Today In Western History: January 21

January 21 —


The man many called “The Great Pathfinder”, John C. Fremont, is born today in 1813m in Savannah, Georgia.

Fremont, John Charles 220pxJohn Charles Fremont

His career will be a political roller coaster, propelled by his ego, greed and ability to make the wrong decision as the worst possible time.   In 1838 Fremont helped survey and map the region between the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers.  Fremont surveyed the Des Moines River in 1841 and in 1842 Fremont mapped most of the Oregon Trail and climbed the second highest peak in the Wind River Mountains, afterwards known as Fremont Peak.  He was still exploring the West in 1843-1844 and by 1845, he had been named Governor of California.  However, in 1847 Fremont clashed with General Stephen Kearny over Fremont not following his written orders, and as a result of his in-subordination was arrested for mutiny and insubordination and was subsequently court-martialed. President James Polk intervened and Fremont was eventually released.

Frustrated and disappointed by his loss for the position of President to an upstart relatively unknown lawyer from Illinois, he joined the Army.  On the outbreak of the American Civil War Fremont was appointed as a Major General in the Union Army and put in command of the newly created Western Department based in St. Louis.  Here he demonstrated his ability to alienate the people he needed the most, when on 30th August, 1861, Fremont proclaimed that all slaves owned by Confederates in Missouri were free. Abraham Lincoln was furious when he heard the news as he feared that this act-ion would force slave-owners in border states to join the Confederate forces. Lincoln asked Fremont to modify his order and free only slaves owned by Missourians actively working for the South. Fremont refused claiming that “it would imply that I myself thought it wrong and that I had acted without reflection which the gravity of the point demanded.”

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