The Neophyte General – US Grant and the Belmont Campaign

The Neophyte General:

U. S. Grant and the Belmont Campaign

by James E. McGhee

Copyright 1973 James E. McGhee. Used with Permission.

This is copyrighted material–the article, the pictures, and the introduction–and may not be copied or reproduced in any form, including on other websites, without permission of the authors.

James E. McGhee is a retired lawyer with an avid interest in the Missouri State Guard and Missouri Confederate units. His latest book is Missouri Confederates: A Guide to Sources for Confederate Soldiers and Units, 1861-1865 (Independence, Mo.: Two Trails Publishing, 2001). McGhee’s titles are available from Camp Pope Bookshop. The article below first appeared in the Missouri Historical Review, Volume 67, Issue 4, July 1973.

In the spring of 1885 Ulysses S. Grant raced against death to complete his memoirs. While suffering from an agonizing throat cancer that greatly impaired his ability to speak, he spent long hours compiling reference notes and quietly assessing his life and accomplishments. The determined general won this last battle, for he completed the reminiscences one week before his death.[1]

A model of military writing, Grant’s Personal Memoirs provided narratives of his experiences in two wars, including a chapter that related the details of his initial Civil War command in the engagement at Belmont, Missouri. Surprisingly, Grant concluded the chapter by attempting to justify his reasons for fighting the battle.[2] After the passage of almost a quarter of a century, it was ironic that the conqueror of Vicksburg and Robert E. Lee still deemed it necessary to offer an explanation of that first and rather minor campaign.

Comments of the press immediately after Belmont, coupled with the political embarrassment caused by the engagement later on, may have motivated Grant to pen a justification of the battle in his memoirs. Initial newspaper reactions, while mixed, tended to be unfavorable. One distant New York editor wrote that the Belmont expedition had been no less than disastrous, while opinion in western papers varied from doubts of the battle’s value to an open pronouncement of defeat.[3] In addition, complaints sprang up from the ranks; one northern officer observed that if Belmont had been a great victory as so many claimed he hoped God would spare them defeat![4] Later, moreover, Grant’s political opponents raised the subject of Belmont during the presidential campaign of 1868.[5] No doubt such criticism lingered with Grant for a long time.

Research suggests that the controversy that surrounded Grant’s actions in the Belmont campaign may well have been justified, and quite probably the battle should never have been fought. Certainly Grant’s stated reasons for entering the engagement were open to argument. Tactically the battle plan Grant followed was extremely risky, and if his opponents had not blundered so badly his entire command could have been captured or destroyed. Finally, far from accomplishing any worthwhile objectives, the campaign lacked strategic effect.

Grant’s first step toward the bloody field of Belmont occurred on September 1, 1861, when he assumed command of the District of Southeast Missouri at Cape Girardeau. His area of responsibility encompassed most of Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois. Both regions appeared to be threatened by the new Confederacy and were therefore scenes of a substantial military build-up by the federal government. Grant seemed pleased with the assignment, writing later that his district ranked third in importance in the country.[6]

Shortly after taking command Grant moved his headquarters to Cairo, Illinois. In the view of Major General John C. Frémont, commander of the Department of the West and Grant’s immediate superior, Cairo was the key to Union control of the Upper Mississippi Valley. Strategically situated at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, Frémont considered Cairo a logical control point for area defense and offensive operations as well.[7] Grant assessed the military situation in his district less than a week after he established his new command post. He described an increasing concentration of rebel forces in Kentucky and Missouri and forecasted an enemy attack in the near future.[8]

Grant’s prediction of an early enemy offensive proved groundless, but the Confederate threat along his front was very real indeed. On September 3 regiments belonging to the command of Major General Leonidas Polk entered neutral Kentucky and occupied the important military point of Columbus on the Mississippi River.[9] Polk quickly fortified Columbus by emplacing a large number of guns that commanded the river traffic. He also established an observation post directly opposite Columbus on the Missouri side of the river. The small encampment was situated in a marshy area near a boat landing at the obscure hamlet of Belmont.[10]

Another concern plagued Grant in addition to Polk’s activities, for lurking somewhere in the vast swamps of Southeast Missouri was a bothersome and elusive brigadier of the secessionist Missouri State Guard, M. Jeff Thompson. In recognition of his exploits in the backwaters the effervescent Thompson had earned the sobriquet “Swamp Fox of the Confederacy,” and his Missourians excelled in partisan tactics. While probably more noisy than dangerous, Thompson’s troops had nevertheless been a source of worry to the Federals since midsummer and had successfully evaded all attempts to draw them into battle.[11]

With Polk and Thompson threatening from the south, Grant devoted his efforts to organizing and training his recently enlisted volunteers. In addition to the base at Cairo, the District of Southeast Missouri included garrisons at Paducah, Kentucky, Bird’s Point, Cape Girardeau and Pilot Knob, Missouri, with a combined troop strength that approached seventeen thousand soldiers of all arms.[12] During the early fall months Grant insured that his men were drilled and disciplined in preparation for the fighting that he knew must come.

