joined the army in Mexico;
in March, 1848, was governor, military and civil, of
Vera Cruz, and in May of the same
year was made governor of the city of Mexico. In August, 1848, he was
brevetted major-general, and died in St. Louis, Mo., on Oct. 31,
The Kearny-Stockton Controversy.
The differences between General Kearny and
Commodore Stockton, after the
occupation of California, originated primarily in the indefiniteness of
the instructions which were issued from the seat of government. Those
addressed to the naval commanders on the Pacific, in their judgment,
justified the organization of a military force and a civil government in
California, and under those instructions Commodore Stockton authorized
Colonel Fremont to organize the
California battalion and take its command with the title of major. By
virtue of those, he likewise took the necessary steps for the
organization of a civil government for California and invested Fremont
with the title and responsibilities of governor.
As soon as these results were consummated, Kit Carson was sent, with
an escort of fifteen men, to bear the intelligence overland to
Washington, as soon as possible. Just as he had crossed the desert and
was approaching the American frontier, he was met by General Kearny,
with a small force of dragoons, marching westward, under instructions
from his government to conquer California and organize a civil
government in the territory, a work which had already been successfully
Upon learning what had occurred, Kearny insisted upon Carson's
returning with him, as his guide, to California, having forwarded the
dispatches to Washington by another messenger of his own selection. Upon
the general's arrival at Los Angeles, the capital of California, and the
seat of the new government, the contest soon arose between himself and
Commodore Stockton. The process by which Colonel Fremont became involved
in this controversy is obvious. He held a commission in the army as
lieutenant of topographical engineers, and, as such, was, primarily,
subject to the orders of his superior general officer of the army. He
had since yielded to the exigencies of the occasion, and, from motive
and for reasons which cannot be impeached, waived any privileges he
might have claimed, as the real conqueror of North California, and, in
point of rank, the superior representative of the army on the Pacific
coast, and, with his men, volunteered to serve under Commodore Stockton
in the further prosecution of the war in South California, the
subjugation of which could not be so successfully effected without the
aid of a fleet. By accepting the governorship of California, a vacancy
had been created in the command of the California battalion, and other
changes had become necessary. The first intimation which Colonel Fremont
received of General Kearny's intention to test the validity of Commodore
Stockton's acts, through him, was conveyed in the following note:
HEADQUARTERS, ARMY OF THE WEST, " CIUDAD DE LOS
Jan. 16, 1847.
By direction of
Brigadier - General Kearny, I send you a copy of a communication to him
from the Secretary of War, dated June 18, 1846, in which is the
following: 'These troops, and such as may be organized in California,
will be under your command.' The general directs that no change will be
made in the organization of your battalion of volunteers, or officers
appointed in it, without his sanction or approval being first obtained.
WM. F. EMORY,
Lieutenant and Acting Assistant
This note at once raised the question whether he was to obey General
Kearny, and thereby, so far as his example could go, invalidate the acts
of Commodore Stockton, in which he had cooperated, or obey Commodore
Stockton, and, so far as his decision would go, sustain the validity of
those proceedings which he believed to be both legal and patriotic. If
he took the former course, he incurred the liability to be arraigned,
and, in his judgment, justly disgraced for disobeying an officer whose
rank and authority he had deliberately recognized; and he further
incurred the charge of base ingratitude towards an officer whose
courtesy and confidence he had shared, whose conduct he had approved,
and who unexpectedly found himself in a situation to need the support of
his friends. Fremont was incapable of deserting either a friend or what
he deemed a post of duty; he accordingly addressed to General Kearny the
following reply, on the following day:
CIUDAD DE LOS ANGELES,
Jan. 17, 1847.
SIR,—I have the honor to be in receipt of your favor of last night, in
which I am directed to suspend the execution of orders which, in my
capacity of military commandant of this territory, I had received from
Commodore Stockton, governor and commander-in-chief in California. I
avail myself of an early hour this morning to make such a reply as the
brief time allowed for reflection will enable me.
