The Fight at Belmont.
The attack on Belmont is generally looked upon as a failure, since our troops did not hold the camps they so gallantly captured, and because they had to fight their way back to their boats. We are assured by an officer from Cairo that the whole intent of the expedition was accomplished, and with no more loss than was reasonable to expect under the circumstances. Besides, the full plan of the expedition, which has not yet been made public, shows this to be the case. We are at liberty to state what this was, and with the statement we think every one must be satisfied that the result was a substantial victory and a glorious vindication of the bravery of the Union forces.
It was known that Jeff. Thompson, though badly defeated some weeks since, was still roaming about in Missouri, watching for a chance to strike a blow at the Union cause; and to entrap him, if possible, Col. Oglesby, with 2,000 men, was sent out some days ago. This step was known to the rebels at Columbus, and besides desiring to annihilate Oglesby, a plan was on foot to send out from their Columbus camp a strong body to reinforce Gen. Price. To head off both these enterprises, and to destroy the camp at Belmont, was the design of the expedition. Hence it was given out without much attempt at secrecy that Columbus was to be attacked, and a strong force was started inland for that declared purpose, but with secret orders not to go within twelve miles of the place. This, it was expected, would keep the Price expedition at home, and also leave Belmont possibly less defenceless than would otherwise be the case; and it succeeded. There was a stern battle; the natural defences over which the troops passed to attack the rebel camp were very strong, but the enemy were completely rented, nearly everything they had in the way of equipage was captured, and what would burn was burned, two cannon were taken off with our men and all the others spiked, and a number of horses and prisoners were also captured.
Nobody dreamed of holding the camp, for some seventy huge cannon from the Columbus bluff were frowning down upon it, and could have soon buried it under shells. And as soon as the rebels found it in possession of our forces they did open upon it, and sent over from the north some 4,000 men to cut off Gen. Grant's retreat. The camp garrison, who had retreated south, also rallied and attempted to attack our rear. Our men were thus almost surrounded, and yet, though weary with fighting, they fought their way through the heavy forces against them, dragging their cannon with them by main strength, and leisurely — not precipitately — embarked for home. This was true of the mass — a few companies had more difficulty, and their embarkation was attended with some disorder, and it was from some of these that the first reports were sent abroad to the North, giving color to the idea that the attack resulted in more of a defeat than a victory.
The loss, too, was exaggerated by the fact that some regiments became divided and mixed up on embarking, and at first roll call at head quarters many were "missing" who in face were having a grand jollification in some other camp, and turned up some hours after "all right."
Our friend, who after the battle visited the the rebel camp under a flag of truce, says the rebel officers acknowledge that they were badly beaten — were caught napping, but thought it would have a "good effect on their men" for future operations. Let us trust that it will have a good effect. At any rate whether it improves their fighting or not, it will not be apt to injure ours, for the Cairo boys have demonstrated what had been demonstrated elsewhere before, that man for man they are superior to the rebels in any sort of fighting, and are ready to show it as often as their officers will lead them against a foe.