While the necessity of teaching infantry assault formations to raw Federal troops was time consuming, it did not mean that Grant ignored the enemy along the Mississippi. Much to the contrary, he desired to commence offensive operations, wanting very much to strike the Confederate redoubt at Columbus. In fact, he petitioned department headquarters for permission to move against Polk on no less than three occasions during September.[13] Later he reported that only the lack of essential equipment prohibited him from driving Polk out of his defensive position.[14] Nothing came of this talk, however, and relative quiet prevailed along his front. But in late October a distant campaign in Southwest Missouri changed the situation almost overnight.

On September 27 General Frémont had moved a large army toward Springfield in an attempt to defeat a force of rebels congregated under Major General Sterling Price. Frémont was under extreme pressure to destroy Price, because the latter had greatly embarrassed the Lincoln administration with dramatic victories at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington.[15] Late October found the Federals at Springfield expecting to meet the secessionists in battle. Frémont may have become concerned over possible reinforcements for Price from Polk’s army at this point, for on November 1, Grant received orders to hold his command ready to make demonstrations in the direction of Columbus.[16]

Grant’s instructions called for movements along both sides of the Mississippi River. Points to be threatened were designated as Charleston and Norfolk, Missouri, and Blandville, Kentucky. He was directed to keep his columns moving back and forth against those places without, however, attacking the enemy.[17] Grant started preparations for the expedition, but before he could put his troops in motion orders arrived that substantially expanded his assigned mission.

New orders appeared the next day over the signature of Frémont’s adjutant, Captain Chauncey McKeever. The captain informed Grant that the troublesome Jeff Thompson, along with three thousand rebels, had been located at Indian Ford some twenty miles west of Bloomfield. A Federal detachment had started in pursuit of Thompson from Pilot Knob, and Grant was advised to supplement that force with additional troops from Cape Girardeau and Bird’s Point. These columns would then cooperate in driving Thompson out of Missouri into Arkansas.[18] Grant immediately set about implementing this latest plan.

To Colonel Richard Oglesby, commander at Bird’s Point, went instructions to move units up the Mississippi by transports to Commerce. He would then march to Sikeston and from that point pursue Thompson in any direction necessary. Expanding the original orders somewhat, Grant told Oglesby the purpose of the expedition was to destroy Thompson’s force. Pursuant to orders, Oglesby proceeded to Commerce on November 3 with approximately three thousand men. A similar column departed Cape Girardeau three days later in a march toward Bloomfield. The expedition against the Missourians drew heavily from Grant’s command, but he soon faced even greater demands on his troop resources as once again the situation rapidly changed.[19]

On Tuesday, November 5, Grant received an urgent telegram from headquarters indicating that Polk was reinforcing Price’s army from Columbus. In order to counter that move the message directed Grant to initiate the previously ordered demonstrations. The telegram intimated that like instructions had been dispatched to General C. F. Smith, the Federal commander at Paducah, outlining a similar operation on the Kentucky side of the river.[20] Heavily involved in the attempt to chastise Thompson, Grant now had the added responsibility of preventing reinforcements from leaving Columbus and moving to Price’s assistance. Failure in this threatened serious trouble for Frémont’s campaign in the Missouri Ozark country.

Unfortunately, Federal headquarters relied on erroneous reports. Jeff Thompson, supposedly in strength at Indian Ford, actually occupied Bloomfield, where he quickly learned of the columns advancing to entrap his militiamen. Moreover, Polk had no intention of reinforcing Price or anyone else for that matter. In October Polk had refused Thompson’s request for troops in nearby Southeast Missouri and had been sustained in his decision by his superiors. Furthermore, Price did not solicit help until November 7, the day of the fight at Belmont, when he wired the Confederate commander in the West, General Albert S. Johnson, and suggested cooperation in a march on St. Louis.[21] Federal intelligence in this instance, as so often happened to both sides during the Civil War, seemingly depended on sources of dubious reliability.

