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John C. Frémont
John C. Frémont, 1852 portrait, by William S. Jewett
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 9, 1850 – March 3, 1851
Preceded by None (Statehood)
Succeeded by John B. Weller
3rd Military Governor of California

In office
January 14, 1847 – March 1, 1847[1]
Appointed by James K. Polk
Preceded by Robert F. Stockton
Succeeded by Stephen W. Kearny
Personal details
Born John Charles Fremon
(1813-01-21)January 21, 1813
Savannah, Georgia, U.S.
Died July 13, 1890(1890-07-13) (aged 77)
New York City, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Jessie Benton Frémont

father-in-law Thomas Hart Benton

Alma mater College of Charleston
Profession Soldier
Religion Episcopalian
Military service
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch U.S. Army
Years of service 1838–1848
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Major General
Commands California 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.[2] During the 1840s, that era's penny press accorded Frémont the sobriquet The Pathfinder. Historians call him The Great Pathfinder.[3]

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 served as military Governor of California, however, he was court-martialed for mutiny and insubordination. President Polk commuted his sentence and 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. Frémont was soon bogged down with lawsuits over land claims between the dispossessions of various land owners during the Mexican-American War, and the explosion of Forty-Niners immigrating during the California Gold Rush. These cases were settled by the U.S. Supreme Court where Frémont was allowed 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 of Cairo. 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 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 out of wedlock, ambitious drive for success, self-justification, and passive-aggressive behavior.[4][5]

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 Fremon, a French immigrant who had fought with the Royalists during the French Revolution, to tutor his wife. In July 1811, Pryor learned that his wife, Mrs. Anne Whiting Pryor, and Fremon were having an affair. Confronted by Pryor, the couple left Richmond together on July 10, 1811, creating a scandal that shook city society.[6] 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 Fremon moved first to Norfolk, Virginia, to live as man and wife (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 Fremon taught French and dancing. On January 21, 1813, their first child, John Charles Fremon, was born.[7] The son was born out of wedlock, a serious social handicap. A household slave called Black Hannah helped to raise young John.[8]

In 1818, Frémont's father Fremon died leaving Mrs. Pryor to take care of the child and several young children alone on a limited inherited income.[9] 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 abiltity at gaining protectors.[9] A lawyer, John W. Mitchell, provided for Frémont's education and in May 1829 Frémont entered Charleston College. Frémont continued at Charleston College teaching at intervals in the countryside. Frémont, however, was expelled from Charleston College for irregular attendance in 1831. Although Frémont did not graduate, he had been grounded in mathematics and natural sciences.[9]

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.[10] But in John Charles Frémont: Character as Destiny, André Rolle wrote that Frémont began using the accent in 1838 at the age of 25. Rolle relates how Charles Fremon was originally named Louis-René Frémont, born in Québec, Canada, and had changed his name to Charles Fremon or Frémon to avoid pursuit by British naval agents. Thus, John was reclaiming his father's true French name.[8]


In 1841 John C. Frémont 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 (1842), the Oregon Territory (1844), the Great Basin, and Sierra Mountains to California (1845). Through his power and influence, Benton obtained for Frémont the position of leading each expedition.

Early expeditions

John C. Frémont
George Healy Unknown Date

The opening of the American West began under President Thomas Jefferson, while envisioning a Western empire, sent out Lewis and Clark to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean and the Pike Expedition to explore the South West.[12] British trapper Peter S. Ogden and American trapper Jedediah Smith explored much of the American West in the 1820s.[13][14][15] Frémont would continue this tradition of western exploration building up and preserving knowledge of the American West.

After attending the College of Charleston from 1829 to 1831,[16] 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.

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. Carson offered his services, as he had spent much time in the area. The five-month journey, made with 25 men, was a success.

