Tag Archives: Department of the West

Confederate Strategy and Dissension

November 14, 1862 – Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston found himself at odds with President Jefferson Davis over strategy, and the Confederate secretary of war resigned.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Johnston reported to the War Department ready for action after recovering from wounds suffered at the Battle of Fair Oaks. Johnston met with Secretary of War George W. Randolph, who informed him that due to General Robert E. Lee’s success with the Army of Northern Virginia, Johnston would not be getting his old command back. He would instead most likely be put in a new command overseeing the armies between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi. These included Braxton Bragg’s, Edmund Kirby Smith’s (though now technically under Bragg), and John C. Pemberton’s.

Johnston replied that since Vicksburg was the most likely Federal target in that theater, there should be a unified command over both banks of the Mississippi. As it stood, the west bank belonged to General Theophilus H. Holmes’s Trans-Mississippi Department, which would be beyond Johnston’s jurisdiction. Randolph said he had already asked Holmes to lead troops east, but Davis overrode him in a letter dated that same day (the 12th):

“I regret to notice that in your letter to General Holmes of October 27… His presence on the west side (of the Mississippi) is not less necessary now that heretofore, and will probably soon be more so… The withdrawal of the commander from the Trans-Mississippi Department for temporary duty elsewhere would have a disastrous effect, and was not contemplated by me.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Two days later, Randolph submitted his resignation as secretary of war, partly because of Davis’s interference in his department. In particular, Randolph had taken offense to Davis superseding his authority in regards to Holmes and Johnston. Before resigning, Randolph sent Davis’s letter from November 12 with a note: “Inclose a copy of this letter to General Holmes, and inform the President that it has been done, and that (Holmes) has been directed to consider it as part of his instructions.”

Davis, who had generally agreed with Randolph’s management of the War Department, had intervened to override Randolph because the secretary ordered Holmes to come east to reinforce Johnston himself, which would have left the Trans-Mississippi Department without a commander. Davis also expressed concern that Randolph had issued the order without Davis’s prior knowledge.

Davis requested a personal meeting with Randolph to try discussing the matter with him. Randolph declined, his resentment toward Davis’s involvement in War Department affairs finally reaching its breaking point. Davis responded: “As you thus without notice and in terms excluding inquiry retired, nothing remains but to give you this formal notice of the acceptance of your resignation.”

Major General Gustavus W. Smith, commanding Confederate forces defending Richmond, became the interim secretary of war until Davis appointed James A. Seddon of Virginia to the post. As a prominent Richmond attorney and scholar, Seddon had roughly the same high social standing in Virginia as Randolph. Seddon was also a former U.S. and Confederate congressman, and although he had no military experience, he would ably lead the War Department despite much southern criticism.

Meanwhile, Special Order No. 275 officially gave Johnston command of the Division of the West. This included Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, western North Carolina, northern Georgia, and eastern Louisiana. His primary objectives were to oversee Bragg in Tennessee and Pemberton in Mississippi.

Johnston and Davis had never cared for each other, but this intensified while Johnston was recovering because he became close friends with Senator Louis T. Wigfall of Texas, an outspoken critic of Davis and his administration. As such, Johnston attended many social gatherings held by Wigfall and other politicians whom Davis considered enemies.

Davis may have sought to appease these enemies by making Johnston “plenary commander” of the West. The order directed Johnston to set up headquarters “at Chattanooga, or such other place as in his judgment will best secure facilities for ready communication with the troops within the limits of his command, and will repair in person to any part of said command wherever his presence may, for the time, be necessary or desirable.”

On Seddon’s first full day in his new job, Johnston repeated his request for Holmes to send part or all of his forces east. He pointed out that Holmes’s men were about 400 miles closer to the Mississippi than Bragg’s, who could not be relied upon to help defend Vicksburg if needed. Johnston then complained to the adjutant general that the forces in his new domain were “greatly inferior in number to those of the enemy opposed to them, while in the Trans-Mississippi Department our army is very much larger than that of the United States.”

