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[278]

In command in Missouri.

John C. Fremont, Major-General, U. S. A.

Off to the war.

At the outbreak of the war, in the spring of ‘61, being then in England, I offered my services to the Government, and was appointed one of the four major-generals of the regular army. General McClellan and myself were commissioned of even date, ranking next after General Scott. On my arrival I reported to the President, using a few days to arrange in some order the business which had carried me abroad. There was great confusion and indecision in affairs, and the people in power were slow to realize the actuality of war; it was long before they realized its magnitude. Several commands in the East were suggested to me, but I preferred the West, which I knew, and I held the opinion that the possession of the immediate valley of the Mississippi river would control the result of the war. Who held the Mississippi would hold the country by the heart.

A command was agreed upon between President Lincoln, Montgomery Blair, his Postmaster-General, who was a graduate of West Point, and myself, of which the great object was the descent of the Mississippi river. Necessary to this was first the firm possession of the State of Missouri, freed and protected from the secession forces within and around it. In pursuance of this plan “The Western Department” was created, comprehending, with Illinois, the states and territories west of the Mississippi river to the Rocky Mountains, including New Mexico. For reasons not wholly military, the President reserved the State of Kentucky, but assured me that so soon as I had succeeded in raising and organizing an army for the descent of the Mississippi river, he would extend my command over that State and the left bank of the Mississippi.

The President had gone carefully over with me the subject of my intended campaign, and this with the single desire to find out what was best to do and [279] how to do it. This he did in the unpretending and kindly manner which invited suggestion, and which with him was characteristic. When I took leave of him he accompanied me down the stairs, coming out to the steps of the portico. I asked him then if there was anything further in the way of instruction that he wished to say to me. “No,” he answered. “I have given you carte blanche. You must use your own judgment and do the best you can. I doubt if the states will ever come back.”

Governor Yates, of Illinois, then in Washington, informed me fully of the unarmed and unprepared condition of the West. I immediately began a search for arms at Washington, and out of those at hand was able to obtain an order for only seven thousand stand.

Arriving at New York, I found that the order for the seven thousand stand of arms had been countermanded. Upon my complaint to Washington, and through the personal interposition of the President, Major Peter V. Hagner was sent to aid me in procuring what I judged immediately necessary for my department. With him I arranged for gathering from various arsenals and for waxing to St. Louis arms and equipments for 23,00 0 men. This detained me some weeks in New York. Before leaving, I telegraphed to Lieutenant-General Scott, to ask if he had any instructions to give me. He replied that he had none.

At Philadelphia we heard the news of the disaster of Bull Run. On the 25th of July I reached St. Louis, and at the start I found myself in an enemy's country, the enemy's flag displayed from houses and recruiting offices. St. Louis was in sympathy with the South, and the State of Missouri was in active rebellion against the national authority. The Bull Run defeat had been a damaging blow to the prestige of the Union.

In this condensed sketch I can give only the strong outline of the threatening situation I found, and, in part, the chief measures I adopted to convert our defensive position into one that was vigorously offensive, going into detail only enough to show some of the difficulties that beset me.

There was a wide difference between the situation here and that at Washington. The army of the East was organized under the eyes of the President and Congress; in the midst of loyal surroundings and loyal advisers where there was no need to go outside of prescribed military usage, or to assume responsibilities. But in Missouri all operations had to be initiated in the midst of upturned and revolutionary conditions and a rebellious people, where all laws were set at defiance. In addition to the bodies of armed men that swarmed over the State, a Confederate force of nearly 50,000 men was already on the Southern frontier: Pillow, with 12,000, advancing upon Cairo; Thompson, with 5000, upon Girardeau; Hardee, with 5000, upon Ironton; and Price, with an estimated force of 25,000, upon Lyon, at Springfield. Their movement was intended to overrun Missouri, and, supported by a friendly population of over a million, to seize upon St. Louis and make that city a center of operations for the invasion of the loyal States.

