Posted March 2001
Fremont in Missouri
W. T. Sherman
Excerpted and introduced by G. E. Rule, from “The Struggle for Missouri”, John McElroy, 1909; “The Story of a Border City During the Civil War”, Galusha Anderson, 1908; “Memoirs of General William T. Sherman,” by Gen. W. T. Sherman, 1875
Fremont in Missouri covers the career of Union Major-General John Charles Fremont from the time he was appointed head of the Department of the West with headquarters in St. Louis in July of 1861, until he was relieved less than four months later. Fremont was known as “The Great Pathfinder” for his exploits in finding overland trails to California in the 1840’s. Fremont was also the first U.S. Senator from California and the first Republican candidate for President in the election of 1856. Unfortunately for the Union, he never did become known as “The Competent General” or even “The Adequate Administrator” during the Civil War.
Confederate sources tend to just snicker about Fremont without going into details, and it takes reading the Union sources to get a good idea of his shortcomings. The friendliest sources tend to dwell on his loyalty to the cause, because there is very little else good to be said. The less-friendly sources usually start off with snide comments and often work their way into a high dudgeon before they are through. After his ignominious failure in Missouri, Fremont was relegated to what was considered a much less demanding command in what today would be West Virginia, where he went up against. . . Stonewall Jackson. Ouch.
One of the most interesting sections of the piece is the description of how Union General Franz Sigel may have saved the Republic from a military dictator. It turns out that to the Union, Fremont was dedicated –to the Republic, not so much. Sigel was a German immigrant, and beloved of his brethren. Unfortunately, he came to be known during the Civil War for his “brilliant retreats”. Only the strong affection of a vital part of the Unionist coalition saved his job. However, besides helping to deliver the Germans for the Union, McElroy’s account claims another important service that Sigel performed for his adopted country. When Fremont was relieved by Lincoln in Nov. of 1861, the general considered making a try for the purple instead of accepting the order. Sigel talked him out of it.
This account relies mainly on McElroy, but mixes in the comments of Galusha Anderson and William Tecumseh Sherman where appropriate. Sherman was a young officer in California in 1847 when he had his first experiences with Fremont and his cronies, and already had a very low opinion of him before they met again in St. Louis during the war. Each change in author is marked.
The country was hysterical [after Bull Run, or Manassas] over the safety of the National Capital, and it seemed that the Administration was equally emotional. Every regiment and gun was being rushed to the heights in front of Washington, and all eyes were fixed on the line of the Potomac.
The perennial adventurer in Gen. Fremont did not fail to suggest to him that the greatest of opportunities might develop in Washington, and he lingered in New York until peremptorily ordered by Gen. Scott to his command. He did not arrive in St. Louis until July 25th .
Like Seward, Chase, McClellan, and many other aspiring men, Fremont had little confidence that the untrained Illinois Rail Splitter in the Presidential chair would be able to keep his head above the waves in the sea of troubles the country had entered. The disaster at Bull Run was but the beginning of a series of catastrophes which would soon call for a stronger brain and more experienced hand at the helm.
Mrs. Jessie Benton Fremont [the general’s wife, and daughter of Thomas Hart Benton, former Democratic senator from Missouri] was not the only to suggest that the man for the hour would be found to be the first Republican candidate for President –the Great Pathfinder of the Rocky Mountains!
Upon his arrival at St. Louis Gen. Fremont was immediately waited upon by the faithful Chester Harding and others who had been awaiting his coming with painful anxiety. They represented most energetically Gen. Lyon’s predicament [leading up to the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, where Lyon was killed], without money, clothing or ratings, and with a force even more rapidly diminishing [from expiring enlistments] than that of the enemy was augmenting. They revealed Gen. Lyon’s far-reaching plans of making Springfield a base from which to carry the war into Arkansas, and begged for men, money, food, shoes and clothing for him.
Fremont was too much engrossed in forming in the Brant Mansion that vice-regal court of his—the main requirement for which seemed to be inability to speak English—to feel the urgency of these importunities.
The country was swarming with military adventurers from Europe, men with more or less shadow on their connection with the foreign armies, and eager to sell their swords to the highest advantage. They swarmed around Fremont like bees around a sugar barrel, much to the detriment of the honest and earnest men of foreign birth who were rallying to the support of the Union.
Next to his satrapal court of exotic manners and speech, Fremont was most concerned about the safety of Cairo, Ill., a most important point, then noisily threatened by Maj.-Gen. Leonidas Polk, the militant Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, and his subordinate, the blatant Gen. Gideon J. Pillow, of Mexican War notoriety.
Gen. Fremont made quite a show of reinforcing Cairo, sending a most imposing fleet of steamboats to carry the 4,000 troops sent thither.
Pretense still counted for much in the war. Later it burnt up like dry straw in the fierce blaze of actualities.
Not being Fremont’s own, nor contributing particularly to his aggrandizement, Gen. Lyon’s plans and aims had little importance to his Commanding General.
[On Aug. 10, 1861, Lyon was killed at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, and the Union forces under his command were compelled to retreat 125 miles from Springfield to Rolla.]
The death of Gen. Lyon at last aroused Gen. Fremont to a fever of energy to do the things that he should have done weeks before. He began a bombardment of Washington with telegrams asking for men, money and supplies, and sent dispatches of the most urgent nature to everybody from whom he could expect the least help. He called on the Governors of the loyal Western States to hurry to him all the troops that they could raise, and asked from Washington Regular troops, artillery, $3,000,000 for the Quartermaster’s Department, and other requirements in proportion. He made a requisition on St. Louis banks for money, and showed a great deal of fertility of resource.
Aug. 15, five days after the battle, President Lincoln, stirred up by his fusillade of telegrams, dispatched him the following:
Washington, Aug. 15, 1861
To Gen. Fremont:
Been answering your messages ever since day before yesterday. Do you receive the answers? The War Department has notified all Governors you designate to forward all available force. So telegraphed you. Have you received these messages? Answer immediately.
