Battle of Belmont

Battle of Belmont

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The Battle of Belmont was fought on November 7, 1861, in Mississippi County, Missouri
Mississippi County, Missouri
Mississippi County is a county located in the Bootheel of Southeast Missouri in the United States. As of the 2000 U.S. Census, the county's population was 13,427. A 2008 estimate, however, showed the population to be 13,504. The largest city and county seat is Charleston...

. It was the first combat test in the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 for Brig. Gen.
Brigadier general (United States)
A brigadier general in the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, is a one-star general officer, with the pay grade of O-7. Brigadier general ranks above a colonel and below major general. Brigadier general is equivalent to the rank of rear admiral in the other uniformed...

 Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

, the future Union Army
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 general in chief and eventual U.S. president
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

; Grant's troops in this battle were the "nucleus" of the Union Army of the Tennessee
Army of the Tennessee
The Army of the Tennessee was a Union army in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, named for the Tennessee River. It should not be confused with the similarly named Army of Tennessee, a Confederate army named after the State of Tennessee....

.

On November 6, Grant moved by riverboat from Cairo, Illinois
Cairo, Illinois
Cairo is the southernmost city in the U.S. state of Illinois. It is the county seat of Alexander County. Cairo is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The rivers converge at Fort Defiance State Park, an American Civil War fort that was commanded by General Ulysses S. Grant...

, to attack the Confederate
Confederate States Army
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...

 fortress at Columbus, Kentucky
Columbus, Kentucky
Columbus is a city in Hickman County, Kentucky, United States. The population was 229 at the 2000 census.-Geography:Columbus is located at .According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of , all of it land....

. The next morning, he learned that Confederate troops had crossed the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 to Belmont, Missouri. He landed his men on the Missouri
Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

 side and marched to Belmont. Grant's troops overran the surprised Confederate camp and destroyed it. However, the scattered Confederate forces quickly reorganized and were reinforced from Columbus. They then counterattacked, supported by heavy artillery fire from across the river. Grant retreated to his riverboats and took his men to Paducah, Kentucky
Paducah, Kentucky
Paducah is the largest city in Kentucky's Jackson Purchase Region and the county seat of McCracken County, Kentucky, United States. It is located at the confluence of the Tennessee River and the Ohio River, halfway between the metropolitan areas of St. Louis, Missouri, to the west and Nashville,...

. The battle was relatively unimportant, but with little happening elsewhere at the time, it received considerable attention in the press.

Background




At the beginning of the war, the critical border state
Border states (Civil War)
In the context of the American Civil War, the border states were slave states that did not declare their secession from the United States before April 1861...

 of Kentucky
Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

, with a pro-Confederate governor but a largely pro-Union legislature, declared neutrality between the opposing sides. Pro-Confederates crossed into Tennessee to enlist, but the Union men openly formed a recruiting camp inside Kentucky. Using this as an excuse, Confederate Maj. Gen. Leonidas Polk
Leonidas Polk
Leonidas Polk was a Confederate general in the American Civil War who was once a planter in Maury County, Tennessee, and a second cousin of President James K. Polk...

 violated the state's neutrality on September 3, 1861, by occupying Columbus
Columbus, Kentucky
Columbus is a city in Hickman County, Kentucky, United States. The population was 229 at the 2000 census.-Geography:Columbus is located at .According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of , all of it land....

, a key position on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Two days later Union Brig. Gen.
Brigadier general (United States)
A brigadier general in the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, is a one-star general officer, with the pay grade of O-7. Brigadier general ranks above a colonel and below major general. Brigadier general is equivalent to the rank of rear admiral in the other uniformed...

 Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

 seized Paducah
Paducah, Kentucky
Paducah is the largest city in Kentucky's Jackson Purchase Region and the county seat of McCracken County, Kentucky, United States. It is located at the confluence of the Tennessee River and the Ohio River, halfway between the metropolitan areas of St. Louis, Missouri, to the west and Nashville,...