To meet this advancing force I had 23,000 men of all arms. Of this only some 15,000 were available, the remainder being three-months men whose [280] term of service was expiring. General John Pope was fully occupied in North Missouri with nearly all my disposable force, which was required to hold in check rebellion in that quarter. For the defense of Cairo B. M. Prentiss had 8 regiments, but 6 were three-months men, at the end of their term, unpaid, and unwilling to reenlist. At Springfield General Lyon had about 6000 men, unpaid and badly fed, and in need of clothing. In this condition he was in hourly expectation of being attacked by the enemy, who was advancing in three times his nominal strength.

This was the situation to be met at the outset. The arms and equipments for 23,000 men which I had gathered at New York I now found had been diverted from my department and sent to Virginia. I had no money and the Government no credit; but the chief difficulty was the want of arms. There was no want of men. The loyal population of the North-western States flocked to the Union standard; the German population with a noble unanimity.

Having these conditions to face, on the 26th of July I telegraphed my needs to Montgomery Blair, whom I had known intimately. In reply he telegraphed, “I find it impossible to get any attention to Missouri or Western matters from the authorities here. You will have to do the best you can and take all needful responsibility to defend and protect the people over whom you are specially set.” Two days afterward Secretary Seward telegraphed to ask what disposition I had made of the arms I had purchased in Europe, asking for an invoice. I telegraphed him that I needed to use these arms for my department, that I had absolutely no arms, and that the situation of the State was critical. On the 30th I sent to the President, as had been arranged, an unofficial letter setting forth the condition of my command. I informed him that the treasurer of the United States at St. Louis had $300,000 entirely unappropriated, but had refused my request for $100,000 to be delivered to my paymaster-general. I said to him that there were three courses open to me: “First, to let the enemy possess himself of some of the strongest points in the State and threaten St. Louis, which is insurrectionary; second, to force a loan from the secession banks here; third, to use the money belonging to the Government which is in the treasury. . . . This morning I will order the treasurer to deliver the money in his possession to General Andrews and will send a force to the treasury to take the money, and will direct such payments as the exigency requires. I will hazard everything for the defense of the department you have confided to me, and I trust to you for support.” To the propositions of this letter the President gave the tacit approval of not replying, and I acted upon it.

I had no time to lose. The situation of Lyon at Springfield was critical, and the small disintegrating garrison at Cairo was hourly exposed to assault by an overpowering force. Among the various points threatened, Cairo was the key to the success of my operations. The waterways and the district around Cairo were of first importance. Upon the possession of this district depended the descent and control of the Mississippi Valley by the Union armies, or the inroad by the Confederate forces into the loyal States. [281]

I now sent within the Confederate lines a capable engineer officer possessed of the necessary military knowledge, with instructions to go into the States of Kentucky and Tennessee to observe the situation of the enemy, ascertain his strength and probable plans, and make rough maps of important localities occupied by troops or likely to be.

Five days after my arrival, hearing that Pillow was moving upon Cairo, I left St. Louis for that place, with all my available force, 3800 men. I distributed my command over a transport fleet of eight large steamboats, in order to create in the enemy an impression of greater strength than I possessed. I found the garrison demoralized. From the chief of artillery I learned

Major-General Francis P. Blair, Jr. From a photograph.

there were only about six hundred effective men under arms. These troops had enlisted for three months, which had now expired. They had not been paid, and there was much sickness among them. The reinforcement I brought, and such assurances as I was able to give, restored confidence; and I prevailed on one of the garrison regiments to remain.

Cairo was the most unhealthy post within my command. Fever and dysentery were prevailing. The roomy, shaded decks and convenient cabins of the large steamboats which brought the reinforcements, and the breeze from the water blowing through them, were in strong contrast with the steaming heat of the low, moist grounds of Cairo. This suggested the idea of floating hospitals. Before the sun went down the greater number of the sick were carried to one of the roomiest boats, thus securing good ventilation and perfect drainage.

The sudden relief of Cairo and the exaggerated form in which the news of it reached Pillow had the intended effect. He abandoned his proposed attack, and gave time to put it effectually beyond reach of the enemy, and eventually to secure a firm hold on the whole of that important district.

