"Frémont named General-in-Chief
of Union Army" by Jeff Provine
says: we're very pleased to present the first story from Jeff Provine's
excellent blog This
Day in Alternate History Please note that the opinions expressed in this
post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
July 26th 1861,
on this day US President Abraham Lincoln promoted the Commander of the
Department of the West John C. Frémont to the upgraded position of the
General-in-Chief of Union Army.
The American Civil War had raged for several months, and the northern
nation needed a commander for its armies. General Winfield Scott was
capable, but far too old to keep command over what he understood would be
a years-long war. Irvin McDowell's defeat at Bull Run showed that he was
incapable. Many believed George McClellan, commander of the Department of
Ohio, would be given the command, but his plans about an invasion of
Virginia from the west and a campaign along the Ohio River were the source
of much derision. Not even the political squawking of his acquaintance
Salmon P. Chase could push him for general.
"Any elevation of Fremont would have been a
political threat to Abraham Lincoln's re-election ~ a politically stronger
Fremont would have diverted votes from the radical Republican Party wing"
- reader's comment Instead, President Lincoln named commander of
the Department of the West, John C. Frémont, to be his commander. Frémont
had been a noted explorer through the 1840s and California's first
senator, not to mention being the Republicans' first candidate for the
presidency. Despite being a Southerner from Atlanta, Frémont remained
staunchly loyal to his country. He seemed impetuous, and there had been
controversy about what may have been mutiny of his mounted rifles in the
Mexican-American War, but Frémont vowed to end the war as soon as
A new story by Jeff ProvineGeneral Frémont would piece together his Union
Army for a fast invasion of Virginia. Instead of waiting for spring,
Frémont set out in September of 1861. He would prove ruthless against the
rebels, as many of his policies in Missouri had shown. Warnings came from
General Henry Wagner Halleck (Frémont's replacement in the west) of the
mess the general left behind, but these were ignored as simple backroom
Frémont's campaign would be an initial success out of his impetuousness.
General Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the Southern Army of the Potomac,
would fall back, drawing Frémont deeper into Southern territory, where his
armies would wreak havoc. Newspapers from both the North and, especially,
the South decried the horrors of war. Finally, only five miles from
Richmond, at the Battle of Seven Pines (or of Fair Oaks to the Union) on
November 30, 1861, Johnston would counterattack. The battle was bloody and
inconclusive, except that Johnston had stopped the approach of Frémont.
"Fremont might have pushed the Border States to
secede---as it was, it was a close-run thing." - reader's commentRather
than beginning a siege for the winter, Frémont regrouped for another
attack and assaulted the Richmond defenses. A more stalwart general may
have waited, but Frémont meant to end the war and end slavery. Just as
Confederate President Jefferson Davis pulled Johnston from command and
replaced him with his adviser Robert E. Lee, Frémont threw his soldiers
against the defensive works. It was a gamble that could have won the Civil
War for the Union.
Instead, the attack proved to be a disaster. Dead piled up as Frémont's
troops were unable to crack the defenses. Lee held the city with
everything he could scrounge, and reinforcements poured in from all over
Virginia in the Southern counterattack, most notably General Jackson and
his Stonewall Brigade as well as the cavalry of JEB. Finally, on December
3, Frémont would die from wounds incurred the day before and the remnants
of the Union forces would retreat to Fort Monroe, where they had landed
"And if McClellan had won, it's unlikely the war
would have dragged on so long thereafter" - reader's commentDespite
the terrible setback, Lincoln would refuse to allow the South to secede.
The retired Winfield Scott's "Anaconda Plan" called for the conquest of
the Mississippi, which would be initially a tactical success in 1862. But,
the bloodthirsty General Ulysses S. Grant would prove the undoing of the
United States as his losses during battles proved unacceptable. Numerous
battles began to turn potential victories into defeats from shortages of
men and materiel supplied. With logistics failing in both the western and
eastern theaters, Union troops would fail to catch up with Lee's Army of
the North before it took Harrisburg, PA. The Southern victory would cut
off Maryland and Washington D.C. from the rest of the Union. The
subsequent revolt in Maryland would cause another wave of secession, and
European nations would begin to recognize diplomatically the Confederate
States of America.
George McClellan would win narrowly the election of 1864, ousting Lincoln.
While the war would drag on for another three years, eventually McClellan
would organize the Treaty of Washington of 1868. Peace would settle over
America for a time until border disputes in the coming decades again
caused friction between the two nations.
says in reality, McClellan, not Frémont, was named general-in-chief.
Though McClellan is legendary in history for his "cowardice" on the
battlefield (depending too much on lackluster intelligence from Pinkerton
scouts and spies), it was his understanding of logistics that arguably won
the war for the North. While tepid in battle, McClellan was able to use
1861-62 to organize his command, train troops, and provide for supply-lines.
The Union was not ready for a long war, but McClellan's patience and
distrust of fighting gave it the resources needed for victory.
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Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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