Davis wanted to keep the departments on either side of the Mississippi separate because he sought to hold Confederate territory. However, Johnston contended that the 83,000 men in his department could not defend the hundreds of square miles from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi. Johnston instead sought to rely on maneuver, giving up territory as needed in favor of preserving the strength of his forces.

Johnston argued that the Tennessee River was a “formidable obstacle” that divided Bragg and Pemberton. He also questioned the provision in the order stating that Bragg and Pemberton would continue reporting directly to the War Department and not Johnston; this seemed to relegate Johnston to an advisory role rather than a position of real authority. As such, Johnston called it a “nominal and useless” job.

Johnston was expected to aid Bragg in improving his army’s morale since Bragg was despised among his officers and men. Johnston was also expected to advise Pemberton, another unpopular commander, on how best to defend Vicksburg, the area in the department under the greatest threat. Johnston’s uncertainty of his authority, his commanders’ reluctance to cooperate with each other, and the enormity of the region would make this a formidable assignment.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18420; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 235; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 785-89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 230-33; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 287-89; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 575; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170-71; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 85; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q462

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The Federal Military Shakeup

November 9, 1861 – The U.S. War Department issued General Orders No. 97, authorizing a major military reorganization.

The orders were intended to divide the various military departments west of the Alleghenies into more manageable jurisdictions. Previously, the Western Department had included all states west of the Mississippi and east of the Rockies (as well as Illinois and the New Mexico Territory). The orders divided the organization into several smaller departments:

  • The Department of Missouri
  • The Department of Kansas
  • The Department of New Mexico
Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General Henry W. Halleck was assigned to command the Department of Missouri with headquarters at St. Louis. This consisted of Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kentucky west of the Cumberland River. Halleck’s primary tasks were to reorganize John C. Fremont’s former command and direct operations on the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers.

Halleck had taught at West Point and written a textbook on military strategy; his reputation as a respected military theorist earned him the nickname “Old Brains.” He quickly replaced corruption and mismanagement with efficiency and discipline, but his Napoleonic concepts of strategy did not necessarily translate to the frontier-style of war in the West.

Within the Department of Missouri, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s command was changed from the District of Southeast Missouri to the District of Cairo. Grant absorbed General C.F. Smith’s small district covering the mouth of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.

Major General David Hunter, the former interim commander of the Western Department, was assigned to command the new Department of Kansas. This consisted of Kansas, the Indian Territory, and the Colorado, Nebraska, and Dakota territories. Before taking command, Hunter complied with President Lincoln’s order to pull the Federal forces in Missouri back from Springfield to Rolla.

Colonel E.R.S. Canby, an officer with frontier fighting experience, was assigned to command the Department of New Mexico. His primary objective was to confront the rapidly gathering Confederates under Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley. The department consisted of the New Mexico Territory (now New Mexico and Arizona), including the western New Mexico Territory, which had formerly been part of the Department of the Pacific.

In addition to dividing the Western Department, Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell was assigned to command the new Department of the Ohio, with headquarters at Louisville. This absorbed the former Departments of the Ohio and the Cumberland, and it consisted of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky east of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. Buell replaced Brigadier General William T. Sherman, who had suffered a nervous breakdown while commanding in Kentucky; Sherman was assigned to report to Halleck at St. Louis.

Flaws were soon exposed in this new organization, especially regarding the jurisdictions of Halleck and Buell. Both men resisted cooperating with each other and each man wanted to be in command of the combined area.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (November 9); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12397; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 94; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407-08, 502, 529; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 81-82; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 145-46; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 138; McGinty, Brian, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 332; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 393-94; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 58-59; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 542-43, 552; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 814-15; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461

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: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

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.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (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

Lincoln Fires Fremont

October 24, 1861 – President Lincoln issued formal orders replacing John C. Fremont with David Hunter. However, complications in executing the order would arise.

