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Chapter 24: the battle of Belmont.

  • Grant's claims.
  • -- Polk's dispatch. -- Grant's report. -- Grant's object. -- Polk's preparation. -- Pillow's account of the opening of the battle. -- Grant's March. -- the Federal force. -- first engagement. -- Confederate camps captured. -- Federal retreat and rout. -- Polk's reinforcement. -- Grant's escape. -- Confederate strength. -- the losses. -- results. -- congratulations.

On the 7th of November, 1861, a battle was fought at Belmont, Missouri, opposite Columbus, Kentucky. General Grant's reports and authorized biographies claim this as a victory, and that it was the culmination of an expedition undertaken for good strategic reasons, and justified by complete success. It is admitted that such was not the popular estimate of the time; and elaborate apologies have been framed to prove the substantial advantages gained by the fight. The merits of a hard fighter, of boldness, persistence, and coolness, will be cheerfully accorded to General Grant by friend and foe alike; and his reputation as a soldier need not rest on this battle. His first essay was a [367] disaster to his arms. The verdict of the hour must be the verdict of history.

General Polk's dispatch, announcing the battle of Belmont, and summing up its results, was as follows:

headquarters first division, Western Department, Columbus, Kentucky, November 7, 1861.
The enemy came down on the opposite side of the river to Belmont to-day, about 7,500 strong, landed under cover of gunboats, and attacked Colonel Tappan's camp. I sent over three regiments under General Pillow to his relief; then at intervals three others, then General Cheatham.

I then took over two others in person, to support a flank movement which I had directed. It was a hard-fought battle, lasting from half-past 10 A. M. to 5 P. M. They took Beltzhoover's battery, four pieces of which were recaptured. The enemy were thoroughly routed. We pursued them to their boats, seven miles, and then drove their boats before us. The road was strewed with their dead and wounded, guns, ammunition, and equipments. Our loss, considerable; theirs, heavy.

L. Polk, Major-General commanding. To general headquarters, through General A. S. Johnston.

This report, made on the day of battle, is substantially accurate, except that the force of the enemy is over-estimated.

General Grant represents his purpose and procedure in this movement as follows, in his report from Cairo, of November 12, 1861:

On the evening of the 6th instant I left this place with 2,850 men, of all arms, to make a reconnaissance toward Columbus. The object of the expedition was to prevent the enemy from sending out reinforcements to Price's army in Missouri, and also from cutting off columns that I had been directed to send out from this place and Cape Girardeau, in pursuit of Jeff Thompson. Knowing that Columbus was strongly garrisoned, I asked General Smith, commanding at Paducah, Kentucky, to make demonstrations in the same direction. He did so by ordering a small force to Mayfield, and another in the direction of Columbus, not to approach nearer, however, than twelve or fifteen miles. I also sent a small force on the Kentucky side, with orders not to approach nearer than Elliott's Mills, some twelve miles from Columbus.

The expedition under my immediate command was stopped about nine miles below here on the Kentucky shore, and remained until morning. All this served to distract the enemy, and led him to think he was to be attacked in his strongly-fortified position. At daylight we proceeded down the river to a point just out of range of the rebel guns and debarked on the Missouri shore. From here the troops were marched by flank for about one mile toward Belmont, and then drawn up in line of battle, a battalion also having been left as a reserve near the transports. Two companies from each regiment, five skeletons in number, were then thrown out as skirmishers, to ascertain the position of the enemy. It was but a few moments before we met him, and a general engagement ensued.

