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Frémont, John C.

Frémont, John C. (1813–1890), explorer, Civil War general, U.S. senator, and first Republican candidate for president.Born in Georgia, Frémont briefly attended the College of Charleston. He began his military career in 1833, teaching mathematics to shipborne cadets aboard the sloop‐of‐war Natchez. Five years later, he was appointed a second lieutenant in the army's Topographical Engineers.

In 1846, on the eve of the Mexican War, Frémont, sometimes called “the Pathfinder,” was leading his third exploring expedition in the Far West. Although he led only part of the U.S. conquest of California, Frémont denied that his scientific expedition there was a mere pretext—one in fact encouraged by his powerful father‐in‐law, Senator Thomas Hart Benton, and by President James K. Polk.

Before the Mexican War began, Frémont encouraged a band of disgruntled U.S. settlers near Sonoma, California, to oppose Mexican soldiers and form an independent “Bear Flag Republic.” After war broke out, he reorganized his Topographical Engineers into the “California Battalion.” Appointed by Commodore Robert F. Stockton as naval commander of U.S. forces in California, Frémont was later court‐martialed for insubordination. Although President Polk commuted the sentence, Frémont resigned his commission and returned to civilian life.

Failing in his Republican presidential bid in 1856, Frémont reentered the army upon the outbreak of the Civil War as a major general. Commander of the Department of the West, he made the mistake of issuing an emancipation proclamation without presidential authorization. Consequently, he was transferred to the Shenandoah Valley, where he encountered the Confederate forces of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Frémont's controversial military career came to an ignominious end when his defeat at Cross Keys caused Lincoln to relieve him from command. On 12 August 1863, Frémont once again resigned his commission, his military career over.


Allan Nevins , Frémont, Pathfinder of the West, 1955.
Andrew Rolle , John Charles Frémont: Character as Destiny, 1991.

Andrew Rolle

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