President Abraham Lincoln and Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln and Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the day that Fremont left St. Louis to join his army in pursuing Price, Secretary of War Simon Cameron and Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas left Washington to inspect Fremont’s department. Before leaving, Lincoln handed Cameron General Orders No. 18, written by General-in-Chief Winfield Scott:

“Major-General Fremont, of the U.S. Army, the present commander of the Western Department of the same, will, on the receipt of this order, call Major-General Hunter, of the U.S. Volunteers, to relieve him temporarily in that command, when he (Major-General Fremont) will report to General Headquarters, by letter, for further orders.”

Cameron was authorized to decide whether to present this order to Fremont, based on the inspection results.

At the same time, Lincoln wrote to Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis, one of Fremont’s subordinates, asking, “Ought Gen. Fremont to be relieved from, or retained in his present command?” Curtis’s answer would be “entirely confidential,” with Lincoln hoping to receive advice from “an intelligent unprejudiced, and judicious opinion from some professional Military man on the spot.”

Cameron and Thomas arrived at St. Louis on the 11th, where they visited Benton Barracks under Curtis’s command. They were impressed by the facility, but when told that it cost just $15,000 to build, Cameron concluded, “The actual cost should be ascertained.”

Curtis received Lincoln’s letter and responded that although Fremont was accessible, he never sought Curtis’s advice or divulged his plans. Regardless, Curtis stated that he would never offer his opinion to Fremont based on Fremont’s arrest of Colonel Frank P. Blair, Jr. Overall, Curtis asserted that Fremont was “unequal to the command of an army.”

That evening, Cameron and Thomas visited a camp south of St. Louis commanded by a cavalry major who expressed concern that department officials might be using funds meant to supply his garrison for other purposes. Lieutenant Colonel I.P. Andrews, the department’s deputy paymaster-general, told Cameron and Thomas of “irregularities in the Pay Department” requiring him “to make payment and transfers of money contrary to law and regulations.”

Andrews contended that Fremont had sent a “file of soldiers” to arrest him unless he honored a questionable payment. Andrews also alleged that Fremont had commissioned a St. Louis theater musician as a “captain of engineers” and “director of music,” and this musician had twice demanded pay. Cameron overrode Fremont’s order to pay him.

The department quartermaster informed Cameron and Thomas that many of Fremont’s staff officers were contractors who arranged for the army to hire their businesses and pay the prices that they set for their goods, without competitive bidding and without considering whether the goods were necessities. Even Cameron, a man known for vast corruption himself, considered Fremont’s expenditures offensive.

On October 12, Lincoln received independent reports from Congressman Elihu Washburne of Illinois and friend Ward H. Lamon, who recently met with Fremont. Washburne reported: “The disclosures of corruption extravagance and peculation are utterly astounding… A gang of California robbers and scoundrels rule, control and direct everything.” Lamon reported, “Things are in a terribly unorganized state here… There is about as much likelihood of his catching (Price’s Missouri Guards) as there is of his being struck by lightning.”

Cameron and Thomas finally met with Fremont at Tipton, where Fremont gave them a tour of his best division. However, both Cameron and Thomas agreed that even Fremont’s best troops were in no condition for battle. The men met with Hunter that same day, who stated that the army was mired in confusion because Fremont was “utterly incompetent.” Hunter complained that Fremont had ordered him to move his 10,000 troops without rations, supplies, or arms. Only 20 of Fremont’s 100 cannon imported from Europe functioned properly, though Hunter alleged that Fremont received a kickback for purchasing them. Hunter also asserted that even though he was second in command, Fremont shared none of his military plans with him.

Cameron confronted Fremont with the order to replace him with Hunter. Fremont pleaded for a chance to lead the Army of the West in battle. Cameron agreed, but only if Fremont used all the money being used to pay contractors to improve the army’s condition. Fremont was to send all future bills to Washington for examination, and stop paying officers he had commissioned. The administration had to approve all future appointments.

