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Malvern Hill
Belmont
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Battle of Belmont
by Daniel Moran

In written correspondence with both General C. F. Smith and General Ulysses S. Grant, the Assistant Adjutant General, Chauncey McKeever, of Major General John Fremont, had ordered large demonstrations of both forces against Columbus, Kentucky, along with minor demonstrations at Lovelaceville and Mayfield, on 1 November 1861.

The following day, Grant heard again from Chauncey McKeever informing Grant that Brigadier General Jeff Thompson had a force of 3,000 at Indian Ford on the Saint Francois River. He was asking Grant to send a force himself to join up with Colonel Carlin, already on the move to drive him into Arkansas. With this, Grant chose Colonel R. J. Oglesby, commanding the 8th Illinois Infantry, giving him instructions to take his regiment along with four companies of the 11th Illinois, the entire 18th and 29th Illinois Infantries, along with three companies of cavalry, and one section of Capt Adolph Scwartz' battery. This was the force embarked on steamers that set sail to Commerce, Missouri.

Colonel Olgesby's mission was to search out the enemy and pursue him. Should the force already enroute to Indian Ford drive the rebels, he was to make battle provided his own force was not dangerously outnumbered. Grant maintained his style of leadership throughout the American Civil War, by allowing Colonel Oglesby the latitude of carrying on the tactical battle as he saw fit, while Grant busied himself with the strategic picture.

On the evening of the 6th of November, Grant had left Cairo, aboard steamers with Brigadier General John McClernand's Brigade, consisting of the 27th, 30th, 31st, Illinois Infantries, Captain John Dollins' Independent Company of Illinois Cavalry, Delano's Company of Adams County Illinois Cavalry under Lieutenant J. K. Catlin, as well as Dougherty's Brigade, consisting of: 22nd Illinois Infantry and the 7th Iowa Infantry, a force consisting of roughly 3,000 men.

About two hours after midnight, a courier had informed General Grant that Colonel W.H.L. Wallace had learned that the enemy had been crossing troops from Columbus, Kentucky to Belmont, Missouri for what was a striking force against Colonel Oglesby. This manuever however, gave Grant a two fold option. He would stop this Confederate Force on the move from striking Oglesby and prevent further re-enforcements to General Price.

He wrote the orders immediately by the hand of his Assistant Adjutant General, John A. Rawlins, to embark the First Brigade under McClernand, and the Second under Colonel Henry Dougherty aboard the Naval Vessels provided by Commander Walke, landing them at the lowest point on the Missouri side of the river that the Navy would allow. He was about to strike at Belmont.

Disembarking upon low ground at Belmont, Grant had ordered two companies from each regiment thrown forward as skirmishers, with battleline drawn up behind. They had brought along no wagons at all. The skirmish line made contact at about 9:00 am and began driving the enemy backwards foot by foot and tree by tree into their own emcampments along the river bank. It was after all, these Confederate encampments that General Grant had wanted to destroy, and it appeared as if nothing in his front was strong enough to stop from reaching his objective.

The Confederates had felled an abundant amount of trees building an abatis surrounding this camp, only Grant's advance would prove whether this abatis would hold off the attack. This emcampment had been protected by means of the Captain R. A. Stewart's Louisiana Artillery emplacements on the opposite shore at Columbus, Kentucky.

The 27th Illinois Infantry had come down the river that day aboard the steamer MONTGOMERY. They landed at Belmont about 7:00 am and immediately became engaged with a body of Confederate Cavalry who had harassed a platoon sent forward of Company A, Captain Schmitt, of the 27th Illinois. A second advance required the entire company to follow suit, when Buford was re-enforced by Colonel Philip B. Fouke, 30th Illinois Infantry. Fouke had pulled in on Buford's left, then Colonel John Logan arrived with the 31st Illinois Infantry.

When Taylor's Battery arrived, Buford continued to stayed back with his own regiment, but the remainder of the Federal Force began to move on Belmont directly, Brigadier General John A. McClernand taking command of his brigade on the advance.

As McClernand became engaged about 10:30 AM, Napolean Buford moved forward with his regiment accompanied by Captain Bielaski of the brigade commander's staff. A company of federal cavalry under Captain Dollins was sent forward to the left to feel for the rebel strength. Buford's command had come across the Sicamore Abatis and here he ordered the 27th Illinois into line of battle. The right of his command in a woodline facing the Confederate works, but his left in the open and exposed to Watson's Confederate Field Artillery.

