John Charles Fremont

John Charles Fremont, the son of a French emigre dancing master and a Richmond, Virginia, housewife with whom he had eloped, was born in Savannah, Georgia, on January 21, 1813. He has been characterized by one of his biographers as "precocious, handsome, and daring"; he was also mercurial, headstrong, and unstable. All of these traits contributed to a career which soared in early life, stalled during the Civil War, and ended in utter frustration during the post-bellum years. Fremont attended Charleston College in South Carolina from 1829 until 1831 (when he was expelled) under the auspices of a prominent lawyer of the city; he was soon appointed a teacher of mathematics aboard the sloop of war Natchez at the instigation of J. R. Poinsett, Andrew Jackson's principal South Carolina lieutenant. In 1838, Fremont received an appointment in the army topographical engineers and transferred from sea to land, still under the guidance of Poinsett. Fremont's association with the distinguished scientist J. N. Nicollet, whom he accompanied on an expedition to western Minnesota, caused his meeting with Senator Thomas Hart Benton, whose daughter Jessie married Fremont in 1841 despite her father's objections. From 1842 until the outbreak of the Mexican War, Fremont led several important expeditions through the American West. He played a leading part in the conquest of California; was loser in the Stockton-Kearny feud after the American occupation; and after a court-martial in Washington, in which he was found guilty of charges of mutiny and insubordination, resigned from the army on March 15, 1848. Soon after, gold was discovered in enormous quantities on his Mariposa estate in the Sierra foothills of California. In 1850 he was elected to a one-year term as U. S. Senator from the newly admitted state. In 1856, Fremont was selected as the presidential candidate of the newly formed Republican party, which gave him the nomination for largely negative reasons: his acquittal on charges brought against him in his court-martial and his silence on the slavery question. He polled 1,300,000 popular votes to James Buchanan's 1,800,000. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln appointed Fremont major general in the Regular Army to rank from May 14, 1861, and assigned him to the command of the ill-defined Department of the West, with headquarters at St. Louis. From then until his resignation from the service on June 4, 1864, Fremont was a controversial administrator and was shunted from command to command. A failure in the Valley campaign of the spring of 1862, he was relieved from command at his own request after being assigned to a command under General John Pope, whom he detested. In 1864, Fremont was nominated for the presidency by a coalition of Radicals, Missouri Germans, and war Democrats. The supporters of Lincoln, embarrassed by Fremont's candidacy, effected a bargain by which Fremont withdrew in return for the ousting of the conservative Montgomery Blair from the Cabinet. By the autumn of 1864, Fremont had lost his California holdings and until the end of his life was to some extent dependent upon the literary endeavors of his wife. He served as territorial governor of Arizona from 1878 until 1887 and in the last year of his life was restored to the army roster as major general on the retired list. While temporarily residing in New York City he died on July 13, 1890, and was buried in Rockland Cemetery, Piermont-on-the-Hudson, New York.

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Reference:  Generals in Blue.  Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner.  Louisiana State University Press.  Baton Rouge.