Having secured the initial point in my campaign, I returned to St. Louis on August 4th. Meantime I had ordered Stevenson's 7th Missouri regiment from Boonville, and Montgomery's Kansas regiment near Leavenworth, to the support of Lyon at Springfield. Amidst incessant and conflicting demands, my immediate care was to provide aid for him. [282]

Governor Oliver P. Morton, of Indiana, answering my urgent request for troops, telegraphed that if leave were granted from Washington he would send five regiments made up of river boatmen, well adapted for the Mississippi expedition. In answer to my request they were ordered to me. But the order was changed, and instead of joining me they were sent to General Robert Anderson, then in command at Louisville. The same day I asked Senator Latham, at Washington, to aid my application for three thousand men from California, to be placed at El Paso, to operate against Texas troops moving into Arkansas. On the 5th Marsh reported from Girardeau that the enemy was close upon him, 5000 strong, and would attack him before morning. At midnight a heavy battery of 6 twenty-four-pounders and 1,000 men were embarked to his aid under experienced officers, and Prentiss further reinforced him from below the same morning.

On the 6th General Scott telegraphed me that he had ordered all the troops out of New Mexico, and directed me to confer immediately with the governor of Kansas, and arrange for the safety of New Mexico, sending two regiments “without delay,” as the first detachement would leave on the 15th.

On the 9th I informed the Government that the greater part o the old troops were going out of service, while the new levies, totally unacquainted with the rudiments of military training, would be unmanageable before an enemy. Therefore, I asked authority from the President to collect throughout the states educated officers who had seen service. With them I could make a framework on which to organize an army. My request was granted, and I acted upon it at once.

On the 10th Prentiss reported from Cairo that the enemy were again concentrating and intrenching at New Madrid about ten thousand strong.

Before my arrival at St. Louis General Lyon had borne a decisive and important part in Missouri. Together with Francis P. Blair, the younger, he had saved Missouri from secession. For this reason I had left his movements to his own discretion, but had myself made every possible effort to reinforce him. The defeat at Bull Run had made a change in affairs from that which was existing when General Lyon left Boonville for Springfield on the 5th of July. To any other officer in his actual situation, I should have issued peremptory orders to fall back upon the railroad at Rolla.

On the 6th I had sent an officer by special engine to Rolla, with dispatches for Lyon, and for news of him. In his letter of August 9th, the day before the battle, Lyon states, in answer to mine of the 6th, that he was unable to determine whether he could maintain his ground or would have to retire. At a council of war a fortnight before the battle, the opinion of his officers was unanimous for retreating upon Rolla.

On the 13th news reached me of the battle fought at Wilson's Creek on the 10th between about 6000 Union troops, under Lyon, and a greatly superior force under Price and McCulloch. I was informed that General Lyon had been killed, and that the Union troops under Sigel were retreating unmolested upon Rolla. In telegraphing a report of the battle to Washington, I informed the Department of the need of some organized force to repel the enemy, reported [283] to be advancing on other points in considerable strength. I again asked the Secretary of War for Groesbeck's 39th Ohio regiment, and to order from the governors of Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin their disposable force. I informed him that we were badly in want of field artillery-and that few small-arms had arrived. I also asked the President to read my dispatches.

Dissensions in the camp of the enemy prevented them from using their success, and I made and pushed forward as rapidly as possible dispositions for the defense of the city and State. I reinforced Rolla, which was the receiving-place for troops destined for the South-west. The plan of defense adopted was to fortify Girardeau and the termini of the railroads at Ironton, Rolla, and Jefferson City, with St. Louis as a base; holding these places with sufficient garrisons and leaving the army free for operations in the field. These points I connected by telegraph lines centering at headquarters. St. Louis was the base and center of operations and depot of reserves. Six thousand men, working night and day, were employed upon the fortifications, which commanded the city itself, as well as the surrounding country, upon a line of about ten miles. Al the railroads entering the city I connected at one depot, more cars were added, and on twenty-four hours notice 10,000 men could have been move upon them from any one point to the opposite side of the State.

The officer who had been left within the Confederate lines had returned, bringing important information. concerning the position of the enemy, together with the rough maps required, indicating, among other points, the positions of Forts Henry and Donelson, then in course of construction. I sent him back immediately to make examinations of the Tennessee and Cumberland with reference to the use of those rivers by gun-boats, and also to watch the enemy's moves toward the Cairo district.