From 1842 to 1846 Frémont and his guide Carson led expedition parties on the Oregon Trail and into the Sierra Nevada. In 1844, Frémont transposed a map left by Smith from the 1830s that described western lands and where Indian tribes were located.[17] During his expeditions in the Sierra Nevada, Frémont became the first American to see Lake Tahoe. He is also credited with determining the Great Basin as endorheic, that is, having no outlet to the sea or a river. One of Frémont's reports from an expedition inspired the Mormons to consider Utah for settlement.[11] He also mapped volcanoes such as Mount St. Helens.

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

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), 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.[18]

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.[19] Upon reaching the Arkansas, 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.[20] Frémont nearly provoked a battle with Gen. José Castro near Monterey, camped at 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.[21] Frémont then fled Mexican-controlled California, and went north to Oregon, making camp at Klamath Lake.[22]

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.[23] The village was at the junction of the Williamson River and Klamath Lake. On May 10, 1846, the Frémont group completely destroyed it.[24] 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.[23]

Mexican-American War

After meeting with President James K. Polk, he left Washington, D.C. on May 15, 1845. He raised a group of 62 volunteers in Saint Louis.[25] He arrived at Sutter's Fort in California on December 10, 1845.[26] He went to Monterey, California, to talk with the American consul, Thomas Larkin, and Mexican major-domo Jose Castro.[27]

In 1846, with the arrival of USS Congress, Frémont was appointed brevet lieutenant colonel 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.[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 then advanced on the three and deliberately shot and killed them. One of them was an old and respected Californian, Don Jose R. Berreyesa, whose son was the Alcalde of Sonoma who 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 named 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, which featured John Frémont as the first anti-slavery Republican nominee versus Democrat James Buchanan. It is widely speculated that this incident, together with other military blunders, sank Frémont’s political aspirations.[29]

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 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 Andres Pico and signing the Treaty of Cahuenga on January 13, 1847, which terminated the war in upper California.[30]

On January 16, 1847, Commodore Stockton appointed Frémont military governor of California following the Treaty of Cahuenga. However, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. 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.[31] (In reality, Stockton's rank was equivalent to a rear admiral (lower half) today. Therefore, Stockton and Kearny had the same equivalent rank (one star) and unfortunately the War Department had not worked out a protocol for who would be in charge.) 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.[32]

While approving the court's decision, Pres. James K. Polk quickly commuted his sentence of dishonorable discharge due to his services. Frémont resigned his commission and settled in California.[33] 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.

Portrait of Frémont, ca. 1857, by Charles Loring Elliott (Brooklyn Museum)

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. 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.[34] 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, New Mexico. 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, another 15 would have been lost.[35] After recuperating in Taos, Frémont and only a few of the men left for California via an established southern trade route.

Mariposa gold estate

When Frémont entered California in 1849 he was informed by Sonora Mexicans that gold had been discovered.[36] 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.[36] Within weeks diggings produced enormous sums of gold and Frémont became very wealthy. His wife, Jessie Frémont, told of 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.[36]

U.S. Senator

Frémont was one of the first two senators from California, serving only 175 days in 1850-51. He was a Free Soil Democrat and was defeated for reelection largely because of his strong opposition to slavery. He had previously served as Military Governor of California in 1847.

Republican presidential candidate

Frémont was the first presidential candidate of the new Republican Party in 1856. Initially Frémont was asked to be the Democratic candidate by former Virginia Governor John B. Floyd and the powerful Preston family.[36] Frémont announced that he was for Free Soil Kansas and was against the enforcement of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law.[36] Republican leaders Nathaniel P. Banks, Henry Wilson, and John Bigelow were able to get Frémont to join their political party.[36] The Republican campaign used the slogan "Free Soil, Free Men, and Frémont" to crusade for free farms (homesteads) and against the Slave Power. As was typical in presidential campaigns, 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.[36] 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.[37]

At the time of his campaign he lived on Ninth Street in Staten Island, New York. The campaign was headquartered near his home in St. George.[38] 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 electorial votes to 174 votes received by Buchanan. The popular vote went to Buchanan who received 1,838,169 votes to 1,341,264 votes received by Frémont.[36] 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.[36] Frémont's title to Mariposa land had been confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1855.[36]