With relation to his conduct toward Gen. Lyon, Gen. Fremont afterward testified to this affect before the Committee on the Conduct of the War:
“A glance at the map will make it apparent that Cairo was the point which first demanded immediate attention. The force under Gen. Lyon could retreat, but the position at Cairo could not be abandoned; the question of holding Cairo was one which involved the safety of the whole Northwest. Had the taking of St. Louis followed the defeat of Manassas, the disaster might have been irretrievable; while the loss of Springfield, should our army be compelled to fall back upon Rolla, would only carry with it the loss of a part of Missouri –a loss greatly to be regretted, but not irretrievable.
“Having reinforced Cape Girardeau and Ironton, by the utmost exertions, I succeeded in getting together and embarking with a force of 3,800 men, five days after my arrival in St. Louis.
“From St. Louis to Cairo was an easy day’s journey by water, and transportation abundant. To Springfield was a week’s march; and before I could have reached it, Cairo would have been taken and with it, I believe, St. Louis.
“On my arrival at Cairo I found the force under Gen. Prentiss reduced to 1,200 men, consisting mainly of a regiment which had agreed to await my arrival. A few miles below, at New Madrid, Gen Pillow had landed a force estimated at 20,000, which subsequent events showed was not exaggerated. Our force, greatly increased to the enemy by rumor, drove him to a hasty retreat and permanently secured the position.
“I returned to St. Louis on the 4th, having in the meantime ordered Col. Stephenson’s regiment from Boonville, and Col. Montgomery’s from Kansas, to march to the relief of Gen. Lyon.
“Immediately upon my arrival from Cairo, I set myself at work, amid incessant demands upon my time from every quarter, principally to provide reinforcements for Gen. Lyon.
“I do not accept Springfield as a disaster belonging to my administration. Causes wholly out of my jurisdiction had already prepared the defeat of Gen. Lyon before my arrival at St. Louis.
The ebullition of the Secession sentiment in Missouri following the news of the battle of Wilson’s Creek made Gen. Fremont feel that the most extraordinary measures were necessary in order to hold the State. He had reasons for this alarm, for the greatest activity was manifested in every County in enrolling young men in Secession companies and regiments. Heavy columns were threatening invasion from various points. One of these was led by Gen. Hardee, a Regular officer of much ability, who had acquired considerable fame by this translation of the tactics in use in the Army. He had been appointed to the command on North Arkansas, and had collected considerable force at Pocahontas, at the head of navigation on the White River, where he was within easy striking distance of the State and Lyon’s line of retreat, and was threatening numberless direful things.
McCulloch and Price had sent special messengers to him to join his force with theirs to crush Lyon, or at least to move forward and cut off Lyon’s communications with Rolla. They found Hardee within 400 yards of the Missouri State line. He had every disposition to do as desired, but had too much of the Regular officer in him to be willing to move until his forces were thoroughly organized and equipped. There was little in him of the spirit of Lyon or Price, who improvised means for doing what they wanted to do, no matter whether regulations permitted it or not.
Hardee complained that though he had then 2,300 men and expected to shortly raise this force to 5,000, one of his batteries had no horses and no harness, and none of his regiments had transportation enough for field service, and that all regiments were badly equipped and needed discipline and instruction.
Later, Hardee repaired many of these deficiencies, and was in shape to do a great deal of damage to the Union cause, and of this Fremont and his subordinates were well aware. Gens. Polk and Pillow, with quite strong forces at Columbus, were threatening Cairo and southeast Missouri, and an advance was made into the State by their picturesque subordinate, Gen. M. Jeff Thompson, the poet laureate of the New Madrid marches and the “Swamp Fox” who was to emulate the exploits of Francis Marion. Thompson moved forward with a considerable force of irregular mounted men, the number of which was greatly exaggerated, and it was reported that behind him was a column command by Pillow, ranging all the way from 8,000 to 25,000.
Gen. Fremont set an immense force of laborers to work on an elaborate system of fortification for the city of St. Louis, and also began the construction of fortifications at Cape Girardeau, Ironton, Rolla, and Jefferson City. He employed laborers instead of using his troops, in order to give the latter the opportunity to be drilled and equipped. He issued the following startling General Order, which produced the greatest commotion in the State and outside it:
Headquarters of the Western Department
St. Louis, Aug. 31, 1861
Circumstances in my judgment of sufficient urgency render it necessary that the Commanding General of this Department should assume the administrative power of the State. Its disorganized condition, the devastation of property by bands of murderers and marauders who infest nearly every County in the State, and avail themselves of the public misfortunes and the vicinity of a hostile force to gratify private and neighborhood vengeance, and who find an enemy wherever they find plunder, finally demand the severest measures to repress the daily increasing crimes and outrages which are driving off the inhabitants and ruining the State. In this condition the public safety and the success of our arms require unity of purpose, without let or hindrance to the prompt administration of affairs.
In order, therefore, to suppress disorders, to maintain, as far as now practicable, the public peace, and to give security and protection to the persons and property of loyal citizens, I do hereby extend and declare established martial law throughout the State of Missouri. The lines of the army of occupation in this State are, for the present, declared to extend from Leavenworth, by way of the posts of Jefferson City, Rolla and Ironton to Cape Girardeau, on the Mississippi River. All persons who shall be taken with arms in their hands within these lines hall be tried by court-martial, and, if found guilty, will be shot. The property, real and person, of all persons in the State of Missouri who shall take up arms against the United States, or shall be directly proven to have taken active part with their enemies in the field, is declared to be confiscated to the public use, and there slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared free men.
All persons who shall be proven to have destroyed, after the publication of this order, railroad tracks, bridges or telegraphs, shall suffer the extreme penalty of the law.
All person engaged in treasonable correspondence, in giving or procuring aid to the enemies of the United States, in disturbing the public tranquility by creating and circulating false reports of incendiary documents, are in their own interest warned that they are exposing themselves.
All persons who have been led away from their allegiance are required to return to their homes forthwith; any such absence, without sufficient cause, will be held to be presumptive evidence against them.
The object of this declaration is to place in the hands of the military authorities the power to give instantaneous effect to existing laws, and to supply such deficiencies as conditions of ward demand. But it is not intended to suspend the ordinary tribunals of the country, where the law will be administered by the civil officers in the usual manner and with their customary authority, while the same can be peaceably exercised.
