John Charles "Pathfinder" Fremont

Union General John C. Fremont        John Charles Fremont was born on January 21, 1813 in Savannah, Georgia to John C. Fremont and Mrs. Anne Pryo Fremont. He was raised in Charleston, South Carolina. Energetic and adventuresome, he impressed with his quickness and talents some influential citizens, who paid for his private education. Keenly interested in sailing, he went to sea for two years. Upon his return, he worked as a surveyor and engineer with the U.S. Topographical Corps, during which time he developed his love for wilderness exploration. The success of his western surveys made him a national celebrity. Thomas Hart Benton, a Missouri senator and expansionist, especially took interest in Frémontís abilities. Frémont fell in love with Bentonís daughter Jessie. After they eloped in the summer of 1841, he explored Iowa Territory. After exploring the Oregon Trail and Oregon Territory with frontiersman Kit Carson in 1842, Frémont explored the Great Basin in 1843. Against the advice of others, he pushed on through the winter passes of the Sierra Nevada. His party barely survived, and some of his men were driven crazy by frostbite. His return to Washington in the fall of 1844 made him a hero, and he was mobbed in public. His passionate descriptions of the West helped fan the publicís support of Manifest Destiny. During the 1840ís, Fremont led trailblazing expeditions across the Rocky Mountains and played a significant role in the campaign to win California from Mexico. It was during this time that he became known as the ęPathfinderĽ.

        A string of triumphs and disasters awaited Frémont in the years following the Mexican-American War. In 1848, he tried to cross the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado in the winter. Ten men died, and survivors resorted to eating boiled rawhide, rope, and human remains. Later, the discovery of gold on his ranch in California made Frémont a wealthy man. In 1854, he became trapped again in the mountains in winter during a railroad survey and nearly perished. Antislavery Republicans needed a strong candidate to challenge Democrat James Buchanan and American Party candidate Millard Fillmore in the 1856 presidential campaign, and they chose Frémont. Buchanan, however, won the election.

        Fremont was one of four major generals appointed by President Abraham Lincoln at the outset of the Civil War, receiving his commission on May 14, 1861. Lincoln assigned Fremont the command of the Western Department, headquartered in St. Louis, MO in July 1861. Lincoln did so at the urging of Fremontís many friends and supporters and would soon regret his decision. As the Western Department commander, Fremont spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fortifying the city of St. Louis, while his field commanders were left ill equipped and inadequately supported. Union defeats at Springfield and Lexington, MO turned many of Fremontís supporters into adversaries. The generalís impetuous order freeing all slaves owned by Missouri secessionists, known as Fremontís Emancipation Proclamation, cost him Lincolnís confidence. Fremont viewed his move as a brilliant war measure, whereas Lincoln viewed it as a swipe at border state loyalists Ė an ill-conceived attempt to turn the war to save the Union into a war to abolish slavery. In October 1861, Fremont was relieved of all duties as a Union commander.

        Fremontís removal from the public eye was short-lived as in March 1862, he returned to service as commander of the newly created Mountain Department. He again proved unequal to his task as he was defeated in a confrontation with Major General Thomas J. ęStonewallĽ Jackson. Shortly thereafter, Major General John Pope was named as his superior, which prompted Fremont to request relief from all of his duties. In the presidential election of 1864, he made a weak attempt to head an independent third party.

        After 1864, Fremontís personal wealth began to decay with the loss of his California properties. In 1878 he wrote to the President of the United States to ask for service in an office in the West. Appointed as the Governor of the territory of Arizona June 5, 1878. The people of Arizona, however, did not want him and were happy with their current governor John P. Hoyt. Five months passed before Fremont even entered the Arizona territory. He immediately went East after giving his annual report of the territory to dispute the boundary of the Salt River Indian Reservation, which he felt was too close to Phoenix and would use up water from the city. Jesse Benton Fremont remained in the East during Fremont's administration. He was back East from 1879-1881.

        While Governor of Arizona he legalized gambling and tried to establish a lottery system that would pay for schools and public buildings. Back East, the Governor promoted his mining interests and attempted to get investment in Arizona's mines. He promoted economic development in Arizona. He created Cochise, Gila, and Graham Counties during his administration. He issued bonds for the creation of buildings, courthouses, and jails. He produced The Resources of Arizona to help attract Eastern investors, an invaluable resource for foreign investors. He repealed the Buillion tax, which allowed foreign investors to do business without being taxed.

        Fremont was gone for so long back East that his Secretary of the Territory John Gosper was doing his job for him. He wanted the governors to be elected locally instead of by Presidential Appointment. He even attempted to get the job of Governor himself by writing to the President of the United States. He requested Fremont to return to his post of Governor or to resign his post. Fremont returns to the Arizona territory in October of 1881 and resigns his office. John Gosper's political aspirations were dashed when another was appointed governor for the territory. In 1887 Fremont moves to California. He died from peritonitis July 13, 1890. Jesse Benton Fremont died December 27, 1902.

 Report of Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont, U. S. Army, commanding the Mountain Department, of the Battle of Cross Keys

Recommended Reading on Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson & the Shenandoah Valley Campaign!

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