These men soon became engaged and before Buford could complete his dispositions his men began to drop with both killed and wounded. The general's staff officer, Captain Bielaski would never again return to McClernand's staff, while encouraging the men of the 27th Illinois, his horse was soon shot out from under him. His decision was to proceed forward on foot with the rest of the men, grabbing the National Colors and leading by example, he was thus mortally wounded during the assault. Shortly afterwards, in the center of the field, Colonel Jacob Gartner Lauman, commanding 7th Iowa Infantry, fell with a nasty wound to his thigh.

The officers from right to left of the regiment, were an inspiration in their leadership continuing to keep a consistent fire on the rebels among their camps. In this brief engagement the 27th Illinois had lost nine men killed and thirty wounded.

The 27th had charged from right to left after the encampment. All pre-occupied with the capture of a rebel flag that was still seen waiving from within. In a joint effort, Captain Schmitt commanding Company A, and Lieutenant Lytle reached the flag first tearing it as they both grabbed, but Lieutenant Lytle retained the prize. The 30th and 31st Illinois Infantries soon reaching the encampments from Buford's left.

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Likewise on the 6th of November, Commander Henry Walke, commanding the gunboats Tyler and Lexington proceeded down river as far as Lucas Bend. These ships protected the transports disembarking troops on the Missouri shore.

About 8:30 am Tyler and Lexington had opened up their deck guns concentrated on the enemy's batteries, under Captain R. A. Stewart, located on Iron Banks. The Confederate artillery answered back with rifled cannon, however, the navy taking notice to their shells sometimes landing as much as a half mile to their rear.

The command was given to get the gunboats out of range of their artillery and withdraw up river for a time. As the sounds of the battle of Belmont began to increase, Commander Walke was of the inclination that Grant was now heavily engaged, he once again took the gunboats back down river about 10:00 am. This time, the commander had engaged the rebel shore batteries from approximately one quarter mile closer than his second attack only an hour earlier.

It was now about 12:00 noon and in the midst of Tyler and Lexington's third attack on the Confederate Shore Batteries most of the return fire from the Kentucky shore was still overshooting. One twenty four (24) pound piece however, fired off a lucky shot which proceeded through the starboard bulwark of Tyler. Before it's path of destruction was through, it had succeeded in decapitating one sailor onboard and wounding two others.

Upon the re-embarkation of the federal troops, Commander Walke's gunboats had once again come under attack only this time by land re-enforcements, lead by Brigadier General Benjamin Cheatham. Lexington and Tyler opened up with grape and canister, then cutting their fuses to five seconds while spitting shell at them. As the flotilla began it's ascent back up river, it opened on the banks of the river with the broadside guns.

The fleets destination had been Island No. 1, where it had met up with the Rob Roy, transfered all military personnel, wounded, and prisoners, and continued north to Cairo, Illinois.

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Major General McClernand had left Cairo, Illinois with the 30th and 31st Illinois aboard the Steamer Scott and proceeded south towards Island No. 1. On the night of the 6th of November, he had disembarked and spent the night on the Kentucky shore about eleven miles north of Columbus. When the morning came all boarded the gunboats Lexington and Tyler and proceeded to their landing area two and a half miles from Belmont.

Marching down the road in column, the 27th Illinois lead the way followed by the 30th Illinois, one section of Taylor's Battery followed next, the 31st Illnois Infantry, the remainder of Taylor's Battery, with the 7th Iowa and 22nd Illinois Infantry bringing up the rear of the brigade.

McClernand had formed line of battle about a mile and a half in front of the abatis built around the rebel camp. They came into line with the 27th Illinois on the right, the 30th Illinois alongside their left, about 200 feet in the left rear of the 30th Illinois, Taylor's battery unlimbered and prepared for combat, the 31st Illnois made up the center of the line followed by 7th Iowa and 22nd Illinois Infantries making up the left. Outside of small engagements with the Confederates, the force that was going into combat this day were virtually green combat troops.

Just as they emerged moving forward, the batteries in Columbus, Kentucky took their attention of Commander Walke's gunboats and began shelling the area now occupied by the advancing blue line.

General Grant had authorized General McClernand to deploy two companies from each of his regiments ahead of the battle line with the intent of developing the enemies front. The skirmish line of the two center regiments, Company A, Captain Rees, and Company K, Captain Somerville, of the 31st Illinois, and two companies of the 30th Illinois Infantry made first contact.