. Grant, commanding the District of Southeast Missouri, requested permission from theater
Western Theater of the American Civil War
This article presents an overview of major military and naval operations in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.-Theater of operations:...

 commander Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont
John C. Frémont
John Charles Frémont , was an American military officer, explorer, and the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for the office of President of the United States. During the 1840s, that era's penny press accorded Frémont the sobriquet The Pathfinder...

 to attack Columbus, but no orders came. For the next two months only limited demonstrations were conducted against the Confederates.

Frémont learned the Confederates planned to reinforce their forces in Arkansas
Arkansas
Arkansas is a state located in the southern region of the United States. Its name is an Algonquian name of the Quapaw Indians. Arkansas shares borders with six states , and its eastern border is largely defined by the Mississippi River...

, and on November 1 he ordered Grant to make a feint toward Columbus to keep the Confederates there. Grant sent about 3,000 men under Col.
Colonel (United States)
In the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, colonel is a senior field grade military officer rank just above the rank of lieutenant colonel and just below the rank of brigadier general...

 Richard Oglesby
Richard James Oglesby
Richard James Oglesby was an Illinois statesman and U.S. Army officer. He served in the Mexican-American War and was a major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He also served Illinois in the legislature. Near the end of the civil war, he was elected the 14th Governor of...

 into southeastern Missouri. Grant then learned that Confederate reinforcements were moving into Missouri to intercept Oglesby's column. He sent reinforcements and also ordered Brig. Gen. Charles F. Smith
Charles Ferguson Smith
Charles Ferguson Smith was a career United States Army officer who served in the Mexican-American War and as a Union General in the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

 to move from Paducah into southwestern Kentucky to distract the Confederates. Grant chose to attack Belmont, a ferry landing and tiny hamlet of just three shacks, about 2,000 feet across the river from Columbus. Grant's Expeditionary Command numbered 3,114 officers and men, and was organized into two brigades under Brig. Gen. John A. McClernand and Col. Henry Dougherty, two cavalry companies, and an artillery battery. On November 6, escorted by the gunboats USS Tyler
USS Tyler (1857)
USS Tyler was originally a merchant ship named A. O. Tyler, a commercial side-wheel steamboat with twin stacks and covered paddles positioned aft. Constructed in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1857, it was acquired by the United States Navy, 5 June 1861 for service in the American Civil War and converted...

 and USS Lexington
USS Lexington (1861)
The third USS Lexington was a timberclad gunboat in the United States Navy during the American Civil War.-Purchase and conversion:Lexington was built as a sidewheel steamer at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1861 and was purchased by the War Department and converted into a gunboat at Cincinnati, Ohio,...

, Grant's men left Cairo on the steamboats Aleck Scott, Chancellor, Keystone State, Belle Memphis, James Montgomery, and Rob Roy.

Confederate Maj. Gen. Leonidas Polk
Leonidas Polk
Leonidas Polk was a Confederate general in the American Civil War who was once a planter in Maury County, Tennessee, and a second cousin of President James K. Polk...

 had about 5,000 troops guarding Columbus. When he learned of Grant's movements, he assumed that Columbus was their primary objective and that Belmont was a feint. He ordered 2,700 under Brig. Gen. Gideon J. Pillow to Belmont, retaining the rest to defend Columbus.

When he reached Belmont, Grant found Camp Johnston, a small Confederate observation post, supported by an artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 battery. He decided to attack to keep the Confederates from reinforcing Maj. Gen. Sterling Price
Sterling Price
Sterling Price was a lawyer, planter, and politician from the U.S. state of Missouri, who served as the 11th Governor of the state from 1853 to 1857. He also served as a United States Army brigadier general during the Mexican-American War, and a Confederate Army major general in the American Civil...

 or Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson
M. Jeff Thompson
Meriwether Jeff Thompson was a brigadier general in the Missouri State Guard during the American Civil War. He served the Confederate Army as a cavalry commander, and had the unusual distinction of having a ship in the Confederate Navy named for him.-Early life:*Father: Meriwether Thompson b....

 of the Missouri State Guard
Missouri State Guard
The Missouri State Guard was a state militia organized in the state of Missouri during the early days of the American Civil War. While not initially a formal part of the Confederate States Army, the State Guard fought alongside Confederate troops and, at times, under regular Confederate...