In a discussion about Fremont with his cabinet, Lincoln read a letter from Gustave Koerner, Fremont’s aide-de-camp, to “His Excellency the President,” complaining that Deputy Paymaster-General Andrews had been put in charge of approving department expenditures:

“Deputy Paymaster-General Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews refuses to honor General Fremont’s commissions, which have heretofore invariably been accepted by him. Officers of the Army who have sacrificed their all to take up arms for their country are thus left destitute, and their families in want of the most urgent necessities of life. Very many of these officers are now in the field and in face of the enemy. Their efficiency and the spirits of many of the troops serving under them will be most seriously affected by this course. Unless you will provide a remedy to insure these men in their well-deserved remuneration a portion of the army will necessarily disband… as no officers will or can serve without a valid commission.”

Six days later, Lincoln finally wrote to Curtis asking him to formally deliver General Orders No. 18 to Fremont. Curtis was instructed not to deliver the orders if Fremont had “fought and won a battle, or shall then be actually in a battle, or shall then be in the immediate presence of the enemy, in expectation of a battle.”

Republicans expressed shock and dismay when Lincoln’s order was leaked to the press; Fremont had been their first-ever presidential candidate and a hero to abolitionists. Lincoln explained that Fremont was being removed because of charges that he had been “incompetent, wasteful, extravagant, and under the influence of fraudulent contract manipulators.” Nevertheless, Horace White of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Our President has broken his own neck if he has not destroyed his country.”

But Fremont would stay in command until the order was personally delivered to him. Learning from the press that the order had been issued, Fremont worked to avoid receiving the order by posting troops as guards, prohibiting any unauthorized persons from accessing his headquarters.

On October 29, Leonard Swett arrived at St. Louis with the order removing Fremont from command. Swett, who had worked with Lincoln on the Illinois circuit court in the 1850s, was assigned to hand the order to Curtis, and Curtis was then to effect the transfer of power from Fremont to Hunter.

Swett met with Curtis that evening and expressed concern that Fremont might already know about the order since it had been published in some newspapers. The men decided to make two copies of the order and send them with two different officers in the hope that at least one of them would get through the lines and reach Fremont’s headquarters. This farcical operation continued into November.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 85-86, 89; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 71, 75; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 124-25, 131; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461

The Confused Missouri Situation

September 23, 1861 – Despite the recent loss of Lexington and the scattering of his forces, Major General John C. Fremont notified his superiors that his troops were somehow “gathering around the enemy” in Missouri.

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

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

Fremont’s Department of the West consisted of nearly 40,000 Federal officers and men in Missouri. However, they were scattered among various posts, and as President Lincoln predicted, Fremont’s declaration of martial law and emancipation proclamation had incited Missouri State Guards and partisans into stepping up their attacks on the Federals.

Fremont commanded several major Federal forces in northern and western Missouri, as well as a force under Brigadier-General Ulysses S. Grant that operated in the southeastern Missouri-southern Illinois-western Kentucky sector. Grant learned from “a negro man (who) tells a very straight story” that partisans were gathering at New Madrid, Missouri, and prepared to confront them. However, Fremont pulled two regiments from his command in response to an urgent call from Washington to send reinforcements east. This temporarily halted Grant’s offensive.

In western Missouri, Unionist Kansans led by James H. Lane operated along the Kansas-Missouri border. Lane’s Jayhawkers burned the Missouri town of Osceola and committed other depredations that gained no military advantage. They only continued the brutal combat that had taken place along the border before the war began, when Missourians and southerners fought to make Kansas a slave state and northern abolitionists fought to make it free.

In northern Missouri, Federals under Colonel Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the Confederate president) clashed with Missourians in the Boonville area, while a force under Brigadier-General Samuel D. Sturgis pulled back from Rolla to St. Charles. Fremont sent Brigadier-General John Pope, commanding another Federal force in the region, to Iowa to recruit more volunteers.