I found Commodore
Stockton in possession of the country, exercising the functions of
military commandant and civil governor, as early as July of last year;
and shortly thereafter I received from him the commission of military
commandant, the duties of which I immediately entered upon, and have
continued to exercise to the present moment.
I found also, on my
arrival at this place, some three or four days since, Commodore Stockton
still exercising the functions of civil and military governor, with the
same apparent deference to his rank on the part of all officers
(including yourself) as he maintained and required when he assumed them
in July last.
I learned also, in
conversation with you, that on the march from San Diego, recently, to
this place, you entered upon and discharged duties implying an
acknowledgment on your part of supremacy to Commodore Stockton.
I feel, therefore, with
great deference to your professional and personal character, constrained
to say that, until you and Commodore Stockton adjust between yourselves
the question of rank, where I respectfully think the difficulty belongs,
I shall have to report and receive orders, as heretofore, from the
With considerations of
high regard, I am, sir, your obedient servant,
J. C. FREMONT,
Lieutenant-Colonel U. S. A., and Military Commandant of the Territory of
California. Brig.-Gen. S. W. Kearny, U. S. A.
The same day that General Kearny addressed the note above quoted to
Colonel Fremont, a yet more serious correspondence commenced between him
and Commodore Stockton. It is here given at length, with the
introductory remarks of Commodore Stockton's biographer, who evidently
wrote under the eye and approval of the commodore:
"Fremont throughout the California war was strictly and technically
in the naval service, under Commodore Stockton. He had taken service
under him with an express agreement that he would continue subject to
his orders as long as he continued in command in California. This
engagement both he and Captain Gillespie had entered into from patriotic
motives, and to render the most efficient service to the country. He
visited California originally upon topographical, and not on military,
duty. His volunteering under Stockton on special service was a patriotic
impulse, in complying with which the government were in honor bound to
sustain him. He therefore very properly refused to violate his agreement
with Stockton, and unite with Kearny against him.
" Having failed to compel Fremont to acknowledge his authority, the
general addressed himself to the commodore and demanded that he should
abdicate the command-in-chief.
" The commodore, considering the subjugation of California complete,
and that no further hostilities were likely to take place, was of
opinion that he might now relinquish his governorship and
command-in-chief and return to his ship. But, having informed the
government that upon that event he intended to appoint Colonel Fremont
governor, he now proceeded to carry that design into execution.
" General Kearny, learning this to be the purpose of the commodore,
and desirous of exercising the functions of governor himself, addressed
to him the following letter:"
GENERAL KEARNY TO COMMODORE STOCKTON.
HEADQUARTERS, ARMY OF THE WEST, CIUDAD DE LOS ANGELES,
Jan. 16, 1847.
SIR,-I am informed that you are engaged in organizing a civil
government, and appointing officers for it in this territory. As this
duty has been specially assigned to myself, by orders of the President
of the United States, conveyed in letters to me from the Secretary of
War, of June 3, 8, and 18, 1846, the original of which I gave to you on
the 12th, and which you returned to me on the 13th, and copies of which
I furnished you with on the, 26th December, I have to ask if you have
any authority from the President, from the Secretary of the Navy, or
from any other channel of the President to form such government and make
If you have such
authority, and will show it to me or furnish me with a certified copy of
it, I will cheerfully acquiesce in what you are doing. If you have not
such authority, I then demand that you cease all further proceedings
relating to the formation of a civil government of this Territory, as I
cannot recognize in you any right in assuming to perform duties confided
to me by the President.
Very respectfully, your
obedient servant, S. W. KEARNY, " Brigadier-General U. S. A.
Commodore R. F. Stockton, Acting " Governor of California."
COMMODORE STOCKTON TO GENERALKEARNY.
HEADQUARTERS, CIUDAD DE LOS ANGELES,
Jan. 16, 1847.
SIR,—In answer to your note, received this afternoon, I need say but
little more than that which I communicated to you in a conversation at
San Diego—that California was conquered and a civil government put into
successful operation; that a copy of the laws made by me for the
government of the Territory, and the names of the officers selected to
see them faithfully executed, were transmitted to the President of the
United States before you arrived in the Territory.