The Commanding General will labor vigilantly for the public welfare, and, in his efforts for their safety, hopes to obtain not only the acquiescence, but the active support, of the people of the country.
J. C. Fremont
On the same day that the provost marshal issued his order in reference to passes [to enter or leave St. Louis], General Fremont put the whole state under martial law [the order given above], and, as many contended, unwarrantably assuming the functions of the general government, proclaimed the freedom of all slaves belonging to those guilty of disloyalty to the United States. He made good his extraordinary proclamation by explicit act. On September 12th, notwithstanding the President had written him on the 2nd, taking exception to this manifesto, he manumitted two slaves, belonging to Thomas L. Snead of St. Louis, and issued their manumission papers over his signature as major-general. Lincoln kindly called his attention to the fact that he was transcending his authority, and gave him the opportunity to modify his own policy, without any open declaration of dissent on the part of the general government. But in reply, Fremont preferred that the President himself should modify the obnoxious proclamation; so, reluctantly but firmly, Mr. Lincoln publicly set aside so much of the general’s proclamation of August 30th as pertained to the manumission of slaves belonging to the rebels.
The question on which the President and his general clashed was confessedly delicate and manifestly perplexing to those in administrative circles. At bottom, the duty of the President was clear. Since slavery was a local institution he could not legally interfere with it in any loyal State; and, as a State, Missouri had declared against secession. Just what, however, might be rightly done, according to the laws of war, with the slaves of the disloyal in loyal States was as yet apparently not altogether clear to those in authority at Washington. Still, on grounds of expediency, conservative action was manifestly wisest, in order not unnecessarily to alienate the loyal pro-slavery element of the border states. The problem in all its bearings greatly agitated the Unionists of our city. Upon it they were divided in both judgment and sentiment. Some said: “The enslavement of the negro is the real cause of the war. By law he is declared to be property; and if, as has been done before our eyes, a general may confiscate buildings belonging to the disloyal, and appropriate them to the use of the United States, why can he not treat the slave property of rebels in the same way?” “But”, their opponents replied, “This is what Fremont did not do with the slaves of Mr. Snead; he did not turn them over to the United States to be used in promoting the interests of the Federal government; he simply set them free. He is putting himself forward as an emancipator.” So the ideas of staunch Unionists were in conflict. Evidently the most intelligent and thoughtful unhesitatingly sustained the President in his modification of the general’s manifesto. And without expressing here any opinion as to whether or not their judgment of Fremont was just, it is true that many of them began to fell that in attempting to do what in itself as a matter of merely abstract justice was right, he was quite too impulsive, effusive, and spectacular, and that he had clearly exceeded his authority. In fact the was attempting to do what the general government felt itself debarred from doing by constitutional law and by a late specific act of Congress.
But Fremont’s career, as commander of the Western Department, now drew rapidly to its close. He had gathered an army of twenty-five thousand men; but when the brave Mulligan at Lexington, on the Missouri River, in the western part of the State, was besieged by a rebel force [commanded by General Sterling Price] more than four times greater than his own, and yet fought on pluckily for days, Fremont failed to reinforce him. To be sure, he made what seemed to us a rather belated and languid effort so to do, but the troops ordered by him to Lexington failed to reach their destination before Mulligan was compelled to surrender. This was a blow so disastrous to the Union cause, that the loyal of our city were filled with disappointment and discontent. Some of them murmured their disapprobation of the commanding general; some openly and bitterly denounced him. The Evening News, a Union journal, in a strong, manly editorial entitled “The Fall of Lexington”, sharply criticized his failure to re-enforce Mulligan, and for this criticism, the proprietor, Charles G. Ramsey, was arrested by order of the provost marshal, taken to headquarters and there examined by the military authorities. He was sent to prison, and his paper was suppressed. All the manuscript in his office was seized and the building, where his paper was published, was put into the possession of a provost-guard. With very few dissenting voices, this invasion of the freedom of the press was sharply condemned by Union men. The occurrence added largely to the distrust of the capacity of the general for a command so large and difficult.
The surrender of Mulligan’s small heroic army at Lexington stimulated Fremont to more strenuous effort. He now contemplated marching against the enemy that was so rapidly gaining strength in west and southwest Missouri. But in that event St. Louis would be left quite uncovered; so to provide for the defense of the city in the absence of his army, he proceeded to surround it on the north, west, and south with earthworks, in which he placed great guns. These works he intended to man with a few hundred soldiers, who, if any enemy should approach, could with those big guns sweep with grape and canister all the roads that led to the city. Many of us, little acquainted with military affairs, looked on with curiosity mingled with wonder, grateful for the benign care bestowed upon us by our patriotic commander; but I noticed that those who evidently knew more of war viewed these earthworks with ill-concealed contempt. And during many months they remained unmanned, mute reminders of the wisdom or folly of the celebrated Fremont, under whose immediate direction they had been constructed.
He seemed to have a mania for fortifications. He put Jefferson City, the capital of the State, under the command of Brigadier-General Ulysses S. Grant, then unknown to fame, and especially enjoined him to fortify it. To this order Grant replied that he had neither sufficient men nor tools to fortify the place, and added: “Drill and discipline are more important than fortifications”. That pithy, pregnant sentence foreshadowed the hero of Fort Donelson, Vicksburg and Appomattox.
[After the surrender of Union forces at Lexington Fremont minimized the loss in telegrams to Washington, but the President was clearly becoming exasperated with him.]
Fremont, in the palatial Brandt Mansion, for which the Government was paying the very unusual rent of $6,000 per year, was maintaining a vice regal court as difficultly accessible as that of any crowned head of Europe. His uncounted and glittering staff, which seemed to have received the Pentecostal gift of tongues –in which English was not included—was headed by a mysterious “Adlatus”—a title before unknown in America or to the dictionaries, and since retired to oblivion. Naturally, the Adlatus’s command of English was limited. His knowledge of Missouri was even more so. Though commanding Missouri and dealing intensely with Missouri affairs, the men surrounding Fremont were everything but Missourians or those acquainted with Missouri affairs. It would have been surprising to find one of them who could bound the State and name its principal rivers.
