Friday, November 7, 2008

The First Test of Leadership

General Ulysses S Grant’s first test in Civil War combat came on November 7th 1861 in Mississippi County, Missouri at the Battle of Belmont.

Grant sailed from Cairo, Illinois to make a demonstration on the river fortress at Columbus, Kentucky held by the Confederates on November 6th 1861. He learned the next day that the Confederates had crossed the river to Belmont, Missouri. At about 8:30 on the morning of November 7th 1861, the Union force disembarked about three miles north of Belmont, where they would be out of range of the batteries at Columbus. They marched into town and formed a battle line in a cornfield about a mile out of town. The battle line consisted of the 22nd, 31st, 30th, 27th Illinois, the 7th Iowa and a company of cavalry. The Confederate battle line was formed on a low ridge to the northwest of the Belmont camp, and was made up of the 12th, 22nd, 21st, 13th Tennessee and 13th Arkansas Infantry under General Gideon Pillow.

After a morning of back and forth fighting, the Confederate line began to collapse. What began as an orderly retreat, became panic when Union guns started bombing the retreating troops. The 31st IL sent in a large volley killing many of the Confederate soldiers. Grant stayed to the front, leading his troops even having a horse shot out from under him. After the battle in order to regain control of his troop who were plundering the Confederate camp, Grant ordered it set on fire. In the smoke and confusion several wounded men in some of the tents were accidentally burnt to death.

The Confederates claimed the victory at Belmont, which was a rather inconclusive battle, and of no real strategic importance. The losses where 641 Confederate to the Unions 607 casualties.

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