General Fremont’s Plan Derided by Both North and South

Monday, September 2, 1861

General John C. Fremont took it upon himself to be the nation’s first great emancipator by freeing all the slaves owned by secessionists in Missouri. He acted without orders and also threatened to kill any secessionist with a gun, but, he felt, his heart was in the right place. Though Unionists and secessionists agreed on few things, Fremont’s August 30 proclamation received scorn from both camps.

President Lincoln heard about Fremont freeing the slaves like most other Americans did: he read it in the newspapers. On this date, he shot off a letter to the General, asking him to cut it out.

“Two points in your proclamation of August 30th give me some anxiety,” began Lincoln. He first addressed Fremont’s plan to shoot any secessionist in possession of a firearm, believing if he executed someone for such a crime,” the Confederates would very certainly shoot our best man in their hands in retaliation; and so, man for man, indefinitely.” Taking the reigns, Lincoln ordered that Fremont “allow no man to be shot, under the proclamation, without first having my approbation or consent.”

As for the emancipation of the slaves, Lincoln feared that it would “alarm our Southern Union friends, and turn them against us—perhaps ruin our rather fair prospect for Kentucky.” He then asked Fremont to bring his policy around to the Confiscation Act, decided upon by Congress, that liberated the slaves from their owners, but kept them under the jurisdiction of the Federal government.1

On the other side of the table was General Jeff Thompson of the Missouri State Guards, also having something to say about the proclamation made by General Fremont, “commanding the minions of Abraham Lincoln.” Almost as if Lincoln had read his mind, Thompson promised “that for every member of the Missouri State Guard, or soldier of our allies, the armies of the Confederate States, who shall be put to death in pursuance of this said order of General Fremont, I will hang, draw, and quarter a minion of said Abraham Lincoln.”

Not only that, but Thompson wrote that he intended “to exceed General Fremont in his excesses, and will make all tories that come within my reach rue the day that a different policy was adopted by their leader.” Already, wrote Thompson, “mills, barns, warehouses, and other private property has been wastefully destroyed by the enemy in this district.”

“Should these things be repeated,” vowed Thompson, underscoring his point, “I will retaliate tenfold, so help me God!”2

Somewhat riding an extreme middle position, Col. Frank Blair, brother of Lincoln’s Postmaster General, had just the day before written to his brother with the opinion that General Fremont “should be relieved of his command.” Blair, a long time abolitionist, agreed with Fremont’s proclamation. What he didn’t agree with, however, was the way Fremont ran things.

Since taking command, the Rebels had greatly increased in number through the General’s “gross and inexcusable negligence.” The disorganized camps around St. Louis, wrote Blair, were similar to the camps around Washington before the debacle at Bull Run.

Even though both Blair brothers were responsible for Fremont’s appointment to the Western Department and even though both had been close friends in years past, it was clear that General Fremont had to go.3


General Prentiss Arrests Himself

Elsewhere in Missouri, two Union Generals were battling each other for rank. General Ulysses S. Grant had recently taken command of the Union troops at Cape Girardeau, Missouri. General Prentiss, commanding Grant’s former brigade, had just arrived at Girardeau, reported that the Rebels under General Hardee had slipped back into Arkansas and questioned Grant’s authority over him.

The previous night, Prentiss had refused to obey an order and, claiming that it was he and not Grant who should be in command, tendered his resignation. On this date, he again refused an order and placed himself under arrest. Grant, having little guidance from Fremont in St. Louis, placed another officer in command of the brigade.4


Price Continues Northward

In western Missouri, the advance guard of General Sterling Price’s Missouri troops encountered Unionist Kansas Jayhawkers at Drywood Creek, between Stockton and Fort Scott. In prairie grasses that were nearly as high as their heads, the two sides slugged it out for nearly an hour until the outnumbered Jayhawkers retreated west towards Fort Scott. The Missouri State Guards gave chase, but darkness cut off any chance of catching them.

Price decided not to continue the pursuit when he heard that Fort Scott had been abandoned. He then resolved to stick to his original plan of saving Missouri for the Confederacy. He planned to continue his march north.


Fire in Western Virginia

In Western Virginia, Confederate General Wise and his Legion had, the day before, marched seventeen miles from Dogwood Gap to Carnifex Ferry and back again after General Floyd called for and then sent back reinforcements. Determined to make some headway of his own, Wise resolved to attack General Cox’s Union troops at Gauley Bridge, fifteen miles west. As dawn broke over the ridges, General Wise led his men west, towards the Union forces.5

Meanwhile, General Cox had his eyes on Confederate militia units south of him, commanded by Generals Beckley and Chapman in Boone and Fayette Counties. He had dispatched half of the 1st Kentucky (US) to Boone Court House, where over 400 Rebel militia were encamped. The Kentucky troops and a company of home guards attacked and drove the militia back into town where they took to the houses, firing upon the advancing Federals.

Acting against orders, the home guards burned the town to the ground. Cox determined the Rebel losses to be fifty, though they were probably much lower. Union troops suffered six wounded.6

While Boone Court House was burning, General Wise advanced his Legion west towards the Hawks Nest, a prominent gorge along the New River, and Gauley Bridge. As his troops approached the Hawks Nest, they came under the scattered fire of Union pickets, who would take a shot or two and retreat west.

By dusk, his command had reached the bridge at Turkey Creek. Taking personal command, Wise led an untried company of infantry over the bridge, where they were met with a hot fire from at least a company of Federals. The Confederates faltered, wavered, and then advanced, firing as they moved. After a short, sharp fight, the Union troops were driven back. Wise had secured the bridge and Hawks Nest behind it. That night, they slept on their arms.7

  1. Letter from Abraham Lincoln to General Fremont, September 2, 1861. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p693. []
  3. Letter from Frank Blair to Montgomery Blair, September 1, 1861. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p145-146. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p122. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 51 (part 1), p472. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p122, 125. []
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General Fremont’s Plan Derided by Both North and South by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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