John C. Frémont

John C. Frémont
5th Territorial Governor of Arizona
In office
October 6, 1878  October 11, 1881
Appointed by Rutherford B. Hayes
Preceded by John Philo Hoyt
Succeeded by Frederick Augustus Tritle
United States Senator
from California
In office
September 10, 1850  March 4, 1851
Preceded by None (Statehood)
Succeeded by John B. Weller
Personal details
Born John Charles Frémont
(1813-01-21)January 21, 1813
Savannah, Georgia
Died July 13, 1890(1890-07-13) (aged 77)
New York City, New York
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Jessie Benton Frémont
Relations Thomas Hart Benton (father-in-law)
Children John Charles Frémont Jr.
Alma mater College of Charleston
Profession Soldier
Religion Episcopalian
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1838–48
Rank Major General
Commands California Battalion
Department of the West

John Charles Frémont or Fremont (January 21, 1813  July 13, 1890) was an American military officer, explorer, and politician who became the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for the office of President of the United States. During the 1840s, when he led four expeditions into the American West, that era's penny press and admiring historians accorded Frémont the sobriquet The Pathfinder.[1]

During the Mexican–American War, Frémont, a major in the U.S. Army, took control of California from the Bear Flag Republic in 1846. Frémont then proclaimed himself military Governor of California; however, for that he was convicted in court martial for mutiny and insubordination. After President Polk commuted his sentence, Frémont led a fourth expedition, which cost ten lives, seeking a rail route over the mountains around the 38th parallel in the winter of 1849. He retired from military service and settled in California. Frémont acquired massive wealth during the California Gold Rush, but he was soon bogged down with lawsuits over land claims, between the dispossession of various land owners during the Mexican–American War and the explosion of Forty-Niners immigrating during the Rush. These cases were settled by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing Frémont to keep his property. Frémont became one of the first two U.S. senators elected from the new state of California in 1850. He was the first presidential candidate of the new Republican Party, carrying most of the North. He lost the 1856 presidential election to Democrat James Buchanan when Know-Nothings split the vote and Democrats warned his election would lead to civil war.

During the American Civil War, he was given command of Department of the West by President Abraham Lincoln. Although Frémont had successes during his brief tenure as Commander of the Western Armies, he ran his department autocratically, and made hasty decisions without consulting Washington D.C. or President Lincoln. After Frémont's emancipation edict that freed slaves in his district, he was relieved of his command by President Lincoln for insubordination. In 1861, Frémont was the first commanding Union general who recognized an "iron will" to fight in Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant and promoted him commander at the strategic base near Cairo, Illinois. After the Civil War, Frémont's wealth declined after investing heavily and purchasing an unsuccessful Pacific Railroad in 1866. Frémont served as Governor of Arizona appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes and served from 1878 to 1881. Frémont, retired from politics and financially destitute, died in New York City in 1890.

Historians portray Frémont as controversial, impetuous, and contradictory. Some scholars regard him as a military hero of significant accomplishment, while others view him as a failure who repeatedly defeated his own best purposes. The keys to Frémont's character and personality may lie in his being born illegitimately, his ambitious drive for success, self-justification, and passive-aggressive behavior.[2][3]

Early life and education

Frémont's mother, Anne Beverley Whiting, was the youngest daughter of socially prominent Virginia planter Col. Thomas Whiting. The colonel died when Anne was less than a year old. Her mother married Samuel Cary, who soon exhausted most of the Whiting estate. At age 17, Anne married Major John Pryor, a wealthy Richmond resident in his early 60s. In 1810, Pryor hired Charles Frémon (Louis-René Frémont b. 1768 in Québec), a French-Canadian immigrant who had escaped from a British prison, to tutor his wife. In July 1811, Pryor learned that his wife, Anne Whiting Pryor, and Frémon were having an affair. Confronted by Pryor, the couple left Richmond together on July 10, 1811, creating a scandal that shook city society.[4] Pryor published a divorce petition in the Virginia Patriot, in which he charged that his wife had "for some time past indulged in criminal intercourse."

Mrs. Pryor and Frémon moved first to Norfolk, Virginia, to live as a couple (though unmarried); they later settled in Savannah, Georgia. Mrs. Pryor financed the trip and purchase of a house in Savannah by selling recently inherited slaves valued at $1,900. When the Virginia House of Delegates refused Mr. Pryor's divorce petition, it was impossible for the couple to marry. In Savannah, Mrs. Pryor took in boarders while Frémon taught French and dancing. On January 21, 1813, their first child, John Charles Frémon, was born.[5] The son was born out of wedlock, a serious social handicap. A household slave called Black Hannah helped raise young John.[6]

In 1818, Frémont's father Frémon died, leaving Mrs. Pryor to take care of John and several young children alone on a limited inherited income.[7] Mrs. Pryor and her family moved to Charleston, South Carolina. The young Frémont was known to be "precious, handsome, and daring," and he had an apt ability at gaining protectors.[7] A lawyer, John W. Mitchell, provided for Frémont's education, and in May 1829 Frémont entered Charleston College. Frémont continued at Charleston College, while teaching at intervals in the countryside. He was expelled from the college for irregular attendance in 1831. Although Frémont did not graduate, he had been grounded in mathematics and natural sciences.[7]

In Andrew Jackson, His Life and Times, H. W. Brands wrote that Frémont added the accented E and the T to his surname later in life.[8] But in John Charles Frémont: Character as Destiny, Andrew Rolle wrote that Frémont began using the accent in 1838 at the age of 25. Relying on Pierre-Georges Roy (1922), Rolle relates how Charles Frémon was originally named Louis-René Frémont, born in Québec City, Canada, on December 8, 1768 (he died in 1818 in Norfolk, Virginia). He had changed his name to Charles Fremon or Frémon to avoid pursuit by British naval agents.[9] Thus, John reclaimed his father's true French name.[6]

After attending the College of Charleston from 1829 to 1831,[10] Frémont was appointed a teacher of mathematics aboard the sloop USS Natchez. In July 1838 he was appointed a second lieutenant in the Corps of Topographical Engineers, and assisted and led multiple surveying expeditions through the western territory of the United States and beyond. In 1838 and 1839 he assisted Joseph Nicollet in exploring the lands between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. In 1841 with training from Nicollet, Frémont mapped portions of the Des Moines River.