On the 3d of November Grant had sent Colonel Oglesby with four regiments (3,000 men) from Commerce, Missouri, toward Indian Ford, [368] on the St. Francis River, by way of Sikestown. On the 6th he sent him another regiment, from Cairo, with orders to turn his column toward New Madrid, and, when he reached the nearest point to Columbus, to await orders. The ostensible purpose of this movement was to cut off reinforcements going to General Price, and to pursue Jeff Thompson. There could not have been at this time any serious apprehension of Jeff Thompson, whose band had dissolved; and, as there were no such reinforcements going to Price, the detachment was, in these points of view, futile-as, indeed, was the entire expedition. Oglesby's position and strength might have supported Grant in case of successful lodgment, or have afforded him a secure line of retreat, in case he had been cut off from his gunboats; but no such intentions have been admitted by General Grant. Unless the whole movement was tentative, with ulterior designs on New Madrid, it does not seem clear why so large a contingent should not rather have been massed with Grant's command in his assault on Belmont.

General Grant says his object was “to make a reconnaissance.” Badeau says:

At two o'clock, on the morning of the 7th, he received intelligence that the rebels had been crossing troops from Columbus to Belmont the day before, with the purpose of cutting off Oglesby. 1 He at once determined on converting the demonstration on Belmont into an attack, as it was now necessary to be prompt in preventing any further efforts of the rebels either to reinforce Price or to interrupt Oglesby. He still, however, had no intention of remaining at Belmont, which was on low ground, and could not have been held an hour under the guns at Columbus. His idea was simply to destroy the camps, capture or disperse the enemy, and get himself away before the rebel garrison could be reinforced.

Belmont was the inappropriate name given a settlement of three houses on the western bank of the Mississippi River, opposite Columbus. It was situated in a dreary, flat “bottom-land,” cut up with sloughs, heavily timbered, and approached from the river by two natural terraces or banks. On the upper bank, a clearing had been made in the forest of some 700 acres. In this clearing was the encampment of Colonel Tappan's Thirteenth Arkansas Regiment, and a light battery named “Watson's,” under Colonel Beltzhoover, placed there as an outpost of the stronghold at Columbus.

General Polk had information that led him to expect an attack on Columbus. Learning, early on the morning of the 7th, of Oglesby's march, he believed the attack would be general, and this opinion was confirmed by the Federal demonstrations on the Kentucky side of the river. The approach of Grant's gunboats and transports was observed, [369] though a bend in the river and an intervening forest concealed the landing and subsequent movements of his troops. While preparations, thought sufficient to defend the position at Belmont against Grant's column, were made, General Polk was unwilling to weaken the force at Columbus too much, lest the weight of the attack should fall there. Accordingly, he retained the greater part of his troops at Columbus, until the failure of the enemy to advance against it and the necessities of the case developed at Belmont induced him to cross over in force.

The language of General Pillow's report will best describe the opening of the battle on the Confederate side. He says:

Under instructions delivered in person by Major-General Polk, on the morning of the 7th inst;, I crossed to the village of Belmont, on the Missouri shore, four regiments of my division, and, as rapidly as possible, placed them in position about four hundred yards from the river-bank, in line with Colonel Tappan's regiment and Beltzhoover's battery, to receive the large force of the enemy advancing on the small encampment at that place. These regiments, from measles and diseases incident to the Mississippi bottom, and absentees, had been reduced below 500 men for duty, as shown by the daily morning report. They were formed into line of battle, with Colonel Wright's regiment on the left of Beltzhoover's battery, and with Colonels Pickett's, Freeman's, Tappan's, and Russell's regiments (the last now under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Bell), on the right of the battery. These regiments, all told, numbered about 2,500.

General Pillow threw forward three companies of skirmishers, who disputed the ground until his alignment was hastily made. He was unacquainted with the ground and hurried for time. The Confederate line of battle was formed in somewhat crowded order, in the edge of the forest, nearly parallel with the river, with the “clearing,” or open ground, behind it. The Federal column had landed around a bend of the river, and followed the road, which ran from that landing nearly parallel with the course of the river at Belmont, and a couple of miles back from it. A line of ponds and sloughs extended through the forest from the landing to Belmont, and the road turned the head of these ponds and entered the Confederate position on its extreme left. When Grant was opposite to the Confederate position, he formed line of battle, and entered the woods to attack it. The sloughs, at this season, were dry, and offered no serious obstacle. lie engaged the skirmishers sent out by Pillow, at twenty minutes past nine o'clock, and at about ten o'clock encountered his line of battle.