In answer to my appeal to the loyal governors for troops, regiment after regiment arrived at St. Louis from the whole North-west, but they were entirely without tents or camp equipage. The chief quartermaster of my department was an officer of the regular army, Major McKinstry, experienced, able, and energetic. But there were no supplies on hand, of any kind, to meet the necessities of the troops arriving without notice, and entirely unprovided. In this exigency he made requisition on the head of his department in Washington, but was informed in reply that the department could not meet the requisitions that were being made by the Army of the Potomac; that the preservation of the capital was deemed of more importance than the State of Missouri; that their entire time and attention was devoted to meeting requisitions made upon them; that General Fremont had full power, and that he, as Fremont's chief quartermaster, must use his own judgment and do the best he could toward meeting the wants of the department.

In July, at Washington, the subject of mortar-boats for the Mississippi expedition had been discussed between General M. C. Meigs, Gustavus V. Fox, afterward the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and myself, and had been referred to me for decision, as having in charge military operations on the Mississippi. On the 31st of July the Secretary of War directed [284] that the 16 nine-inch guns made at Pittsburg for the navy should be forwarded to me with the greatest dispatch, and that 30 thirteen-inch mortars be made as soon as possible and forwarded to me, together with shells for both guns and mortars. On the 24th of August I directed the construction of 38 mortar-boats, and later of 8 steam-tugs to move them, and the purchase and alteration into gunboats of two strongly built river vessels,--the New Era, a large ferry-boat, and the Submarine, a powerful snag-boat; they were renamed Essex and Benton. At my suggestion and order, the sides of all these vessels were to be clad with iron. On the 3d of September General Meigs advised me to order from Pittsburg fifteen-inch guns for my gun-boats, as “able to empty any battery the enemy could make.” Work on these gun-boats was driven forward night and day. As in the case of the fortifications, the work was carried on by torchlight.

August 25th an expedition was ordered under Colonel G. Waagner with one regiment, accompanied by Commander John Rodgers with

Brigadier-General Nathaniel Lyon. From a photograph.

two gun-boats, to destroy the enemy's fortifications that were being constructed at Belmont. [See map, page 263.] August 28th I assigned Brigadier-General U. S. Grant to the command of South-east Missouri, with headquarters at Cairo. He was fully instructed concerning the actual and intended movements on the Mississippi and the more immediate movements upon the Kentucky shore, together with the intention to hold the mouths of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. In his written instructions General Grant was directed to act in concert with Commander Rodgers and Colonel Waagner, and to take possession of points threatened by the Confederates on the Missouri and Kentucky shores.

August 31st Captain Neustadter was ordered to Cairo to select a site opposite Paducah for a battery to command the mouth of the Tennessee river.

September 4th I sent heavy guns and an artillery officer to Cairo, where General Grant had just arrived from Girardeau. I telegraphed the President informing him that the enemy was beginning to occupy, on the Kentucky [285] shore, every good point between Paducah and Hickman, and that Paducah should be occupied by us. I asked him now to include Kentucky in my command.

September 5th I sent to General Grant a letter of instruction, in which I required him to push forward with the utmost speed all work on the point selected on the Kentucky shore ten miles from Paducah, to be called Fort Holt. In this letter I directed him to take possession of Paducah if he felt strong enough to do so; but if not, then to plant a battery opposite Paducah on the Illinois side to command the Ohio River and the mouth of the Tennessee. On the evening of the day on which this letter was sent to General Grant, the officer who had been sent by me within the Confederate lines reached Cairo on his way to St. Louis to let me know that the enemy was advancing on Paducah. He judged it right to inform General Grant, urging him to take Paducah without delay. General Grant decided to do so, and in accordance with his instructions of the 28th immediately moved on Paducah with an adequate force and two gun-boats. He reached the town on the morning of the 6th, having only about six hours advance of the enemy. Taking undisputed possession, he returned to Cairo the same day.

In answer to my persistent application for Colonel C. F. Smith he was ordered to join me, having meantime been made by the President a brigadier-general at my special request. I at once sent him forward to the command I had designed for him,--Paducah and the Kentucky shore of the Mississippi. His letter of instructions made known to him all the previous measures taken to hold the Kentucky shore and the mouths of the Tennessee and Cumberland. The execution of this part of my plans broke in upon the Confederate lines, drove them back, and dispersed their combinations for transferring the war to the loyal States.

