The second in a series examining John C. Freemont’s life.
In July of 1861, President Lincoln appointed John C. Fremont as major general in charge of the department of the west (stretching from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River).
Fremont subsequently appointed Ulysses Grant as commander at Cairo, Illinois. After recapturing Springfield, Illinois from the rebels, Confederate activity in Missouri became Fremont’s most pressing concern.
Without notifying Lincoln, Fremont issued a proclamation on August 30,1861, putting all of Missouri under martial law. The edict stipulated that civilians in arms would be subject to court martial and the slaves of rebels would be emancipated.
Lincoln, fearing that Fremont’s proclamation would tip not only Missouri but other border states to the Southern cause, revoked Fremont’s order and relieved him of command.
Despite outward appearances, inside Fremont seethed with resentment and expressed his opinion that the Republicans were mismanaging the war. With pressure from the radical Republicans in Congress, Lincoln was forced to appoint Fremont as commander of the mountain departments of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Even so, Fremont had lost the trust of the president.
Fremont’s job was to protect the Shenandoah Valley and Washington D.C. Fremont’s major engagement against the Confederate army was the Battle of Cross Keys. Even though Fremont’s army outnumbered the Rebel army two to one, he managed to lose the battle.
When the Army of Virginia was created on June 26, to include General Fremont's corps with John Pope in command, Fremont, citing the fact that he in fact was senior to General Pope, refused to serve. He left for New York City, where he remained throughout the war.
He fully expected to receive another command, but none was offered. Eventually, he came to realize that he was not going to be able to make any further contributions to the war effort. He resigned his commission in June, 1864.
Several years later, Fremont was appointed Governor of the Arizona Territory by President Rutherford B. Hayes. He served from 1878 to 1881. As it turned out, he was pretty much an absentee governor. Consequently, he was told to either perform his duties in person or resign; Fremont chose to resign.
Due to the Panic of 1873, his investments in railroads were wiped out. Nearly destitute, Fremont’s family had to depend on meager earnings from his wife’s publications.
In retirement, Fremont and his wife lived on Staten Island. In 1890, he was reappointed as a major general and then quickly put on the Army's retired list. This enabled Fremont to qualify for a pension, which greatly eased his financial condition.
On July 13, 1890, Fremont died of peritonitis at his residence at 49 W. 25th St. in New York. He was 77.
Looking back over his career, his five expeditions in the West played a major role in opening up that territory for settlement. He also played a significant part in the liberation of California and ushering it in as the 31st state. While Lincoln thought Fremont was personally honest, his major failing was in too often isolating himself thereby not knowing about the very matters of which he himself needed to make informed decisions. With his mixed success in politics and war, Fremont today is more celebrated for his accomplishments as an explorer and mapmaker.