Grant's strength was apparently greatly over-estimated by both Polk and Pillow, and by the Confederates generally, who placed it at 7,500. Grant, in his report, puts it at 2,850, and, in a letter to his father, at 3,000. Badeau says there were 3,114 men. A soldier correspondent, writing from the battle-field, states the force engaged at 3,500. General Badeau's statement, as the most deliberate, ought to be the [370] most correct, though much below the average strength of Federal regiments at that time. The “skeleton” regiments, as General Grant calls them, were made up of picked men. The Confederate exaggeration of their numbers may well be accepted by these hardy Northwestern volunteers as a high tribute to their prowess, which on that day was very great. But it was in part due to their more open formation in line of battle, The Federal regiments were separated in their advance by the nature of the ground, and the men themselves were compelled to employ a looser order.

The Federal force was composed of five regiments of infantry, Taylor's battery of light artillery, and two squadrons of cavalry. The cavalry, following the road, in advance and skirmishing, turned the Confederate left. The infantry was arranged as follows: On the right, the Twenty-seventh Illinois, Colonel N. B. Buford; next, the Thirty-first Illinois, Colonel John A. Logan; next, the Thirtieth Illinois, Colonel Philip B. Fouke-making a brigade, under command of Brigadier-General John A. McClernand. The rear of the column, forming the left wing, was composed of the Twenty-second Illinois, Colonel H. Dougherty, and the Seventh Iowa, Colonel Lauman, and was commanded by Colonel Dougherty. The first attack was made by the right wing; but, as it advanced, the Twenty-seventh Illinois, in passing around the head of a pond, was separated from the command, and found itself on the left flank of the Confederates. McClernand's other two regiments struck them on the right flank and front; and Dougherty's brigade, passing behind the Thirtieth and Thirty-first Illinois to their right, occupied the interval, and thus became the centre.

Whether there was really a greater disparity of force than the Federal writers suppose, or, whatever the cause, the Federal army presented the greater front, and attacked both in front and on each flank of the Confederates at the same time. Such is Pillow's statement, and it is corroborated by the reports of the Northern generals. McClernand was disappointed that the movement of the Second Brigade was not made on the left, as originally intended, “which,” he says, “would have perfected a line sufficient to inclose the enemy's camp on all sides accessible to us, thus enabling us to command the river above and below them, and prevent the crossing of reinforcements from Columbus, insuring his capture as well as defeat.” Later on he says, “A combined movement was now made upon three sides of the enemy's works.”

The battle opened at about half-past 10 o'clock, with an assault upon the right front and flank of the Confederate line, by the Thirtieth and Thirty-first Illinois and the artillery, led by General McClernand. He says, “The struggle, which was continued for half an hour with great severity, threw our troops into temporary disorder, but they were promptly rallied.” They were, in fact, repulsed by Tappan's and Russell's [371] regiments. On the Confederate left, Buford's Twenty-seventh Illinois, aided by the cavalry, assailed Wright's regiment, which was supported by Beltzhoover's guns, and partially defended by a rough abattis. This attack was also repulsed.

Colonel Dougherty led the Second Brigade in such a direction that he encountered the Confederate centre, composed of the regiments of Pickett and Freeman. The whole Federal line advanced through rough forest and fallen timber, which, though it impeded and annoyed, gave great advantages of shelter. This applied especially to the Second Brigade. Pickett's and Freeman's regiments, being in the cleared ground, were more exposed. They were broken several times by the vigorous assault of Dougherty's men, but were as often rallied by the officers, and by General Pillow in person. Dougherty, in his report, says:

The enemy for some time obstinately resisted any advance at this point, and a storm of musketry raged along the whole line of the Second Brigade.... Step by step we drove them, until they reached a secondary bank, such as abound through the river-bottoms of the West, under which they were protected from our fire; and, when they made another desperate stand for about thirty minutes, our fire became so hot that they retreated to some open ground near their encampment, covered by a rude abattis of felled timber, strewing the ground as they went with guns, coats, and canteens. Our brave troops followed them with shouts, pouring volley after volley into them. Here the enemy's movements at this point gave unmistakable evidence of being panic-stricken and defeated, retreating to the river and up the river-bank behind the shelter of some brush and timber.

