Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Following a Confederate Soldier through the Civil War: Battle #1 The Battle of Belmont

William Porter Dickson enlisted in September of 1861 to fight as a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. In the supplement to his 1911 Civil War Questionnaire he listed eight battles in which his company, Company D of the 12th Tennessee Infantry Regiment, took place. I am going to learn more about his company's role in the Civil War by researching these eight battles.

from William Porter Dickson's 1911 Questionnaire

Battle #1: The Battle of Belmont, November 7, 1861

Map of the Battle of Belomt
Image from Wikipedia - public domain
This battle is important as it was the first conflict for Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant who would later become the General of the Union army. He brought about 3,000 troops down the Mississippi to attack the Confederate fortress at Columbus, Kentucky which was across the river from Belmont, Missouri. After learning that Confederate troops had crossed over to Belmont, Grant followed and surprised the Confederate army and destroyed their camp. They were quickly reinforced by troops still in Columbus and Grant took his men and left. (Information from Wikipedia.)

I'm sharing articles from two newspapers which wrote about this battle in 1861. The first is a series of articles from a newspaper in Tennessee, the state where William's family lived, to show how the battle was reported in the South. The second is from the North in Cleveland, an article that includes a portion of a letter written by Grant to his father the day after this battle.

Official Report of General Grant, Clarksville Weekly Chronicle; Clarksville, 
Tennesse, 22 Nov 1861, page 2, column 3; digital image,
 ( accessed 27 Aug 2014) 

Gen. Grant, the Hessian commander at Cairo, in his official report of the battle of Belmont, near Columbus, with all the cool assurance of a practiced liar, says he met the enemy and drove them, step by step, across the river, burnt all their tents, and started back with all their artillery four pieces of which they had to leave behind for want of transportation --- and that the rebels recrossed the river and followed in his rear to the boats. Such a slurring over a most disastrous defeat never disgraced any commander in Christendom, and yet the poor fools whom he intends to bull, will swallow the falsehood with unquestioning credulity.

Belmont Fight, Clarksville Weekly Chronicle; Clarksville, Tennesse, 22 Nov 1861,
page 2, column 3; digital image, (
 accessed 27 Aug 2014) 
In the late fight at Belmont, the Shawneetown Regiment, alone, lost four hundred in killed, wounded and missing, and yet the lieing [sic] miscreant, Grant, speaks of the battle as a mere skirmish.

Battle of Belmont List of Casualties, Clarksville Weekly Chronicle; Clarksville, 
Tennessee,  22 Nov 1861, page 2, column 3; digital image, 
( accessed 27 Aug 2014) 

Battle of Belmont --- Official List of Casualties. 

The following is the official recapitulation of the casualties in killed, wounded and missing of the battle of Belmont...  [Hopefully, you can read the clipping. I will point out the William's regiment, the 12th, is not listed. However, the TNGenWeb site I mentioned yesterday about this regiment says that the 12th, 13th & 21st Tennessee were together with the 13th Arkansas Infantry.]

Official Dispatch of the Federal Commander at Belmont, Clarksville Weekly Chronicle;Clarksville, Tennessee, 22 Nov 1861, page 2, column 5; digital image, ( accessed 27 Aug 2014) 

Official Dispatch of the Federal Commander at Belmont.

The St. Louis Republican gives the following as the official report of General Grant, announcing the result of the fight at Belmont:
CAIRO, Nov. 7,
To Capt. C. McKeever, St. Louis:
     We met the rebels about 9 o'clock this morning, two and a half miles from Belmont. We drove them step by step into their camp and across the river.
     We burnt their tents and started on our return with all their artillery; for want of transportation had to leave four pieces in the woods.
     The rebels re-crossed the river and followed in our rear to our place of debarkation.
     The loss is heavy on both sides.
                                                              U. S. GRANT, Brig. Gen.

And now for news from the North printed in the "Cleveland Daily Leader"... this one is large so I'll just share a few pieces. Again, this is actually from a letter written by Grant to his father the day after the battle.

General Grant's Account of the Battle of Belmont, Cleveland Daily Leader; 
Cleveland,  Ohio, 14 Nov 1861, page 1, column 1;digital image, ( accessed 27 Aug 2014) 

From here we fought our way from tree to tree through the woods to Belmont, about two and a half miles, the enemy contesting every foot of ground. Here the enemy had strengthened their position by felling the trees for two or three hundred yards, and sharpening their limbs, forming a sort of abatis [?]. Our men charged through, making the victory complete, giving us possession of their camp and garrison equipage, artillery and everything else.

We got a great many prisoners. The majority, however, succeeded in getting on board their steamers and pushing across the river. We burned everything possible and started back, having accomplished all that we went for, and even more. Belmont is entirely covered by the batteries from Columbus, and is worth nothing as a military position --- cannot be held without Columbus.

Besides being fortified at Columbus, their number far exceeded ours, and it would have been folly to have attacked them. We found the Confederates well-armed and brave. On our return, stragglers that had been left in our rear (now front) fired into us, and more recrossed the river and gave us battle for a full mile, and afterwards at the boats when we were embarking.

There was no hasty retreating or running away. Taking into account the object of the expedition, the victory was most complete. It has given us confidence in the officers and men of this command, that will enable us to lead them in any future engagement without fear of the result. Gen. McClernand (who by the way acted with great coolness and courage throughout, and proved that he is a soldier as well as statesman,) and myself each had our horses shot under us. Most of the field officers met with the same loss, beside nearly one-third of them begin themselves killed or wounded. As near as I can ascertain, our loss was about 250 killed, wounded and missing.

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