Brig-Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

General John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Fremont’s failure to effectively coordinate the movements of Davis, Sturgis, and Pope allowed a large Missouri partisan force under Martin Green to operate around Florida and then escape pursuit. It also helped lead to the fall of Lexington. Pope learned of the dire situation at Lexington while en route to Iowa and informed Fremont that he would send reinforcements there, “presuming from General Sturgis’ dispatches that there is imminent want of troops in Lexington.” However, Fremont instructed Pope to continue recruiting efforts in Iowa, and none of the other nearby Federal forces could reach the town in time.

Despite all this, Fremont sent a favorable message to Washington on September 23, to which Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott replied: “The President is glad that you are hastening to the scene of action. His words are, ‘He expects you to repair the disaster at Lexington without loss of time.’”

Fremont set about reorganizing his army into five divisions, with Pope commanding the right wing. Major General David Hunter would command the left, but his forces were dispersed throughout various points. Fremont initially planned to have Hunter concentrate at Jefferson City, but that would leave the region west of Rolla open for Missouri State Guards to operate with impunity. Repositioning all the elements of the Army of the West caused many logistical problems for Fremont.

Meanwhile, General Sterling Price, whose State Guards had captured Lexington, received word that Confederates under Generals Gideon Pillow and William Hardee had withdrawn from southeastern Missouri, and General Ben McCulloch’s Confederates had fallen back into Arkansas. This left Price alone while a force led by Fremont himself advanced from St. Louis to take back Lexington. Price resolved to abandon the town.

General Albert Sidney Johnston, the new commander of Confederate Department No. 2 (i.e., the Western Theater), had his sights set on Missouri as part of a bigger picture that also included Arkansas and Kentucky. Johnston ordered McCulloch “to muster into service as many armed regiments of Arkansas and Missouri troops” as possible. Johnston also ordered M. Jeff Thompson to lead his Missouri State Guards to the “vicinity of Farmington, on the route to Saint Louis” to “relieve the pressure of the Federal forces on General Price… and if possible to embarrass their movements by cutting their Ironton Railroad.” Thompson quickly dispatched troops to destroy railroad bridges around Charleston and Birds Point by month’s end.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6873; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 72-74, 78; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 61-64, 67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 113, 120-21; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 156-57

The Fremont Controversy Continues

September 22, 1861 – As Major General John C. Fremont continued garnering ill favor with fellow officers and politicians, President Abraham Lincoln wrote to a colleague explaining why he could not support Fremont’s controversial emancipation proclamation.

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

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

Fremont, commanding the Department of the West out of St. Louis, had been in trouble with the Lincoln administration ever since he issued his controversial decree declaring martial law in Missouri and authorizing the liberation of slaves belonging to disloyal Missourians. Also, many of his former supporters were now turning against him because of what they saw as poor leadership and corrupt management.

Postmaster General Montgomery Blair and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs had inspected Fremont’s department and recommended his removal. Blair’s brother, Colonel Frank P. Blair, Jr., served under Fremont and urged his removal as well. Fremont responded by arresting Frank for “insubordination in communicating… with the authorities at Washington; making complaints against and using disrespectful language towards Gen. Fremont, with a view of effecting his removal.”

Lincoln, who had not yet received the report from the Montgomeries, continued discussing the matter with his cabinet. Meanwhile, Fremont informed his superiors that he had ordered Frank’s arrest due to his “insidious and dishonorable efforts to bring my authority into contempt with the Government.” This perceived insult of the influential Blair family increased the uproar within the Lincoln administration against Fremont.

Francis P. Blair, Jr. | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Francis P. Blair, Jr. | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Upon returning to Washington and learning of his brother’s arrest, Montgomery wrote to Fremont offering to show him the letter that Frank had written urging Fremont’s removal. Montgomery wrote, “I will send (Frank Blair’s) letter. It is not unfriendly. Release him. There is no time for strife except with the enemies of the (Federal government).”

But Frank remained in a St. Louis jail for the time being. He accused Fremont of manipulating the press based on the fact that every Unionist newspaper in St. Louis except one supported Fremont, and the provost marshal (on Fremont’s orders) soon closed the lone newspaper supporting Blair. Frank wrote from jail, “All the talk about this quarrel being detrimental to the public service is bosh. If Fremont is not removed, the public service will go to the devil.”

