Gen. McClernand's Report of the Battle of Belmont.
CAMP CAIRO, November 12, 1861.
Brigadier General U. S. Grant, Commanding District Southeast Missouri:
SIR: I have the honor to report the part taken by the forces under my command in the action before Columbus, Ky., on the 7th inst.
These forces consisted of a portion of my brigade, viz: The Twenty-seventh regiment, Col. N. B. Buford; the Thirtieth, Colonel Philip B. Fouke; the Thirty-first, Colonel John A. Logan, including one company of cavalry under Captain J. J. Dollins — the strength of the Twenty-seventh being 720 rank and file; that of the Thirtieth 500; that of the Thirty-first 510, exclusive of 70 mounted men — making in all 1,900 rank and file.
To this force you added, by your order of the 6th inst., Capt. Delano's company of Adams county Cavalry — 58 men — under Lieutenant J. R. Catlin, and Capt. Ezra Taylor's battery of Chicago Light Artillery, consisting of four six pound guns; two twelve pound howitzers, and 114 men.
The total disposable force under my command was 2,072, rank and file — all Illinois volunteers.
Having embarked on the steamer Scott with the Thirtieth and Thirty first regiments, on the evening of the 6th inst., I left Cairo at 5 o'clock, and proceeded down the Mississippi to the foot of Island No. 1, and lay to for the night on the Kentucky shore, eleven miles above Columbus, as previously instructed by you. Posting a strong guard for the protection of the boat, and those that followed to the same point, I remained until seven o'clock the following morning. At that hour, preceded by the gunboats Tyler and Lexington, and followed by the remainder of the transports, I proceeded down the river to the designated landing on the Missouri shore, about two and a half miles, in a direct line from Columbus and Belmont.
By 8 Ë o'clock, the rest of the transports had arrived, and the whole force was disembarked, and marching beyond a collection of cornfields in front of the landing, was formed for an advance movement, and awaited your order. I ordered Dollins's and Delano's cavalry to scour the woods along the road to Belmont, and report to me from time to time.
The remainder of my command followed the cavalry — the Twenty-seventh in from the Thirtieth next, supported by a section of Taylor's battery, the Thirty-first, and the remainder of Taylor's battery next, succeeded by the Seventh Iowa, Col. Lauman, and the Twenty-second Illinois, Col. Dougherty, who had been assigned by you that portion of the command.
When the rear of the column had reached a road intersecting our line of march, about a mile and a half from the abattis surrounding the enemy's camp, the line of battle was formed on ground which I had previously selected. The Twenty-seventh and Thirtieth having formed too far in advance were recalled to the position first assigned them — the Twenty-seventh on the right and the Thirtieth on its left, forming the right wing. A section of Taylor's battery was disposed on the left of the Thirtieth, and two hundred feet in rear of the line — the Thirty-first forming the centre — the Seventh and Twenty-second forming the left wing, making two sections of artillery.
By this time Dollin's cavalry was skirmishing sharply with the enemy's pickets to the right and in our advance of our line — the enemy in the meantime having shifted the fire of his heavy batteries at Columbus, from our gun-boats to the advancing line, but without serious effect.
With your permission, I now ordered two companies from each regiment of my command to advance, instructing them to seek out and develop the position of the enemy — the Twenty-second and Seventh pushing forward similar parties, at the same time.
A sharp firing having immediately commenced between the skirmishing parties of the Thirtieth and Thirty-first and the enemy, I ordered forward another party to their support — rode forward, selected a new position, and ordered up the balance of my command — the Twenty-seventh — to pass around the head of a pond; the Thirtieth and Thirty-first, with the artillery, crossing the dry bed of the same pond in their front.
On their arrival, I reformed the line of battle in the same order as before, expecting that the Seventh and Twenty-second would resume their former position on the left wing. This disposition would have perfected a line sufficient to enclose the enemy's camp on all sides accessible to us, thus enabling us to command the river above and below him, and prevent the crossing of reinforcements from Columbus, ensuring his capture as well as defeat.