, and to protect Oglesby's exposed left flank.

Battle


At 8:30 a.m. on November 7, Grant's force disembarked at Hunter's Farm, 3 miles north of Belmont, out of range of the six Confederate batteries at Columbus. (The Columbus heavy water batteries featured 10-inch Columbiad
Columbiad
The Columbiad was a large caliber, smoothbore, muzzle loading cannon able to fire heavy projectiles at both high and low trajectories. This feature enabled the columbiad to fire solid shot or shell to long ranges, making it an excellent seacoast defense weapon for its day...

s and 11-inch howitzer
Howitzer
A howitzer is a type of artillery piece characterized by a relatively short barrel and the use of comparatively small propellant charges to propel projectiles at relatively high trajectories, with a steep angle of descent...

s and one gun, the "Lady Polk", was the largest in the Confederacy, a 128-pounder Whitworth rifle.) He marched his men south on the single road, clearing the obstructions of fallen timber that formed an abatis
Abatis
Abatis, abattis, or abbattis is a term in field fortification for an obstacle formed of the branches of trees laid in a row, with the sharpened tops directed outwards, towards the enemy. The trees are usually interlaced or tied with wire...

. A mile away from Belmont, they formed a battle line in a corn field. The line consisted of the 22nd Illinois Infantry
22nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment
The 22nd Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry was an infantry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.-Service:The 22nd Illinois Infantry was organized at Belleville, Illinois and mustered into Federal service on June 25, 1861....

, 7th Iowa Infantry
7th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment
The 7th Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry was an infantry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.-Service:The 7th Iowa Infantry was organized at Burlington, Iowa and assembled into Federal service between July 24 and August 4, 1861.The regiment was sent out on July 12,...

, 31st Illinois Infantry
31st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment
The 31st Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry, nicknamed the "Dirty-First," was an infantry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.-Service:...

, 30th Illinois Infantry
30th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment
The 30th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry was an infantry regiment thatserved in the Union Army during the American Civil War.-Service:The 30th Illinois Infantry was organized at Camp Butler, Illinois and mustered into...

, and 27th Illinois Infantry
27th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment
The 27th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry was an infantry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.-Service:The 27th Illinois Infantry was organized at Camp Butler, Illinois and mustered into Federal service on August 10, 1861....

, intermixed with a company of cavalry. The Confederate battle line, on a low ridge northwest of Belmont, from north to south, was made up of the 12th Tennessee Infantry, 13th Arkansas Infantry
13th Arkansas Infantry Regiment
The 13th Arkansas Infantry was a Confederate Army infantry regiment during the American Civil War.- Organization :The 13th Arkansas was formally organized on 29 Jul 1861 at Camp Ground in Greene Co, Arkansas with about 1000 men. The companies mustered into Confederate service at Harrisburg,...

, 22nd Tennessee Infantry, 21st Tennessee Infantry, and 13th Tennessee Infantry.

Grant's attack drove in the Confederate skirmish line and for the remainder of the morning, both armies, consisting of green recruits, advanced and fell back repeatedly. By 2 p.m., the fighting became one-sided as Pillow's line began to collapse, withdrawing toward Camp Johnston. The orderly retreat began to panic when four Federal field pieces opened up on the retreating soldiers. A volley from the 31st Illinois killed dozens of Confederates, and the Union soldiers attacked from three sides and surged into the camp. The Confederates abandoned their colors and their artillery, and ran towards the river, attempting to escape. Grant was constantly at the front, leading his men. His horse was shot from under him, but he mounted an aide's horse and continued to lead.

Grant's inexperienced soldiers became, in his own words, "demoralized from their victory." Brig. Gen. McClernand walked to the center of the camp, which now flew the Stars and Stripes
Flag of the United States
The national flag of the United States of America consists of thirteen equal horizontal stripes of red alternating with white, with a blue rectangle in the canton bearing fifty small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine offset horizontal rows of six stars alternating with rows...