During this time, Lincoln quarreled with fellow Republicans who backed Fremont over him. These Republicans included Senator Orville Browning, a longtime friend from Illinois, who had helped draft the Confiscation Act. Browning admonished Lincoln for failing to support Fremont’s proclamation, arguing that the Federal government could only be preserved by freeing the slaves.

In a lengthy response, Lincoln stated that he was “astonished’ to learn that Browning would discourage the president from “adhering to a law, which you had assisted in making.” Lincoln explained that Fremont’s “proclamation, as to confiscation of property, and the liberation of slaves, is purely political, and not within the range of military law, or necessity.” Lincoln asserted that if a general needed slaves for army purposes, “he can seize them, and use them; but when the need is past, it is not for him to fix their permanent future condition. That must be settled according to laws made by law-makers, and not by military proclamations.”

To Lincoln, conforming to military proclamations would be “itself the surrender of the government.” How could it be “pretended that it is any longer the government of the U.S… wherein a General, or a President, may make permanent rules of property by proclamation?” Lincoln acknowledged that he would support Fremont’s policy if it was endorsed by Congress, but a general or even a president could not “seize and exercise the permanent legislative functions of the government.”

Back at St. Louis, Fremont ordered the arrest of the St. Louis Evening News editor and the closure of his newspaper; the editor had accused Fremont of failing to relieve the Lexington siege. News of Lexington’s fall, combined with the disaster at Wilson’s Creek last month, placed more pressure on Fremont to produce a victory in Missouri. Fremont strongly defended himself, while Lincoln continued discussing his performance with his cabinet and Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott.

To take some heat off himself, Fremont quietly released Frank Blair from jail. However, Frank remained indignant and threatened to have Fremont court-martialed for imprisoning him under false pretenses. The controversy within Fremont’s department continued into October.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 76; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 68; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 118-21; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 33; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

The Fremont Controversy: Fremont’s Retort

September 8, 1861 – After six days, Major General John C. Fremont finally responded to President Lincoln’s request to modify clauses in his controversial proclamation.

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

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

Fremont, commanding the Federal Department of the West, admitted that he had consulted with nobody, including his superiors, before issuing his decree, which imposed martial law in Missouri and freed all slaves belonging to disloyal masters. Fremont took full responsibility for the order, which he called “as much a movement in the war as a battle,” and like a battle, he would “have to act according to my judgment of the ground before me.”

Regarding Lincoln’s request to change the slave emancipation order, Fremont wrote: “If upon reflection your better judgment still decides that I am wrong in the article respecting the liberation of slaves, I have to ask that you will openly direct me to make the correction,” otherwise, “to retract of my own accord, it would imply that I myself thought it wrong, and that I had acted without the reflection which the gravity of the point demanded.” He asserted that he acted “upon the certain conviction that it was a measure right and necessary, and I think so still.”

Fremont also defended his order to execute armed Missourians suspected of disloyalty: “The shooting of men who shall rise in arms against an army in the military occupation of a country is merely a necessary measure of defense,” and according to Fremont, it was valid “according to the usages of civilized warfare.” Since Lincoln had defined this conflict as an insurrection and not a war against an independent nation, the rebels “have no ground for requiring that we should waive in their benefit any of the ordinary advantages which the usages of war allow to us.”

Mrs. Jessie B. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Mrs. Jessie B. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Fremont then asked for Lincoln’s permission to enforce the proclamation, “hoping that my views may have the honor to meet your approval.”

In an unprecedented move, Fremont assigned his wife, Jessie Benton Fremont, daughter of the legendary Senator Thomas Hart Benton, to personally deliver this response from his St. Louis headquarters to the president at Washington. Mrs. Fremont arrived on the 10th not only to deliver her husband’s letter, but to persuade Lincoln to withdraw his objections to Fremont’s proclamation. Radical Republicans had emboldened the Fremonts, ardent abolitionists, by advising them that turning this conflict into a war against slavery would prevent Great Britain from recognizing Confederate independence.