I will only add that I
cannot do anything nor desist from doing anything on your demand, which
I will submit to the President and ask for your recall. In the mean time
you will consider yourself suspended from the command of the United
States forces in this place.
obedient servant, " R. F. STOCKTON,
Commander-in-Chief. "To Brevet Brig.-Gen. S. W. Kearny."
GENERAL KEARNY TO COMMODORE STOCKTON.
HEADQUARTERS, ARMY OF THE WEST, " CIUDAD DE LOS ANGELES,
Jan. 17, 1847.
SIR, In my communication to you of yesterday's date I stated that I had
learned that you were engaged in organizing a civil government for
California. I referred you to the President's instructions to me (the
original of which you have seen) and copies of which I furnished you, to
perform that duty, and added that if you had any authority from the
President, or any of his organs, for what you were doing, I would
cheerfully acquiesce, and if you had not such authority I demanded that
you would cease further proceedings in the matter.
Your reply of the same date refers me to a conversation held at San
Diego, and adds that you cannot do anything or desist from doing
anything or alter anything on your (my) demand. As, in consequence of
the defeat of the enemy on the 8th and 9th inst., by the troops under my
command, and the capitulation entered into on the 13th inst. by
Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont with the leaders of the Californians, in
which the people under arms and in the field agree to disperse and
remain quiet and peaceable, the country may now, for the first time, be
considered as conquered, and taken possession of by us; and as I am
prepared to carry out the President's instructions to me, which you
oppose, I must, for the purpose of preventing a collision between us and
possibly a civil war in consequence of it, remain silent for the
present, leaving with you the great responsibility of doing that for
which you have no authority, and preventing me from complying with the
Very respectfully, your obedient servant, S. W. KEARNY,
Brigadier-General U. S. A. " Commodore R. F. Stockton, Acting
Governor of California."
The motives which actuated Colonel Fremont in electing to pursue the
course which he did upon the arrival of General Kearny, are scarcely
open to misconstruction. There happens, however, to be the best of
evidence in regard to them in a letter addressed to Colonel Benton at
the time of the collision, which reveals in all the confidence of
personal friendship the innermost secrets of his heart. In that letter,
" ... When I entered Los Angeles I was ignorant of the relations
subsisting between these gentlemen, having received from neither any
order or information which might serve as a guide in the circumstances.
I, therefore, immediately on my arrival, waited upon the governor and
commander-in-chief, Commodore Stockton, and, a few minutes afterwards,
called upon General Kearny. I soon found them occupying a hostile
attitude, and each denying the right of the other to assume the
direction of affairs in this country.
" The ground assumed by General Kearny was that he held in his hand
plenary instructions from the President directing him to conquer
California, and organize a civil government, and that consequently he
would not recognize the acts of Commodore Stockton.
" The latter maintained that his own instructions were to the same
effect as Kearny's; that this officer's commission was obsolete, and
never would have been given could the government have anticipated that
the entire country, seaboard and interior, would have been conquered and
held by himself. The country had been conquered and a civil government
instituted since September last, the constitution of the Territory and
appointments under the constitution had been sent to the government for
its approval, and decisive action undoubtedly long since had upon them.
General Kearny was instructed to conquer the country, and upon its
threshold his command had been nearly cut to pieces, and, but for relief
from him (Commodore Stockton), would have been destroyed. More men were
lost than in General Taylor's battle of the 8th. In regard to the
remaining part of his instructions, how could he organize a government
without first proceeding to disorganize the present one? His work had
been anticipated; his commission was absolutely null and void and of no
" But if General Kearny believed that his instructions gave him
paramount authority in the country, he made a fatal error on his
arrival. He was received with kindness and distinction by the commodore,
and offered by him the command of his land forces. General Kearny
rejected the offer and declined interfering with Commodore Stockton.