The brigade commander rode forward selecting a new position for his infantry and ordered up the remainder of his command. The 27th Illinois marching past the head of a pond and the 30th and 31st Illinois crossing over a dry bed. Once these two new regiments arrived the line of battle was reformed similar to the old, keeping the 7th Iowa and the 22nd Illinois on the left. First Brigade continued to move forward and push the enemies line back towards the river bank. Captain Dollins cavalry gave chase having been given the field when the horse soldiers in grey galloped off to the river.

The Confederate Infantry seemed to be getting re-enforced from Columbus, Kentucky, Benjamin Cheatham had arrived attempting to make an attack on the Federal left flank. Colonel John Logan, commanding 31st Illinois, had managed a flanking movement thus extending the line. First Lieutenant P.H. White was detached from Taylor's Battery with one section and filled in the gap. In a joint effort both infantry and artillery thwarted the turning movement of the rebels, after three valiant attempts.

In this third attempt, as General McClernand was supervising the engagement, a ball had bounced off one of his pistol holsters. At this moment, he did not have a need to be gripping the pistol in his hand and thus it was holstered, saving the general from what would have been a very serious wound.

The fight was fierce, Captain Dresser had his horse shot out from under him, while Captain Schwartz' horse was twice wounded during the advance of his artillery pieces. Even Grant, himself, had a horse shot out from under him.

Another tremendous fire fight broke out on the right of the line with Colonel Buford and the 27th Illinois Infantry. The 11th Louisiana Infantry had just arrived and pitched into Buford. When this broke out, both the 7th Iowa and the 22nd Illinois double quicked across the rear of the 30th and 31st Illinois and joined the conflict between Buford and the enemy.

Buford's men of the 27th Illinois were the first to press into the camps themselves giving the entire Federal Line new life in the pressed attack. Upon their advance they succeeded in capturing one piece of Colonel Beltzhoover's Watson Battery. With this, Captain Schwartz directed Captain Taylor to limber up and advance his battery to within 300 yards of the enemy camps. He opened up on the camps themselves and drove what was left of the enemy back towards the river.

McClernand had ridden down to the right flank and personally congratulated Colonel Buford and the spirit of his men for being the first to enter the area. The temporary route of the enemy had allowed them to pick their way through the abatis, and the federal troops saw no need to rush in driving the Confederates into the river but broke apart in ransacking the camps that they had just captured.

Grant had noticed shortly after the camps were captured that no pursuit was being made of the Confederates now huddled down on the river bank, probably waiting to be called on for a surrender. Officers had been riding about giving patiotic speeches to the men of the fine work they had done that day, but the ultimate fruits of the victory were not followed up on.

Target practice was engaged in by the federal soldiers with captured rifles in the camp. They were firing down river at some transports that were far out of range for their marksmanship. He noticed two transports now leaving the Kentucky Shore that had been filled from boiler deck to roof top with rebel soldiers, these proved to be the re-enforcements under Brigadier General Benjamin Cheatham. He made every attempt to get the soldiers to reavert the muzzle of their weapons at the hostile vessels. With this effort being fruitless, General Grant ordered his staff officers to torch the camps.

As the troops began being ordered back towards the transports, Colonel Dougherty began directing his troops back. While bringing off his two regiment brigade, he was shot in the shoulder, then again in the elbow, and shortly afterward took another ball in the ankle. Finally his horse was shot out from under him and unable to travel in his condition fell prisoner to the advancing Confederates.

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At a very early hour, 7 November, a courier had arrived at the command tent informing Major General Leonidas Polk that a large force was heading down river with an intent of attacking Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson's forces at Bloomfield. Polk had been receiving quite a bit of intelligence and had already come to the conclusion that he was about to be attacked in force.

Later on that morning, a staff officer came by to inform him of the presence of the Federal Navy now steaming down the Mississippi River. Upon the transports landing of troops, Leonidas Polk had sent word to his division commanders of what was expected of them. Colonel Tappen, commanding the Confederate Forces at Belmont was thus notified, and Brigadier General Gideon Pillow was instructed to move across the river to support with four of his regiments. The 12th, 13th, 21st and 22nd Tennessee Infantries were chosen accordingly.

Colonel James C. Tappen, commanding the 13th Arkansas Infantry had at his disposal on the Missouri Shore, Captain Beltzhoover's Watson Battery, and one squadron of Lieutenant Colonel Miller's battalion of cavalry. Brigadier General Pillow placing the 13th Tennessee Infantry to the left of Watson's Battery to support the artillery on it's flank.