Lincoln, a moderate Republican, sought to not only maintain harmony within the party but also maintain the delicate wartime alliance between the Republicans and Unionist Democrats. As such, Fremont’s proclamation had gone too far, and while Fremont’s defiance had amused the Radicals, Lincoln did not share their amusement when he met with Mrs. Fremont in the Red Room at 9 p.m. on September 10.

Without offering the lady a seat, Lincoln took Fremont’s letter from her and read it, dissatisfied that the general had refused to modify his order. Mrs. Fremont told Lincoln that he needed to consider liberating slaves to garner European support. Interrupting her, Lincoln said, “You are quite a female politician. It was a war for a great national idea, the Union, and… General Fremont should not have dragged the Negro into it.”

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Lincoln said that he would write a reply and let Mrs. Fremont know when it was ready for delivery. Irritated, Mrs. Fremont defended her husband’s wisdom and prestige, which she contended were “above and beyond” most military officers. Lincoln later said that she “left in anger, flaunting her handkerchief before my face.”

The next day, Lincoln gave Mrs. Fremont his reply. He explained that although he “perceived in general no objection” to Fremont’s proclamation, he could not allow military commanders to override official policies mandated by Congress. Lincoln stated that the order regarding freeing slaves exceeded the Confiscation Act. Therefore, Lincoln expressed his “wish that that clause should be modified.”

Lincoln would take responsibility for removing those non-conforming portions of the decree so that Fremont would not have to admit to any mistake. Lincoln wrote:

“Your answer, just received, expresses the preference on your part that I should make an open order for the modification, which I very cheerfully do. It is therefore ordered that the said clause of said proclamation be so modified, held, and construed, as to conform to, and not to transcend, the provisions on the same subject contained in the act of Congress entitled ‘An Act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes’ Approved, August 6. 1861; and that said act be published at length with this order.”

While Mrs. Fremont awaited Lincoln’s response, she was visited by Francis P. Blair, Sr., whose family was old friends with the Fremonts. However, that friendship quickly dissolved when Blair informed her that his son, Frank Jr., had written to his other son, Montgomery, recommending that General Fremont be removed from command. This prompted Mrs. Fremont to angrily declare that her husband could kill Frank Jr. in a duel.

Lincoln’s letter arrived shortly afterward, and Mrs. Fremont promptly returned to St. Louis to deliver it to the general. In addition, Lincoln granted Fremont’s request to issue an “open order” to change the proclamation by submitting the letter’s contents to the press for publication throughout the country.

While Fremont’s emancipation proclamation may have been morally just, it threatened to divide the U.S. since most politicians and soldiers were fighting to preserve the Union, not to end slavery. It also threatened to undermine Lincoln’s policies as well as those of Congress. Nevertheless, Fremont remained firm that he would not “change or shade” his proclamation because it “was worth a victory in the field.”

After sending Mrs. Fremont on her way, Lincoln wrote to her denying “being understood as acting in any hostility” toward her husband. Lincoln then addressed the increasing complaints about Fremont’s leadership by dispatching Postmaster General Montgomery Blair (Frank Sr.’s son and Frank Jr.’s brother) to assess Fremont’s command at St. Louis. Blair traveled with Major General David Hunter and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, arriving at Fremont’s headquarters early on the 12th.

Two days later, both Blair and Meigs agreed in recommending Fremont’s removal. Meigs reported that “great distress and alarm prevail,” and Fremont “does not encourage the men to form regiments for defense.” Blair stated that Fremont seemed “stupefied and almost unconscious and is doing absolutely nothing.” Both men left St. Louis that day, but the Fremont controversy would continue.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 74-75; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6618-30; Faust, Patricia L, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 291-92; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 96-97; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 64; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 389-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 117-18; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 353; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361