I now on the 8th of September wrote to the President, giving him in the following extract the general features of my plan of campaign:

... As the rebel forces outnumber ours, and the counties of Kentucky between the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers, as well as those along the latter and the Cumberland, are strongly secessionist, it becomes imperatively necessary to have the cooperation of the loyal Union forces under Generals Anderson and Nelson, as well as of those already encamped opposite Louisville, under Colonel Rousseau. I have reenforced, yesterday, Paducah with two regiments, and will continue to strengthen the position with men and artillery. As soon as General Smith, who commands there, is reinforced sufficiently to enable him to spread his forces, he will have to take and hold Mayfield and Lovelaceville, to be in the rear and flank of Columbus, and to occupy Smithland, controlling in this way the mouths of both the Tennessee and the Cumberland rivers. At the same time Colonel Rousseau should bring his force, in-. creased if possible, by two Ohio regiments, in boats to Henderson, and, taking the Henderson and Nashville railroad, occupy Hopkinsville; while General Nelson should go with a force of five thousand by railroad to Louisville, and from there to Bowling Green. As the population in all the counties through which the above railroads pass are loyal, this movement could be made without delay or molestation to the troops. Meanwhile General Grant would take possession of the entire Cairo and Fulton railroad, Piketon, New Madrid, and the shore of the Mississippi opposite Hickman and Columbus. The foregoing disposition having been effected, a combined attack will be made upon Columbus, and, if successful in that, upon Hickman, while Rousseau and Nelson will move in concert. by railroad to Nashville, Tenn., occupying the State capital, and, with an adequate force, New Providence. The conclusion of this movement would be a combined advance toward Memphis, on the Mississippi, as well as the Memphis and Ohio railroad.

[286]

Meantime the untoward and obstructing conduct of the people of Missouri had decided me to assert the power of the Government. Accordingly, on the 30th of August, I issued a proclamation affixing penalties to rebellion and extending martial law over the State of Missouri. By this proclamation the property of persons in rebellion against the United States was held to be confiscated, and their slaves were declared free. As a war measure this, in my opinion, was equal to winning a deciding battle. The President disapproved it, as likely to lose us Kentucky, the loyalty of which was so strained and the temper of which was so doubtful, that he had agreed to the neutral attitude Kentucky demanded. He desired me to withdraw it as of my own motion. Unwilling to put myself in this position, I asked him to order it withdrawn, which he did. Shortly following upon this act, I was in many ways made to feel the withdrawal from me of the confidence and support of the Administration, but, acceding to strong representations from leading citizens of St. Louis, I did not resign my command.

I had already been brought into collision with the intrigues of men who were

Major-General Franz Sigel. From a photograph.

in confidential relations with the President, and the occasion was promptly seized by them to urge misrepresentations which were readily accepted as reasons for my removal. The visits of high officers charged with inquiry into the affairs of my department, and the simultaneous and sustained attacks of leading journals, accumulated obstructions and weakened my authority. In fact, my command at the end of August had virtually existed little over a month; but the measures which I had initiated had already taken enduring shape, and eventually worked their intended result.

The inadequate space to which I am restricted compels me to pass over here the circumstances which made inevitable the loss of Lexington, upon which Price advanced after his victory at Wilson's Creek. All possible efforts were made to relieve Colonel Mulligan, but, notwithstanding the large concentration of troops for his relief, these efforts were baffled by absolute want of transportation and by river obstructions. To the Confederate general it was a barren success, and he was shortly forced to retreat to the south-west. As a military position Lexington was of no value to him. In the midst of the demand for troops for Lexington, I was on the 14th ordered by General Scott to “send five thousand well-armed infantry to Washington without a moment's delay.” Two thousand were sent.

