vain, and much disappointed at having to subside from his former grandeur.  The town of Houston is named after him.  In apperance he is a tall, handsome old man, much given to chewing tobacco, and blowing his nose with his fingers.

The politics of slavery was much in discussion on the trip.  I'll share what I deem some of the most interesting:

To my surprise all the party were willing to agree that, a few years ago, most educated men in the South regarded slavery as a misfortune and not justifiable, though necessary under the circumstances.  But the meddling, coercive conduct of the detested and despised abolitionists had caused the bonds to be drawn much tighter.

My fellow travellers of all classes are much given to talk to me about their "peculiar institution," and they are most anxious that I should see as much of it as possible, in order that I may be convinced that it is not so bad as has been represented, and that they are not all "Legrees," although they do not attempt to deny that there are many instances of cruelty.  

But they say that a man who is known to ill treat his negroes is hated by all the rest of the community.  They declare that Yankees make the worst masters when they settle in the South; and all seem to be perfectly aware that slavery, which they did not invent, but which they inherited from us (English), is and always will be the great bar to the sympathy of the civilized world.  

There were forty or fifty Yankee deserts here [Monroe, LA] from the army besieging Vicksburg.  These Yankee deserters, on being asked their reasons of deserting, generally reply, "Our government has broken faith with us.  We enlisted to fight for the Union, and not to liberate the G__d d___d niggers."

Our party left Trinity at 6 a.m. in one big yawl and three skiffs.  In my skiff were eight persons, besides a negro oarsman named "Tucker."  We had to take it in turns to row with this worthy, and I soon discovered to my cost the inconvenience of sitting in close proximity with a perspiring darkie.  This negro was a very powerful man, very vain and susceptible of flattery.  I won his heart by asking him if he wasn't worth 6,000 dollars.  We kept him up to the mark throughout the journey by plying him with compliments upon his strength and skill.  One officer declared to him that he should try to marry his mistress (a widow) on purpose to own him.


On May 15, Freemantle arrived in Natchez:

I believe this early Natchez scene was painted by John James Audubon




Natchez is a pretty little town, and ought to contain about 6,000 inhabitants.  It is built on the top of a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi river, which is about three-quarters of a mile broad at this point.

When I reached Natchez, I hired a carriage, and, with a letter of introduction which I had brought from San Antonio, I drove to the house of Mr. Haller Nutt, distant from the town about two miles.
Haller Nutt


The scenery about Natchez is extremely pretty, and the ground is hilly, with plenty of fine trees.  Mr. Nutt's place reminded me very much of an English gentleman's country seat, except that the house itself is rather like a pagoda, but it is beautifully furnished.


Longwood aka Nutt's Folly because it was never finished.


Mr. Nutt was extremely civil, and was most anxious that I should remain at Natchez for a few days; but now that I was thoroughly wound up for travelling, I determined to push on to Vicksburg, as all the late news seemed to show that some great operations must take place there before long.


I'll save the rest for another blog post, which should be interesting as he witnessed the siege at Vicksburg and the Battle at Gettysburg.  Don't forget to check back for more.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! Thank you for making the effort to share!

    ReplyDelete

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