November 4, 1861: Hunter takes over in Missouri

Gen. David Hunter
Gen. David Hunter

After a lot of drama instigated by a rather petulant Fremont, nothing much really happened. The confederates didn’t attack, and Hunter took over quietly. Fremont’s tumultuous role in the Western theater had come to an end.


Meantime, about noon of yesterday, Maj.-Gen. HUNTER, who had been advancing from Mountview to Springfield by forced marches, arrived in Buffalo, and was there met by dispatch-bearers, announcing his appointment to the chief command of the Department, and begging his immediate presence, with all his force, to take part in the defence of Springfield. These dispatch-men bore, also, the astounding news that Gen. FREMONT had concluded to leave Springfield on Sunday morning, without waiting for the arrival of his successor! This afterwards proved to be partly true and partly false, Gen. FREMONT, with his body guard and personal retainers having actually started on the road to Rolla yesterday morning, and advanced ten miles on his way. But again the sober second thought stepped in to save him, and he returned to Springfield in the afternoon, remaining until this morning.

Immediately on receiving news of his appointment, Gen. HUNTER transferred the command of his First Division to Acting Brigadier-Gen. TURNER, Colonel of the Fifteenth Illinois Regiment, himself pushing on to Springfield with three companies of the First Missouri Cavalry, a distance of thirty-three miles, and over the most execrable roads ever seen. All the way along the line, as I have been informed by a member of the escort, fresh and yet fresh dispatches were poured into his hands, — all “piling up the agony,” so to speak, about the danger of Springfield and the certainty that the place would “be attacked by overwhelming numbers” before early daylight, this morning. Special messengers, on foaming steeds, dashed out of all the dark bridle-paths, through the woods carrying the dismal tidings of near disaster to the new incumbent of the Western Department. Never before were seen such long faces on any orderlies, express riders, or military guides. Each added some new particulars to the sketch of general dismay, so that as Gen. HUNTER rode along in hot haste, (though still a good deal incredulous,) his escort were listening with strained ears for the first heavy guns that would announce the commencement of the bombardment and capture of Springfield by the rebels.
These things are only mentioned to serve as a fitting commentary on “the victory,” which Gen. FREMONT, in his parting address, told the “soldiers of the Mississippi army” they were “just about to win!” Never was there a worse panic in any army than that which raged through the 20,000 men assembled here, from sunrise to sunset yesterday. Not Washington in the forty-eight hours following Bull Run, was any more at prey to terror, confusion, and the total obliteration of all discipline. This is a fact which will be borne out by the concurrent testimony of every intelligent officer present, and this, perhaps, may have been the “splendid example” to which Major-Gen. F. refers in his stump-speech given above.

At or about 9 o’clock last evening, Gen. HUNTER arrived in town, and soon after called at Gen. FREMONT’s late headquarters, where a council of the more prominent Generals had been assembled to meet him. The interview lasted about an hour, and the only thing known concerning its results may be summed up in the fact that Gen. H. returned to his quarters accompanied by Gen. POPE — both laughing very heartily at something which your correspondent does not even venture to surmise. Certain it is only, that the excited and feverish sentiment of Springfield instantly subsided. The soldiers, who were pacing hurriedly round their camps, at length remembered that tattoo had been sounded, and retired to their tents, (such of them as had any.) Many long and haggard faces gradually but steadily resumed their wonted aspect of circular stupidity, and all our streets were dull, orderly, and quiet as those of a New-England village by midnight.
So much for the night; but still there were not a few alarmists who predicted by the early gray of this morning’s dawn the 40,000 rebels would be down on us with horse, foot and artillery. Their pickets had been seen only ten miles distant for the last three days, and there could exist no reasonable doubt that an onslaught in force was meditated. Even your correspondent, though long accustomed to hear these “thrilling” reports, and to be soon after furnished with proof of their utter and absurd baselessness, was for once shaken in his incredulity, to the extent of going to bed in his boots, and leaving the saddle overnight on his horse, so that there should be no delay interposed when the first guns of the enemy should announce the opening of the ball this morning.

But never morning opened more peacefully or sweetly — the sun shining with the fervor of July on the fields of glistening hoar-frost, the blue-jays shrieking in the woods, and most of the panic-stricken soldiers of yesterday looking exceedingly ashamed of themselves. Of the 40,000 men said to be under PRICE in our immediate neighborhood, we have received definite information only of two foraging parties, one of about 300, and the other of 410 exactly, who had come down on separate roads to within fifteen or eighteen miles of this place. We also learn definitively that there are nearly, if not quite, 2,400 rebels about 45 miles from here, and it is said that PRICE has 20,000 somewhere down near the White River, over which he draws his supplies from Arkansas, the country south of this being an absolute wilderness of flinty hills, producing few eatables save hickory-nuts and black-walnuts.

Meantime, at an early hour this morning, Gen. FREMONT took his leave, his Indian “body guard” riding first, followed by his white “body guard,” and the rear being brought up by another Indian “body guard,” with a train of uncounted wagons and teams — all being necessary, I suppose, to transport our late commander’s baggage, and that of his little son, who rode with a special train of aides-de-camp just behind his father. The trouble is, however, that Gen. FREMONT also carried away with him Deputy Paymaster PHINNEY, with the military chest, containing $300,000 so far as known, thus leaving the army absolutely destitute of pay, with the exception of those favored “body-guard people” and the uncommissioned and illegally-appointed staff officers, who were all paid off in full immediately after FREMONT had received notification of his removal.

It is also said that he carried off with him all his order and special order books, report books Adjutants’ returns and papers of every kind carrying all his staff away with him, and not leaving a solitary scrap of paper to state what stores could or should be found in the Subsistence or Quartermaster’s Department, the strength of the command, the position of the forces, or the date upon which the recent causeless panic was started. But despite all this chaos into which Gen. HUNTER was pitched headforemost, the place is a changed town and a changed post to-day, so that we who have been here under the old regime of eternal galloping, the eternal gleam and clatter of spurs and sabres and the eternal reign of alarm and turmoil, can hardly realize that we are in the same place. This morning, Gen. H. issued his order, assuming command, of which I inclose you a copy:

HEADQUARTERS WESTERN DEPARTMENT,
SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Nov. 4, 1861.
ORDERS, No. 1. — The command of this Department having been relinquished by Maj.-Gen. JOHN C. FREMONT, is assumed by the undersigned.

The officers commanding Divisions, together with their Brigade commanders, will report immediately at these headquarters.

D. HUNTER, Major-General Commanding.

I learn that there is not the least disposition to interfere with the commands of Generals ASBOTH and SIEGEL, or any other good officers who will continue to serve faithfully in the cause of our country. But there is a blue lookout ahead for the “Musical Directors,” “Adlatuses to the Chief of Staff,” “Masters-in-Chief of Transportation” and all that indiscriminate horde of hangers-on-in-uniform who have lately ridden Government horse-flesh into carrion around Department headquarters.

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