Civil War

Major General John C. Frémont

During the Civil War, Frémont was promoted Major General and Commander of the Department of the West on July 1, 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln. Frémont brought with him his skills and great reputation as the Pathfinder and he was focused on driving the Confederate forces from Missouri.[39] 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. 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 at all costs in order for the Union Army to move southward on the Mississippi River.[40] 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.[41]

Department of the West (1861)

Command and duties

On July 25, 1861, Frémont formerly took command of the Department of the West that was in crisis.[39][42] 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 which civilians were killed.[39] 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.[39] 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. Lyon then installed a pro-Union state government.[39] However, Lyon became trapped at Springfield with only 6,000 men (including Union Colonel Franz Sigel and his German corps).[43] 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.[42] Compared to the Confederates, Frémont's forces were dispersed and disorganized.[42] This was the situation when Frémont took command of the Department of the West.[39]

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.[41] Frémont was responsible for safeguarding Missouri and all of the Northwest.[44] 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.[45] Frémont was only given 23,000 men whose volunteer 3-month enlistments were about to expire.[45] 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.[45] 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.[45]

Frémont, going back to his French heritage, ran his headquarters in St. Louis like a European autocrat. Perhaps this was due to a sojourn through France prior to his appointment by President Lincoln. A rumor spread in in Washington that Frémont was planning to start his own republic or empire in the West.[46] Like a feudal lord, Frémont set up a headquarters bodyguard of 300 Kentucky men, chosen for their uniform physical attributes.[47] Frémoupply line, headed by Major Justice McKinstrey.,[48] 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.[48] The imbriglio 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.[48]

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 an sent his wife Jessie to Washington D.C. where she lobbied President Lincoln for more reinforcements.[42] 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. Tragedy, however, struck the Union forces as Lyon hastily chose to attack Confederate General Sterling Price at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, rather than retreat.[42] 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.[49] 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.[50] At first Frémont was going to appoint John Pope, however, upon the recommendation of Major McKinstry, he interviewed an unobtrusive Bridgadier General Ulysses S. Grant.[51] Grant had a reputation for being a "drifter and a drunkard" in the Old Army, however, Frémont was an outside commander, and he viewed Grant independently with his own judgement.[52] Frémont concluded that Grant was an "unassuming character not given to self elation, of dogged persistence, of iron will."[51] Frémont chose Grant and appointed him commander of the Cairo post in October, 1861.[51] Grant was sent to Ironton, with 3,000 untrained troops, to stop a potential Confederate attack led by Confederate General William J. Hardee.[42] Frémont sent Grant directly to Jefferson City, to keep safe from a potential attack by Confederate General Price a week after the Battle of Wilson's Creek.[53] 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.[53] The city was kept safe as Price and his troops badly battered from the Battle of Wilson's Creek had retreated.[54]

With Price retreating, Frémont become more aggressive and went on the offensive.[55] 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.[55] 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 keeping Missouri and Illinois safe from Confederate attack.[55] On August 30, Grant assumed charge of the Union Army on the Mississippi.[56] Having Frémont's approval Grant proceeded to capture Paducah, without firing a shot, after Polk violated Kentucky neutrality and had captured Columbus. The result was that the Kentucky legislature voted to remain in the Union.[57] 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 out Confederate General Price from Missouri.[58] Grant had early requested to attack Columbus, but Frémont overuled Grant's initiative.[59]

Emancipation edict controversy

On August 30, 1861 Frémont, without notifying President Lincoln, issued a controversial proclamation putting Missouri under martial law.[60] Frémont made the proclamation in response to the savage tactic of guerrilla warfare and to reduce Confederate sympathies in the stronger slave holding counties.[60] The edict stipulated that civilians in arms would be subject to court marital and execution.[60] The property of those who aided secessionists would be confiscated, and the slaves of rebels were emancipated.[60] 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."[61] 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.

