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John Charles, explorer, born in Savannah, Georgia, 21 January 1813.
His father, who was a Frenchman, had settled in Norfolk, Virginia, married Anne
Beverley Whiting, a Virginian lady, and supported himself by teaching his native
language. After his death, which took place in 1818, his widow removed with her
three infant children to Charleston, S.C. John Charles entered the junior class
of Charleston College in 1828, and for some time stood high, especially in
mathematics; but his inattention and frequent absences at length caused his
expulsion. He then employed himself as a private teacher of mathematics, and at
the same time taught an evening school. He became teacher of mathematics on the
sloop-of-war "Natchez" in 1888, and after a cruise of two years
returned, and was given his degree by the College that had expelled him. He then
passed a rigorous examination at Baltimore for a professorship in the U. S.
navy, and was appointed to the frigate "Independence," but
declined, and became an assistant engineer under Captain William G. Williams, of
the U. S. topographical corps, on surveys for a projected railroad between
Charleston and Cincinnati, aiding particularly in the exploration of the
mountain passes between North Carolina and Tennessee. This work was suspended in
1837, and Fremont accompanied Captain Williams in a military reconnaissance of
the mountainous Cherokee country in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, made
rapidly, in the depth of winter, in anticipation of hostilities with the
7 July 1838, while engaged with Jean Nicolas Nicollet in exploring, under
government authority, the country between the Missouri and the northern
frontier, he was commissioned by President Van Buren as 2d lieutenant of
topographical engineers. He went to Washington in 1840 to prepare his report,
and while there he met Jessie, daughter of Thomas H. Benton, then senator from
Missouri. An engagement was formed, but, as the lady was only fifteen years of
age, her parents objected to the match; and suddenly, probably through the
influence of Colonel Benton, the young officer received from the war department
an order to make an examination of the River Des Moines on the western frontier.
The survey was made rapidly, and shortly after his return from this duty the
lovers were secretly married, 19 October 1841. In 1842, Fremont was instructed
by the war department to take charge of an expedition for the exploration of the
Rocky Mountains, particularly the South
pass. He left Washington on 2 May and in four months had carefully examined the
South pass and explored the Wind River mountains, ascending their highest point,
since known as Fremont 's peak (13,570 ft.). His report of the expedition was
laid before congress in the writer of 1842'3, and attracted much attention both
at home and abroad.
afterward, Fremont determined to explore the unknown region between the Rocky
Mountains and the Pacific, and set out in May
1843, with thirty-nine men. On 6 September after traveling over 1,700 miles, he
came in sight of Great Salt Lake. His
investigations corrected many vague and erroneous ideas about this region, of
which no accurate account had ever been given, and had great influence in
promoting the settlement of Utah and the Pacific states. It was his report of
this expedition that gave to the Mormons their first idea of Utah as a place of
residence. After leaving Great Salt Lake, he explored the upper tributaries of
the Columbia, descended the valley of that
River to Fort Vancouver, near its mouth, and on 10 November set out on his
return. His route lay through an almost unknown region leading from the Lower
Columbia to the Upper Colorado, and was crossed by high and rugged mountain
chains. Deep snow soon forced him to descend into the great basin, and he
presently found himself, in the depth of winter, in a desert, with the prospect
of death to his whole party from cold and hunger. By astronomical observation he
found that he was in the latitude of the bay of San Francisco; but between him
and the valleys of California was a snow clad range of mountains, which the
Indians declared no man could cross, and over which no reward could induce them
to attempt to guide him.
undertook the passage without a guide, and accomplished it in forty days,
reaching Sutter's Fort, on the Sacramento, early in March with his men reduced
almost to skeletons, and with only thirty-three out of sixty-seven horses and
his journey on 24 March he crossed the Sierra Nevada through a gap, and after
another visit to Great Salt Lake returned to Kansas through the South pass in
July 1844, having been absent fourteen months. The reports of this expedition
occupied in their preparation the remainder of 1844. Fremont was given the
double brevet of 1st lieutenant and captain in January 1845, at the instance of
General Scott, and in the spring of that year he set out on a third expedition
to explore the great basin and the maritime region of Oregon and California.