This officer was then preparing for a march to Ciudad de Los Angeles,
his force being principally sailors and marines, who were all on foot
(fortunately for them), and who were to be provided with supplies on
their march through an enemy's country, where all the people are
cavalry. His force was paraded, and ready to start, 700 in number,
supported by six pieces of artillery. The command, under General
Stockton, had been conferred upon his first lieutenant, Mr. Rowan. At
this juncture General Kearny expressed to Commodore Stockton his
expectation that the command would have been given to him. The commodore
informed the general that Lieutenant Rowan was in his usual line of
duty, as on board ship, relieving him of the detail of the drudgery of
the camp, while he himself remained the commander-in-chief; that if
General Kearny was willing to accept Mr. Rowan's place, under these
circumstances, he could have it. The general assented. Commodore
Stockton called up his officers and explained the case. Mr. Rowan gave
up his post generously and without hesitation; and Commodore Stockton
desired them clearly to understand that he remained commander-in-chief;
under this arrangement the whole force entered Angeles; and on the day
of my arrival at that place General Kearny told me that he did then, at
that moment, recognize Commodore Stockton as governor of the Territory.
"You are aware that I had contracted relations with Commodore
Stockton, and I thought it neither right nor politically honorable to
withdraw my support. No reason of interest shall ever compel me to act
towards any man in such a way that I should afterwards be ashamed to
Early in the spring, new instructions, bearing date Nov. 5, reached
Commodore Stockton, which put an end to the latter's supremacy in the
quarter. In his dispatch the Secretary of the Navy says:
" The President has deemed it best for the public interests to invest
the military officer commanding with the direction of the operations on
land, and with the administrative functions of the government over the
people and Territory occupied by us. You will relinquish to Colonel
Mason, or to General Kearny, if the latter shall arrive before you have
done so, the entire control over these matters, and turn over to him all
papers necessary to the performance of his duties."
Instructions of a corresponding import were of course received from
the War Department, by General Kearny, and with them, or not long
afterwards, a dispatch from Mr. Marcy, of which the following is an
EXTRACT FROM INSTRUCTIONS TO BRIGADIER-GENERAL KEARNY.
WAR DEPARTMENT, June 17, 1847.
. . . When the dispatch
from this department was sent out in November last, there was reason to
believe that Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont would desire to return to the
United States, and you were then directed to conform to his wishes in
that respect. It is not now proposed to change that direction. But since
that time it has become known here that he bore a conspicuous part in
the conquest of California, that his services have been very valuable in
that country, and doubtless will continue to be so should he remain
Impressed, as all
engaged in the public service must be, with the great importance of
harmony and cordial cooperation in carrying on military operations in a
country so distant from the seat of authority, the President is
persuaded that when his definite instructions were received, all
questions of difficulty were settled, and all feelings which had been
elicited by the agitation of them had subsided.
Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont, who has the option to return or remain,
adopt the latter alternative, the President does not doubt you will
employ him in such a manner as will render his services most available
to public interest, having reference to his extensive acquaintance with
the inhabitants of California, and his knowledge of their language,
qualifications independent of others, which it is supposed may be very
useful in the present and prospective state of our affairs in that
Very respectfully, your ob't servant, " W. L. MARCY, Secretary of War."
The " definite instructions " to which reference is here made were
never communicated to Colonel Fremont, and their suppression was very
justly esteemed by him a grievance for several reasons, and among
others, because they show that by the President's directions it was at
Colonel Fremont's option whether he would remain in California or not,
an option, however, which was denied him by General Kearny.
Early in March, and after taking the supreme command in California,
General Kearny addressed Colonel Fremont the following letter:
GENERAL KEARNY TO COLONEL FREMONT.
HEADQUARTERS, 10TH MILITARY DEPT.,
MONTEREY, U. CAL., March 1, 1847.
SIR,-By Department orders, No. 2, of this date (which will be handed to
you by Captain Turner, 1st Dragoons, A.A.A.G., for my command), you will
see that certain duties are there required of you as commander of the
battalion of California volunteers.
In addition to the
duties above referred to, I have now to direct that you will bring with
you, and with as little delay as possible, all the archives and public
documents and papers which may be subject to your control, and which
appertain to the government of California, that I may receive them from
your hands at this place, the capital of the Territory.