The resistance was, indeed, even more resolute than this Federal report concedes. The artillery-ammunition gave out, and a regiment and battalion also fell short of ammunition. Pillow ordered a bayonet-charge, which was made gallantly, driving back the Federal line. But it retired with such a deadly fire that the Confederates in turn fell back to their original position. This was repeated a second and a third time, the Federals being each time driven back, but, in the final charge, prevailing. Pillow says he ordered his line to fall back to the river-bank. Of course, raw troops could not, under such circumstances, successfully execute this maneuver, and his line reached the river-bank a broken and disordered mass.

The resistance to the attack on the right and left had been similar but even more stubborn. Indeed, the lines, after the first shock, were continuous, and the contest general. The Thirtieth and Thirty-first Illinois, led and encouraged by both Grant and McClernand, thrice attacked, and were thrice driven back by the bayonet. At length, the entire Federal army was united in a final combined attack, before which the Confederates gave way. . This was about two o'clock. The Federal army, emerging from the woods, captured the abandoned guns of the [372] Watson Battery, and entered the Confederate encampment on three sides, almost simultaneously, the honor being conceded to the Twenty-seventh Illinois of being the first to break through the obstacles, and snatch the prize of victory. Thus ended the first engagement of the day, in the apparent rout and total defeat of the Confederates.

It is very probable that the Union army would not have allowed the Confederates to escape up the river-bank without pursuit, if their onward career had not been sharply checked at the secondary bank. Just as the shattered Confederates took refuge behind this bank, Pillow, who had sent to Polk for an additional regiment, found Knox Walker's regiment, the Second Tennessee, coming to his support. He pushed it forward to the edge of the bank, and it sustained the attack of the Federals, until the dispersed and beaten Confederates had made their way through the timber, up the river-bank, and, with the tenacity of American soldiers, had rallied for a renewal of the contest. But, though Walker's regiment maintained itself stubbornly for a while, it could not bear the entire brunt of the contest under the deadly fire of the Federals, flushed with success. At last it retired up the bank, keeping up a steady fire as it fell back.

When the Federals had obtained possession of the whole river-front of the camps, they advanced to the bank, and opened an artillery-fire on Columbus, and on some crossing transports, which they drove back. The heavy guns at Columbus now opened on the Federals with serious purpose. So crushing was this cannonade, plunging in from the commanding heights opposite, that the Federals rapidly recoiled. It was seen that their position at Belmont was not tenable. At the same time, they learned that General Polk had been crossing reinforcements, and was landing them some distance above, with the evident design of cutting off the retreat to the transports. Badeau says,2 Grant's troops were “plundering,” while their colonels, “equally raw, shouted, and made stump-speeches for the Union.” Grant was more complimentary at the time, attributing much of the gallantry of his troops “to the coolness and presence of mind of the officers, particularly the colonels.” Doubtless, they were a good deal disorganized. Badeau continues:

He (Grant) was anxious to get back to his own steamers before these reenforcements could arrive, and strove to reform his men, but in vain; they behaved like so many schoolboys, until, finally, to stop the plundering, he ordered his staff-officers to set the camps on fire.

Gathering their booty and captured guns, the column began its retreat to the transports and the protection of the gunboats.