Marriage to Senator Benton's daughter

In 1841 John C. Frémont (age 28) married Jessie Benton, daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton from Missouri.[11] Benton, Democratic Party leader for more than 30 years in the Senate, championed the expansionist movement, a political cause that became known as Manifest Destiny. The expansionists believed that the North American continent, from one end to the other, north and south, east and west, should belong to the citizens of the U.S. They believed it was the nation's destiny to control the continent. This movement became a crusade for politicians such as Benton and his new son-in-law. Benton pushed appropriations through Congress for national surveys of the Oregon Trail, the Oregon Country, the Great Basin, and Sierra Nevada Mountains to California. Through his power and influence, Senator Benton obtained for Frémont the leadership of each expedition.

Frémont's exploratory expeditions

The opening of the American West began in 1804 when President Thomas Jefferson, envisioning a Western empire, sent Lewis and Clark to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean and sent the Pike expedition to explore the south west.[12] British and American fur trappers, including Peter Skene Ogden and Jedediah Smith, explored much of the American West in the 1820s.[13][14][15]

Beginning in 1842, Frémont led four expeditions that continued this tradition of western exploration, building on and adding to the work of earlier pathfinders to expand knowledge of the American West. Between the third and fourth expeditions, Frémont's career took a fateful turn because of the Mexican–American War.

John C. Frémont
George Healy Unknown date

First expedition

Frémont first met frontiersman Kit Carson on a Missouri River steamboat in St. Louis during the summer of 1842. Frémont was preparing to lead his first expedition and was looking for a guide to take him to South Pass, in present-day Wyoming. South Pass, discovered by Jedediah Smith, was by that time the most popular way across the continental divide. Carson offered his services, as he had spent much time in the area. The five-month journey, made with 25 men, was a success. He wrote A Report on an Exploration of the Country Lying between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains on the Line of the Kansas and Great Platte Rivers, which was printed in newspapers across the country; the public embraced his vision of the west not as a place of danger but wide open and inviting lands to be settled.[16] As Hampton Sides says, "Frémont became an instant celebrity, a champion of expansion, a conqueror wielding not a sword but a compass and a transit."[16] Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said after the report, "Frémont has touched my imagination. What a wild life, and what a fresh kind of existence! But ah, the discomforts!"[16] The success led to a new expedition planned for the next summer.

Second expedition

Frémont's successful first expedition led quickly to a second, begun in the summer of 1843. The more ambitious goal this time was to map and describe the second half of the Oregon Trail, from South Pass to the Oregon Country. Due to Carson's proven skills as a guide, Fremont invited him to join the second expedition. They followed a route north of the Great Salt Lake, down the Snake River to the Columbia River and into Oregon.

Farther west along the Columbia, they came within sight of the Cascade Range peaks and mapped Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood. Rather than continue west through the Columbia River gorge to Fort Vancouver, the party turned south and followed Fall Creek to its headwaters near the present-day northern border of California.

Looping back to the east to stay on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, they turned south again as far as present-day Minden, Nevada. From there, the expedition turned west into the Sierra Nevada, becoming some of the first Americans to see Lake Tahoe. Carson led the party to a new pass through the Sierra, which Frémont named Carson Pass in his honor. Once successfully over the high pass, the party descended the American River valley to Sutter's Fort (Spanish: Nueva Helvetia) at present-day Sacramento, California.

From that point, Frémont followed Smith's trail south along the eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley, then turning back to the east through Tehachapi Pass and present-day Las Vegas before regaining Smith's trail north through Utah and back to South Pass. Frémont's path verified that all the land in the Great Basin (centered on modern-day Nevada between Reno and Salt Lake City) was endorheic, without any outlet rivers flowing towards the sea. The finding contributed greatly to a better understanding of North American geography, and disproved a longstanding legend of a 'Buenaventura River' that flowed out the Great Basin across the Sierra Nevada.

Upon his return, Frémont produced a new map in 1845 that included the second expedition, and Frémont's conclusion that the still-unmapped areas of the Great Basin were "...believed to be filled with lakes and rivers which have no communication with the sea...".[17]

Congress published Frémont's "Report and Map"; it guided thousands of overland immigrants to Oregon and California from 1845 to 1849. In 1849 Joseph Ware published his Emigrants' Guide to California (OCLC 2356459),[18] which was largely drawn from Frémont's report, and was to guide the forty-niners through the California Gold Rush. Frémont's report was more than a travelers' guide – it was a government publication that achieved the expansionist objectives of a nation and provided scientific and economic information concerning the potential of the trans-Mississippi West for pioneer settlement.[19] For his expeditionary work, he received a brevet promotion to captain in July 1844.

