We think that visiting a place will give us a true idea of what is really going on there. All too often, we just see what our hosts, and our prejudices, allow us to see.
Arthur Freemantle was an upper class English military officer. He arrived in America in May, 1863, to watch the Civil War. A Confederate sympathizer, he came in through Texas at a time when that rebel state was itself suffering a rebellion. Freemantle found that Texas troops were “employed in quelling a counter-revolution of Unionists in Texas…who were principally Germans.” The British officer dismissed the German Unionists as “renegados”, without trying to understand why families that immigrated to the United States might resent Texas’ decision to immigrate out of the U.S. Instead he saw the Germans as malcontents disrupting the lives of the romantic cavaliers who owned the state and its slaves.
While the Englishman says he deplored slavery, he was amused by the Southern slave trader who sailed to New England, recruited a black “crew” for his ship, and then sold the crew as slaves when he reached the South.
Readers of Michael Sharra’s Pulitzer Prize Winning novel The Killer Angels know that Freemantle made it to Lee’s army just in time to join the invasion of Pennsylvania and to observe the Battle of Gettysburg. What you may not know is that right after the Confederate defeat, he went to New York to sail back to England-just in time for the start of the Draft Riots.
Freemantle’s “diary” was a small contribution to the Confederate cause. His distorted view of the slavocracy as freedom fighters allowed some English aristocrats to continue their support of the Southern cause, but today his book is just one more exhibit of the human capacity for self-deception.