This, too, in the midst of a multitude of able, educated, influential Missourians who were ardent Unionists and were burning with zeal to serve the cause. Not one of them appears in the Fremont entourage.
McClellan and Fremont were the two men toward whom the country looked as the great Union leaders, and toward them were streaming the newly-raised regiments of infantry and cavalry, and batteries of artillery; nobody seeming to think of the intervening link covered by Kentucky. While I was to make this tour [of Indiana, Illinois, and St. Louis in late August of 1861], Generals Anderson and Thomas were to go to Louisville and initiate the department [of the Cumberland, responsible for Kentucky]. None of us had a staff, or any of the machinery for organizing an army, and, indeed, we had no army to organize. Anderson was empowered to raise regiments in Kentucky, and to commission a few brigadier-generals.
At Indianapolis I found Governor Morton and all the State officials busy in equipping and providing for the new regiments, and my object was to divert some of them toward Kentucky; but they were called for as fast as they were mustered in, either for the army of McClellan or Fremont. At Springfield also I found the same general activity and zeal, Governor Yates busy in providing for his men; but these men also had been promised to Fremont. I then went on to St. Louis, where all was seeming activity, bustle, and preparation.
Meeting R. M. Renick at the Planters’ House (where I stopped), I inquired where I could find General Fremont. Renick said, “What do you want with General Fremont?” I said I had come to see him on business; and he added, “You don’t suppose that he will see such as you?”, and went on to retail all the scandal of the day: that Fremont was a great potentate, surrounded by sentries and guards; that he had a more showy court than any real king; that he kept senators, governors, and the first citizens, dancing attendance for days and weeks before granting an audience, etc.; that if I expected to see him on business, I would have to make my application in writing, and submit to a close scrutiny by his chief of staff and by his civil surroundings. Of course I laughed at all this, and renewed my simple inquiry as to where was his office, and was informed that he resided and had his office at Major Brant’s new house on Chouteau Avenue. It was then late in the afternoon, and I concluded to wait till the next morning; but that night I received a dispatch from General Anderson in Louisville to hurry back, as events were pressing, and he needed me.
Accordingly, I rose early next morning before daybreak, got breakfast with the early railroad-passengers, and about sunrise was at the gate of General Fremont’s headquarters. A sentinel with drawn saber paraded up and down in front of the house. I had on my undress uniform indicating my rank, and inquired of the sentinel, “Is General Fremont up?” He answered, “I don’t know.” Seeing that he was a soldier by his bearing, I spoke in a sharp, emphatic voice, “Then find out.” He called for the corporal of the guard, and soon a fine-looking German sergeant came, to whom I addressed the same inquiry. He in turn did not know, and I bade him find out, as I had immediate and important business with the general.
The sergeant entered the house by the front-basement door, and after ten or fifteen minutes the main front-door above was slowly opened from the inside, and who should appear but my old San Francisco acquaintance Isaiah C. Woods, whom I had not seen or heard of since his flight to Australia, at the time of the failure of Adams & Co. in 1851! He ushered me in hastily, closed the door, and conducted me into the office on the right of the hall. We were glad to meet, after so long and eventful an interval, and mutually inquired after our respective families and special acquaintances. I found that he was a commissioned officer, a major on duty with Fremont, and Major Eaton, now of the paymaster’s Department, was in the same office with him. I explained to them that I had come from General Anderson, and wanted to confer with General Fremont in person. Woods left me, but soon returned, said the general would see me in a very few minutes, and within ten minutes I was shown across the hall into the large parlor, where General Fremont received me very politely. We had met before, as early as 1847, in California, and I had also seen him several times when he was senator. I then in a rapid manner ran over all the points of interest in General Anderson’s new sphere of action, hoped he would spare us from the new levies what troops he could, and generally act in concert with us. He told me that his first business would be to drive the rebel General Price and his army out of Missouri, when he would turn his attention down the Mississippi. He asked my opinion about the various kinds of field-artillery which manufacturers were thrusting on him, especially the then newly-invented James gun, and afterward our conversation took a wide turn about the character of the principal citizens of St. Louis, with whom I was well acquainted.
Telling General Fremont that I had been summoned to Louisville and that I should leave in the first train, viz., at 3 p.m., I took my leave of him. Returning to Wood’s office, I found there two more Californians, viz., Messrs. Palmer and Haskell, so I felt that, while Fremont might be suspicious of others, he allowed free ingress to his old California acquaintances.
Returning to the Planters’ House, I heard of Beard, another Californian, a Mormon, who had the contract for the line of redoubts which Fremont had ordered to be constructed around the city, before he would take his departure for the interior of the State; and while I stood near the office-counter, I saw old Baron Steinberger, a prince among our early California adventurers, come in and look over the register. I avoided him on purpose, but his presence in St. Louis recalled the maxim, “Where the vultures are, there is a carcass close by;” and I suspected that the profitable contracts of the quartermaster, McKinstry, had drawn to St. Louis some of the most enterprising men of California. I suspect they can account for the fact that, in a very short time, Fremont fell from his high estate in Missouri, by reason of frauds, or supposed frauds, in the administration of the affairs of his command.
In spite of Gen. Fremont’s promise to the President to “take the field himself and attempt to destroy the enemy”, he moved with exceeding deliberation. It is true that he left St. Louis for Jefferson City, Sept. 27th, a week after Mulligan’s surrender [at the Battle of Lexington], but that week had been well employed by Price in gathering up all that he could carry away and making ready to avoid the blow which he knew must fall. After arriving at Jefferson City, Fremont, instead of taking the troops which were near at hand and making a swift rush upon his enemy, the only way in which he could hope to hurt him, began the organization of a “grande armee” upon the European model, and that which McClellan was deliberately organizing in front of Washington.
The impatient people, who were praying the $3,000,000 a day which the war was now beginning to cost, and who had begun to murmur for results, were amused by stories of plans of sweeping down the Mississippi clear to New Orleans, taking Memphis, Vicksburg and other strongholds on the way, severing the Southern Confederacy in twain, so that it would fall into hopeless ruin.
