A bio of John Charles Fremont
Fremont, John C., major-general, was born in Savannah, Ga., Jan. 21, 1813 and was educated at Charleston college, from which he was expelled before graduation, although subsequently, in 1836, he was given his degree by the college authorities. He became teacher of mathematics on the sloop-of-war “Natchez” in 1833, on which he took a two-year cruise, and, on returning, passed the necessary examination and was appointed professor of mathematics in the U. S. navy.
He was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the U. S. topographical engineers in 1838, while engaged in exploring the country between the Missouri and the northern frontier, and in 1842, having suggested a geographical survey of all the territories of the United States, he was sent at the head of a party of 28 men to explore the Rocky mountain region. In accomplishing this he ascended the highest peak of the Wind River mountains, which was afterwards known as Fremont’s peak. He next explored the territory between the Rocky mountains and the Pacific, then a region almost unknown, and early in 1843 started with a party of 39 men, and, after a journey of 1,700 miles, reached Great Salt lake. It was his report of this region which gave to the Mormons their first idea of settling in Utah. He proceeded thence to the tributaries of the Columbia river and in November started upon the return trip, but, finding himself confronted with imminent danger of death from cold and starvation, turned west, and, after great hardship, succeeded in crossing the Sierra Nevada range and in March reached Sutter’s fort in California. His return journey was conducted safely by the southern route, and he reached Kansas in July 1844.
He went on another exploring expedition in 1845, spending the summer along the continental divide and crossing the Sierras again in the winter. Upon refusal of the Mexican authorities to allow him to continue his explorations, he fortified himself with his little force of 64 men on a small mountain some 30 miles from Monterey, but when the Mexicans prepared to besiege the place he retreated to Oregon. He was overtaken near Klamath lake, May 9, 1846, by a courier with dispatches from Washington, directing him to watch over the interests of the United States in the territory, there being reason to fear interference from both Great Britain and Mexico. He promptly returned to California, where the settlers, learning that Gen. Castro was already marching against the settlements, flocked to his camp, and in less than a month Northern California was freed from Mexican authority. He received a lieutenant-colonel’s commission, May 27, and was elected governor of the territory by the settlers July 4. Learning on July 10 that Com. Sloat, commanding the American squadron on the Pacific coast, had seized Monterey, Fremont joined him and, when Com. Stockton arrived with authority to establish the power of the United States in California, Fremont was appointed by him military commandant and civil governor. Near the end of the year Gen. Kearny arrived with a force of dragoons and said that he had orders also to establish a government. Friction between the two rival officers immediately ensued, and Fremont prepared to obey Stockton and continued as governor in spite of Kearny’s orders. For this he was tried by court-martial in Washington, and, after a trial which lasted more than a year, was convicted, Jan. 31, 1847 of “mutiny,” “disobedience to the lawful command of a superior officer,” and “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline,” and was sentenced to dismissal from the service. President Polk approved of the conviction for disobedience and mutiny, but remitted the penalty and Fremont resigned.
In Oct., 1848, Fremont started on an independent exploring expedition with a party of 33 men, and reached Sacramento in the spring of 1849 after more severe sufferings than those experienced on any of his earlier expeditions. He represented California in the United States senate from Sept., 1850, to March, 1851, and in 1853 made his fifth and last exploring expedition, crossing the Rocky mountains by the route which he had attempted to follow in 1848.
Fremont’s known opposition to slavery won him the presidential nomination of the Republican party in 1856, but in the election he was defeated by Buchanan, who received 174 electoral votes to Fremont’s 114. Soon after the beginning of the Civil war Fremont was appointed major-general in the regular army and assigned to command the newly organized Western Department with headquarters at St. Louis. Soon after the battle of Wilson’s creek, Aug. 10, 1861 he proclaimed martial law, arrested active secessionists, suspended the publication of papers charged with disloyalty, and issued a proclamation assuming the government of the state and announcing that he would free the slaves of those in arms against the Union. This proclamation he refused to withdraw, and on Sept. 11, the president annulled it as unauthorized and premature.
Fremont was relieved of his command, Nov. 2, 1861, many complaints having been made of his administration, but in March, 1862, he was placed in command of the Mountain Department of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Early in June he pursued the Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson for 8 days, finally engaging him at Cross Keys, June 8, but permitted him to escape with his army.
When the Army of Virginia was created June 26, to include Gen. Fremont’s corps, with Pope in command, Fremont declined to serve on the ground that he outranked Pope, and for sufficient personal reasons. He then went to New York where he remained throughout the war, expecting a command, but none was given him. He was nominated for the presidency, May 31, 1864, by a small faction of the Republican party, but, finding but slender support, he withdrew his name in September.
He subsequently became interested in the construction of railroads and in 1873, was prosecuted by the French government for alleged participation in the swindles connected with the proposed transcontinental railway from Norfolk to San Francisco, and was sentenced on default, to fine and imprisonment, no judgment being given on the merits of the case.
Gen. Fremont was governor of Arizona in 1878-81, and was appointed major-general on the retired list by act of Congress in 1890. He died in New York City, July 13, 1890.
The Union Army A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States 1861-65
Federal Publishing, 1908