The account of this retreat is not related in the Federal reports with candor. It is hard to see the fruits of victory wrested away; and the [373] disastrous rout they suffered is denied, or glozed over, in all these narratives. The facts are these: During the retreat of his beaten regiment, Pillow found at the landing, some distance above the battleground, two regiments-Marks's Eleventh Louisiana and Carroll's Fifteenth Tennessee. Pillow determined to try to retrieve the fortunes of the day, and ordered Colonel Marks to lead these two regiments in pursuit, while he would support him with the fragments of the regiments then reforming. His directions were, “to lead the advance in double quick time through the wood and to the enemy's rear, and to attack him with vigor.”

The discrepancies between the Federal and Confederate accounts of this second engagement can be reconciled only by supposing that, in approaching the Federals through the woods, Marks's line of battle encountered the head of their column at such an angle that his extreme flankers on the right were interposed on the line of retreat. These, of course, offered no serious obstacle to that column going home. They were pushed aside. When the column came in collision with it, Badeau says:

It was instantly cried, “We are surrounded I” and at first some confusion prevailed. An officer of Grant's staff, lately from civil life, rode up, a little flustered, with the intelligence. “Well,” said Grant, “if that is so, we must cut our way out as we cut our way in.” The men were brave enough, but it had not occurred to them before that, being surrounded, there was anything to do but surrender.

Colonel Dougherty, in his report made at the time, attributes this remark to himself; and a newspaper reporter puts it in the mouth of Colonel Logan; so that, after all, there was a consensus here in a sentiment as old as Pelopidas-or at least as his biographer. Badeau adds:

As soon as the troops found that their leader meant to fight, the confusion was past; they promptly charged and dispersed the rebel line, which made but a faint resistance, not half so vigorous as that of the morning, and disappeared a second time over the banks.

The Confederates know nothing of this engagement, and it is not to be explained except as above, unless it was a mere stampede occasioned by the appearance of some squad of stragglers, which, lost in the woods, fired before it fled.

There was an engagement, however, which, though almost ignored by their writers, was disastrous enough to Grant's army. Pillow says:

Marks attacked the column, and the enemy after, a feeble resistance, broke and fled, in great disorder, and was hotly pursued by our troops.

In this pursuit, Marks's command was aided by the troops that had been rallied by Pillow, and by General Cheatham, who had preceded his [374] brigade, and gave his personal assistance in this action. They assailed the Federals on both flanks, and routed them. Polk, in his report, describes this part of the field, over which he passed later, as strewed with wounded and dead.

Badeau denies any rout, and says, “The hot pursuit was after the national troops got aboard.” General Grant says in his letter to his father:

There was no hasty retreating or running away. Taking into account the object of the expedition, the victory was complete.

General McClernand, with more frankness, says:

In passing through the woods, the Thirtieth, the Seventh, and the Twenty-second, encountered a heavy fire on their right and left successively, which was returned with such vigor and effect as to drive back the superior force of the enemy, and silence his firing, but not until the Seventh and Twenty-second had been thrown into temporary disorder. Here Lieutenant-Colonel Wentz, of the Seventh, and Captain Markley, of the Thirtieth, with several privates, were killed, and Colonel Dougherty, of the Twenty-second, and Major McClurken, of the Thirtieth, who was near me, were severely wounded.

General McClernand this day lost three horses.

Colonel Dougherty says:

At this time the Seventh Iowa was in rear of the Twenty-second Illinois, and was somewhat confused; all the field-officers and many of the company-officers of that brave regiment being either killed, wounded, or taken by the enemy.

Colonel Dougherty was called away; but, after an interval, returned to this command. He continues his account thus:

On my return I found many of the Seventh Iowa considerably scattered; while cheering them up and hurrying them forward, I received a small shot in the shoulder, and one on the elbow, and shortly afterward a ball through the ankle; my horse was also shot in several places, which fell with me, and soon expired. I found myself unable to travel, and was consequently captured by the rebels, who treated me with respect and kindness.