I have directions from
the general-in-chief not to detain you in this country, against your
wishes, a moment longer than the necessities of the service may require
; and you will be at liberty to leave here after you have complied with
these instructions, and those in the order referred to.
Very respectfully, your ob't servant,
S. W. KEARNY.
Lieut.-Col. J. C. Fremont, Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, Commanding
Battalion of California Volunteers, Ciudad de Los Angeles."
About a month later, he received the following order from General
HEADQUARTERS, 10TH MILITARY DEPT., " MONTEREY,
CAL., March 28.
SIR,-This will be
handed to you by Colonel Mason, 1st Dragoons, who goes to the southern
district, clothed by me with full authority to give such orders and
instructions upon all matters, both civil andmilitary, in that section
of the country as he may deem proper and necessary. Any instructions he
may give you will be considered as coming from myself.
A few weeks later Colonel Fremont received orders from General Kearny
to report himself at Monterey with such of the members of his
topographical corps as were still under pay, prepared to set out at once
for Washington. Colonel Fremont then applied for permission to join his
regiment, under General Taylor's
command, supposed to be on its way to
Vera Cruz. This request was refused without explanation or apology,
and on June 14 Colonel Fremont addressed General Kearny as follows :
COLONEL FREMONT TO GENERAL KEARNY.
NEW HELVETIA, U. CAL.,
June 14, 1847.
SIR,-In a communication which I received from yourself in March of the
present year I am informed that you had been directed by the
commander-in-chief not to detain me in this country against my wishes
longer than the absolute necessities of the service might require.
Private letters in
which I have entire confidence further inform me that the President has
been pleased to direct that I should be permitted the choice of joining
my regiment in Mexico, or returning directly to the United States. An
application which I had the honor to make to you at the Ciudad de Los
Angeles for permission to proceed immediately to
Mexico having been rejected, and the duties of the exploring
expedition which had been confided to my direction having been
terminated by yourself, I respectfully request that I may now be
relieved of all connection with the topographical party which you have
taken under your charge, and be permitted to return to the United
States. Traveling with a small party by a direct route, my knowledge of
the country and freedom from professional business will enable me to
reach the States some forty or fifty days earlier than yourself, which
the present condition of affairs and a long absence from my family make
an object of great importance to me.
It may not be improper
to say to you that my journey will be made with private means, and will
not, therefore, occasion any expenditure to the government. I have the
honor to be, with much respect, your obedient servant,
J. C. FREMONT,
Lieutenant-Colonel, Mounted Riflemen. " Brig.-Gen. S. W. Kearny,
To this request Colonel Fremont received the following reply:
GENERAL KEARNY TO COLONEL FREMONT.
CAMP NEAR NEW HELVETIA,
CALIFORNIA, June 14, 1847.
contained in your communication to me of this date, to be relieved from
all connection with the topographical party (nineteen men), and be
permitted to return to the United States with a small party made up by
your private means, cannot be granted.
I shall leave here on
Wednesday, the 16th instant, and I require of you to be with your
topographical party in my camp (which will probably be about 15 miles
from here) on the evening of that day, and to continue with me to
Very respectfully, your
obedient servant, S. W. KEARNY,
Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont, Regiment
Mounted Riflemen, New Helvetia."
General Kearny broke up his camp near Sutter's fort on the day after
issuing this order, and set out for the United States, attended by
Colonel Fremont, who was treated, however, with deliberate disrespect
throughout the journey. The party reached Fort Leavenworth about Aug.
22. On that day General Kearny sent for him, and directed Lieutenant
Wharton to read to him a copy of the first paragraph of an order he had
just issued of that date, as follows:
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Aug. 22, 1847.
Lieutenant - Colonel Fremont, of the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, will
turn over to the officers of the different departments at this post, the
horses, mules, and other public property in the use of the topographical
party now under his charge, for which receipts will be given. He will
arrange the accounts of these men (nineteen in number), so that they can
be paid at the earliest date. Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont having
performed the above duty, will consider himself under arrest, and will
then repair to Washington City, and report himself to the
adjutant-general of the army. . . .
For Colonel Fremont's subsequent actions, see
FREMONT, JOHN CHARLES.