After spending the summer in exploring the watershed between the Pacific and the
Mississippi, he encamped in October on the shore of the Great Salt lake, and
after crossing the Sierra Nevada with a few men, in the dead of winter, to
obtain supplies, left his party in the valley of the San Joaquin while he went
to Monterey, then the capital of California, to obtain from the Mexican
authorities permission to proceed with his exploration. This was granted, but
was almost immediately revoked, and Fremont was ordered to leave the country
with this demand was impossible, on account of the exhaustion of Fremont's men
and his lack of supplies, and it was therefore refused. The Mexican commander,
General Jose’ Castro, then mustered the forces of the province and prepared to
attack the Americans, who numbered only sixty-two. Fremont took up a strong
position on the Hawk's peak, a mountain thirty miles from Monterey, built a rude
fort of felled trees, hoisted the American flag, and, having plenty of
ammunition, resolved to defend himself. The Mexican general, with a large force,
encamped in the plain immediately below the Americans, whom he hourly threatened
to attack. On the evening of the fourth day of the siege Fremont withdrew with
his party and proceeded toward the San Joaquin. The fires were still burning in
his deserted camp when a messenger arrived from General Castro to propose a
cessation of hostilities. Fremont now made his way northward through the
Sacramento valley into Oregon without further trouble, and near Talmath lake, on
9 May 1846, met a party in search of him with dispatches from Washington,
directing him to watch over the interests of the United States in California,
there being reason to apprehend that the province would be transferred to Great
Britain, and also that General Castro intended to destroy the American
settlements on the Sacramento. He promptly returned to California, where he
found that Castro was already marching against the settlements.
settlers flocked to Fremont's camp, and in less than a month he had freed
northern California from Mexican authority. He received a lieutenant colonel's
commission on 27 May, and was elected governor of California by the American
settlers on 4 July. On 10 July learning that Com. Sloat, commander of the United
States squadron on that coast, had seized Monterey, he marched to join him, and
reached that place on 19 July with 160 mounted riflemen. About this time Com.
Stockton arrived at Monterey with the frigate "Congress" and
took command of the squadron, with authority from Washington to conquer
California. At his request Fremont organized a force of mounted men, known as
the "California battalion," of which he was appointed major. He
was also appointed by Com. Stockton military commandant and civil governor of
the territory, the project of making California independent having been
relinquished on receipt of intelligence that war
had begun between the United States and Mexico.
13 January 1847, Fremont concluded with the Mexicans articles
of capitulation, which terminated the war in California and left that
country permanently in the possession of the United States. Meantime General
Stephen W. Kearny, with a small force of dragoons, had arrived in California. A
quarrel soon broke out between him and Com. Stockton as to who should command.
Each had instructions from Washington to conquer and organize a government in
the country. Fremont had accepted a commission from Com. Stockton as commander
of the battalion of volunteers, and had been appointed governor of the
territory. General Kearny, as Fremont's superior officer in the regular army,
required him to obey his orders, which conflicted with those of Com. Stockton.
In this dilemma Fremont concluded to obey Stockton's orders, considering that he
had already fully recognized that officer as commander-in-chief, and that
General Kearny had also for some time admitted his authority.
the spring of 1847 dispatches from Washington assigned the command to General
Kearny, and in June that officer set out overland for the United States,
accompanied by Fremont, whom he treated with deliberate disrespect throughout
the journey. On the arrival of the party at Fort Leavenworth, on 22 August
Fremont was put under arrest and ordered to report to the adjutant general at
Washington, where he arrived on 16 September and demanded a speedy trial.
Accordingly a court martial was held, beginning 2 November 1847, and ending 31
Jan., 1848, which found him guilty of "mutiny," "disobedience
of the lawful command of a superior officer," mad " conduct to the
prejudice of good order and military discipline," and sentenced him to be
dismissed from the service. A majority of the members of the court recommended
him to the clemency of President Polk.
president refused to confirm the verdict of mutiny, but approved the rest of the
verdict and the sentence of which he remitted the penalty. Notwithstanding this,
Fremont at once resigned his commission, and on 14 October 1848, set out on a
fourth expedition across the continent, at his own expense, with the object of
finding a practicable passage to California by way of the upper waters of the
Rio Grande. With thirty-three men and 120 mules he made his way through the
country of the Utes, Apaches, Comanches, and other Indian tribes then at war
with the United States. In attempting to cross the great Sierra, covered with
snow, his guide lost his way, and Fremont's party encountered horrible suffering
from cold and hunger, a portion of them being driven to cannibalism. All of his
animals and one third of his men perished, and he was forced to retrace his
steps to Santa Fe.
by this disaster, he gathered another band of thirty men, and after a long
search discovered a secure route by which he reached the Sacramento in the
spring of 1849. He now determined to settle in California, where, in 1847, he
had bought the Mariposa estate, a large tract of land containing rich goldmines.