This was entirely possible at that time with the army that had been given Fremont, had it been handled with the ability and boldness of Sherman’s March to the Sea.
Two weeks after Mulligan’s surrender Fremont announced the formation of this grand “Army of the West”, containing approximately 50,000 men. This was grouped as follows:
The First Division, to which Gen. David Hunter was assigned, consisted of 9,750 men, and was ordered to take position at Versailles, about 40 miles southwest of Jefferson City, and became the Left Wing of the Army.
Gen. John Pope was given command of the Second Division of 9,220 men and ordered to take station at Boonville, 50 miles northwest of Jefferson City. His position was to be the Right Wing of the Army.
The Third Division, 7,980 strong, was put under command of Gen. Franz Sigel, and made the advance of the army, with its station at Sedalia and Georgetown, 64 miles west of Jefferson City.
The Fourth Division, commanded by Gen. Asboth, had 6,451 men, and constituted the reserve at Tipton, on the railroad, 38 miles west of Jefferson City.
The Fifth Division, 5,388 men, under Gen. Justus McKinstry, formed the center and was posted at Syracuse, five miles west of Tipton.
Beside these, Gen. Sturgis held Kansas City with 3,000 men and Gen. James H. Lane, with 2,500 men, was to move in Kansas down the State line, between Fort Scott and Kansas City to protect Kansas from an incursion in that direction, and as opportunity offered attack Price’s flank.
Thus, there were 38,789 effectives in the five divisions, which with Sturgis and Lane’s forces made a total force of 44,289, not including garrisons which swell the total of the army to over 90,000.
Among these Division Commanders were two whom Fremont had discovered and created Brigadier-Generals out of his own volition, without consultation at Washington.
These were Gens. Asboth and McKinstry. Gen. Alexander (Sandor) Asboth, born in 1811, was a Hungarian and an educated engineer, with considerable experience in and against the Austrian army. He had entered ardently into the Revolution of 1848, and built a bridge in a single night by which the Revolutionary army crossed and won the brilliant victory of Nagy Salo. He became Adjutant-General of the Hungarian army, and when the Revolution was crushed by Russian troops, escaped with Kossuth into Turkey, came to this country, and became a naturalized citizen. He was by turns farmer, teacher, engineer, and manufacturer of galvanized articles. He sided with the Union Germans, went on Fremont’s staff, and was appointed a Brigadier-General The Senate refused to recognize the appointment, but in consideration of his good service he was brevetted a Major-General, and after the war sent as Minister to the Argentine Confederation, where he died in 1868.
The other, Justus McKinstry, was born in New York and appointed to the Military Academy from Michigan, where he graduated 40th in the class of 1838, of which Beauregard, Barry, Irvin McDowell, W. J. Hardee, R. S. Granger, Henry H. Sibley, Edward Johnson and A.J. Smith were members. He had served creditably in the Mexican War, receiving a brevet for gallantry at Contreras and Churubusco, and at the outbreak of the war was a Major and Quartermaster at St. Louis, where he did very much to frustrate Lyon’s plans and was regarded by him as a Secessionist at heart. He continued to hold his position, however, as Chief Quartermaster of the Department of the West until Fremont appointed him Brigadier-General.
Shortly after Fremont’s removal he was placed under arrest at St. Louis and ordered before a court-martial, which did not convene, [this is in error; read an account of McKinstry’s court martial and his “Vindication”] and he was at last summarily dismissed for “neglect and violation of duty, to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.” He became a stockbroker in New York City, and afterwards a land agent at Rolla, Mo.
It will be seen by the map that the disposition of the troops was good, and that Fremont had the advantage of short lines from Sedalia and Rolla to cut Price’s line of retreat, recapture the spoils he was hastening to a place of safety, and destroy, or at least disperse, his army.
Fremont, however, made no use of this advantage, and Price seems to have had no apprehension that he would. Price remained in Lexington until Oct. 1, serenely contemplating the gigantic preparations made for his destruction, and then having gathered up all that the could readily get, and reading Fremont’s order for a forward movement of the Army of the West, thought, like the prudent meadow lark, that probably something would be now done, and the time had come for moving. He began a deliberate retreat, crossing the Osage River at Osceola, and reaching Greenfield, 150 miles away, at the very comfortable pace of 15 miles a day.
Gen. Fremont ordered the Army of the West forward, but the so-called pursuit was very much like hunting a fox on a dray. He was encumbered with immense trains, for which bridges had to be built over numerous streams and roads made thru the rough country. The trains seemed to contain a world of unnecessary things and astonishing lack of those necessary. Apparently almost anybody who had anything to sell could find purchasers among the numerous men about Fremont’s headquarters who had authority to buy, or assumed it.
One astonishing item in the purchases was a great number of half barrels for holding water, rather an extraordinary provision in a country like Missouri, where in the month of October water is disposed to be in excessive quantities.
Notwithstanding the astonishing purchase of mules by everybody and anybody, none of the Division Commanders seems to have had mules enough to pull their wagons.
The army started out like the horses of a balky team. Gen. Pope, of the Right Wing, left Jefferson City Oct. 11th, Sigel got away from Sedalia with the Third Division Oct. 13th, the same day Hunter left Tipton with the Left Wing, and Asboth followed on Oct. 14th. Even when they started their progress was very slow, for the columns were halted at streams to build bridges and in the rough countries to wait for the sappers and miners to make passable roads.
When one column was halted, all the rest had to do likewise, for though Price kept the safe distance of 100 miles away, Fremont was in constant apprehension of battle, and held his columns in close supporting distance. He did not get across the Osage River until Oct. 25th, or nine days after Price’s leisurely crossing that important stream, on the banks of which it was confidently expected that the would give battle.
Price, with his diminishing forces, had no such intention, but fell back toward Neosho, to cover as along as possible the Granby Mines, seven miles from that place, which were the most important source of lead for the Southern Confederacy, to which they supplied 200,000 pounds per month.
Gov. Jackson took advantage of this breathing spell to call the Legislature together at Neosho, where it held a two weeks’ “rump” session of the small minority of that body which favored Secession. They passed an ordinance of Secession and elected Senators and Representatives to the Confederate Congress, adjourning when they heard that Fremont had at last passed the Osage.