Grant, of course, had to act on information supplied by his headquarters regardless of its veracity. He therefore boarded three thousand troops on transports and prepared to move down the Mississippi. In a communication to General Smith he outlined the combined operation in progress against Thompson and described the expedition he was undertaking to “menace” Belmont. Grant suggested that if Smith could make a demonstration toward Columbus, Polk would probably be unable to reinforce the Belmont garrison. And unless the rebels there received support, Grant believed he could drive them out of Missouri.[22]

As a result of the changed circumstances, Grant also sent new orders to Colonel Oglesby that instructed him to march his command in the direction of New Madrid. When Oglesby reached a point on his line of march from which a road led to Columbus, he was to halt and communicate with Grant at Belmont.[23] Entrusting delivery of the somewhat confusing message to a small unit led by Colonel W. H. L. Wallace, and directing him to join Oglesby when the two were near enough, Grant started his army south.[24]

On the night of November 6 the Federal flotilla of four transports and two gunboats anchored nine miles below Cairo. At 2:00 a.m. a courier arrived from Wallace. A “reliable Union man” reported Confederates crossing from Columbus to Belmont with the intention of cutting off the column under Oglesby. Such a movement seemed likely to Grant, and he immediately decided to turn the demonstrations desired by headquarters into an attack on the rebel camp at Belmont. Orders were issued to proceed that morning at first light.[25]

Grant’s convoy suffered a slight delay in getting underway, but by 8:30 a.m. Federal troops disembarked at Hunter’s Farm, a landing area two miles northwest of Belmont that lay out of effective range of the heavy guns at Columbus. While officers attempted to assemble troops in regimental organizations, Grant marched five companies south of the farm on the road to Belmont and deployed them in a ravine. This detachment of two hundred fifty men constituted the transport guard and was the only reserve available if the Federals happened to be repulsed.[26] Grant then returned to the landing area where he prepared his command for combat. The Union brigades moved forward in column for about a mile and took positions on the edge of a cornfield. Soon a skirmish line proceeded across a dry slough that paralleled the battle line to ascertain the enemy positions. Immediate contact with the rebels resulted.[27]

Grant’s men encountered Confederate cavalry elements sent forward to reconnoiter the Federal advance. Polk had been advised of the approach of the convoy at 7:30 a.m. He could scarcely believe the movement against Belmont could be anything other than a feint and thought the main thrust would be directed against the fort at Columbus. Nevertheless, he reluctantly dispatched General Gideon Pillow across the river with four infantry regiments, and an additional regiment followed shortly thereafter.[28]

Colonel James Tappan, commander of the Belmont post, met Pillow on the riverbank. Prior to Pillow’s arrival he had placed the garrison of seven hundred men and available pieces of artillery in position to guard the approaches to the small encampment.[29] Pillow, after a hasty inspection of Tappan’s troop dispositions, redeployed the battery and most of the infantry. At this point Pillow seemed to have the situation well in hand, for his force equaled Grant’s in numbers, and he had the added advantage of selecting a defensive position.[30] Once Pillow completed his line of defense he ordered the cavalry to advance and locate the enemy. The horsemen moved to the front and quickly engaged the Federal skirmishers.

Grant’s small army consisted of two brigades commanded by General John McClernand and Colonel Henry Dougherty, respectively. McClernand led the First Brigade, consisting of the Twenty-seventy, Thirtieth, and Thirty-first Illinois infantry regiments, two companies of cavalry, and Battery B, First Illinois Artillery. Dougherty’s brigade, much inferior to McClernand’s in numbers and firepower, included two regiments of infantry, the Seventh Iowa and Twenty-second Illinois.[31] Grant formed his troops with Dougherty’s brigade holding the left flank and McClernand’s responsible for the right. Battery B unlimbered behind the infantry in the cornfield.[32] Once the formation of his battle line was completed, Grant turned his attention to the engagement along the slough.

