It has always been the opinion of the writer that, if Fremont had been permitted to take his own way in his Western command a little longer, he would have achieved a brilliant military success. He was a weak man in some respects, being over fond of dress parade. The financial management of his department was bad, or, rather, very careless. Of these shortcomings, which were considerably misrepresented and exaggerated, Fremont’s enemies took advantage, and succeeded in effecting his overthrow in the Western Department. But, notwithstanding his admitted failings, he gave evidence of military ability. He showed that he possessed both physical and moral courage, and he knew how to plan a campaign. He undoubtedly formulated the movement that resulted in the capture of Forts Donelson and Henry in Tennessee, taking the initial steps, but of which Halleck got the credit. He was removed from command when in the field, and almost on the eve of battle. He had an enthusiastic army and the prospect of a decisive victory. His recall gave up nearly the whole of Missouri to the enemy, and was one of the causes of complaint that the Missouri Unionists had against the National Administration.
Not long afterwards, with no more than even chances, Fremont defeated Stonewall Jackson in Virginia—at Cross Keys—which was more than any of the other Union generals then in that department could do. His prompt removal made it sure that he should not do it again.
It was the misfortune of Fremont that his independence caused him to clash with selfish interests, and he was sacrificed. He was selected for the Trans-Mississippi command by the Blairs, evidently with the expectation that he would bend to their wishes. He soon showed that he was his own master, and the trouble began. The Union people of his department were mostly with him, but the Blairs had control of the administration in Washington.
As for his freedom proclamation, it was, to a certain extent, an act of insubordination, but it was right in principle and sound in policy. Its adoption by the General Government would have saved four years of contention and turmoil in Missouri, spent in upholding a tottering institution that was doomed from the first shot of the Rebellion. The President, however, for reasons elsewhere explained, did not at that time want slavery interfered with.
The story of Fremont’s fall is best told by Whittier in four lines:
“Thy error, Fremont,
simply was to act
A brave man’s part without the statesman’s tact,
And, taking counsel but of common-sense,
To strike at cause as well as consequence.”
SOME ABOLITION LEADERS