Sons of Union Veterans of The Civil War
Department of New York
Colonel Augustus van Horne Ellis Camp 124

Remembering The Pathfinder
General John Fremont
Rockland County, NY

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John Charles Fremont
1813-1890

Born in Savannah, Georgia on January 21, 1813, Fremont was one four major generals appointed by President Lincoln - he was easily the most celebrated. As a Union general, Fremont's major Civil War contribution was more political than military when he focused Union attention on the
role emancipation should play in the North's war policy.

The magnetic and legendary "Pathfinder" became a national hero early in life for his trailblazing exploits in the Far West. A leader in wresting California from Mexico, he served as one of the state's first senators and got rich in the Gold Rush. Fremont's popularity and his antislavery position were equally instrumental in his being chosen the Republican Party's first presidential nominee in 1856, the youngest man yet to run for the office. With Southern states threatening secession if he were elected, Fremont's loss to James Buchanan forestalled disunion for another four years

In Europe at the outbreak of the Civil War, he purchased a cache of arms in England for the North on his own
initiative and returned to America. Abraham Lincoln, mostly for political reasons, appointed him major general in
May 1861, placing him in command of the precarious Department of the West. Based in St. Louis, Fremont
pent more energy fortifying the city and developing flashy guard units than equipping the troops in the field. His
forces suffered several losses, particularly a major defeat at Wilson's Creek that August.

Attempting to gain a political advantage in the absence of a military one, Fremont, in an unprecedented and
unauthorized move, issued a startling proclamation at the end of the month declaring martial law in Missouri and
ordering that secessionists' property be confiscated and their slaves emancipated. The action was cheered by
antislavery Republicans, but Lincoln, concerned that linking abolition to the war effort would destroy Union
support throughout the slave-holding border states, asked Fremont at the very least to modify the order.
Fremont  refused, sending his wife, the influential daughter of former Senate leader Thomas Hart Benton, to
Washington to talk to the president. Displeased with Fremont's effrontery, Lincoln revoked the proclamation
altogether and removed him from command. Pressure from his fellow Republicans forced Lincoln to give the
popular Fremont another appointment, and in March 1862 he was named head of the army's new Mountain
Department, serving in Western Virginia.

Over the following two months, he endured several crushing losses against Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson during
the Confederate general's brilliantly successful Shenandoah Valley Campaign. After a military reorganization
placed him under the command of former subordinate John Pope, Fremont angrily resigned his post, never to
receive a new Civil War appointment.  In 1864, however, he began another presidential bid with the backing of
a cadre of Radical Republicans, but withdrew from the race in September and threw his support to Lincoln after
a rapprochement in the party. When he lost most of his fortune by the end of the war, Fremont tried the railroad
industry. His reputation damaged by an 1873 conviction for his role in a swindle, he nevertheless resumed his
political career, and later in the decade began serving as territorial governor of Arizona but depended on his wife's
income from writing during most of his later years. He died in New York City, July 13, 1890 and is buried in
Rockland County, overlooking the Hudson River.

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General John Fremont's Gravestone
Rockland County, NY

Ceremonies are held at the site periodically by the Ellis Camp, SUVCW, to remember John Fremont,
the Union General, political leader, and Pathfinder.

 

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