One of Frémont's reports from an expedition inspired the Mormons to consider Utah for settlement.[11]

Third expedition

On June 1, 1845, John Frémont and 55 men left St. Louis, with Carson as guide, on the third expedition. The stated goal was to locate the source of the Arkansas River, on the east side of the Rocky Mountains.[20] Upon reaching the Arkansas River, however, Frémont suddenly made a hasty trail straight to California, without explanation. Arriving in the Sacramento Valley in early 1846, he promptly sought to stir up patriotic enthusiasm among the American settlers there. He promised that if war with Mexico started, his military force would protect the settlers.[21] Frémont nearly provoked a battle with Gen. José Castro near Monterey, camped near the summit of what is now named Fremont Peak. A conflict would likely have resulted in the annihilation of Frémont's group, as Gen. Castro had the ability to organize thousands of troops.[22] Frémont fled Mexican-controlled California, and went north to Oregon, making camp at Klamath Lake.[23]

After a May 9, 1846 Indian attack on his expedition party, Frémont retaliated by attacking a Klamath Indian fishing village named Dokdokwas the following day, although the people living there might not have been involved in the first action.[24] The village was at the junction of the Williamson River and Klamath Lake. On May 10, 1846, the Frémont group completely destroyed it.[25] Afterward, Carson was nearly killed by a Klamath warrior. As Carson's gun misfired, the warrior drew to shoot a poison arrow; however, Frémont, seeing that Carson was in danger, trampled the warrior with his horse. Carson felt that he owed Frémont his life.[24]

Mexican–American War

After meeting with President James K. Polk, Frémont left Washington, D.C. on May 15, 1845. He raised a group of 62 volunteers in St. Louis.[26] He arrived at Sutter's Fort on December 10, 1845.[27] He went to Monterey, California, to talk with the American consul, Thomas O. Larkin, and Mexican commandante Jose Castro.[28]

John C. Frémont
Steel engraving taken from a photograph by Mathew Brady in 1856.

In June 1846, at San Rafael mission, John Frémont sent three men, one of whom was Kit Carson, to confront three unarmed men debarking from a boat at Point San Pedro. Kit Carson asked John Frémont whether they should be taken prisoner. Frémont replied, "I have got no room for prisoners." They advanced on the three and deliberately shot and killed them. One of them was an old and respected Californian, Don José de los Reyes Berreyesa, whose son, the Alcalde of Sonoma, had been recently imprisoned by Frémont. The two others were twin brothers and sons of Don Francisco de Haro of Yerba Buena, who had served two terms as the first and third "Alcalde" of Yerba Buena (later renamed San Francisco).

These murders were observed by Jasper O'Farrell, a famous architect and designer of San Francisco, who wrote a letter detailing it to the Los Angeles Star, published on September 27, 1856. This eyewitness account, together with others, were widely published during the presidential election of 1856. John Frémont was running as the first anti-slavery newly organized Republican Party nominee versus Democrat James Buchanan, who was the previous U.S. Secretary of State and Millard Fillmore, former 13th President and nominee of the last gasp of the Whig Party.

It is widely speculated that this incident, together with other military blunders, sank Frémont's political aspirations.[29]

Early on July 7, 1846, the frigate USS Savannah and the two sloops, USS Cyane and USS Levant of the United States Navy, captured Monterey, California, and raised the flag of the United States.[30] Commodore John D. Sloat, commanding the U.S. Navy's Pacific Squadron had his proclamation read in and posted in English and Spanish: "... henceforth California would be a portion of the United States."[31] Soon to be Commodore Robert F. Stockton was put in charge of land operations on July 23, 1846. Frémont was appointed Major in command of the California Battalion, also called U.S. Mounted Rifles, which he had helped form with his survey crew and volunteers from the Bear Flag Republic, now totaling 428 men.[32][33] Unknown to anyone in California until October 1846, Frémont had been commissioned a Lieutenant colonel the previous May by President James K. Polk while organizing a new regiment of mounted riflemen to fight the newly declared Mexican–American War.[34]

In late 1846 Frémont, acting under orders from Commodore Robert F. Stockton, led a military expedition of 300 men to capture Santa Barbara, California, during the Mexican–American War. Frémont led his unit over the Santa Ynez Mountains at San Marcos Pass in a rainstorm on the night of December 24, 1846. In spite of losing many of his horses, mules and cannons, which slid down the muddy slopes during the rainy night, his men regrouped in the foothills (behind what is today Rancho Del Ciervo) the next morning, and captured the presidio and the town without bloodshed. A few days later Frémont led his men southeast toward Los Angeles, accepting the surrender of the leader Andrés Pico and signing the Treaty of Cahuenga on January 13, 1847, which terminated the war in upper California.[35]

On January 16, 1847, Commodore Stockton appointed Frémont military governor of California following the Treaty of Cahuenga. However, U.S. Army Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny, who allegedly outranked both Stockton and Frémont, had orders from President Polk and secretary of war William L. Marcy to serve as military governor.[36] He asked Frémont to give up the governorship, which the latter stubbornly refused to do before finally relenting. Ordered to march with Kearny's army back east, Frémont was arrested on August 22, 1847 when they arrived at Fort Leavenworth. He was charged with mutiny, disobedience of orders, assumption of powers, along with several other military offenses. Ordered by Kearny to report to the adjutant general in Washington to stand for court-martial, Frémont was convicted of mutiny, disobedience of a superior officer and military misconduct.[37]

While approving the court's decision, President James K. Polk quickly commuted Frémont's sentence of dishonorable discharge due to his services. Frémont resigned his commission and settled in California.[38] In 1847 he purchased the Rancho Las Mariposas land grant in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains near Yosemite.