At the end of September I left St. Louis to take the field against Price. The army numbered 38,000 men. To complete the defenses of St. Louis, after [287] the advance of the army, I left 5 regiments of infantry, with 1 battalion of cavalry, and 2 batteries of field artillery. The five divisions which composed it were assigned positions, their lines of march converging to Springfield; and in the beginning of October I moved against Price. Transportation and, consequently, supplies were very inadequate; but in exigencies an army sometimes moves without either. The September rains were over; the fine weather of the Indian summer had come; the hay was gathered, and the corn was hardening, and we were about to carry out the great object of the campaign with fewer hardships from. exposure, and fewer impediments from want of transport, than could have been expected at any other season. The spirit of the army was high. A finer body of men could not have been brought together, and we had every reason to believe that the campaign would open with a signal victory in the defeat or dispersion of the enemy, with a move on Memphis as the immediate result. Had I possessed means of transport when Price moved on Lexington I should have compelled him to give me battle on the north side of the Osage; as he could not cross the Missouri without exposing himself to certain defeat no other course would have remained open to him. In fact, when I did go forward, the appearance of my advance at Sedalia was the signal for his precipitate retreat. The first contact now with the enemy was at Fredericktown and Springfield,--the former one of the most admirably conducted engagements of the war, and the latter action a glorious victory. Along the whole extent of our lines we were uniformly successful against the enemy.

At the end of October I was in Springfield with 21,000 effective men. Price had terminated his retreat, and his movements showed that he had decided to offer battle. This was confirmed by information obtained from his headquarters that the Missourians were refusing to leave the State.

Recognizing the rights of humanity, and remembering that this conflict was among our own people, and that the whole State of Missouri was a battle-field, General Price and myself had been engaged in arranging the terms of a convention which was concluded and signed by us on the 1st of November. It provided: 1st, for an exchange of prisoners, hitherto refused by our Government; 2d, that guerrilla fighting should be suppressed, and the war confined to the organized armies in the field; 3d, that there should be no arrests for opinion, the preservation of order being left to the State courts.

Generals Asboth and Sigel, division commanders, now reported that the enemy's advance-guard was at Wilson's Creek, nine miles distant, several thousand strong; his main body occupying the roads in the direction of Cassville, at which place General Price had his headquarters with his reserves. On November 2d the dispositions for the expected battle were being planned, when late in the evening a messenger arrived bearing an order from General Scott which removed me from my command. This order had been hurried forward by General Hunter, who superseded me, and who was behind with his division. The next day, Hunter not arriving, the plan of battle was agreed on, the divisions were assigned conformably, and in the evening the troops began to occupy their positions. About 10 o'clock at night [288] Hunter arrived at my headquarters, where the officers were assembled. I handed to him the plan of battle and turned over my command.

The order which gave my command to General Hunter was dated October 24th, and had been sent to one of my subordinate officers in St. Louis, to be served on me at his discretion. Accompanying it was a letter from the President in which he directed that it should not be served on me if I had fought a battle or was about to fight one. His intention was disregarded; the order was put in force when both ourselves and the enemy were ready and intending battle. In the face of

Major-General John C. Fremont. From a steel plate in possession of Sirs. Fremont.

positive knowledge, General Hunter assumed that there was no enemy near and no battle possible, and withdrew the army.1

The correctness of the operations in this campaign to meet the intended movements of the enemy, have all been corroborated and proved by subsequent information. My expenditures to raise and equip this army were vindicated and sustained by decisions of the United States courts. The establishment of martial law at St. Louis, which was denounced as arbitrary and unnecessary, was maintained and acted upon by all my successors until peace was declared; and the fortifications of that city, upon which all lines of defense rested, aided its enforcement and made the dyke between the Northwest and the South. The taking of Paducah, for which I was censured, has since been made the pivot of success to others. And the gun-boats, for the preparation of which, also, I was censured, the work being countermanded as a “useless extravagance,” became historic in the progress of the war.

1 In support of the facts, I quote from the report of General McCulloch to his Secretary of War, at the close of this Missouri campaign: “We met next day at a point between the two armies where it was agreed upon by all the Missouri generals that we should wait an attack from the enemy, the ground to be selected by General Price and myself” Official Records, III., 748.-J. C. F.

Hunter's withdrawal was in pursuance of instructions of a general nature from President Lincoln, dated October 24th, 1861, and accompanying the orders relieving General Fremont.-editors.

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