A substantial firefight had developed in front of the Union position. Neither side demonstrated any reluctance to engage the enemy even though this was the first time under fire for Federal and Confederate alike.[33] As the exchange of small-arms fire increased in intensity, a heavy but largely ineffective cannonade from the Columbus batteries rained down on the Federal right flank. McClernand, anxious to meet the enemy at close quarter, ordered his brigade forward. The rebel cavalry, unable to withstand the pressure, retreated through the dense woods with the Union forces in cautious pursuit.[34]

Pillow’s chosen defensive line blocked only the main road leading from Hunter’s Farm to Belmont. Two infantry regiments were deployed in a wooded area on the right that provided adequate cover. Inexplicably, the remaining three regiments of infantry and the battery were situated in front of a slight rise in an open field. Pillow’s dispositions could hardly have been worse. In fact one regimental commander complained to General Polk after the battle that a less favorable location for defense was unimaginable.[35]

Grant’s troops had probed through the woods, and when the rebel line came into view the Federals immediately attacked. The Confederates, as a consequence of being placed in an exposed position, found themselves confronted by an enemy protected by heavy timber some eighty yards distant. A thirty minute engagement took place at this point, the viciousness of which threw the Union forces into temporary disorder, while Grant had his horse shot from beneath him.[36]

The Federals soon gained the initiative after repelling two offensive thrusts by the Confederates. Pillow, hard pressed by an enemy that threatened to outflank his position, made a costly decision, ordering a charge across the open terrain against the Union infantry concealed in the distant trees.[37] The rebels gallantly rushed forward but failed to reach the Federal line. Exposed to a withering fire, they retired and attempted to regroup. Shortly thereafter an effort to turn the Federal left also failed. Grant’s army began passing around both Confederate flanks, causing Pillow to order a retreat to the river encampment.[38]

The post of Belmont encompassed seven hundred acres of low, marshy ground surrounded by a flimsy abatis. Pillow’s men hurriedly retired to these crude fortifications and took up new defensive positions.[39] Meanwhile the Federals approached the camp in a formation resembling a widespread arc. Grant’s brigade commanders then closed the long lines so as to threaten three sides of the outpost. After a temporary halt to realign regiments, the Union infantry rushed forward. The ensuing struggle was short but fierce with casualties heavy on both sides. Battery B fired numerous barrages in the rebel ranks, causing Pillow’s soldiers to seek shelter along the embankment bordering the river. Nearly surrounded and badly demoralized, many of the Confederates retreated up the riverbank in a desperate effort to escape capture.[40]

Grant’s troops swept into the nearly deserted camp. A rebel battery, which had been abandoned, was quickly secured and a number of prisoners taken. Federal soldiers shortly turned to gleefully rummaging through tents for souvenirs, while General McClernand, lately an Illinois congressman, led the troops in three cheers for the Union.[41] A regimental band struck up the national anthem and then gave its rendition of “Dixie.” In short, Grant’s victorious army turned into little more than an undisciplined mob. Furthermore, the troops ignored all pleas to stop looting until Grant finally ordered his officers to burn the camp’s tents in the hope of directing attention to Confederate reinforcements crossing from Columbus.[42]

Polk hesitated in sending assistance to Pillow early in the battle. He was preoccupied with the threat posed against Columbus by the troops from Paducah under Smith’s command. But once Polk concluded that he need not fear their activities, he moved to reverse the disaster on the Missouri shore. Seeing that all was lost unless more troops were put across the river, he dispatched two additional regiments of infantry and prepared two more for deployment. The sight of the burning tents verified Federal occupation of Belmont, and Polk ordered the heavy artillery at Columbus to fire into the camp.[43] The bursting shells did much to assist Grant in gaining control over his near riotous soldiers as their elation quickly changed to panic.

While Grant worked to bring organization back into his ranks, someone saw rebels landing above Belmont and spread the word of impending disaster. A number of Grant’s officers informed him that the army was surrounded and urged surrender as the only honorable course of action. Rejecting such pleas, Grant finally succeeded in moving his troops back in the direction of their landing area at Hunter’s Farm. The retreat became a running fight as the rejuvenated Confederates counter-attacked.[44]

General Pillow had gradually restored order in his badly demoralized regiments following their initial rout. He took the newly arrived reinforcements, along with remnants of his original command, and struck Grant’s retreating army on front and flank.[45] Along the road to Hunter’s Farm a series of sharp, bloody encounters between groups of disorganized troops occurred. Casualties were once again heavy, especially among the straggling Federals.[46] Eventually the Unionists cut open an avenue of escape and hurried to their transports and relative safety.