The Colonel's men residing inside of Camp (Albert Sydney) Johnston on the Missouri shore just down river of Belmont, was informed of the Federal landing. Colonel Tappen immediately dispatched Colonel Miller's Mississippi Battalion, along with Captain Bowles and Captain Montgomery upriver to observe the intent of the enemy. Captain Pollard's company of the 13th Arkansas was sent off to support Colonel Beltzhoover's battery on the left. Two more companies were sent in support of a section of guns sent forward to the northwest, the balance of the 13th Arkansas was placed on the far right about one hundred yards from the river itself.

As the cavalry came back to Tappen to report, General Pillow arrived with the 12th and 22nd Tennessee Infantry placing the 12th on the right and the 22nd Tennessee on the left. Colonel Pickett's 21st Tennessee Infantry came over shortly afterwards and came into line on the left of Watson's Battery.

Reports were being received every few minutes by the cavalry as to the advance of the enemy. General Pillow had ordered Tappan to throw forward one company of skirmishers and Captain Shelton was chosen. They remained outside the line of battle for about forty five minutes when they came rushing back. McClernand had come online and was driving them back.

While this operation was taking place, General Polk still had to make preparations for a possible attack from General C.F. Smith on his side of the river at Columbus.

Generals Polk and Cheatham along with staff, paid a visit to Brigadier General John Porter McCowan, who, had advanced the long range battery under the command of Captain R. A. Stewart of the Louisiana Pointe Coupee Battery to a position reachable to the Federal Gunboats in the river. These artillery pieces exchanged shots with the Lexington and Tyler watching the boats retreat and advance again.

About 10:00 am, General Polk sent his aide-de-camp, Major Henry Winslow across the river and notified General Pillow of his positions in Columbus. It was on this trip that any request for assistance was offered, and Pillow had asked for one regiment and a section of artillery to be held in reserve. When Polk had received this request he sent forward the 2nd Tennessee Infantry under Colonel Knox Walker along with two batteries, that of Captains W. H. Jackson and William Polk.

As events developed in Missouri, Polk began feeding more units into the combat zone. He sent the 15th Tennessee and 11th Louisiana Regiments under Colonels Carroll and Marks respectively. Marks took the 11th Lousiana further up river onboard the steamer CHARM, with the intent of turning the Federal Flank, however many only a feint in that direction.

Captain Trask, commanding the steamer CHARM was met on the Missouri Shore by an awful sight. Many of the Confederate Forces were cowering about the landing and attempting to take control of his boat. Many crying out not for him to land, that the rebels were whipped, and wanted to be taken back to the Kentucky Shore.

Trask managed to get six companies of the 11th Louisiana Infantry ashore before the mob forced their way onto the boat and demanded that the captain give the order to pull back. Trask has left the boarding planks onshore and took along with the mob, the remaining four companies of the 11th Louisiana, and Colonel Logwood's company of cavalry.

Prior to Trask's return he managed to get his boat about two hundred yards further up river and allow the remaining four companies, 11th Louisiana to jump off the boat and proceed to shore, the cavalry remained onboard with no way of landing them. Upon the return to the Kentucky shore, Captain Lodwick of the steamer KENTUCKY had agreed to return the cavalry to Missouri.

As they were crossing about 11:30 AM, the Federal Force mounted against Belmont had already set fire to the camps and mounted Battery B, First Illinois Light Artillery under Captain Ezra Taylor on the banks. Both the Federal Gunboats and the batteries on shore had picked up on the CHARM as their sole target, however the ship managed to make it back to the Missouri Shoreline.

Reports were being received every few minutes by the cavalry as to the advance of the enemy. General Pillow had ordered Tappan to throw forward one company of skirmishers and Captain Shelton was chosen. They remained outside the line of battle for about forty five minutes when they came rushing back. McClernand had come online and was driving them back.

The fight remained general for about and hour and a half, when finally Tappan's command was forced back along the banks of the Mississippi. They waited here for about a half an hour, not being called on to surrender he marched them up river to connect with the 2nd and 13th Tennessee Infantry now arriving on shore.

About 12:30 pm, Brigadier General Cheatham was ordered to send forward one brigade to the Missouri Shore. He chose that of Colonel Preston Smith. This brigade consisted of the 154th Tennessee Infantry under Lieutenant Colonel Marcus J. Wright, and "the Mississippi Regiment" commanded by Colonel A. K. Blythe. It was these troops that General Grant had spotted while his command had disorganized itself with camp looting.