Mountain Departments (1862)

In March 1862 he was placed in command of the Mountain Departments of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Early in June 1862 Frémont pursued the Confederate Gen. 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 two-sided battle ended in general Confederate advantage, and Frémont slipped away, saving his army.

When the Army of Virginia was created June 26, to include Gen. 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 then went to New York where he remained throughout the war, expecting a command, but none was given to him.[62]

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, they nominated Frémont 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.

Frémont abandoned his political campaign in September 1864, after he brokered a political deal in which Lincoln removed Postmaster General Montgomery Blair from office.

Later life

John C. Frémont

The Fremonts purchased an estate in the Hudson Valley, near Tarrytown, from the newspaper publisher James Watson Webb in 1864. 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.[63]

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.[64]

Unfortunately, their financial straits required them also to sell Pocaho in 1875, and to move back to New York.[65]

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; he was asked to resume his duties or resign, and chose resignation.[66] 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 died of peritonitis at his residence on 49th 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 on a particularly hot summer day. On Wednesday he came down with a chill and was confined to his bedroom. His symptoms progressed to peritonitis which caused his death.[67] 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.[68]



Populus fremontii

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 of the California Flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum) is named for him, as are the species names of many other plants, including the chaff bush eytelia[69][70] (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).


  • Four US states named counties in his honor: Colorado, Idaho, Iowa and Wyoming.
  • Several states also named cities, villages, and towns after him, such as California, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin.
  • Likewise, Fremont Peak in the Wind River Mountains and Fremont Peak in San Benito County, California, are also named for the explorer.
  • Also Fremont Canyon in Wyoming on the North Platte river is named in his honor as well as Pathfinder Reservoir which is just upstream from the canyon.
  • The Fremont River, a tributary of the Colorado River in southern Utah, was named after Frémont, as was Fremont Island in the Great Salt Lake.
    • Archaeologists named the prehistoric Fremont culture after the river, as the first archaeological sites of the culture were discovered near its course.
  • The Seattle neighborhood of Fremont is indirectly named for him, as it was named after the hometown of the early residents from Fremont, Nebraska.

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.[72][73]

A barbershop chorus in Fremont, Nebraska, is named The Fremont Pathfinders.[74] The Fremont Pathfinders Artillery Battery[75] 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 Reno, Nevada, Casper, Wyoming, Minneapolis, Minnesota; River Falls, Wisconsin; Kiel, Wisconsin; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Manhattan, Kansas; Grant City, Staten Island, New York; Tempe, Arizona; Tucson, Arizona; Springfield, Missouri; Klamath Falls, Oregon; Portland, Oregon, and Crawford, Nebraska as well as several cities in California: Fremont, Monterey, Seaside, Stockton, San Mateo, San Francisco, and Santa Clara.

Portland, Oregon has several other locations named after Frémont, such as the Fremont Bridge. In addition, the Freemont 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.[76] 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, and Fremont Federation of High Schools|Fremont Senior High School in Oakland, and the John C. Fremont Branch Library located on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Weyauwega, Elementary schools in Glendale, California; Modesto, California; Long Beach, California; 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 John Frémont. The gold arrow on the 8th ID crest is called the "Arrow of General Frémont."
  • The 1983 historical novel Dream West by western writer David Nevin covers the life, loves and times of Frémont. The novel was later adapted into a television miniseries of the same name with Richard Chamberlain as Frémont.