Fourth expedition

In 1848 Frémont and his father-in-law Sen. Benton developed a plan to advance their vision of Manifest Destiny, as well as restore Frémont's honor after his court martial. With a keen interest in the potential of railroads, Sen. Benton had sought support from the Senate for a railroad connecting St. Louis to San Francisco along the 38th parallel, the latitude which both cities approximately share. After Benton failed to secure federal funding, Frémont secured private funding. In October 1848 he embarked with 35 men up the Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas rivers to explore the terrain. The artists and brothers Edward Kern and Richard Kern, and their brother Benjamin Kern, were part of the expedition.[39]

Portrait of Frémont, by Charles Loring Elliott, ca. 1857.

On his party's reaching Bent's Fort, he was strongly advised by most of the trappers against continuing the journey. Already a foot of snow was on the ground at Bent's Fort, and the winter in the mountains promised to be especially snowy. Part of Frémont's purpose was to demonstrate that a 38th parallel railroad would be practical year-round. At Bent's Fort he engaged "Uncle Dick" Wootton as guide, and at what is now Pueblo, Colorado, he hired the eccentric Old Bill Williams and moved on.

Had Frémont continued up the Arkansas, he might have succeeded. On November 25 at what is now Florence, Colorado, he turned sharply south. By the time his party crossed the Sangre de Cristo Range via Mosca Pass, they had already experienced days of bitter cold, blinding snow and difficult travel. Some of the party, including the guide Wootton, had already turned back, concluding that further travel would be impossible. Benjamin Kern and "Old Bill" Williams were killed while retracing the expedition trail to look for gear and survivors.

Although the passes through the Sangre de Cristo had proven too steep for a railroad, Frémont pressed on. From this point the party might still have succeeded had they gone up the Rio Grande to its source, or gone by a more northerly route, but the route they took brought them to the very top of Mesa Mountain.[40] By December 12, on Boot Mountain, it took ninety minutes to progress three hundred yards. Mules began dying and by December 20, only 59 animals remained alive.

It was not until December 22 that Frémont acknowledged that the party needed to regroup and be resupplied. They began to make their way to Taos in the New Mexico Territory. By the time the last surviving member of the expedition made it to Taos on February 12, 1849, 10 of the party had died. Except for the efforts of member Alexis Godey,[41] another 15 would have been lost.[42] After recuperating in Taos, Frémont and only a few of the men left for California via an established southern trade route.

Edward and Richard Kern joined J.H. Simpson's military reconnaissance expedition to the Navajos in 1849, and gave the American public some of its earliest authentic graphic images of the people and landscape of Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Colorado; with views of Canyon de Chelly, Chaco Canyon, and El Morro (Inscription Rock).[43]

In 1850 Frémont was awarded the Founders Medal by the Royal Geographical Society for his various exploratory efforts.[44]

Fifth expedition

In the fall of 1853, Frémont embarked on another expedition to identify a viable route for a transcontinental railroad along the 38th parallel. The party journeyed between Missouri and San Francisco, California, over a combination of known trails and unexplored terrain. A primary objective was to pass through the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada Mountains during winter to document the amount of snow and the feasibility of winter rail passage along the route.

Frémont followed the Santa Fe Trail, passing Bent's Fort before heading west and entering the San Luis Valley of Colorado in December. The party then followed the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail, crossing the Continental Divide at Cochetopa Pass and continuing west into central Utah. But following the trail was made difficult by snow cover. On occasion, they were able to detect evidence of Captain John Gunnison's expedition, which had followed the North Branch just months before.

Weeks of snow and bitter cold took its toll and slowed progress. Nonessential equipment was abandoned and one man died before the struggling party reached the Mormon settlement of Parowan in southwestern Utah on February 8, 1854. After spending two weeks in Parowan to regain strength, the party continued across the Great Basin and entered the Owens Valley near present-day Big Pine, California. Frémont then journeyed south and crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains and entered the Kern River drainage, which was followed west to the San Joaquin Valley.

Frémont arrived in San Francisco on April 16, 1854. Having completed a winter passage across the mountainous west, Frémont was optimistic that a railroad along the 38th Parallel was viable and that winter travel along the line would be possible through the Rocky Mountains.[45]

Mariposa gold estate

When Frémont entered California in 1849, he was informed by Sonora Mexicans that gold had been discovered.[46] An American consul to California, Thomas Larkin, had purchased Frémont seventy square miles of land in the Sierra foothills by Mariposa. Frémont hired Mexicans to work the gold fields on his property for a percentage share.[46] Within weeks their diggings produced enormous sums of gold and Frémont became very wealthy. His wife, Jessie Frémont, said enormous bags of gold weighing one hundred pounds were produced. Having accumulated wealth through gold, Frémont acquired large landholdings in San Francisco. Frémont lived a wealthy lifestyle in Monterey while developing his Mariposa gold estate.[46]

U.S. Senator from California

In 1847, before his fourth expedition, Frémont had served briefly as Military Governor of California. Upon the admission of California as a State into the Union in 1850, Frémont was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate, one of the first two senators from California, serving only 175 days from September 10, 1850, to March 4, 1851. He was a Free Soil Democrat and was defeated for reelection largely because of his strong opposition to slavery.

Republican presidential candidate

Colonel John C. Frémont
1856 Presidential campaign poster representing Frémont as the Pathfinder planting a U.S. Flag on top of the Rocky Mountains.

In 1856 Frémont (age 43) was the first presidential candidate of the new Republican Party. Initially Frémont was asked to be the Democratic candidate by former Virginia Governor John B. Floyd and the powerful Preston family.[46] Frémont announced that he was for Free Soil Kansas and was against the enforcement of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law.[46] Republican leaders Nathaniel P. Banks, Henry Wilson, and John Bigelow were able to get Frémont to join their political party.[46] The Republican campaign used the slogan "Free Soil, Free Men, and Frémont" to crusade for free farms (homesteads) and against the Slave Power.

