Fremont’s Foreign Fighters

The South hated John Fremont – and still does. He made California great, and was the first to free the slaves. His wife, Jessie Benton Fremont, is my kindred. This progressive couple is the San Francisco World’s Fair.

Down South, gun crazy ministers are preaching the End Time Tribulation where the Killer Jesus come and wipe all things secular off the map, leaving obese religious addicts cowering in their bunkers, waiting for Obama’s socialist black troops to come ferret them out, they guzzling down another twelve pack so they can own courage.

John Fremont

A persistent accusation leveled against Fremont was that he surrounded himself with foreign officers – Germans, Hungarians, Italians, and French – and actually preferred foreigners to Americans. Furthermore, the critics charged, these officers exaggerated their military experiences, strutted about in gaudy uniforms of their own design, bestowed sonorous and absurd titles upon themselves, and could give Fremont little practical counsel in a situation full of political difficulties.

The American Civil War, 1861-1865, was the most fateful episode in the history of the United States. Therefore, it’s not surprising that countless thousands of books and articles have been written on virtually every aspect of the conflict.
A substantial portion of these publications naturally deal with the prominent military men on both sides. One individual who has received much attention from historians and Civil War buffs, even though his service in the war was rather brief, is the charismatic John C. Fremont.
On the eve of the Civil War Fremont was one of the best-known and most popular figures in America. His explorations in the Far West had earned him the sobriquet of “Pathfinder.” In 1856 he ran for president on the Republican ticket. He had been asked to be the Democratic presidential candidate, but declined because that party supported slavery.
Although Fremont lost the election, he garnered a substantial portion of the popular and electoral vote. His wife, the intrepid Jessie Benton, was the daughter of the powerful Missouri politician Thomas Hart Benton. In the minds of many Americans, Fremont seemed to embody the spirit of the nation.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln commissioned Fremont a major-general and assigned him to the command of the Western Department, with headquarters at St. Louis, Missouri. The situation in Missouri was a most turbulent one and the problems facing Fremont were almost insurmountable. His meager forces were short of arms, ammunition, and supplies of every kind. The majority of Missourians were not in sympathy with the attempt of the North to coerce the South. The state was honeycombed with secessionist camps; guerrillas and bushwhackers burned bridges, wrecked trains, attacked exposed Federal units, and terrorized pro-Union citizens.
Despite the overwhelming obstacles, Fremont accomplished much. He organized and trained an army from raw recruits, fortified St. Louis and other key centers, built a squadron of river gunboats, secured strategic rivers posts, and consolidated the railroad transportation system. Declaring that drastic conditions call for drastic measures, he imposed martial law, arrested active secessionists, and suspended the publication of newspapers charged with disloyalty. Like other commanding generals of departments Fremont was not guided by precedents but had to improvise.
Fremont’s actions aroused enmity from various quarters. His numerous political antagonists, ready to capitalize on any misstep, accused him of ostentation and reckless expenditure. His promotion to major-general over the head of many regular army officers excited jealousy. The Blair family, powerful in both local and national politics and once his most ardent supporters, became his bitter foes.
On August 30, 1861, Fremont issued the Missouri Emancipation Proclamation, declaring the property of Missourians in rebellion confiscated and their slaves freed. Radical Northerners rejoiced; “The hour has come, and the man,” intoned Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Lincoln, whose moderate stance on slavery at the time was calculated to keep border slave states loyal, deemed the act as premature and asked Fremont to revoke it. When Fremont refused, Lincoln countermanded it personally.

A persistent accusation leveled against Fremont was that he surrounded himself with foreign officers – Germans, Hungarians, Italians, and French – and actually preferred foreigners to Americans. Furthermore, the critics charged, these officers exaggerated their military experiences, strutted about in gaudy uniforms of their own design, bestowed sonorous and absurd titles upon themselves, and could give Fremont little practical counsel in a situation full of political difficulties.
While there was an element of truth in all of these, the critics, as well as some modern writers echoing their views, overlook a few indisputable facts. First, native-born officers were scarce at the start of the Civil War, prompting not only Fremont but other commanders to rely heavily on the foreign born. Second, many of Fremont’s staff officers successfully continued their military careers longer after he left the army.
A number of publications state or imply that a significant number of the foreign officers around Fremont were Hungarians. Actually, there were only four Hungarians on Fremont’s staff who held important positions at any given time: Alexander Asboth, Charles Zagonyi, John Fiala, and Anselm Albert. Gustav Waagner’s tenure as the Western Department’s chief of artillery lasted but a few weeks due to Fremont’s dismissal.
Other Hungarians serving in Missouri in the early days of the war – Joseph Nemett, Emeric Meszaros, Hugo Hollan, Anton Gerster, Nicholas Perczel, and the four Rombauer brothers: Robert, Roderick Emil, Raphael Guido and Roland – were not part of the Fremont entourage. Philip Figyelmessy, Emeric Szabad and Nicolai Dunka on Fremont’s staff in the Mountain Department occupied minor posts.
A brief summary on the lives and careers of the four prominent Hungarians with Fremont is as follows.

Alexander Asboth
 
Alexander Asboth – A lieutenant-colonel during the 1848-49 War of Liberation and one of Kossuth’s most loyal followers, Asboth accompanied him to the Ottoman Empire and shared the entire Turkish internment with him. He came to the United States aboard the Mississippi, the vessel sent by President Millard Fillmore to bring Kossuth and his companions to America.
Until the outbreak of the Civil War, Asboth worked as an engineer, his chosen profession. While in the employ of Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned landscape architect, Asboth helped to survey Central Park as well as the upper west side of Manhattan.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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