Frémont's great-grandfather, Henry Whiting, was a half-brother of Catherine Whiting. She married John Washington, uncle of George Washington.[77][78][79]

See also


  1. Guinn, J. M. (1902). "XXXIV. Some Political History.". History of the State of California and Biographical Record of Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo Counties. Chapman. pp. 234–235. Retrieved October 12, 2009. "The following is a list of the governors of California, Spanish, Mexican and American, with date of appointment or election:" 
  2. Dictionary of American Biography, pp. 19, 22
  3. 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
  4. Andrew Rolle, "Exploring an Explorer: California, Psychohistory, and John C. Fremont," Southern California Quarterly, March 1994, Vol. 76#1 pp 85–98
  5. Andrew F. Rolle, John Charles Fremont: Character As Destiny (1991)
  6. Nevins pp. 3–7. Chaffin pp. 19–21
  7. Chaffin, pp. 21–22
  8. 8.0 8.1 Rolle, Andrew (1991). John Charles Frémont: Character as Destiny. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 2–5. ISBN 0-585-35954-7. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Dictionary of American Biography, p. 19
  10. Brands, H. W. (2005). Andrew Jackson, His Life and Times. Garden City: Doubleday. pp. 188–190. ISBN 0-385-50738-0. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Wikisource-logo.svg 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. John C. Fremont
  17. Map of an Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842, Oregon and North California in the Years 1843-44 (April 10, 2012), Accessed on 07-09-2013
  18. 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
  19. 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. 
  20. Sides, Hampton (2006). Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West. Random House, Inc.. pp. 123–124. ISBN 978-0-7393-2672-5. 
  21. Sides, 2006, p. 124
  22. Sides, 2006, p. 125
  23. 23.0 23.1 Sides, 2006, p. 154
  24. Sides, 2006, p. 153
  25. Denton, Sally (Winter 2011). "Frémont Steals California". pp. 33. Retrieved December 25, 2011. 
  26. Denton, Sally (Winter 2011). "Frémont Steals California". pp. 34. Retrieved December 25, 2011. 
  27. Denton, Sally (Winter 2011). "Frémont Steals California". pp. 35. Retrieved December 25, 2011. 
  28. Denton, Sally (Winter 2011). "Frémont Steals California". pp. 38. 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. Tompkins, Walker A. Santa Barbara, Past and Present. Santa Barbara, CA: Tecolote Books, 1975, pp. 33–35.
  31. Groom, Winston: Kearny's March: The Epic Creation of the American West, 1846–1847 (p.249)
  32. Groom, Winston: Kearny's March: The Epic Creation of the American West, 1846–1847 (p.259)
  33. Borneman, Walter R., Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America. New York, NY,: Random House Books, 2008, pp. 284–85.
  34. Both Patricia Richmond in Trail to Disaster and David Roberts in A Newer World (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000) detail the exact route.
  35. Roberts, David, A Newer World, page 241
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 36.3 36.4 36.5 36.6 36.7 36.8 36.9 Dictionary of American Biography, p. 22
  37. Alan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union: A House Dividing, 1852–1857 (1947) pp 496–502
  38. Republican National Political Conventions 1856–2008
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 39.3 39.4 39.5 Catton, p. 10
  40. Catton, p 27
  41. 41.0 41.1 Catton, p. 11 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Catton_p11" defined multiple times with different content
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 42.3 42.4 42.5 Smith, p. 115
  43. Smith, p. 114
  44. Catton, pp 11-12
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 45.3 Catton, p. 12
  46. Catton, p. 30, 34
  47. McFeely, p. 88
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 Catton, pp 25-26
  49. Smith, p. 116
  50. Catton, p. 28
  51. 51.0 51.1 51.2 Catton, p. 29
  52. Catton, pp. 28, 29
  53. 53.0 53.1 Smith, p 116
  54. Smith, pp. 116-117
  55. 55.0 55.1 55.2 Smith, p. 117
  56. Smith, pp. 117-118
  57. Smith, p. 119
  58. Catton, p. 67
  59. Catton, pp. 66–67
  60. 60.0 60.1 60.2 60.3 Carwardine, pp. 177-178
  61. Carwardine, p. 179
  62. U.S. Civil War Generals – Union Generals – (Frémont); John Charles Fremont
  63. Denton, Sally (2007). Passion and Principle, John and Jessie Fremont, The Couple whose Power, Politics, and Love Shaped Nineteenth-Century America. Bloomsbury. pp. 347. ISBN 978-1-59691-019-5. 
  64. "100 Years of Service". 1960. Retrieved April 20, 2006. 
  65. Denton, page. 354
  66. Walker, Dale L. (1997). Rough Rider: Buckey O'Neill of Arizona. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 23–24. ISBN 0-8032-9796-3. Retrieved August 3, 2010. 
  67. "The Old Pathfinder Dead; Gen. John C. Fremont Expired at his Home Yesterday", New York Times, July 14, 1890
  68. John Charles Fremont at Find a Grave
  69. 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. 
  70. Jaeger, Edmund C. (1940 (copyright renewed 1978)). Desert Wild Flowers. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. p. 259. ISBN 978-0-8047-0365-9. 
  71. | + | {{#strreplace: & | %26 | Frém. }} }} "Author Query for 'Frém.'". International Plant Names Index.{{#strreplace: | + | {{#strreplace: & | %26 | Frém. }} }}. 
  73. "Nevada Wolf Pack History". College Football History. Retrieved September 19, 2007. 
  74. The History of the Fremont Pathfinders. Barbershop Chorus. URL retrieved on February 19, 2007
  75. History of the Pathfinders Fremont Pathfinders Artillery Battery. URL retrieved on February 19, 2007
  77. Robert H. Wynn, "John Charles Fremont, Explorer!", 'Bob and Brenda Exploring' Newsletter, March 2006, Issue No. 16. URL retrieved on January 7, 2007.
  78. "The Diaries of George Washington", Vol. 2, 1976. The George Washington Papers, The Library of Congress. URL retrieved on January 7, 2007.
  79. Genealogical convolution, RootsWeb. URL retrieved on January 7, 2007.


