Monday, November 7, 2011

Battle of Belmont

Map of the Battle of Belmont
Along with the capture of Port Royal, another battle occurred 150 years ago today. In Southern Missouri, Ulysses S. Grant was ordered to make a demonstration against the Confederate forces in Columbus, KY. He decided to attack Belmont, just across the river. Grant had 3,000 men to attack around 5,000 men under General Pillow which had been placed to defend Belmont.

Grant landed his forces three miles north of Belmont, after being brought down by a small fleet from Cairo, Missouri. They were delayed in their march south because of obstructions that the Confederates had placed in the road. By the time they were in line of battle to attack, Pillow's entire division was in place from across the river. Both sides were green, and the fighting raged back and forth throughout the rest of the morning. By 2 pm the Confederates began to get the worst of the fight, and running low on ammunition, Pillow ordered a charge. It was poorly executed, and Grant drove them into a rout. The Federal cannon opened on the Confederates, and they abandoned their camp, colors and cannon to Grant's victorious troops. But the green Union army soon became just as disorganized by the Confederates in the rejoicing over their victory.

General Polk landed Confederate reinforcements from across the river North of Belmont, cutting of Grant's line of retreat. Grant later wrote:
The guns of the enemy and the report of being surrounded, brought officers and men completely under control. At first some of the officers seemed to think that to be surrounded was to be placed in a hopeless position, where there was nothing to do but surrender. But when I announced that we had cut our way in and could cut our way out just as well, it seemed a new revelation to officers and soldiers. They formed line rapidly and we started back to our boats, with the men deployed as skirmishers as they had been on entering camp. The enemy was soon encountered, but his resistance this time was feeble.1
There were not enough Confederates on hand to put up a line strong enough to resist the Union attacks, and Grant was successful in bringing his men back to the transports.

Both sides claimed victory, but the battle was actually inconclusive and proved nothing other than Grant was willing to fight. Both sides suffered similar casualties, around 100 killed, 400 wounded and 100 captured.

1. Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant (New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885) p. 276


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