The rear-guard of the Federals did, in fact, make a stubborn defense, and suffered severely, but were so beaten and broken that they fled into the woods. Pillow halted his men to reform, and drew them off to await the arrival of the reinforcements which had landed and were now advancing under General Polk in person. There had been delay in landing the reinforcements, and a failure to get ashore some artillery, owing to neglect of the transport to provide staging, and from the nature of the river-bank there. Polk, as soon as he got his men ashore, attempted to lead them so as to interpose them between Grant and his transports, but the haste of the retreat saved the Federal column. On [375] coming up with Pillow, Polk ordered the pursuit to be renewed, himself taking command and directing the movement. The troops he had brought up were Smith's One Hundred and Fifty-fourth Tennessee Militia Regiment, Neeley's Fourth Tennessee, and Blythe's Mississippi Battalion. These were part of Cheatham's command. As the Confederates advanced, they found the road strewed with abandoned plunder and material of war. The hospital of the enemy was captured, with some seventy wounded. Four of the six guns lost in the morning were recovered, and one of the enemy's guns was taken. Every evidence of precipitate retreat was found.

The gunboats Taylor and Lexington, which had convoyed the transports, thrice engaged the Confederate batteries during the day, and received some shells which killed and wounded several men. The transports also found themselves within range of the batteries, and all drew off farther up the river than the point of debarkation.

When the retreating column came up, it found the small reserve already on board, and a hasty embarkation began. Before it was concluded, the whole Confederate force suddenly appeared from a cornfield, in which it had been deployed, and fronting along the river-bank, in line of battle more than a mile in length, opened a heavy fire upon the transports. The cables were cut, and the boats put off hastily, the gunboats firing, and doing what they could to cover the retreat. General Grant was one of the last on board. Sliding his horse down the bank, he went in on a plank pushed ashore for him. The boats ran the gantlet, and, when well up the river, stopped to take on board a mass of fugitives who had fled along the bank. The Confederates claimed that the slaughter on the transports was immense, and their own loss trifling. Their adversaries insisted that they themselves had met no serious loss, but that the slaughter on shore was dreadful. It is probable that the troops crowded on the transports suffered more than those in line of battle. It was sunset when the action ended.

The Confederates had on the west bank of the river that day ten regiments and a battalion, possibly 5,500 men. It has been seen that in the first engagement the Federals had the advantage of numbers and of the ground. In the second encounter, though the Confederate attack was made by only two regiments and the fragments of the routed army, and three Federal regiments were certainly engaged, yet it was upon the rear-guard of a retreating column, so that the contest was not greatly unequal. The third engagement was merely a parting salute to an escaped foe. Had Polk's force been at that landing half an hour sooner, he would probably have struck there a decisive blow.

Six hours of hard fighting had inflicted cruel losses on both sides. In Beltzhoover's battery 45 horses were killed, and all but one wounded. The Confederates lost 105 men killed, 419 wounded, and 117 missing [376] --total, 641; of whom 562 were in the five regiments originally engaged.

General Polk says in his report:

The number of prisoners taken by the enemy, as shown by their list furnished us, was 106, all of whom have returned by exchange.

After making a liberal exchange of prisoners with the enemy, 100 of their prisoners still remain in my hands, one stand of colors, and a fraction over 1,000 stand of arms, with knapsacks, ammunition, and other military stores.

The Rev. P. C. Headley, in his “Life of Grant,” says, “The rebels lost 2,800 men.”

Badeau says:

At Belmont, General Grant lost 485 men in killed, wounded, and missing; 125 of his wounded fell into the hands of the rebels; he carried off 175 prisoners and two guns.

General Polk, writing November 10, 1861, could not be mistaken as to the number of prisoners. The number of dead must have been much over 100; and, if the wounded were in any ordinary ratio to the other losses, the writer is constrained to believe that General Badeau is in error in his statement of the losses of Grant's army at Belmont. The universal testimony of those who remained masters of the field made it much greater than he sets it down.

General Grant, writing to his father soon after the battle, says:

General McClernand and myself each had our horses shot under us. Most of the field-officers met with the same loss, besides one-third of them being killed and wounded.