His title to this estate was contested, but after a long litigation the Supreme
Court of the United States decided it in his favor in 1855. He received from
President Taylor in 1849 the appointment of
commissioner to run the boundary line between the United States and Mexico, but,
having been elected by the legislature of California, in December of that year,
to represent the new state in the U. S. Senate, he resigned his commissionership
and departed for Washington by way of the isthmus.
took his seat in the senate, 10 September 1850, the day after the admission of
California as a state. In drawing lots for the terms of the respective senators,
Fremont drew the short term, ending 4 March 1851. The senate remained in session
but three weeks after the admission of California, and during that period
Fremont devoted himself almost exclusively to measures relating to the interests
of the state he represented. For this purpose he introduced and advocated a
comprehensive series of bills, embracing almost every object of legislation
demanded by the peculiar circumstances of California.
the state election of 1851 in California the Antislavery party, of which Fremont
was one of the leaders, was defeated, and he consequently failed of reelection
to the senate, after 142 ballotings. After devoting two years to his private
affairs, he visited Europe in 1852, and spent a year there, being received with
distinction by many eminent men of letters and of science. He had already, in
1850, received a gold medal from the king' of Prussia for his discoveries, had
been awarded the "founder's medal " of the Royal geographical
society of London, and had been elected an honorary member of the Geographical
society of Berlin. His explorations had gained for him at home the name of the "Pathfinder."
in Europe he learned that congress had made an appropriation for the survey of
three routes from the Mississippi valley to the Pacific, and immediately
returned to the United States for the purpose of fitting out a fifth expedition
on his own account to complete the survey of the route he had taken on his
fourth expedition. He left Paris in June l853, and in September was on his march
across the continent. He found passes through the mountains on the line of
latitudes 38° and 39°, and reached California in safety, after enduring great
hardships. For fifty days his party lived on horseflesh, and for forty-eight
hours at a time were without food of any kind.
the spring of 1855 Fremont with his family took up his residence in New York,
for the purpose of preparing for publication the narrative of his last
expedition. He now began to be mentioned as an antislavery candidate for the
presidency. In the first National Republican convention, which met in
Philadelphia on 17 June 1856, he received 359 votes to 196 for John McLean, on
an informal ballot, and on the first formal ballot Fremont was unanimously
nominated. In his letter of acceptance, dated 8 July 1856, he expressed himself
strongly against the extension of slavery and in favor of free labor. A few days
after the Philadelphia convention adjourned, a National American convention at
New York also nominated him for the presidency, He accepted their support in a
letter dated 30 June in which he referred them for an exposition of his views to
his forthcoming letter accepting the Republican nomination.
a spirited and exciting contest, the presidential election resulted in the
choice of Mr. Buchanan by 174 electoral votes
from nineteen states, while Fremont received 114 votes from eleven states,
including the six New England states, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, and
Wisconsin. Maryland gave her eight electoral votes for Mr.
Fillmore. The popular vote for Fremont was 1,341,000; for Buchanan,
1,838,000; for Fillmore, 874,000.
1858 Fremont went to California, where he resided for some time. In 1860 he
visited Europe. Soon after the beginning of the civil war he was made a major
general of the regular army and assigned to the command of the newly created
western department. After purchasing arms for the U. S. government, in Europe,
he returned; he arrived in St. Louis on 26 July 1861, and made his headquarters
there, fortifying the City, and placing Cairo in security by a demonstration
with 4,000 troops. After the battle of Wilson's Creek, on 10 August where
General Nathaniel Lyon was slain, Fremont proclaimed martial law, arrested
active secessionists, and suspended the publication of papers charged with
disloyalty. On 31 August he issued a proclamation assuming the government of the
state, and announcing that he would emancipate the slaves of those in arms
against the United States.