Abusive campaign tactics

As was typical in presidential campaigns of the 19th century, the candidates stayed at home and said little. The campaign was particularly abusive, as the Democrats attacked Frémont's illegitimate birth and alleged Frémont was Catholic.[46] In a counter-crusade against the Republicans, the Democrats criticized Frémont's military record and warned that a victory by Frémont would bring civil war. Frémont's powerful father-in-law, Senator Benton, praised Frémont but announced his support for the Democratic candidate James Buchanan.[47]

Results by county explicitly indicating the percentage for Frémont in each county. This caricature tries to link Frémont to other "strange" movements like temperance, feminists, socialism, free love, Catholicism and abolitionism.

At the time of his campaign he lived on Ninth Street in Staten Island, New York. The campaign was headquartered near his home (St. George) next to the Clifton ferry landing. Many campaign rallies were held on the lawn, now the corner of Greenfield and Bay Street.[48] Frémont was defeated, having placed second to James Buchanan in a three-way election; he did not carry the state of California. Frémont received 114 electoral votes to 174 votes received by Buchanan. Millard Fillmore ran as a third party candidate representing the American Party. The popular vote went to Buchanan who received 1,838,169 votes to 1,341,264 votes received by Frémont.[46] Fremont carried 11 states. The Democrats were better organized while the Republicans had to operate on limited funding. After the campaign, Frémont returned to California and devoted himself to his mining business on the Mariposa gold estate, estimated by some to be valued ten million dollars.[46] Frémont's title to Mariposa land had been confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1855.[46]

Civil War

Major General John C. Frémont

At the start of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln wanted to appoint Frémont as the American minister to France, thereby taking advantage of his French ancestry and the popularity in Europe of his anti-slavery positions. However Secretary of State William Henry Seward objected to Frémont's radicalism and the appointment was not made.[49]

Instead, Frémont was promoted to Union Army Major General on May 15, 1861 and then made Commander of the Department of the West on July 1, 1861. Frémont brought with him his skills and great reputation as the Pathfinder, and he was focused on driving the Confederate forces from Missouri.[50] His term as Commander of the Department of the West was controversial, at times successful, and lasted until November 2, 1861, when he was abruptly dismissed by President Lincoln for insubordination and corruption charges in his supply line. In the Hall Carbine Affair, Fremont was accused of overpaying for badly needed but arguably obsolescent rifles.[51] Frémont replaced William S. Harney, who had negotiated the Harney-Price Truce, which permitted Missouri to remain neutral in the conflict as long as it did not send men or supplies to either side. His main goal as Commander of the Western Armies was to protect Cairo, Illinois at all costs in order for the Union Army to move southward on the Mississippi River.[52] Both Frémont and his subordinate, General John Pope, believed that Ulysses S. Grant was the fighting general needed to secure Missouri from the Confederates. Frémont had to contend with a hard-driving Union General Nathaniel Lyon, whose irregular war policy disturbed the complex loyalties of Missouri.[53]

Department of the West (1861)

Command and duties

On July 25, 1861, Frémont formally took command of a Department of the West that was in crisis.[50][54] Earlier in May, a tough, impetuous Regular Army captain, Nathaniel Lyon, exercising irregular authority, led troops who captured a legal contingent of Missouri state militia camped in a Saint Louis suburb; during the capture, civilians were killed.[50] Missouri had not officially seceded from the Union when Lyon was promoted Brigadier General by President Abraham Lincoln and appointed temporary commander of the Department of the West.[50] Lyon, who believed a show of force would keep Missouri in the Union, effectively declared war on the secession-minded Missouri governor Claiborne Jackson, who was driven by Lyon to the Ozarks. Lyon occupied Jefferson City, the state capital, and installed a pro-Union state government.[50] However, Lyon became trapped at Springfield with only 6,000 men (including Union Colonel Franz Sigel and his German corps).[55] Cairo was a Union-occupied city on the Mississippi River, vital to the security of the Union Army's western war effort. It contained too few troops to defend against a Confederate attack.[54] Compared to the Confederates, Frémont's forces were dispersed and disorganized.[54] This was the situation when Frémont took command of the Department of the West.[50]

Frémont's duties upon taking Command of the Western Department were broad, his resources were limited, and the secession crisis in Missouri appeared to be uncontrollable.[53] Frémont was responsible for safeguarding Missouri and all of the Northwest.[56] Frémont's mission was to organize, equip, and lead the Union Army down the Mississippi River, reopen commerce, and break off the Western part of the Confederacy.[57] Frémont was given only 23,000 men, whose volunteer 3-month enlistments were about to expire.[57] Western Governors sent more troops to Frémont but he did not have any weapons with which to arm them. There were no uniforms or military equipment either, and the soldiers were subject to food rationing, poor transportation, and lack of pay.[57] Fremont's intelligence was also faulty, leading him to believe the Missouri state militia and the Confederate forces were twice as numerous as they actually were.[57]

Frémont ran his headquarters in St. Louis in a manner which has been described as "like a European autocrat." Perhaps this was due to a sojourn through France prior to his appointment by President Lincoln. A rumor spread in Washington that Frémont was planning to start his own republic or empire in the West.[58] Like a feudal lord, Frémont set up a headquarters bodyguard of 300 Kentucky men, chosen for their uniform physical attributes.[59] Frémont's supply line, headed by Major Justice McKinstrey,[60] also came under scrutiny for graft and profiteering. Frémont surrounded himself with his friends and businessmen from California who helped ensure he got the supplies he needed one way or another.[60] The imbroglio became a national scandal, and Frémont was unable to keep a handle on supply affairs. A Congressional investigation followed. As a result, Frémont lost much needed support from the powerful Blair family and friends in Washington D.C.[60]

Ulysses S. Grant
Frémont put Grant in command of the Union advance to secure the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two.