Then Price took up his line of retreat toward the southern boundary of the State to get near Gen. Ben McCulloch, who had posted his forces at Cross Hollow, in Benton County, northwest Arkansas. Gen. Price took up his position at Pineville, in the extreme southwestern corner of Missouri, where the rough, hilly country offered great chances to the defense, and again began communication with Gen. McCulloch, to induce him to unite his force with his own and attack the Union army.
He had correctly estimated Fremont’s generalship, and thought there was a possibility of massing his and McCulloch’s forces, to attack a portion of Fremont’s army, drive it back and defeat him in detail. McCulloch, in spite of his ranger reputation, entirely lacked Price’s aggressive spirit, and thought that it would be much better to fall back to the Boston Mountain, about 50 miles farther south, and make a stand there. He so informed Gen. Price.
While McCulloch had no disposition to enter Missouri and defend it against the Union troops, he had no hesitation about treating it as part of Confederate territory. Desiring to embarrass and delay Fremont’s advance as much as possible, he sent forward his Texas cavalry to burn the mills, forage and grain as far in the direction of Springfield as they could safely go, and urged Price to do the same. McCulloch’s Texans soon lighted up the southwest country with burning mills, barns and stacks.
To this Gen. Price was bitterly opposed. The mills and grain were in many instances the property of the Secessionists, and to destroy them would be to inflict worse punishment on his own people than the Union commanders had ever done, and would embitter them against his cause. Price repeatedly represent to McCulloch that altogether they would have 25,000 men, and if McCulloch did not desire to go forward they could make a good defensive batter inside the State on the hills around Pineville. To leave it would cause the loss of very many Missourians who had enlisted in the State Guard to defend Missouri, and who would feel that they had no cause to fight outside of the State.
After crossing the Osage, Fremont halted near Connersville, about 25 miles south of Warsaw, where he crossed the river, and then advanced with Sigel to Bolivar, on the Springfield road, and sent forward Maj. Charles Zagonyi with 150 of his famous Body Guard and Maj. F.J. White with 180 men of the 1st Mo. Cav., to make a reconnaissance in the direction of Springfield.
Fremont’s Body Guard had played a large part in the pomp and circumstance of his administration. Maj. Charles Zagonyi was a picturesque and effervescent Hungarian, who recounted fascinating stories of his experience as a subordinate to Gen. Ben during the Hungarian Revolution. Fremont had authorized him to raise a body guard, in imitation of the famous troops of Europe, and the novelty of the organization attracted to it a great number of quite fine young men, most of whom were from the country around Cincinnati—one company being from Kentucky. They were formed into three companies, mounted on fine blooded bay horses, showily uniformed and each armed with two navy revolvers, a five-barreled rifle and a saber.
All the officers were Americans except three—one Hollander and two Hungarians. The members of the Guard, in addition to their expensive and showy outfit, did not conceal from the other soldiers that they were picked men and considered themselves superior to the ordinary run, which did not enhance their popularity with their comrades.
Majors Zagonyi and White marched all that night, and the next day, about noon, when about eight miles north of Springfield, learned that there was a force of at least 1,500 Confederates in the town.
One of the rebel pickets who had not been captured hastened back to Springfield and gave the alarm, so that the Confederates were in readiness for them. Feeling that this would be so, Majors Zagonyi and White determined to move around the town and approach it from the west on the Mt. Vernon road. In this movement White became separated from Zagonyi, who, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, came most unexpectedly upon the Secessionists drawn up in line at the end of a long lane.
A heavy rail fence intervened between Zagonyi and the head of the lane, and an opening had to be made through this under a heavy fire from the enemy. The moment a gap was made, Zagonyi shouted to his men to follow him, and do as he did, raising the battle cry, “Fremont and the Union”. He dashed gallantly forward, straight for the center of the rebel line, followed at a gallop by his command. The Confederate fire did fearful execution upon the Guard as it was crowded in the lane, but in a few seconds the lane was passed and the cavalry saber began doing its wild work.
The center of the enemy’s lines was at once broken by the terrible impact of galloping horses and the Confederates began a panicky retreat, followed by the vengeful horsemen shooting and sabering them as they ran. The infantry ran through the town to the shelter of the woods, and the Confederate cavalry fell back down the road, pursued by the Guard until it was getting nightfall, when Zagonyi recalled them and returned to the Court House, raised the Union flag from it, released the Union prisoners confined in the jail, gathered up his dead and wounded, and after dark decided to fall back until he met the advance of the army.
He had lost 15 men killed and 26 wounded, and reported that he had found 23 Confederates dead after the charge was over. This brilliant action, which was then compared with the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava, redeemed the soldiers of the Guard in the eyes of their comrades, and it became an honor to belong to that organization.
The next morning Major White reached Springfield with a few Home Guards, where he found the Confederates still dazed by the occurrences of the day before, and he was careful not to undeceive them as to his strength. He solemnly received the flag of truce, said that he would have to refer the matter to Gen. Sigel, threw out his men as pickets, permitted the people to bury their dead, and then prudently fell back to meet the advance of the army.
Fremont took up his quarters in Springfield, and began ostentatious preparations for an immediate decisive battle, though Price was then more than 50 miles away from him. This Fremont should have known, for in some mysterious manner he was within ready communication with him, so much so as to be able to conclude the following remarkable convention which was duly published in a joint proclamation:
To all Peaceably-Disposed Citizens of the State of Missouri,
Whereas a solemn agreement has be entered into by and between Maj.-Gens. Fremont and Price, respectively, commanding antagonistic forces in the State of Missouri, to the effect that in the future arrests or forcible interference by armed or unarmed parties of citizens within the limits of said State for the mere entertainment or expression of political opinions shall hereafter cease; that families now broken up for such causes may be reunited, and that the war now progressing shall be exclusively confined to armies in the field:
Therefore, be it known to all whom it may concern:
No arrests whatever on account of political opinions, or for the merely private expression of the same, shall hereafter be made within the limits of the State of Missouri, and all person who may have been arrested and are now held to answer upon such charges only shall be forthwith released; but it is expressly declared that nothing in this proclamation shall be construed to bar or interfere with any of the usual and regular proceedings of the established courts under statues and orders made and provided for such offenses.