Lincoln wrote to him, approving all of the proclamation except the
emancipation clause, which he considered premature, He asked Fremont to withdraw
it, which he declined, and the president annulled it himself in a public order.
In the autumn Fremont moved his army from the Missouri River in pursuit of the
enemy. Meanwhile many complaints had been made of his administration, it being
alleged that it was inefficient, though arbitrary and extravagant, and after an
investigation by the secretary of war he was, on 2 November 1861, relieved from
his command just as he had overtaken the Confederates
at Springfield. It is claimed by Fremont's friends that this was the result of a
political intrigue against him.
leaving his army, he went to St. Louis, where the citizens enthusiastically
received him. In March 1862, he was given the command of the newly created "mountain
district" of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. In the early part of
June his army engaged a superior force under General
Jackson for eight days, with constant sharp skirmishing, the enemy
retreating slowly and destroying culverts and bridges to cause delay. The
pursuit was terminated with a severe engagement on the evening of 6 June in
which Jackson's chief of cavalry, General Ashby, was killed, and by the battle
of Cross Keys on 8 June. It is claimed by General Fremont that if McDowell's
force had joined him, as promised by the president, Jackson's retreat would have
been cut off; as it was, the latter made good his escape, having accomplished
his purpose of delaying reinforcements to McClellan.
26 June the president issued an order creating the "Army of
Virginia," to include Fremont 's corps, anti giving the command of it
to General Pope. Thereupon Fremont asked to be
relieved, on the ground that he could not serve under General Pope, for
sufficient personal reasons. His request having been granted, he went to New
York to await further orders, but received no other command during the war,
though, as he says, one was constantly promised him. On 31 May 1864, a
convention of Republicans, dissatisfied with Mr. Lincoln, met at Cleveland and
tendered to General Fremont a nomination for president, which he accepted.
the following September a committee of Republicans representing the
administration waited on him and urged his withdrawal, as "vital to the
success of the party." After considering the matter for a week, he
acceded to their request, saying in his letter of withdrawal that he did so "not
to aid in the triumph of Mr. Lincoln, but to do my part toward preventing the
election of the Democratic candidate."
1864 General Fremont has taken little part in public affairs, but has been
active in railway matters. He procured from the Texas legislature a grant of
state land in the interest of the Memphis and E1 Paso railway, which was to be
part of a proposed transcontinental road from Norfolk to San Diego and San
Francisco. The French agents employed to place the land-grant bonds of this road
on the market made the false declaration that they were guaranteed by the United
States. In 1869 the senate passed a bill giving Fremont's road the right of way
through the territories, an attempt to defeat it by fixing on him the onus of
the misstatement in Paris having been unsuccessful. In 1873 the French
government for fraud in connection with this misstatement prosecuted him. He did
not appear in person, and was sentenced by default to fine and imprisonment, no
judgment being given on the merits of the ease.
1878- 81 General Fremont was governor of Arizona. He has published "
Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in 1842, and to Oregon
and North California in 1843'4" (Washington, 1845; New York, 1846;
London, 1849); "Col. J. C. Fremont 's Explorations," an account
of all five of his expeditions (2 vols., Philadelphia, 1859); and "Memoirs
of my Life" (New York, 1886). See also the campaign biographies by John
Bigelow (New York, 1856), and Charles W. Upham (Boston, 1856).
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wife, Jessie Benton Fremont, born in Virginia in 1824, has published "Story
of the Guard; a Chronicle of the War," with a German translation
(Boston, 1863); a sketch of her father, Thomas It. Benton, prefixed to her
husband's memoirs (1886); and "Souvenirs of my Time" (Boston,
1887). -- Edited
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JOHN CHARLES FREMONT John C. Fremont John C. Frémont was born in Savannah,
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... John Charles Frémont 1813 - 1890, In 1850 Mathew Brady, Charles E. Lester ,
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... compiled from the maps and reports of Coln. Fremont. Dearborn, WL Fremont,
Charles, 1813-1890. Scale not given Boston, Tappan & Bradford, Date: [1849