Response to Confederate threat

Responding the best he could to the Confederate and state militia threat, Frémont raised volunteer troops, purchased open market weapons and equipment, and sent his wife Jessie to Washington D.C. where she lobbied President Lincoln for more reinforcements.[54] Lyon was ordered to retreat, while Frémont personally sent reinforcement troops to Cairo rather than to Lyon, who had requested more troops. Frémont believed with some accuracy that the Confederates were planning to attack Cairo. Lyon hastily chose to attack Confederate General Sterling Price at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, rather than retreat.[54] During the battle Lyon was shot through the heart and died instantly. As the Union line broke, similar to the first Battle of Bull Run in the east, the Confederates won the battle. Western Missouri was now open for Confederate advancement.[61] Frémont was severely criticized for the defeat and for Lyon's death, having sent troops to reinforce Cairo, rather than to help Lyon's depleted forces 10 miles south of Springfield.

While commanding the Department of the West, Frémont was looking for a Brigadier General to command a post at Cairo.[62] At first Frémont was going to appoint John Pope, but upon the recommendation of Major McKinstry, he interviewed unobtrusive Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant.[63] Grant had a reputation for being a "drifter and a drunkard" in the Old Army, but Frémont viewed Grant independently using his own judgement.[64] Frémont concluded that Grant was an "unassuming character not given to self elation, of dogged persistence, of iron will."[63] Frémont chose Grant and appointed him commander of the Cairo post in October 1861.[63] Grant was sent to Ironton, with 3,000 untrained troops, to stop a potential Confederate attack led by Confederate General William J. Hardee.[54] Immediately thereafter, Frémont sent Grant to Jefferson City, to keep it safe from a potential attack by Confederate General Price a week after the Battle of Wilson's Creek.[65] Grant got the situation in control at Jefferson City, drilling and disciplining troops, increased supply lines, and deploying troops on the outskirts of the city.[65] The city was kept safe as Price and his troops, badly battered from the Battle of Wilson's Creek, retreated.[66]

With Price retreating, Frémont become more aggressive and went on the offensive.[67] Frémont knew the key to victory in the West was capturing control of the Mississippi River for the Union forces. Frémont decided to meet Confederate General Leonidas Polk head-on to control the trunk of the Mississippi.[67] In a turning point of the Civil War, on August 27, 1861 Frémont gave Ulysses S. Grant field command in charge of a combined Union offensive whose goal was to capture Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans, to keep Missouri and Illinois safe from Confederate attack.[67] On August 30, Grant assumed charge of the Union Army on the Mississippi.[68] With Frémont's approval, Grant proceeded to capture Paducah, Kentucky, without firing a shot, after Polk had violated Kentucky neutrality and had captured Columbus. The result was that the Kentucky legislature voted to remain in the Union.[69]

Desiring to regain the upper hand and make up for Union loss at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Frémont and 40,000 troops set out to regain Springfield. On October 25, 1861, Frémont's forces won the First Battle of Springfield. This was the first Union victory in the West. On November 1, Frémont ordered Grant to make a demonstration against Belmont, a steamboat landing across the river from Columbus, in an effort to drive Confederate General Price from Missouri.[70] Grant had early requested to attack Columbus, but Frémont had overruled Grant's initiative.[71]

Emancipation edict controversy

On August 30, 1861, Frémont, without notifying President Lincoln, issued a controversial proclamation putting Missouri under martial law.[72] Frémont made this emancipation proclamation in response to the Confederate tactic of guerrilla warfare and to reduce Confederate sympathies in the stronger slave-holding counties.[72] The edict stipulated that civilians in arms would be subject to court martial and execution, the property of those who aided secessionists would be confiscated, and the slaves of rebels would be emancipated.[72] President Abraham Lincoln, fearing that Frémont's emancipation order would tip Missouri (and other slave states in Union control) to the southern cause, asked Frémont to revise the order. Frémont refused to do so, and sent his wife to plead the case. President Lincoln reprimanded her husband and told Jessie that Frémont "should never have dragged the Negro into the war."[73] Lincoln responded by publicly revoking the proclamation and relieving Frémont of command on November 2, 1861, simultaneous to a War Department report detailing Frémont's iniquities as a major general. Although Lincoln opposed Frémont's method of emancipation, the episode had a significant influence on Lincoln. In January 1863, Lincoln issued his own Emancipation Proclamation.

Mountain Departments (1862)

In March 1862 Frémont was placed in command of the Mountain Departments of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Early in June 1862 he pursued the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson for eight days, finally engaging part of Jackson's force, led by Richard S. Ewell, at Battle of Cross Keys, on June 8. The battle ended in Confederate advantage and Frémont slipped away, saving his army.

When the Army of Virginia was created on June 26, to include General Frémont's corps with John Pope in command, Frémont declined to serve on the grounds that he was senior to Pope, and for personal reasons. He went to New York City, where he remained throughout the war, expecting to receive a command, but none was given to him.[74][75]

Radical Republican presidential candidacy

John C. Frémont

In 1860 the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln for president, who won the presidency and then ran for re-election in 1864. The Radical Republicans, a group of hard-line abolitionists, were upset with Lincoln's positions on the issues of slavery and post-war reconciliation with the southern states. On May 31, 1864, the short-lived Radical Democracy Party nominated Frémont (age 51) for president. This fissure in the Republican Party divided the party into two factions: the anti-Lincoln Radical Republicans, who nominated Frémont, and the pro-Lincoln Republicans.