, and asked for three cheers. A bizarre, carnival-like atmosphere prevailed upon the troops, carried away by the joy of their victory, having captured several hundred prisoners and the camp. To regain control of his men, who were plundering and partying, Grant ordered the camp set on fire. In the confusion and blinding smoke, wounded Confederate soldiers in some of the tents were accidentally burned to death, causing returning Confederates to believe the prisoners had been deliberately murdered.

The Federals began to march back to their transports, taking with them two captured guns and 106 prisoners. They were suddenly attacked by Confederate reinforcements brought over on the transports Prince and Charm who threatened to cut off Grant's retreat. These were the men of the 15th Tennessee Infantry, the 11th Louisiana Infantry, and mixed infantry under Pillow and Col. Benjamin F. Cheatham
Benjamin F. Cheatham
Benjamin Franklin Cheatham , known also as Frank, was a Tennessee aristocrat, California gold miner, and a General in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, serving in many battles of the Western Theater.-Early years:Cheatham was born in Nashville, Tennessee on a plantation...

. As the Union men turned to face the Confederate reinforcements, the cannon "Lady Polk" fired into their ranks from Columbus and numerous other Confederate guns opened fire. The Union gunboats exchanged in a battle with the Confederate batteries. Grant said, "Well, we must cut our way out as we cut our way in."

When Grant reached the landing, he learned that one Union regiment was unaccounted for. Grant galloped back to look for it, but found only Confederate soldiers moving in his direction. He spun his horse and raced for the river, but saw that the riverboat captains had already ordered the mooring lines cast off. Grant wrote in his memoirs, "The captain of the boat that had just pushed out recognized me and ordered the engineer not to start the engine: he then had a plank run out for me. My horse seemed to take in the situation. He put his fore feet over the bank without hesitation or urging, and, with his hind feet well under him, slid down the bank and trotted on board."

Aftermath


The Confederates viewed Belmont as a Southern victory, since Grant had staged a demonstration and been driven off. Union losses were 607 (120 dead, 383 wounded, and 104 captured or missing). Confederate casualties were slightly higher at 641 (105 killed, 419 wounded, 106 captured, and 11 missing). The main result of the battle was simply to give Grant combat experience at commanding a large force. It also gave President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

, who was desperate for his armies to attack the Confederates somewhere, a positive impression of Grant.

Belmont Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, was named after this battle.

See also


  • Columbus-Belmont State Park
    Columbus-Belmont State Park
    Columbus-Belmont State Park, on the shores of the Mississippi River in Hickman County, near Columbus, Kentucky, is the site of a Confederate fortification built during the American Civil War...

  • Illinois in the Civil War
  • Kentucky in the Civil War
    Kentucky in the Civil War
    Kentucky was a border state of key importance in the American Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln recognized the importance of the Commonwealth when he declared "I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky." In a September 1861 letter to Orville Browning, Lincoln wrote "I think to lose...

  • List of conflicts in the United States

Further reading

  • Catton, Bruce
    Bruce Catton
    Charles Bruce Catton was an American historian and journalist, best known for his books on the American Civil War. Known as a narrative historian, Catton specialized in popular histories that emphasized colorful characters and historical vignettes, in addition to the basic facts, dates, and analyses...

    . Grant Moves South. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1960. ISBN 0-316-13207-1.
  • Farina, William
    William Farina
    William Edward Farina is an American essayist and writer of popular non-fiction.- Biography :Farina was born, reared and educated in LaPorte, Indiana...

    . Ulysses S. Grant, 1861-1864: His Rise from Obscurity to Military Greatness. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7864-2977-6.
  • Grant, Ulysses S.
    Ulysses S. Grant
    Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

     Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. 2 vols. Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885–86. ISBN 0-914427-67-9.
  • Hughes, Nathaniel Cheairs, Jr. The Battle of Belmont: Grant Strikes South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8078-1968-9.
  • Smith, Jean Edward
    Jean Edward Smith
    Jean Edward Smith, Ph.D is professor at Marshall University and biographer. Currently he is the John Marshall Professor of Political Science at Marshall University and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto after having served as professor of political economy there for thirty-five years...

    . Grant. New York: Simon & Shuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-84927-5.