The Thirteenth and Thirty-first and the artillery moving forward, promptly relieved the skirmishing parties, and soon became engaged with a heavy body of the enemy's infantry and cavalry. The struggle, which was continued for half an hour with great obstinacy, threw our ranks into temporary disorder, but the men promptly rallied under the gallant example of Colonels Fouke and Logan, assisted by Major Brayman, acting Assistant Adjutant General of my brigade; also by Capt. Dresser, of the artillery; Lieutenant Babcock, of the Second cavalry, and Lieut. Eddy, of the Twenty-ninth Illinois regiment, who had, upon my invitation, kindly joined my staff. Our men pressed vigorously upon the enemy and drove him back — his cavalry leaving that part of the field and not appearing again until attacked by Capt. Dollins on the river bank below his encampment some time after, and chased out of sight. Advancing about a quarter of a mile further, this force came up again with the enemy, who by this time had been reinforced in this part of the field, as I since learned, by three regiments and a company of cavalry. Thus strengthened, he attempted to turn our flank, but ordering Col. Logan to extend the line of battle by a flank movement, and bringing up a section of Taylor's battery, commanded by First Lieutenant P. H. White, under the direction of Capt. Schwartz, to cover the space thus left, between the Thirteenth and Thirty-first, the attempt was frustrated.
Having completed this disposition, we again opened a deadly fire from both infantry and artillery, and, after a desperate resistance, drove the enemy back the third time, forcing him to seek cover among thick wood and brush, protected by the heavy guns at Columbus.
In this struggle, while leading the charge, I received a ball in one of my holsters, which failed of harm by striking a pistol. Here Cols. Fouke and Logan urged on their men by the most energetic appeals; here Capt. Dresser's horse was shot from under him, while Captain Schwartz's horse was twice wounded. Here the projectiles from the enemy's heavy guns at Columbus, and their artillery at Belmont, crashed through the trees, over and among us. — Here, again, all my staff who were with me, displayed the greatest intrepidity and activity; and here, too many of our officers and privates were killed or wounded. Nor should I omit to add, that this gallant conduct was stimulated by your presence and inspired by your example. Here your horse was shot under you.
While this struggle was going on, a tremendous fire from the Twenty-seventh, which, under the skillful guidance of Col. Buford, had approached the abattis on the right and rear of the tents, was heard. About the same time the Seventh and Twenty-second, which had passed the rear of the Thirtieth and Thirty first, hastened up, and closing the space between them and the Twenty-seventh, poured a deadly fire upon the enemy.
A combined movement was now made upon three sides of the enemy's defenses, and driving him across them, we followed upon his heels into the clear space around his camp.
The Twenty-seventh was the first seen by me entering upon the ground. I called the attention of the other regiments to the fact, and the whole line was quickened with eager and impatient emulation. In a few minutes our entire force was within the enclosure.
Under the skillful direction of Capt. Schwartz, Capt. Taylor now brought up his battery within three hundred yards of the enemy's tents, and opened fire upon them. The enemy fled with precipitation from his tents and took shelter behind some buildings near the river, and into the woods above the camp, under cover of his batteries.
Near this battery I met Col. Dougherty, who was leading the Seventh and Twenty-second through the open space towards the tents. At the same time our lines upon the right and left were pressing up to the line of fire from our battery, which now ceased firing, and our men rushed forward among the tents and towards some buildings near the river. Passing over to the right of the camp, I met with Col. Buford, for the first time since his arduous and perilous detour around the pond and congratulated him upon the eagerness of his men to be the first to pass the enemy's works.
During the execution of this movement, Capt. Alexander Bielaski, one of my Aids de Camp, who had accompanied Col. Buford during the march of the Twenty-seventh separate from the main command, having dismounted from his horse, which had been several times wounded, was shot down while advancing with the flag of his adopted country in his hand, and calling on the men in the rear to follow him. His bravery was only equalled by his fidelity as a soldier and a patriot. He died making the Stars and Stripes his winding sheet. Honored be his memory.
Near him, and a few minutes afterwards, Col. Laumann fell, severely wounded in the thigh, while leading his men in a daring charge. About the same time Capt. Wm. A. Schmidt, of the Twenty-seventh, while striving for the advance, was also wounded.
Galloping my horse down to the river, I found Capt. Bozartte, of Company K, Twenty-seventh regiment, supported by squads of men who had joined him, sharply engaged with a detachment of the enemy, whom he drove into the woods above the camp. Here the firing was very hot; my own head was grazed by a ball; my horse was wounded in the shoulder, and his caparison torn in several places. Here, too, one of the enemy's caissons fell into my hands; and a capture of artillery was made by Capt. Schwartz, a portion of the Seventh Iowa gallantly assisting in achieving this result.
