LINCOLN, Abraham (1809-1865). Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln") as President, to Major General John Charles Frémont, Washington, 21 December 1861.
Two pages, 205 x 126mm, bifolium (contemporary ink spot touching a couple letters on second page).
Lincoln admonishes Fremont over the Lyon's defeat at Wilson's Creek: "We must find a way to put the strength of our game – superior numbers – into the play." Lincoln, who had dismissed Frémont from command of the Western Department in November, offers a pointed critique over the former commander of the Western Department's failure to bring support to an exposed Nathaniel Lyon who was defeated by a much larger Confederate force at Wilson's Creek. Lyon would be killed in that battle earring him the dubious distinction of being the first Union General killed in the Civil War. The setback led Frémont to impose martial law in Missouri and order freedom to all slaves held by those supporting the rebellion—a move that threatened to alienate the critical border states, especially Lincoln’s home state of Kentucky. The controversial policy forced Lincoln to order Frémont’s removal from command in November 1861. "Your Telegraphic dispatch to Head Quarters giving a report of the expedition from Bird's Point on Charleston, has been shown me. Although the result, as reported, is satisfactory, it was, as usual with us in this war, a contest between an inferior force on our side, against a superior one on the side of the enemy. How to reverse this, is our problem. The only strength of our game is superior numbers; and this is utterly worthless to us, if in every contest, we bring to the scratch only an inferior number. We must find a way to put the strength of our game – superior numbers – into the play. Please remember this."
Mindful of Frémont’s political clout (he had been the fledgling Republican Party’s first presidential nominee in 1856), Lincoln was careful to keep from further alienating an important political ally: "Be assured, my dear General, I am not complaining of you, or any one; but only suggesting that with superior numbers on our side, we must not be constantly fighting one of our men against four of theirs; and thus getting our best men, and officers killed in detail, as in the case of Gen. Lyon; and, indeed, in nearly all cases, as yet." At the time of writing, Lincoln was coming under increasing pressure from the Radical Republicans to give Frémont another command. In March 1862, Lincoln relented and appointed Frémont head of the Mountain Department and made him responsible for guarding the Shenandoah Valley. Frémont there found himself outclassed by the wily and cunning Stonewall Jackson. A string of defeats followed, and when his corps was merged into the Army of Virginia, commanded by his rival, John Pope, Frémont resigned his command in June 1862.
Lincoln letters to Frémont are rare in private hands. A search of Rare Book Hub reveals only two other examples (ALS, 24 October 1861, Anderson Galleries, 25-26 January 1917; ALS 2 August 1861, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 28 November 1979). Not published in Basler. Provenance: John Raymond Howard, an aide to Frémont to his descendants – Sotheby's, New York, 16 December 1994, lot 204.