In light of the confusion the Federal Batteries were making on his men, as well as the transports, General Cheatham with staff embarked aboard the steamer PRINCE. General Cheatham himself was going to organize the Confederate mob now cowering on the river bank and lead them personally in a grand flank attack on the enemy.

He sent an orderly back to General Polk notifying him that Captain Melancthon Smith had his battery posted in the rear of the town of Columbus and requested of Polk to order it to the river bank and begin to shell the camp which was now in possession of the federals.

Upon Benjamin Cheatham's arrival in Missouri he discovered what was left of the 13th Arkansas, 2nd and 13th Tennessee Infantries. He marched them down river towards the Federal transports, the 13th Arkansas Infantry taking the lead of the 2nd and 13th Tennessee.

These troops proceeded about one half mile when they had run head long into a small body of federal cavalry and while turning to the left General Cheatham's men discovered the 7th Iowa and 31st Illinois Infantry. Cheatham had charged them, not once, not twice, but three times using the bayonet. In these charges, the 13th Tennessee Infantry had lost in casualties two civilians that had joined their ranks, Mr. Archie Houston of Tennessee and Mr. Charles L. Roberts of Alabama. Houston fell early having been wounded in the face by a bursting shell, and Mr. Roberts was killed outright early in the engagement.

Although it's mentioned in the Confederate after action reports that these bayonet charges had "routed" the enemy, the truth of the matter was, Grant and his command had met the objective they came after. The Confederate Camp in Belmont was ablaze and their mission thus accomplished began an orderly retreat back to the Federal Transports.

Major General Leonidas Polk's objective was simply to drive the Federals out of the Belmont area and retake control of the camps on the Missouri Shore. Although burned to the ground, Leonidas Polk's command had accomplished their objective as well. The Federal Army had retreated yielding the destroyed camps to their Confederate Counterparts. It was viewed by the Confederates as a victory.

The casualties on both sides amounted to about nine hundred all together. Some of the Federal wounded were returned to Grant's command by the Confederates in a most deplorable condition having remained out on the battlefield for twenty four hours or more. In carting away the wounded, the Brigade Surgeon, Doctor J. H. Brinton counted himself fortunate to have obtained two broken down wagons from the Quartermaster's department, and used them the best he could upon the withdrawal to the transports.

He listed the dead and wounded at 322 of Grant's forces. This was submitted as soon as possible with the casualty report of the 7th Iowa Infantry still not yet reported. Of these Federal Regiments in combat that day, Surgeon Gordon of the 30th Illinois Infantry, and Assistant Surgeon Whitnall of the 31st Illinois Infantry were boss repoted captured by the rebels. A military standard for treating surgeons as prisoners of war had not yet been established by the beligerents yet, and won't develope a satisfactory system of exchange until after the battle of Shiloh.

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This battle had caused yet another Gideon Pillow whining episode. Shortly afterwards, General Pillow had submitted a letter through the Confederate Government in Richmond to the honorable Judah P. Benjamin stating reasons for wishing to resign from Confederate Service.

In this letter, Pillow had complained about Polk's ability to manage the battle and blaming him for leaving Pillow on the Missouri shore unsupported for quite sometime. Too many personal testimonies declared otherwise, Pillow had plenty of support given him upon his request, and his request was simply taken as he was...a bellyacher.

His bellyaching had reached to the highest levels of Confederate Government and proved nothing more than a thorn in their flesh. If it had not been for the battlefield leadership of one Brigadier General Benjamin Cheatham, Grant may have gone further and driven Pillow into the river.

Major General Polk, had questioned the Colonel of the 12th Tennessee Infantry the following year in February 1862, about the events that would have lead Brigadier General Pillow to complain to the government about lack of military support at Belmont the previous November. Of Colonel Russell, then commanding the 12th Tennessee, asked whether the regiment was indeed out of ammunition during the fight that day. Russell had responded "Yes." He furthermore asked him if when his regiment returned to the river back was ammunition found in good supply waiting for him when he got there? Again, the colonel answered "Yes, it was."

According to Colonel Russell, Pillow had given the order to charge with the bayonet while his messengers were down on the riverbank retrieving the ammunition. Upon a third question, Polk had asked him what had influenced Pillow to charge with the bayonet, Russell could only answer that he did not know. He did state that Pillow's line of assault never even made it to the federal battle line, that it was stopped short some 50 to 75 yards of the line.


The Battle of Malvern Hill written by Daniel Moran.
Copyright © 2001 Daniel Moran