Thursday, August 8, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 107: Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, Battle of Gettysburg (#182)

Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, "Battle of Gettysburg" (1864) from The Civil War: The Third Year Told by Those Who Lived It:

Furthering my theory that everything today has some precedent in the 19th century, today we have a British writer who is basically embedded with the Confederate Army, reporting from the field. Fremantle was a British military man who took a six month leave to spend time reporting from the American Civil War. Curiously, his book, Three Months in the Southern States: April–June 1863, was printed in London, New York, and Mobile. So I guess everyone was interested in what the war looked like from that POV.

What it looks like is your typical mix: the straight facts of war reportage (what units moved where, who was wounded); character studies (this captain inspired the men by doing this, that guy was indefatigable, this one was loved by his men--much like in tomorrow's entry); and absolutely no mention of what this war is all about: slavery.

In fact, Fremantle's report hits all the right notes of Southern gallantry and bravery in this section, sounding very much like a founding document of the Lost Cause school of history. But let's look at his book. I was curious if it dealt with slavery; and here's the first paragraph (with some emphasis by me):
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.
If you ever read political reporting today, you'll find a corollary (once again, proving my thesis re: the 19th century and today): people will write "I agree with X politically, but he uses mean words." As if it's more important for some people to be dressed well than it is for all people to be free from slavery.

(If you're curious, "slave" and "slavery" come up about 35 times in this book, including many mentions of how slavery is bad, but the Southerners are familiar and kind to their slaves. Hrm.)

As usual, it's interesting to read something from someone embedded in history who doesn't know how things will turn out. Fremantle ends his book noting that the South is not in such bad shape; and he opens it with the opinion that the Confederacy is bound for greatness. Even his account of Gettysburg ends with the Confederates having had a bad day and needing to move for logistic reasons (ammunition), rather than reporting Gettysburg as a defeat. (To be fair, it was a bad battle for everyone involved.)

Lastly, from a craft perspective, the more prose pieces I read reporting the facts of war--what the land was like, how far a unit had to move to engage the enemy, who was positioned where and when--the more I'm glad for historical military maps. Prose is a good medium for describing how Lee rallied the troops; it's not as good as a map for showing movements over space.

No comments:

Post a Comment