Having complete possession of the enemy's camp, in full view of its formidable batteries at Columbus, I gave the word for three cheers for the Union, to which the brave men around me responded with the most enthusiastic applause. Several of the enemy's steamers being within range above and below, I ordered a section of Taylor's battery, under direction of Capt. Schwartz, down near the river, and opened a fire upon them, and upon Columbus itself, but with what effect I could not learn. The enemy's tents were set on fire, destroying the camp equipage; about 4,000 blankets, and his means of transportation. Such horse and other property as could be removed were seized, and four pieces of his artillery and one caisson brought to the rear.
The enemy at Columbus seeing us in possession of his camp, directed upon us the fire of his heavy guns, but ranging too high, inflicted no injury. Information came at the same time of the crossing of heavy bodies of troops above us, amounting, as I since learn, to live regiments, when, joining those which had fled in that direction, formed rapidly in our rear, with the intention of cutting off our communication with our transports. To prevent this, and having fully accomplished the object of the expedition, I ordered Capt. Taylor to reverse his guns and open fire upon the enemy in his new position, which was done with great spirit and effect, breaking his line and opening our way by the main road.
Promptly responding to an order to that effect, Col. Logan ordered his flag in front of his regiment, prepared to force his way in the same direction if necessary. Moving on, he was followed by the whole force, except the Twenty-seventh and the cavalry companies of Captain Dollins and Delano. Determined to preserve my command unbroken, and to defeat the evident design of the enemy to divide it, I twice road back across the field to bring up the Twenty-seventh and Dollins' cavalry, and also dispatched Major Brayman for the same purpose, but without accomplishing the object — they having sought, in returning, the same route by which they advanced in the morning. On passing into the woods, the Thirtieth, the Seventh and the Twenty-second encountered a heavy fire on the 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 Lieut. Col. Wentz, a gallant and faithful officer of the Seventh, and Capt. Markley of the Thirtieth, with several privates, were killed, and Col. Dougherty, of Twenty-second, and Major McClurken of the Thirtieth, who was near me, was seriously, and I fear, mortally wounded. Here my body servant killed one of the enemy by a pistol shot.
Driving the enemy back on either side, we moved on, occasionally exchanging shots with straggling parties, in the course of which my horse received another ball, being one of two fired at me from the corner of a field. Capt. Schwartz was at my right when these shots were fired.
At this stage of the contest, according to the admission of rebel officers, the enemy's forces, had been swelled by frequent reinforcements from the other side, to be over thirteen regiments of infantry, and something less than two squadrons of cavalry, including his artillery, four pieces of which were in our possession, two of which, after being spiked, together with part of our own caissons, were left on the way, for want of animals to bring them off. The other two with their horses and harness were brought off. On reaching the landing and not finding the detachments of the Seventh and Twenty-second, which you had left behind in the morning to guard the boats, I ordered Delano's cavalry which was embarking to the rear of the fields to watch the enemy. Within an hour, all our forces which had arrived, were embarked Capt. Schwartz', Capt. Hatch, Assistant Quartermaster, and myself, being the last to get on board. Suddenly, the enemy, in strong force — whose approach had been discovered by Lieut. Col. John H. White, of the Thirty-first, who had been conspicuous through the day for his dauntless courage and conduct — came within range of our musketry, when a terrible fire was opened upon him by the gunboats, as well as by Taylor's battery, and the infantry from the decks of the transports.
The engagement thus renewed was kept up with great spirit and with deadly effect upon the enemy, until the transports had passed beyond his reach. Exposed to the terrible fire of the gunboats and Taylor's battery, a great number of the enemy were killed and wounded in this, the closing scene of a battle of six hours' duration.
The Twenty-seventh and Dollin's cavalry being yet behind, I ordered my transport to continue in the rear of the fleet, excepting the gunboats; and after proceeding a short distance, landed, and directed the gunboats to return and await their appearance. At this moment, Lieut. H. A. Rust, Adjutant of the Twenty-seventh, a brave and active officer, hastened up and announced the approach of the Twenty-seventh and Dollins' cavalry. Accompanied by Capts. Schwartz and Hatch, I rode down the river bank and met Col. Buford with a part of his command. Informing him that my transports were waiting to receive him, I went further down the river road, and met Col. Dollins, whom I also instructed to embark; and still further down met the remainder of the Twenty-seventh, which had halted on the bank where the gunboat Tyler was lying to — the Lexington lying still further down. The rest of the boats having gone forward, Capt. Walker, of the Tyler, at my request, promptly took the remainder of the Twenty-seventh on board, Capt. Stembel, of the Lexington, covering the embarkation.