Later life

John C. Frémont

In 1864 the Frémonts purchased an estate in the Hudson Valley near Tarrytown from the newspaper publisher James Watson Webb. They named it Pocaho, an Indian name. For Jessie it was a chance to recapture some of the charm and isolation of living in the countryside, now that John had retired from politics.[76]

The state of Missouri took possession of the Pacific Railroad in February 1866, when the company defaulted in its interest payment. In June 1866 the state, at private sale, sold the road to Frémont. Frémont reorganized the assets of the Pacific Railroad as the Southwest Pacific Railroad in August 1866. In less than a year (June 1867), the railroad was repossessed by the state of Missouri after Frémont was unable to pay the second installment on his purchase.[77]

Their financial straits required the Frémonts to sell Pocaho in 1875, and to move back to New York City.[78]

Frémont was appointed and served as the Governor of the Arizona Territory by President Rutherford B. Hayes and served from 1878 to 1881. Frémont, however, spent little time in the territory; eventually he was asked to resume his duties or resign, and chose resignation.[79] Destitute, the family depended on the publication earnings of his wife Jessie.

Frémont lived on Staten Island in retirement.


On Sunday, July 13, 1890, Frémont (age 77) died of peritonitis at his residence at 49 West Twenty-fifth Street in New York. His death was unexpected and his brief illness was not generally known. On Tuesday, July 8, Frémont had been affected by the heat of a particularly hot summer day. On Wednesday he came down with a chill and was confined to his bedroom. His symptoms progressed to peritonitis (an abdominal infection) which caused his death.[80] At the time he died, Frémont was popularly known as the "Pathfinder of the Rocky Mountains". He was buried in Rockland Cemetery in Sparkill, New York.

John C. Frémont Jr.

General Frémont and his wife, Jessie, were the parents of John Charles Frémont Jr., who was born in San Francisco on April 19, 1851, became a Rear Admiral in the US Navy, serving from 1868 to 1911, and died in Boston, Massachusetts on March 7, 1911. The younger Frémont served as commander of the monitor USS Florida (1903–05), naval attache to Paris and St. Petersburg (1906–08), commander of the battleship USS Mississippi (1908–09) and, finally as commandant of the Boston Navy Yard (1909–11).



Frémont collected a number of plants on his expeditions, including the first recorded discovery of the Single-leaf Pinyon by a European American. The genus (Fremontodendron) of the California Flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum) is named for him, as are the species names of many other plants, including the chaff bush eytelia[81][82] (Amphipappus fremontii), Western rosinweed (Calycadenia fremontii), pincushion flower (Chaenactis fremontii), goosefoot (Chenopodium fremontii), silk tassel (Garrya fremontii), moss gentian (Gentiana fremontii), vernal pool goldfields (Lasthenia fremontii), tidytips (Layia fremontii), desert pepperweed (Lepidium fremontii), desert boxthorn (Lycium fremontii), barberry (Mahonia fremontii), bush mallow (Malacothamnus fremontii), monkeyflower (Mimulus fremontii), phacelia (Phacelia fremontii), desert combleaf (Polyctenium fremontii), cottonwood tree (Populus fremontii), desert apricot (Prunus fremontii), indigo bush (Psorothamnus fremontii), mountain ragwort (Senecio fremontii), yellowray gold (Syntrichopappus fremontii), and chaparral death camas (Toxicoscordion fremontii).


The city of Elizabeth, South Australia (now a part of the city of Playford) named a local park and high school Fremont in recognition of the sister city relationship it had with Fremont, California. The high school has since merged with Elizabeth High School, so the Pathfinder's legacy is carried by Fremont-Elizabeth City High School.

1898 Frémont commemorative stamp

The United States honored Fremont in 1898 with a commemorative stamp as part of the Trans-Mississippi Issue.

The "largest and most expensive trophy in college football is a replica of a cannon that accompanied Captain John C. Frémont on his expedition through Oregon, Nevada and California in 1843–44". The annual game between the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is for possession of the Fremont Cannon.[84][85]

A barbershop chorus in Fremont, Nebraska, is named the Pathfinder Chorus.[86] The Fremont Pathfinders Artillery Battery[87] is an American Civil War reenactment group from the same community.

Fremont Street in Las Vegas, Nevada, is named in his honor, as are streets in Tempe, Arizona; Tucson, Arizona; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Chicago, Illinois; Manhattan, Kansas; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Springfield, Missouri; Crawford, Nebraska; Minden, Nevada; Reno, Nevada; Grant City, Staten Island, New York; Klamath Falls, Oregon; Portland, Oregon; River Falls, Wisconsin; Kiel, Wisconsin; and Casper, Wyoming as well as several streets in cities in California such as Fremont; Monterey; Seaside; Stockton; San Mateo; San Francisco and Sunnyvale.

Portland, Oregon has several other locations named after Frémont, such as the Fremont Bridge. In addition, the Fremont Highway #019 carries Oregon Route 31 for 120 miles (193 km) through the Oregon outback. The Fremont Highway begins at the south end of La Pine near the upper end of the Deschutes River in central Oregon. The highway runs from there in a southeasterly direction and ends at Valley Falls north of Lakeview in the south central part of the state. Captain Frémont named "Summer Lake" and "Winter Ridge" in December 1843 during an expedition through the area.[88] The community of Summer Lake is situated along the Fremont Highway and takes its name from the nearby lake named by Frémont. South and west of Summer Lake is the Fremont-Winema National Forest.

