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 instant.
These forces consisted of a portion of my brigade, viz: The 27th regiment, Col. N. B. Buford; the 80th, Col. Phillip B. Fouke; the 31st, Col. John A. Logan, including one company of cavalry under Captain J. J. Dollins — the strength of the 27th being 720 rank and file; that of the 30th 500: that of the 31st 610, exclusive of 90 mounted men — making in all 1900 rank and file.
To this force you added, by your order of the 6th inst., Captain Delano's company of Adams county cavalry — 50 men — under Lieutenant J. R. Catlin, and Captain 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 40th and 30th regiments, on the evening of the 6th instant, I left Cairo at 6 o'clock, and proceeded down the Mississippi to the foot of Island No. 1, and lay to for the night of 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, proceeded 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 1/2 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' 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 27th in front, the 30th next, supported by a section of Taylor's battery next, succeeded by the 7th Iowa, Col. Laumann, and the 22d Illinois, Col. Dougherty, who had been assigned by you to that position of the command.
When the roar 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 22d and 30th having formed too far in advance, were recalled to the position first assigned them — the 27th on the right and the 30th on its left, forming the right wing. A section of Taylor's battery was disposed on the left of the 30th, and two hundred feet in the rear of the line — the 21st forming the center — the 7th and 22d forming the left wing, masking two sections of artillery.
By this time Dollins' cavalry was skirmishing sharply with the enemy's pickets, to the right and in advance of our line — the enemy in the meantime having shifted the fire of his heavy batteries at Columbus, from our gunboats, to our 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 22d and 7th pushing forward similar parties, at the same time.
A sharp firing having immediately commenced between the skirmishing parties of the 30the and 31st 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 27th — to pass around the head of a pond; the 30th and 31st, 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 7th and 22d 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, insuring his capture as well as defeat.
The 30th and 31st 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 2d cavalry, and Lieutenant Eddy, of the 29th Illinois regiments, 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 Captain 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 again came up with the enemy, who by this time had been reinforced in this part of the field, as I since learn, by three regiments and a company of cavalry. Thus strengthened, he attempted to turn our left 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 Captain Schwartz, to cover the space thus left, between the 30th and 31st, 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 woods 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 Colonels Fouke and Logan urged on their men by the most energetic appeals; here Captain 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, clashed 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 27th, which, under the skillful guidance of Colonel Buford, had approached the abattis on the right and rear of the tents, was heard. About the same time the 7th and 22d, which had passed the rear of the 30th and 31st, hastened up, and closing the space between them and the 27th, 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 27th 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 with Colonel Dougherty, who was leading the 7th and 22d through the open space towards 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 Colonel 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 Bisiaski, one of my aids de-camp, who had accompanied Colonel Buford during the march of the 27th 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, Colonel Laumann fell, severely wounded in the thigh, while leading his men in a daring charge. About the same time Captain William A. Schmidt, of the 27th, while striving for the advance was also wounded.
Galloping my horse down to the river I found Captain Bozartte of company K, 27th 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 Captain Scwartz, a portion of the 7th 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 the direction of Captain 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 4000 blankets, and his means of transportation. Such horses 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 five regiments, which, joining those which had fled in that direction, formed rapidly in our rear, with the design 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 the regiment, prepared to force his way in the same direction if necessary. Moving on, he was followed by the whole force, except the 27th and the cavalry companies of Captains Dollins and Delano. Determined to preserve my command unbroken, and to defeat the evident design of the enemy to divide it. I twice rode back across the field to bring up the 27th and Dollins's 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 30th, the 7th and the 22d 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 7th and 22d had been thrown into temporary disorder. Here Lieut Col. Wentz, a gallant and faithful officer of the 7th, and Capt. Markley, of the 30th, with several privates, were killed, and Col. Dougherty, of the 22d, and Major McClurken, of the 30th, 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. Captain 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 7th and 22d, 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 31st, who had been conspicous through the day for his dauntless courage and conduct — came within range of our musketry, when after rible fire was opened upon him by the gun boats, 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 27th and Dollins'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 27th, a brave and active officer, hastened up and announced the approach of the 27th and Dollins's cavalry. Accompanied by Captains 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 27th, 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 27th 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, all members of my staff are entitled to my gratitude for the zeal and alactity with which they bore my orders in the face of danger, and discharged all their duties in the field.
Colonels Buford, Fouke and Logans repeatedly led the 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, Col. Buford, active, eager and ambitious, was the first to throw his man within the enemy's defenses.
Captain Taylor and Lieutenant 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 detatched from his regiment, (the 31st) he found his way in company with the 27th, 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, coat many valuable lives. Of the 27th 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 officer, who has since died.
Of the 30th, 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.
Of the 31st, 10 were killed, 61 wounded, and 18 are missing. Captain John W. Rigby, of company F, a veteran and faithful officer, being among the wounded; also Captain Wm. A. Looney, of company C, and Alexander S. Someville, 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, unavoidably 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,