Further reading

  • Brandon, William, The Men and the Mountain (1955) ISBN 0-8371-5873-7. An account of Frémont's failed fourth expedition.
  • Chaffin, Tom, Pathfinder: John Charles Frémont and the Course of American Empire, New York: Hill and Wang, 2002 ISBN 978-0-8090-7557-7
  • Denton, Sally, Passion and Principle, John and Jessie Fremont, The Couple whose Power, Politics, and Love Shaped Nineteenth-Century America, New York: Bloomsbury, 2007 978-1-59691-019-5
  • Eyre, Alice, The Famous Fremonts and Their America, Boston: The Christopher Publishing House, 1948; Library of Congress Card Catalog Number 61-13063
  • Gano, Geneva M. "At the Frontier of Precision and Persuasion: The Convergence of Natural Philosophy and National Philosophy in John C. Fremont's '1842, 1843–44 Report and Map,'" ATQ ("The American Transcendental Quarterly"), Sept 2004, Vol. 18#3 pp 131–154
  • Goetzmann, William H. Army Exploration in the American West 1803–1863 (Yale University Press, 1959; University of Nebraska Press, 1979)
  • Harvey, Miles, The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime, Random House, 2000, ISBN 0-375-50151-7, ISBN 0-7679-0826-0.
  • Herr, Pamela. Jessie Benton Frémont: American Woman of the 19th century (1988), biography of his wife
  • Menard, Andrew. Sight Unseen: How Frémont’s First Expedition Changed the American Landscape (University of Nebraska Press, 2012) 249 pp.
  • Miller, David. "Heroes' of American Empire: John C. Frémont, Kit Carson, and the Culture of Imperialism, 1842–1898," Dissertation Abstracts International, 2008, Vol. 68 Issue 10, p4447
  • Nevins, Allan, Fremont: Pathmarker of the West, Volume 1: Fremont the Explorer; Volume 2: Fremont in the Civil War (1939, rev ed. 1955)
  • Roberts, David (2001), A newer world: Kit Carson, John C. Fremont and the claiming of the American west, New York: Touchstone ISBN 0-684-83482-0
  • Rolle, Andrew F. (1991). John Charles Fremont: Character As Destiny. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806131357
  • Tompkins, Walker A. Santa Barbara, Past and Present. Tecolote Books, Santa Barbara, CA, 1975.

Primary sources

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