John C. Fremont


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FREMONT, JOHN CHARLES, explorer; born in Savannah, Ga., Jan. 21, 1813; graduated at Charleston College in 1830. His father was a Frenchman, and his mother a Virginian. He was instructor in mathematics in the United States navy from 1833 to 1835. Engaged in surveying the Cherokee country in the winter of 1837-38, he began his famous explorations, first in the country between the Missouri River and the British possessions. He had been appointed second lieutenant of topographical engineers in July. In 1841 he married a daughter of Senator Thomas H. Benton, and in May, 1842, he began, under the authority of the government, the exploration of an overland route to the Pacific Ocean. He ascended the highest peak of the Wind River Mountains, which was afterwards named Fremont's Peak. He explored the Great Salt Lake region in 1843, and penetrated to the Pacific near the mouth of the Columbia River.

John C. Fremont

John C. Fremont

In 1845 he explored the Sierra Nevada in California, and in 1846 became involved in Mexican War on the Pacific coast. He assisted in the conquest of California; was appointed its military governor; and, after its admission as a State, became one of its first United States Senators. He continued his explorations after the war. For his scientific researches, Fremont received, in 1850, a gold medal from the King of Prussia, and another from the Royal Geographical Society of London. Be had already received from his countrymen the significant title of "The Path-finder." At his own expense he made a fifth exploration, in 1853, and found a new route to the Pacific. In 1856, the newly formed Republican party nominated him for the Presidency of the United States, and he received 114 electoral votes against 174 given for Buchanan. Returning from Europe in May, 1861, John Charles Fremontand being appointed a major-general in the United States army, he was assigned to command the Western Department; but, through the intrigues of ambitious politicians, was removed from the command in the course of six months, while successfully prosecuting a campaign he had planned. He was in command of another department, but resigned in 1862, declining to serve under an officer inferior to him in rank. Radical Republicans nominated him for the Presidency in 1864, after which he took leave of political life; but he became active in promoting the construction of a transcontinental railway. He died in New York, July 13, 1890.

In the spring of 1845 Captain Fremont was sent by his government to explore the great basin and the maritime region of Oregon and California. He crossed the Sierra Nevada, in the dead of winter, from Great Salt Lake into California, with between sixty and seventy men, to obtain supplies. Leaving them in the valley of the San Joaquin, he went to Monterey, then the capital of the province of California, to obtain permission from the Mexican authorities to continue his explorations. It was given, but was almost immediately withdrawn, and he was peremptorily ordered to leave the country without delay. He refused, when General de Castro, the Mexican governor, mustered the forces of the province to expel him. At length he was permitted to go on with his explorations without hindrance. On May 9, 1846, he received dispatches from his government, directing him to watch the movements of the Mexicans in California, who seemed disposed to hand the province over to the British government. It was also rumored that General de Castro intended to destroy all the American settlements on the Sacramento River. Fremont hurried back to California, and found De Castro on the march against the settlements. The settlers flew to arms, and joined Fremont's camp, and, under his leadership, these settlements were not only saved, but the Mexican authorities were driven out of California. Fremont and his followers met General de Castro and his forces, strong in numbers, when Fremont retired about 30 miles, to a mountain position, where he called around him the American settlers in that region. With these he captured a Mexican post at Sonoma Pass (June 15, 1846), with nine cannon and 250 muskets. De Castro was routed, and on July 5 the Americans in California declared themselves independent, and elected Fremont governor of the province. He then proceeded to join the American naval forces at Monterey, under Commodore Stockton, who had lately arrived, with authority from Washington to conquer California. Fremont appeared there with 160 mounted riflemen. On Aug. 17, 1846, Stockton and Fremont took possession of the city of Los Angeles; and at that place General Kearny, who had just taken possession of New Mexico, joined Stockton and Fremont, Dec. 27, 1846. Kearny would not sanction the election of Fremont as governor of California, and on Feb. 8, 1847, assuming that office himself, he declared the annexation of California to the United States. Fremont refused to obey General Kearny, his superior officer, who sent him to Washington under arrest, where he was tried by a court-martial, which sentenced him to be dismissed from the service, but recommended him to the clemency of the President. The penalty was remitted, and in October, 1848, Fremont entered upon his fourth exploration among the far western mountains. See KEARNY, STEPHEN WATTS ; STOCKTON, ROBERT FIELD.

