Fremont Finally Removed

November 2, 1861 – Major General John C. Fremont finally received the order removing him from command of the Federal Army of the West and replacing him with Major General David Hunter.

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit:
Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit:

Fremont had incurred the ire of the Lincoln administration ever since he issued his unauthorized proclamation declaring martial law in Missouri and freeing all slaves belonging to disloyal masters. Since then, various investigations had uncovered vast amounts of corruption and fraud in Fremont’s department, which bore either Fremont’s complicity or his ignorance. Either way, President Abraham Lincoln decided in late October that Fremont had to go.

When Fremont learned that Lincoln had made the order removing him from command official, he worked to prevent messengers from delivering it by posting guards and issuing orders not to allow anyone into his Springfield, Missouri, headquarters without his authorization.

Leonard Swett and Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis, the men entrusted with delivering the order, had anticipated Fremont’s move. They enlisted a Captain McKinney to disguise himself as a farmer and enter Fremont’s headquarters on the premise that he had information about the secessionist Missouri State Guards.

McKinney arrived just outside Fremont’s lines at 5 a.m. after traveling 200 miles from St. Louis. Noting the stipulation that he was not to deliver the order if the army was about to go into battle, McKinney scouted the forces for five hours before determining that a battle was not imminent. One of Fremont’s aides halted McKinney as he approached, and after hearing the nature of the “farmer’s” visit and consulting with Fremont, the aide allowed McKinney to enter.

McKinney presented the order to Fremont, who frowned upon reading it. He pounded the table and exclaimed, “Sir, how did you get admission into my lines?” Fremont dismissed McKinney, who was arrested by aides to prevent him from notifying Hunter of the change. But McKinney explained that a second messenger had been dispatched, and Hunter had most likely already been informed already. Later that evening, McKinney escaped the aides’ custody.

Fremont called a meeting of all his division commanders (except Hunter) and announced that he would keep command by immediately confronting General Sterling Price’s Missouri Guards. However, the Guards had fallen back 60 miles, well beyond Fremont’s immediate reach. Brigadier General John Pope, one of Fremont’s critics, said, “It might be best, before deciding upon a plan of battle, to know whether there was any enemy to fight.” Hunter then arrived and announced his intention to carry out the order replacing Fremont. This ended both the meeting and Fremont’s reign as Western Department commander.

The news of Fremont’s removal soon spread through the army, causing resentment and outrage among his loyal followers, especially the German immigrants. General Franz Sigel, one of his division commanders, threatened to resign in protest, and some troops suggested staging a mutiny. But cooler heads ultimately prevailed as Fremont issued a farewell address that began, “Soldiers! I regret to leave you,” and asking them to be faithful to Hunter. He then left Springfield and returned to his wife at St. Louis.


References (November 2); Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 6; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21320; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 91-92; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6641; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 98-99, 149; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 77-78; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 391; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 133-35; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 814-15


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