Having thus embarked all my command, I returned with Captains Schwartz and Hatch to my transport, and re-embarked, reaching Cairo about midnight, after a day of almost unceasing marching and conflict.
I cannot bestow too high commendation upon all whom I had the honor to command on that day. Supplied with inferior and defective arms, many of which could not be discharged, others bursting in use, they fought an enemy in woods with which he was familiar; behind defensive works which he had been preparing for months; in the face of a battery at Belmont, and under his heavy guns at Columbus; and although numbering three or four to our one, beat him, captured several stand of his colors, destroying his camp, and carrying off a large amount of property already mentioned. From his own semi-official accounts, his loss was 600 killed and wounded, a number of officers, and probably among the missing, 155 prisoners, who were brought to this post.
To mention all who did well, would include every man in my command who came under my personal notice. Both officers and privates did their whole duty — nobly sustaining the enviable character of Americans and Illinoisans. They shed new lustre upon the flag of their country, by upholding it in triumph, amid the shock of battle and the din of arms. The blood they so freely poured out, proved their devotion to their country, and serves to hallow a just cause with glorious recollections. Their success was that of citizen soldiers.
Major Brayman, Captains Schwartz and Dresser, and Lieutenants Eddy and Babcock, are members of my staff, are entitled to my gratitude for the zeal and alacrity with which they bore my orders in the face of danger, and discharged all their duties in the field.
Colonels Buford, Fouke and Logan repeatedly led their regiments to the charge, and as often drove the enemy back in confusion — thus inspiring their men with kindred ardor, and largely contributing to the success of the day. Colonel Logan's admirable tactics not only foiled the frequent attempts of the enemy to flank him, but secured a steady advance toward the enemy's camp. Col. Fouke and his command, exposed throughout to a galling fire from the enemy, never ceased to press forward. His march was marked by the killed and wounded of the foe, mingled with many of his own men. Accomplishing a difficult circuit, Colonel Buford, active, eager and ambitious, was first to throw his men within the enemy's defenses.
Capt. Taylor and Lieut. White managed the battery attached to my command with admirable skill and most successful effect. Capt. J. J. Dollins, with his company of cavalry, displayed unsurpassed activity and daring. Having been early in the day detached from his regiment, (the Thirty-first) he found his way in company with the Twenty-seventh, to the enemy's camp on the lower side, charging his line with an impetuosity characteristic of himself and his brave followers.
Our victory, though signal and extraordinary, cost many valuable lives. Of the Twenty-seventh 11 were killed, 42 wounded, and 28 are missing. Among the wounded was Captain Schmidt, already honorably mentioned, and Lieutenant Wm. Shipley, of Company A, a gallant and promising young officer, who has since died.
Of the Thirtieth, 9 were killed, 27 wounded, and 8 are missing. Among the killed is Capt. Thomas G. Markley, of Company D, a brave and valuable officer, who died true to his trust. Major Thomas McClurken, an accomplished and efficient officer, whose services were conspicuous on the field, was severely, and I fear mortally wounded.
On the Thirty-first, 10 were killed, 61 wounded, and 18 are missing. Capt. John W. Rigby, of Company F, a veteran and faithful officer, being among the wounded; also Capt. Wm. A. Looney, of Company C, and Alexander S. Somerville, of Company K — both bold and exemplary officers.
Of Dollins' Cavalry one was killed and two wounded.
Of Taylor's company of light artillery, five were wounded, among whom was first Sergeant Charles W. Everett.
In closing this report, unavaidably somewhat imperfect, I cannot refrain from bearing testimony to the gallantry and good conduct of every arm of your whole force. Each did well; and rejoicing in it, I cannot but sympathize in the just pride with which their valor has inspired you, as their victorious commander.
I have the honor to be your ob't serv't,
JOHN A. McCLERNAND,
Brigadier General Commanding.