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General John C. Frémont

John C. Frémont made a name for himself as an explorer of the American West in the 1840s, earning the nickname, "The Pathfinder." He was instrumental in wresting California away from Mexico during the Mexican-American War, becoming first its Military Governor in 1847 and later one of the first two senators from the new state. In 1856, he was the first presidential candidate for the new Republican party. After that unsuccessful run, he was appointed Governor of the Arizona Territory, but he was mostly absent.

When the Civil War broke out, Frémont rejoined the U.S. Army and was appointed a Major General. In May 1861, Frémont was appointed commander of the Department of the West, with its headquarters in St. Louis. At the time Missouri was in a state of considerable turmoil (cf. Missouri in July 1861) and Frémont acted with his typical flair by declaring martial law on August 30, 1861. This would probably have been fine, except he went beyond this and declared all pro-secessionist property--including slaves--as forfeit to the government. Lincoln felt this went too far--smacking of making the war be about fighting slavery, not simply to preserve the Union, so Lincoln soon rescinded Frémont's order.

Frémont, however, continued his maverick attitude and there was concern he would not follow Lincoln's orders in the future. In October, Lincoln sent two orders to Missouri, one relieving Frémont of his command and the other placing General David Hunter in his place. However, these orders were not to be presented to Frémont either if he had just won a victory or was on the eve of a battle, for fear that this would weaken rather than enhance Lincoln's position.

News of these orders, however, were leaked in the press and Frémont, surrounded by his body-guards and personally loyal troops, set guard to prevent any messenger getting through with the orders. The captain assigned to deliver the message disguised himself as a farmer with news about the rebels, and he managed to hand-deliver the order to Frémont on November 1st. Frémont decided that if he could immediately achieve a victory against the rebels, who he believed were located near his camp, the order would be abrogated, so he arrested the disguised captain and prepared to attack the Confederates. They were not, however, to be found and with the escape of the captain, Frémont realized the game was up. On November 2nd, he stepped down from his command and returned to St. Louis.

M. Nevin. "Major General John C. Fremont, in His Prairie Costume." From Harper's Weekly. New York, July 13, 1861. Wood engraving. 9 x 1/8 x 13 1/2. Very good condition.

At the beginning of the war, Frémont was a popular figure, "the Pathfinder," and his appointment to head the Department of the West was generally well received by the American public. This print shows Frémont in his "prairie costume" from his exploring days, early in his command, before his star fell. $35

John C Frémont
"John C. Frémont. Aj. Genl. U.S.A." Cincinnati: Ehrgott & Forbriger, ca. 1861. Lithograph. Vignette, ca. 12 1/2 x 9 1/2. Very good condition.

The Cincinnati lithographic firm of Ehrgott & Forbriger issued a fascinating series of portraits. They issued seventy-nine different prints of sixty-nine different Union politicians and officers. but they shared just a small group of backgrounds, so the same horse and body might appear with a number of different heads or the same body on a ship would house different visages. This is their print of Frémont, using a photographic model for the face, but with the background almost exactly the same as a number of other portraits. It was probably issued when Frémont was still popular, perhaps when he was still Commander of the District of the West. $275
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Portraits of John C. Frémont. Ca. 1860. Steel engravings. Images ca. 7 1/2 x 5 1/2. Very good condition.

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©The Philadelphia Print Shop July 14, 2021