Pillow, in his report, says:

We buried of the enemy, 295. The enemy, under a flag of truce, were engaged at the same labor a large portion of the day. We have near 200 Federal prisoners.

Major J. D. Webster, making report to General Grant of the flag of truce sent, asking permission to bury their dead, says he had a working-party on the 9th thus employed; and learns from the Confederate commissioner that “the number (of Federals) reported buried by them (the Confederates) on the field yesterday, was 68.”

General Polk estimates the Federal loss at 1,500. Howison, a careful writer, comparing the current accounts of the day, says:

The Federal loss, as stated in their own accounts, was 607; but this is far below the truth. According to this account they had 64 killed, while it is certain [377] more than 200 of their dead were found on the battle-field. According to the usual proportion, their total loss was probably not less than 1,200.

Those interpreters of Scripture who find in every event of their own time a fulfillment of prophecy, noted a curious verbal coincidence in the fact that the troops of Southern Illinois, popularly known as Egypt, were slain and buried by Tennessee soldiers, many of whom were recruited at Memphis: “Egypt shall gather them, and Memphis shall bury them.”

Grant showed his usual bravery and coolness on the field. On the other side, Pillow displayed conspicuous gallantry, and but one of his staff escaped untouched. General Polk complimented Pillow and his officers for their courage.

A member of Taylor's battery (Federal), writing home next day,3 tells his friend:

We returned home last night from the hardest-fought battle our troops have had since Wilson's Creek. It is the old story. We were overpowered by superior numbers and driven from the field, leaving many of our dead and dying, although we had once fairly gained the victory. . . . The whole thing was an awful “bungle.”

This, possibly, may be the criticism of many a military (or non-military) reader of the varied accounts of this opening battle of the campaign.

Whatever other comment may be made, or lesson drawn from it, its story is highly honorable to the individual courage, tenacity, and intelligence, of the American soldier. Those Western troops, who, fighting forward among fallen timber, broke through a Confederate line not much weaker than their own, were no ordinary men. The shattered and routed Southerners, who, after an hour's interval, were ready to join in an irresistible charge that reversed the fortunes of the day, evinced the spirit that made them famous on so many fields. Federal and Confederate alike may look back and feel that there was nothing to be ashamed of in the fighting at Belmont.

It is, indeed, conceded by the Federal writers that the prestige of the day remained with the Confederates. Although they admit this fact, they claim that it was unjust, and that Grant and his men learned valuable lessons in warfare that day, which is doubtless true. Before the battle, General Polk, in the interests of humanity, had proposed an exchange of prisoners, to which General Grant made a haughty reply, that he recognized no “Southern Confederacy.” After the battle, however, Grant had himself to send a flag of truce to reopen the negotiations he had spurned. It is believed he ever after recognized the Confederates as belligerents. [378]

President Davis, on the 8th of November, replied to General Polk's dispatch announcing the victory of Belmont :

Your telegraph received. Accept for yourself, and the officers and men under your command, my sincere thanks for the glorious contribution you have just made to our common cause. Our countrymen must long remember gratefully the activity and skill, courage and devotion, of the army at Belmont.

J. Davis.

General Johnston, in General Order No. 5, after thanks and congratulations to Generals Polk and Pillow, and to the men engaged, concludes:

This was no ordinary shock of arms, it was a long and trying contest, in which our troops fought by detachments, and always against superior numbers. The 7th of November will fill a bright page in our military annals, and be remembered with gratitude by the sons and daughters of the South.

At Belmont the gallant Major Edward Butler fell mortally wounded. He was a man of splendid presence and chivalric nature, the grandson of one of “Washington's four colonels.” He said to his brother, “Take my sword to my father, and tell him I died like a gentleman and a Butler.”

1 If such information was conveyed to General Grant, it is sufficient to say it was without foundation.

2 “ Life of Grant,” vol. i., p. 16.

3 “Rebellion record,” vol. III., p. 293.

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