All peaceably disposed citizens who may have been driven from their homes because of their political opinions, or who may have left them from fear of force and violence, are hereby advised and permitted to return, upon the faith of our positive assurances that while so returning they shall receive protection from both the armies in the field wherever it can be given.
All bodies of armed men acting without the authority or recognition of the Major-Generals before named, and not legitimately connected with the armies in the field, are hereby ordered at once to disband.
Any violation of either of the foregoing articles hall subject the offender to the penalty of military law, according to the nature of the offense.
In testimony whereof the aforesaid Maj.-Gen John Charles Fremont, at Springfield, Mo., on this 1st day of November, A.D. 1861, and Maj.-Gen. Sterling Price, at Cassville, Mo., on this 5th day of November, A.D. 1861, have hereunto set their hands, and hereby mutually pledge their earnest efforts to the enforcement of the above articles of agreement according to their full tenor and effect, to the best of their ability.
J.C. Fremont, Major-General Commanding
Sterling Price, Major-General Commanding
The practical effect of this was that Price was allowed to send such of his men as he wished home for the Winter, with a safeguard against their being molested by the Union troops, but it had no effect in protecting Union men from being harassed by guerrilla tormentors, who cared as little for conventions and proclamations as for the Sermon on the Mount.
In the meanwhile, Fremont’s astonishing ill success in purely military matters, the freely expressed opinion of all who came in contact with him as to his glaring incompetence, added to the fearful stories of the corruption of the men immediately surrounding him, were making his position very insecure. President Lincoln sent his intimate and life-long friend, David Davis, whom he was about to elevate to the Supreme Bench, to St. Louis with a commission to investigate the rank-smelling contracts and disbursements. No report was ever made public, but it was generally known that they found even worse than they feared.
The Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, undertook a tour of investigation on his own account, accompanied by Adjutant-General Lorenzo Thomas. Some of the things which they found are set forth in the following extracts from the memorandum from Gen. Thomas to his superior officer:
“Gen. Curtis said of Gen. Fremont that he found no difficulty in having access to him, and when he presented business connected with his command, it was attended to. Gen. Fremont never consulted him on military matters, nor informed him of his plans. Gen. Curtis remarked that while he would go with freedom to Gen. Scott and express his opinions, he would not dare to do so to Gen. Fremont. He deemed Gen. Fremont unequal to the command of an army, and said that he was no more bound by law than by the winds.
“Col. Andrews, Chief Paymaster, called and presented irregularities in the Pay Department, and desired instructions from the Secretary for his government, stating that he was required to make payments and transfers of money contrary to law and regulations. Once, upon objecting to what he conceived an improper payment, he was threatened with confinement by a file of soldiers. He exhibited an order for the transfer of $100,000 to the Quartermaster’s Department, which was irregular. Exhibited abstract of payment by one Paymaster (Maj. Febiger) to 42 persons, appointed by Gen. Fremont, viz: one Colonel, three Majors, eight Captains, 15 First Lieutenants, 11 Second Lieutenants, one Surgeon, three Assistant Surgeons; total 42. Nineteen of these have appointments as engineers, and are entitled to cavalry pay.
“Maj. Allen, Principal Quartermaster, had recently taken charge at St. Louis, but reported great irregularities in his Department, and requested special instructions. These he deemed important, as orders were communicated by a variety of person, in a very irregular manner, requiring disbursements of money. These orders were often verbally given. He was sending, under Gen. Fremont’s orders, large amounts of forage from St. Louis to the army where corn was abundant and very cheap. The distance was 160 miles. He gave the indebtedness of the Quartermaster’s Department in St. Louis to be $4,506,309.73.
“By direction of Gen. Meigs, advertisements were made to furnish grain and hay, and contracts made for specific sums –28 cents per bushel for corn, 30 cents for oats, and $17.95 per ton for hay. In face of this another party at St. Louis—Baird, or Baird & Palmer (Palmer being of the old firm in California of Palmer, Cook & Co)—were directed to send to Jefferson City (where hay and corn abound) as fast as possible 100,000 bushels of oats, with a corresponding amount of hay, at 33 cents per bushel for grain and $19 per ton for hay.
“Captain Edward M. Davis, a member of his staff, received a contract by the direct order of Gen. Fremont for blankets. They were examined by a board of army officers consisting of Capt. Hendershott, 4th U.S. Artillery, Capt. Haines, Commissary of Subsistence, and Capt. Turnley, Assistant Quartermaster. The blankets were found to be made of cotton and were rotten and worthless. Notwithstanding this decision they were purchased, and given to the sick and wounded soldiers in hospitals.
“One week after the receipt of the President’s order modifying Gen. Fremont’s proclamation relative to emancipation of slaves, Gen. Fremont, by note to Capt. McKeever, required him to have 200 copies of the original proclamation and address to the army, of same date, printed and sent immediately to Ironton, for the use of Maj. Gavitt, Indiana Cavalry, for distribution through the country. Capt. McKeever had the copies printed and delivered. The order is as follows: ‘Adjutant-General will have 200 copies of proclamation of Commanding General, date Aug. 30th, together with the address to the army of same date, sent immediately to Ironton, for the use of Maj. Gavitt, Indiana Cavalry. Maj. Gavitt will distribute it through the country. J.C.F., Commanding General, Sept. 23rd, 1861’
“As soon as I obtained a view of the several encampments at Tipton, I expressed the opinion that the forces there assembled could not be moved, as scarcely any means of transportation were visible. I saw Gen. Hunter, second in command, and conversed freely with him. He stated that there was great confusion, and that Fremont was utterly incompetent; that his own division was greatly scattered, and the force then present defective in may respects; that he required 100 wagons, yet he was ordered to march that day, and some of his troops were already drawn out on the road. His cavalry regiment (Ellis’s) had horses, arms (indifferent), but no equipments; had to carry their cartridges in their pockets; consequently, on their first day’s march from Jefferson City, in a heavy rain, the cartridges carried about their persons were destroyed. This march to Tipton (35 miles) was made on a miry, heavy earth road parallel to the railroad, and but a little distance from it. The troops were directed by Gen. Fremont to march without provisions or knapsacks, and without transportation. A violent rainstorm came up, and the troops were exposed to it all night, were without food for 24 hours, and when food was received the beef was found to be spoiled.
