John Charles Fremont, known as “the Pathfinder,” explored the West as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Topographical Engineers Corps. By the time pioneer settlers in California elected him governor he was already nationally famous. Republicans turned to him in 1865 and made him their first nominee for the U.S. presidency. Small wonder, therefore, that in July 1861 Lincoln made him a major general and put him in command of the Western Department.
Fremont may have considered himself to have a wider following that the president who gained his office by support of less than 40 percent of the nation’s voters. Without consulting his commander in chief, he issued an August 1861 emancipation proclamation that Lincoln forced him to rescind. Embittered at Washington and chafing at having been defeated at Wilson’s Creek, the Union’s most notable active general at that time resigned after just five months in uniform.