It is late at night and I want to get a letter into the Mail for you before it closes. As I have just finished a very hasty letter to Julia that contains about what I would write, and having something els [else] to do myself, I will have my clerk copy it on to this.
Day before yesterday, I left here with about 3,000 men in five steamers, convoyed by two Gun Boats, and proceeded down the river, to within twelve miles of Columbus. The next morning the Boats were dropped down just out of range of the enemies [enemy’s] Batteries, and the troops debarked –
When all ready we proceeded about one mile toward Belmont opposite Columbus: where I formed the troops into lines, and ordered two Companies from each Regiment to deploy as skirmishers, and push on through the woods and discover the position of the enemy. They had gone but a little way when they were fired upon and the Ball may be said to have fairly opened.
The whole command with the exception of a small reserve, were then deployed in like manner with the first, and ordered forward. The order was obeyed with great alacrity, the men all showing great courage. I can say with gratification that every Colonel without a single exception, set an example for their commands that inspired a confidence that will always insure victory when there is the slightest possibility of gaining one. I feel truly proud to command such men. From here we fought our way from tree to tree through the woods to Belmont, about 2 1/2 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 the limbs making a sort of Abattis. Our men charged through making the victory complete, giving us possession of their Camp and Garrison Equipage Artillery and every thing else.
We got a great many prisoners, the majority however succeeded in getting aboard 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.
The objective of the expedition was to prevent the enemy from sending a force into Missouri to cut off troops I had sent there for a special purpose, and to prevent reinforcing Price.
Besides being well fortified at Columbus their numbers far exceed 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 full a 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 me a confidence in the Officers and men of this command, that will enable me to lead them in any future engagement without fear of the result. Genl. McClernand…and my self each had our Horses shot under us. Most of the Field Officers met with the same loss, besides nearly one third of them being Killed or wounded themselves. As near as I can ascertain our loss was about 250 Killed wounded and missing.
I write in great haste to get this in the Office tonight.
Ulysses S. Grant to Jesse R. Grant (father), Cairo, Illinois, November 8, 1861
Ulysses S. Grant
In 1861, Grant was not a hero. Troubled with a military record from the peace years, he kept getting passed over for field command and was left in the training camps in the early war months.
On November 7, the thirty-nine year old brigadier general got his battle chance. But there was a catch…he didn’t have orders to cross the Mississippi river and engage the Confederates in Belmont, Missouri. Though Grant and his Union troops experienced success in taking the enemy camp, they were eventually pushed back, forced to recross the river, and ended where they started – Cairo, Illinois. So it was technically a tactical defeat; still, it gave Grant and his troops a much needed confidence boost. (1862 is coming…)
Sitting at the juncture of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, the city of Cairo boasted a population of about 2,000 in 1860. During the Civil War, the city was a key supply base and large training camp for the Union armies in the West.
Oh, and the locals pronounce the city name as “Care-O” but others say “Kay-Row”…
Grant declares victory. History books may fault him with failure at Belmont, but in his own mind, he accomplish his mission. There’s certainly danger in an over-confident, naïve leader. Was that Grant? Or was he focusing on the positive aspect that he had battle tested his command and felt assured that they were ready for a “real” victory?
He clearly describes the conflict from his perspective and focuses on the positive aspects. Grant is recovering or learning in 1861 – depending on your perspective. Seeing the Confederates run and the discipline of his troops evidently bolstered his confidence and prepared him to plan a new maneuver for the early months of 1862.