“Gen. Hunter stated that he had just received a written report from one of his Colonels, informing him that but 20 out of 100 of his guns would go off. These were the guns procured by Gen. Fremont in Europe. I may here state that Gen. Sherman, at Louisville, made a similar complaint of the great inferiority of these European arms. He had given men orders to file down the nipples. In conversation with Col. Swords, Assistant Quartermaster-General, at Louisville, just from California, he stated that Mr. Selover, who was in Europe with Gen. Fremont, wrote to some friend in San Francisco that his share of the profit of the purchase of these arms was $30,000.
“Gen. Hunter expressed to the Secretary of War his decided opinion that Gen. Fremont was incompetent and unfit for his extensive and important command. This opinion he gave reluctantly, owing to his position as second in command.
President Lincoln sent the following characteristic letter to Gen. S.R. Curtis, who, being in command at St. Louis, was directly accessible, and a man in whose discretion the President felt he might trust:
Washington, Oct. 24th, 1861
Brig-Gen. S.R. Curtis
Dear Sir: On receipt of this with the accompanying enclosures, you will take safe, certain and suitable measures to have the enclosure addressed to Maj.-Gen. Fremont delivered to him with all reasonable dispatch, subject to these conditions only, that if, when Gen. Fremont shall be reached by the messenger—yourself or anyone sent by you—he shall then have, in personal command, fought and won a battle, or shall then be in the immediate presence of the enemy in expectation of a battle, it is not to be delivered, but held for further orders. After, and not until after, the delivery to Gen. Fremont, let the enclosed addressed to Gen. Hunter be delivered to him.
The following decisive order was one of the enclosures:
Headquarters of the Army, Washington, Oct. 24th, 1861
General Orders No. 18
Maj.-Gen. Fremont, of the U.S. Army, the present Commander of the Western Department of the same, will, on the receipt of this order, call Maj.-Gen Hunter, of the U.S. Volunteers, to relieve him temporarily in that command, when he (Maj.-Gen. Fremont) will report to General Headquarters, by letter, for further orders.
A special messenger arrived at Springfield, Nov. 2nd, with the order, which created consternation at Fremont’s headquarters. It is more than probable that Fremont felt his elevation to be such that he could try conclusions with the Administration, and refuse to obey the order.
There was considerable talk at that time about military headquarters as to a dictator, and this was so rife about McClellan’s that his journal constantly abounds in allusions which indicate that he was putting the crown away from him with increasing gentleness each time. There was much of the same atmosphere about the headquarters of the Army of the West, and it is claimed that Fremont at first decided not to obey the order, but on Sigel’s urgent representations finally concluded to do so, and issued the following farewell order to his troops:
Headquarters Western Department,
Springfield, Mo., Nov. 2nd, 1861
Soldiers of the Mississippi Army:
Agreeably to orders this day received I take leave of you. Although our army has been of sudden growth, we have grown up together, and I have become familiar with the brave and generous spirit which you bring to the defense of your country, and which makes me anticipate for you a brilliant career. Continue as you have begun, and give to my successor the same cordial and enthusiastic support with which you have encouraged me. Emulate the splendid example which you have already before you, and let me remain, as I am, proud of the noble army which I had thus far labored to bring together.
Soldiers, I regret to leave you. Most sincerely I thank you for the regard and confidence you have invariably shown me. I deeply regret that I shall not have the honor to lead you to the victory which you are just about to win, but I shall claim to share with you in the joy of every triumph, and trust always to be fraternally remembered by my companions in arms.
Major-General, U.S. Army
He left at once for St. Louis, with his Body Guard for an escort. Though these men had been enlisted for three years, they were ordered by Gen. McClellan to be mustered out, and Maj. Zagonyi was offered the Colonelcy of a new regiment.
The time and manner of the removal enabled Gen. Fremont’s ardent partisans to complain loudly that he was relieved on the eve of a battle in which he would have accomplished great things, and was thus denied an opportunity to achieve lasting fame and render essential service to the country. The evidence, however, is conclusive that at that time Price was at Pineville, fully 50 miles away, and in the midst of a very rough country, instead of being in Fremont’s immediate front, as Fremont certainly supposed.
Whether he would have accepted battle after Fremont had reached him at Pineville, is a matter of conjecture. The pressure in favor of Fremont continued strong enough, however, to bring about the offer of a new command to him the following year, but it was grotesquely shrunken from the proud proportions of that from which he had been relieved. It was styled the Mountain Department, and embraced a large portion of West Virginia. Even in this restricted area he again failed to give satisfaction.
June 8, 1862, he fought an indecisive battle against Stonewall Jackson at Cross Keys [Actually, Jackson beat Fremont and Pope like rented mules in that campaign, just not in relative casualties between Fremont & Jackson. But casualties are not the be-all of a campaign –results are. Jackson used speed and terrain to keep his much more numerous adversaries separated and unable to crush him with their superior numbers. McElroy has some real issues in admitting any Confederate success of arms –even Wilson’s Creek is a Union victory to him. Some victory. –ed], took umbrage at being placed under the command of Gen. John Pope, whom he had once commanded, asked to be relieved from command, and joined the ranks of the bitter critics of President Lincoln’s Administration, though still retaining his commission and pay as a Major-General.
He still thought his was a name to conjure with, and May 31st, 1864 accepted the nomination for President from a convention of dissatisfied Republicans assembled at Cleveland, resigning his commission at last, June 4th, 1864.
The chill reception with which the country received his nomination at last disillusioned even him, and in September he withdrew from the field, to clear the way for Lincoln’s re-election. He then became connected with the promotion of a Pacific railway over the southern routes which he had surveyed, lost his money and property in the course of time, appealed to Congress for relief, and in 1890 was by special act put on the retired list of the Army with the rank of Major-General.