Col. N. B. Buford and the Battle of Belmont.
From a long letter in the Chicago Tribune, dated Cairo the 8th, we clip the following extracts in relation to the part taken by our gallant townsman, Col. N. B. Buford, who was the first in the fight, the first to plant the stars and stripes in the enemy's camp and the last to leave the field. His military knowledge, his good judgment and his coolness amidst the music of whistling bullets seems to have enabled him, with his regiment, to accomplish more than any other colonel, and with less loss of life. We have not room for the whole letter, but give the following extracts:
By order of Gen. McClernand, the Illinois 27th, under Col. Buford, took the leading and attacking position. In a few minutes the whole moved off from the river. It was well known what was to be done. The whole camp at Belmont was to be taken and destroyed. —
The attack on the rebel camp was brought on by Col. Buford, according to programme, with great spirit. Every regiment fell into its place, and the whole movement was sustained with vigor worthy of veteran troops. The enemy proved to be a choice body of troops, well armed, and numbering from four to six thousand. They fought desperately; but in an incredibly short time, the work was done. The enemy had surrendered or abandoned their artillery, and were in full flight. Over two hundred were taken prisoners. Their flag pole was cut down, their colors taken possession of, and their encampment envelped in flames. The number of guns, pistols, sabres, and horses taken, was very great.
Just at this time, however, a fleet of boats were observed approaching from Columbus with over three thousand men. At the same time a terrible fire of ball and shell opened on our men from the Columbus batteries. — Our field pieces opened on the fleet of boats, doing fearful work. Nothing, however, delayed their progress. In a few minutes we were in a hotter battle than before. Our men fought nobly, but they were already fatigued, and between the storm of shot from the heavy batteries of Columbus, which caused them to falter, it was found the place could not be held. In truth, this had not been intended. Many of the prisoners had escaped, and our men were falling fast. Gradually the regiments drew off, in good order, until all were safe but the 27th. First on the field, Col. Buford was the last to retire. His peril was imminent. The way of retreat between him and our boats was closed, and he was obliged to find another route. All but the 27th reached the boats in order. The wounded had been coming in some time before. Scarcely had all embarked when the enemy appeared in strength on the shore, with several pieces of artillery. It was judged best for the boats to push out into the stream. At that moment, the best music of the day set in. The two gun-boats turned their heads to the shore, and, each with six heavy columbiads, began to pour their death-dealing missiles among the foe. Besides these, we had on board Taylor's splendid brass Chicago battery — all brought away — together with two fine brass pieces which we had borrowed of the enemy at Belmont. These had plenty of canister and shrapnel, and never did boys make better use of ammunition. For half an hour, it is believed, that we averaged a gun for every second, while our men standing bravely on the hurricane decks, kept up an incessant fire of musketry.
For half an hour, as we moved slowly up the stream, the enemy hung on the shore, endeavoring to form, and get their guns in position. But our columbiads were too much for them. Several times at the flash of one them, I observed a dozen men and horses turn somersaults together. Several times their guns were observed to take position, and in a moment more were observed ten feet in the air, bottom uppermost. Never did fellows fight, or try to fight, more bravely. — They seemed actually to court death at the very muzzles of our heavy guns; and vast numbers of them sought it not in vain. But gradually they fell back, and abandoned the pursuit. Such bravery was worthy of success.
In the meantime the gallant 27th was supposed to have been cut off and made prisoners. We came away with sad hearts. But our sorrow was of short duration. The detour which Col. Buford had found necessary to get off the field, had thrown him back near a mile from the river. On hearing the heavy firing at the boats, he judged it prudent to keep back, and move parallel with the river, for shot and shell, as we suspected, were thrown toward him, but, as we hoped, passed entirely over the heads of his regiment. — When our firing ceased, he judged that the enemy had fallen back, and ventured to approach the river. His signal was readily understood; and at a point five miles above where we had taken on the other troops, the 27th was taken on in good order, and we reached Cairo about ten o'clock at night.
Letters in the St. Louis Republican report, substantially, the same story. One letter says "Col. Buford's boys arrested a Major Harris, of Tennessee, and brought home their confederate flag as a trophy." Another says "all accounts agree in giving the highest praise to Gen. McClernand and Col.'s Logan, Buford, Fouke and Dougherty, for bravery and coolness." And another speaks particularly of the perfect coolness and self-possession with which Col Buford rode at the head of his regiment amidst the shower of bullets from the enemy.