Other places named for him include John C. Fremont Senior High School in Los Angeles, Fremont High School in Plain City, Utah, Fremont Senior High School in Oakland, California, and the John C. Fremont Branch Library located on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Elementary schools in Santa Ana, California;Glendale, California; Modesto, California; Long Beach, California; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Taylorsville, Utah; and Carson City, Nevada bear his name, as do junior high or middle schools in Mesa, Arizona; Pomona, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Roseburg, Oregon; and Oxnard, California. Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, California, is named for the explorer and its annual yearbook is called The Pathfinder. In addition, the Fremont Hospital in Yuba City, California, and the John C. Fremont Hospital, in Mariposa, California, (where Frémont and his wife lived and prospered during the Gold Rush) are named for him. There is also a John C. Fremont Library in Florence, Colorado.

The U.S. Army's (now inactive) 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized) is called the Pathfinder Division, after Frémont. The gold arrow on the 8th ID crest is called the "Arrow of General Frémont." The 8th Division was based at Camp Fremont in Menlo Park, California during World War I.

In 2013, the Georgia Historical Society erected a historical marker at the birthplace of John C. Frémont in Savannah, Georgia.




Frémont's great-grandfather, Henry Whiting, was a half-brother of Catherine Whiting. She married John Washington, uncle of George Washington.[95][96][97]

See also


  1. Allan Nevins, Frémont, the West's Greatest Adventurer: Being a Biography from Certain Hitherto Unpublished Sources of General John C. Frémont, Together with His Wife, Jessie Benton Frémont, and Some Account of the Period of Expansion which Found a Brilliant Leader in the Pathfinder (1928)
  2. Andrew Rolle, "Exploring an Explorer: California, Psychohistory, and John C. Fremont," Southern California Quarterly, March 1994, Vol. 76#1 pp 85–98
  3. Andrew F. Rolle, John Charles Fremont: Character As Destiny (1991)
  4. Nevins pp. 3–7. Chaffin pp. 19–21
  5. Chaffin, pp. 21–22
  6. 1 2 Rolle, Andrew (1991). John Charles Frémont: Character as Destiny. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 2–5. ISBN 0-585-35954-7.
  7. 1 2 3 Dictionary of American Biography, p. 19
  8. Brands, H. W. (2005). Andrew Jackson, His Life and Times. Garden City: Doubleday. pp. 188–190. ISBN 0-385-50738-0.
  9. Roy, Pierre-Georges (1922). Les petites choses de notre histoire. Lévis: Quatrième série. pp. 164–168.
  10. "John C. Fremont".
  11. 1 2  Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Frémont, John Charles". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  12. Rhonda (2012), p. 64
  13. Beck (1989), 27, 28
  14. Barbour (2012), p. 5
  15. Morgan (1953), p. 7
  16. 1 2 3 Hampton Sides (2006). Blood and Thunder. Anchor Books. p. 82.
  17. John Charles Frémont (1845). "Map of an exploring expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the year 1842 and to Oregon & north California in the years 1843-44". Norman B. Leventhal map Center. Boston Public Library. Retrieved March 8, 2014.
  18. "The emigrant's guide to New Mexico, California, and Oregon:".
  19. Stephen Craig Weiss, "The John C. Fremont '1842, 1843–'44 Report' and Map," Journal of Government Information, May 1999, Vol. 26#3 pp 297–313
  20. Janin, Hunt; Carlson, Ursula (2009). Trails of Historic New Mexico: Routes Used by Indian, Spanish and American Travelers Through 1886. McFarland. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-7864-4010-8.
  21. Sides, Hampton (2006). Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West. Random House, Inc. pp. 123–124. ISBN 978-0-7393-2672-5.
  22. Sides, 2006, p. 124
  23. Sides, 2006, p. 125
  24. 1 2 Sides, 2006, p. 154
  25. Sides, 2006, p. 153
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  28. Denton, Sally (Winter 2011), "Frémont Steals California", American Heritage, p. 35, retrieved December 25, 2011
  29. Eldredge, Zoeth Skinner (1912). "APPENDIX D The Murder of Berreyesa and the De Haros". The Beginnings of San Francisco from the Expedition of Anza, 1774 to the City Charter of April 15, 1850: With Biographical and Other Notes. New York, New York, United States: John C. Rankin Company. Retrieved July 21, 2011.
  30. "Commodore John Sloat". US-Mexican War, Public Broadcasting Service.
  31. Harlow p. 124
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  33. Bancroft p. 253
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  35. Tompkins, Walker A. Santa Barbara, Past and Present. Santa Barbara, CA: Tecolote Books, 1975, pp. 33–35.
  36. Groom, Winston: Kearny's March: The Epic Creation of the American West, 1846–1847 (p.249)
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  39. Google Books: "Edward M. Kern, Artist and Explorer", by William Joseph Hefferman; University of California, Berkeley, 1951.
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  53. 1 2 Catton, p. 11
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  62. Catton, p. 28
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  71. Catton, pp. 66–67
  72. 1 2 3 Carwardine, pp. 177–178
  73. Carwardine, p. 179
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  77. "100 Years of Service". 1960. Retrieved April 20, 2006.
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  81. Morhardt, Sia; Morhardt, J. Emil (2004). California Desert Flowers: an Introduction to Families, Genera, and Species. University of California Press. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-520-24003-2.
  82. Edmund Carroll Jaeger (1940). Desert Wild Flowers. Stanford University Press. pp. 259–. ISBN 978-0-8047-0365-9.
  83. IPNI.  Frém.
  85. "Nevada Wolf Pack History". College Football History. Retrieved September 19, 2007.
  86. "The Pathfinder Chorus". Retrieved February 14, 2014.
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  90. Kit Carson and the Mountain Men at the Internet Movie Database
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Further reading

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