Fremont was in Europe when the Civil War broke out, and, leaving on receiving notice of his appointment to the army, he returned home, bringing with him arms for the government. He arrived in Boston on June 27, and July 6 he was appointed to the command of the Western Department, just created. He arrived at St. Louis July 26, where he made his headquarters. He found disorder everywhere. The terms of enlistment of home guards, or three-months' men, were expiring, and they were unwilling to reenlist. He had very little money or arms at his disposal, and was unable to send aid to General Lyon, in the southwestern portion of the State, battling with the Confederates. He resolved to assume grave responsibilities. He applied to the United States Treasurer at St. Louis for a portion of $300,000 in his hands, but was refused. He was about to seize $100,000 of it when the officer yielded; and, with the money, Fremont secured the reenlistment of many of the home guards. He strongly fortified St. Louis, and prepared to place the important post at Cairo in a position of absolute security. With nearly 4,000 troops on steamers, he proceeded to Cairo with such a display that the impression was general that he had 12,000. Although large bodies of Confederate troops in Kentucky and Missouri were gathered for the purpose of seizing Cairo and Bird's Point, Fremont was not molested in his mission, and Prentiss, at the former place, was amply strengthened. Pillow and Thompson and Hardee, who had advanced in that direction, fell back, and became very discreet. Fremont returned to St. Louis on Aug. 4, having accomplished his wishes and spread alarm among the Confederates. Polk, at Memphis, ordered Pillow to evacuate New Madrid, with his men and heavy guns, and hasten to Randolph and Fort Pillow, on the Tennessee shore. When news of the battle at Wilson's Creek, and the death of Lyon, reached St. Louis, the Confederates were jubilant. Fremont immediately proclaimed martial law, and appointed a provost-marshal. Some of the most active Confederates were arrested, and the publication of newspapers charged with disloyalty was suspended. But the condition of public affairs in Missouri was becoming more and more alarming. The provisional government was almost powerless. Fremont took all authority into his own hands. Confederates were arrested and imprisoned, and disloyalty of every kind felt the force of his power. He proclaimed that the property, real and personal, of all persons in Missouri who should be proven to have taken an active part with the enemies of the government in the field should be confiscated to the public use, and their slaves, if they had any, should thereafter be free men (see EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATIONS). As he acted promptly in accordance with his proclamation, great consternation began to prevail. At that moment his hand was stayed. Because of his avowed determination to confiscate the property and free the slaves of the disloyalists, a storm of indignation suddenly arose in the border slave States, which alarmed the national government, and the President, wishing to placate the rebellious spirit of those States, requested Fremont to modify his proclamation on these points. He declined to do so, when the President, at Fremont's request, issued an order for such a modification. Fremont could not, for it would imply that he thought the measure wrong, which he did not.

Fremont was censured for his failure to reinforce Colonel Mulligan at Lexington. The public knew very little of his embarrassments at that time. Pressing demands came for reinforcements from General Grant at Paducah. At various points in his department were heard cries for help, and a peremptory order came from General Scott for him to forward 5,000 troops immediately to Washington, D. C., notwithstanding McClellan numbered 75,000 within easy call of the capital. Fremont's force, never exceeding 56,000, was scattered over his department. Chafing under unjust complaints, he proceeded to put into execution his plan of ridding the Mississippi Valley of Confederates. His plan contemplated the capture or dispersion of troops under General Price in Missouri, and the seizure of Little Rock, Ark. By so doing, he expected to turn the position of Pillow and others in the vicinity of New Madrid, cut off the supplies from the southwest, and compel them to retreat, at which time a flotilla of gunboats, then building near St. Louis, might descend the Mississippi, and assist in military operations against the batteries at Memphis. In the event of this movement being successful, he proposed to push on towards the Gulf of Mexico with his army, and tale possession of New Orleans. More than 20,000 soldiers were set in motion (Sept. 27, 1861) southward (5,000 of them cavalry), under the respective commands of Generals Hunter, Pope, Sigel, McKinstry, and Asboth, accompanied by eighty - six heavy guns. These were moving southward early in October; and on the 11th, when his army was 30,000 strong, he wrote to the government : " My plan is, New Orleans straight; I would precipitate the war forward, and end it soon victoriously." He was marching with confidence of success, and his troops were winning little victories here and there, when, through the influence of men jealous of him and his political enemies, Fremont's career was suddenly checked. False accusers, public and private, caused General Scott to send an order for him to turn over his command to General Hunter, then some distance in the rear. Hunter arrived just as the troops were about to attack Price. He took the command, and countermanded Fremont's orders for battle; and nine days afterwards General H. W. Halleck was placed in command of the Department of Missouri. The disappointed and disheartened army were turned back, and marched to St. Louis in sullen sadness. Soon afterwards an elegant sword was presented to Fremont, inscribed, " To the Pathfinder, by the Men of the West."




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