Sunday, November 6, 2011

November 7, 1861 (Tuesday): Grant Lands (And Fights) at Belmont

Belmont Battlefield

            Cairo, Ill., November 17, 1861.
...About 2 o’clock on the morning of the7th I received information from Col. W. H. L. Wallace at Charleston (sent by a messenger of steamer W. H. B.) that he had learned from a reliable Union man that the enemy had been crossing troops from Columbus to Belmont the day before, for the purpose of following after and cutting off the forces under Colonel Oglesby.  Such a move on his part seemed to me more than probable, and gave at once a twofold importance to my demonstration against the enemy…namely the prevention of reinforces to General Price, and the cutting off of two small columns that I had sent, in pursuance of directions, from this place and Cape Girardeau, in pursuit of Jeff. Thompson.  This information determined me to attack vigorously his forces at Belmont, knowing that should we be repulsed, we would re-embark without difficulty under the protection of the gunboats…..
….Promptly at the hour designated we proceeded down the river to a point just out of range of the rebel batteries at Columbus, and debarked on the Missouri shore.  From here the troops were marched, with skirmishers well in advance, by flank for about a mile towards Belmont, and there formed in line of battle.  One battalion had been left as a reserve near the transports.  Two companies from each regiment were thrown forward as skirmishers, to ascertain the position of the enemy, and about 9 o’clock met and engaged him.  The balance fo my force, with the exception of the reserve, was promptly thrown forward, and drove the enemy by foot by foot, and from tree to tree, back to his encampment on the river bank, as distance of over 2 miles.  Here he had strengthened his position by felling the timber for several hundred yards around his camp, making a sort of abates.  Our men charged through this, driving the enemy under cover of the bank, and many of them into their transports, in quick time, leaving us in possession of everything not exceedingly portable.
….Tents, blankets, &c., were set on fire and destroyed, and our return march commenced, taking his artillery and a large number of captured horses and prisoners with us.  Three pieces of artillery being drawn by hand, and one by an inefficient team, were spiked and left on the road; two were brought to this place.
   We had but fairly got under way when the enemy, having received re-enforcements, rallied under cover of the river bank and the woods on the point of land in the bend of the river above us, and made his appearance between us and our transports, evidently with a design of cutting off our return to them.
   Our troops were not in the least discouraged, but charged the enemy and defeated him.  We then, with the exception of the Twenty-seventh Illinois, Col. N. B. Buford commanding, reached our transports and embarked without further molestation.  While waiting for the arrival of this regiment, and get some of our wounded from a field hospital near by, the enemy, having crossed fresh troops from Columbus, again made his appearance on the river bank, and commenced firing upon our transports.  The fire was returned by our men from the decks of the steamers, and also by the gunboats with terrible effect, compelling him to retire in the direction of Belmont.  In the meantime, colonel Buford, although he had received orders to return with the main force, took the Charleston road from Belmont, and came in on the road leading to Bird’s Point, where we had formed the line of battle in the morning.  At this point, to avoid the effect of the shells from the gunboats that were beginning to fall among his men, he took a blind path direct to the river , and followed a wood road up its bank, and thereby avoided meeting the enemy, who were retiring by the main road.  On his appearance up the river bank, a steamer was dropped down, and took his command on board, without his having participated or lost a man in the enemy’s attempt to cut us off from our transports.
   Not withstanding the crowded state of our transports, the only loss we sustained from the enemy’s fire upon them was three men wounded, one of whom belonged to one of the boats.
   Our loss in killed on the field was 85, 301 wounded, (many of them, however, slightly), and 99 missing.  Of the wounded, 125 fell into the hands of the enemy.  Nearly all the missing were from the Seventh Iowa Regiment, which suffered more severely than any other.  All the troops behaved with great gallantry, which was in a great degree attributable to the coolness and presence of mind of their officers, particularly the colonels commanding.
….From all the information I have been able to obtain since the engagement, the enemy’s loss in killed and wounded was much grater than ours.  We captured 175 prisoners, all his artillery and transportation, and destroyed his entire camp and garrison equipage.  Independent of the injuries inflicted upon him, and the prevention of his re-enforcing Price, or sending a force to cut off the expeditions against Jeff. Thompson, the confidence inspired in our troops in the engagement will be of incalculable benefit to us in the future.
   Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                                                    U. S. GRANT
            Assistant Adjutant-General, Washington, D. C.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 3, Page 271

Grant had sent 3,000 men under Colonel Richard Oglesby into Southeastern Missouri.  To keep the Confederates from concentrating against that force, he sent General Charles Smith into Southwestern Kentucky and moved with a 3,000 man force by steamers to Belmont, Missouri just opposite the bluffs at Columbus, Kentucky.  There he attacked a camp of observation (Camp Johnston) and a 2,000 man force under Gideon Pillow.  Having routed the Confederates he was surprised to be met on his way back to his boats to be confronted by three regiments which had been sent across the river by Polk to reinforce Pillow.  Making a fighting retreat under the fire of Confederate cannon from the bluffs at Columbus, Grant himself barely made it back on board after going to look for Buford’s missing regiment.  The battle was a draw, but it did have the effects Granted noted, of preventing reinforcement to Price or attacks on Oglesby.  Both sides lost about 600 men.  Grant gained valuable experience in working with combined (naval and army) forces, experience which would serve him well in the future.

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