Grant assessed his tactical situation as the soldiers rushed to board the waiting boats. He found that much had gone awry. The transport guard, so badly needed at this point, had already retreated to the landing area.[47] Also, due to the precipitate withdrawal, all of the dead and many of the wounded Federals remained on the field.[48] Another matter of concern was that an entire regiment, the Twenty-seventh Illinois, had become separated from the command when the retreat commenced and still remained unaccounted for.[49] As Grant mulled over the day’s events the Confederates closed in on the transports.

Polk crossed the river at this juncture and personally directed the rebel forces against the rapidly embarking Federals. Between the boats and rebels a lone figure on horseback hurried toward the river. A gangplank was extended from one of the transports and the rider and his horse slid down the bank and crossed onto the boat. The last Union soldier to leave the field, Grant dismounted and went up to the upper deck for one last look at the enemy. He watched as the Confederates rushed to the bank and commenced shooting into the convoy of troopships, only to be driven back by a hail of canister from the gunboats.[50]

En route to Cairo the Federals rested quietly. To the relief of everyone, the Twenty-seventh Illinois was observed some miles up the river and brought safely aboard. Grant noted that each of his men viewed Belmont as a great victory.[51] This apparently impressed Grant very much, and his after battle report indicated that he shared his men’s opinion.

Grant’s report to headquarters tended toward generalizations and contained some inaccuracies. While claiming that the Confederate casualties greatly exceeded his own, he underestimated his losses by over a hundred. He applauded the conduct of both his men and the gunboat crews, but made no mention of the loss of control over the men after the camp had been captured. Grant explained that the message from Wallace had convinced him to strike Belmont and surmised that the attack had prevented Oglesby from being cut off. In addition, he thought that Polk would be forced to refrain from dispatching any reinforcements to Price. Lastly, Grant believed that the experience had inspired confidence in his men that would be invaluable in future engagements.[52]

The Confederates likewise proclaimed a victory at Belmont. Polk told of defeating a vastly superior force that had intended to strike at both Belmont and Columbus. He cited the bravery of his soldiers and reported possession of an enemy flag, over a thousand stand of arms and quantities of military equipment of various types. The Confederate Congress joined in the celebration by addressing a resolution of thanks to the soldiers of Polk’s command.[53]

Ten days after the battle Grant’s medical officer submitted a supplementary report that reflected the final casualty figures for the Union army. The Federals suffered losses of 607 at Belmont, including 120 killed, 383 wounded, and 104 captured or missing.[54] The casualties amounted to about twenty percent of those engaged, a high percentage in the early phases of the war. An estimated five thousand Confederates actively participated in the battle. Polk’s report listed 105 killed, 419 wounded, and 117 missing, for a total of 641, or about thirteen percent of the number that saw action.[55]

Grant learned the results of the other columns involved in the combined operations a few days after returning to Cairo. In Kentucky C. F. Smith followed his orders rather explicitly, conducting a demonstration against Columbus and little more. Two of the three groups that had attempted to ensnare Thompson converged at Bloomfield only to discover that the wily “Swamp Fox” had escaped to the South. The Federals heard of the “defeat” at Belmont while at Bloomfield and returned to their home bases without accomplishing anything of lasting value.[56]

Thus the Belmont campaign ended, and it quickly became the subject of a controversy that was never entirely forgotten by Grant. Oddly enough the criticism emanated from unofficial sources, for apparently neither the administration nor the army ever gave the battle a second thought. Nothing in the public record indicated that Belmont affected Grant’s military career one way or another. His final word on the matter had been his justification of the engagement in his memoirs. Grant noted that critics claimed that the battle had been wholly unnecessary and barren of results. The Confederate threat to Oglesby’s column necessitated his action, Grant maintained, and had he not struck the enemy Oglesby would probably have been captured or destroyed. In his view he had done only what was required to protect his command.[57] Grant possibly believed that his statement settled the issue for all time.

Nevertheless, debate on the campaign continued and for seemingly ample reasons. Grant concluded that he saved Oglesby’s three thousand men from a major disaster by striking Belmont. Logically, since the two Federal commands were almost equal in strength, the danger of capture or annihilation was as real for Grant as it was for his subordinate. Moreover, Polk never sent any troops to threaten Oglesby, for Confederate orders or correspondence mentioned no such movement. Rather than making an effort to check the validity of Wallace’s report, Grant chose to accept the information at face value and ordered the attack. Any supposed danger to Oglesby’s column may have been just a pretext, a convenient one to be sure, to initiate a battle.

It will be recalled that Grant wanted to move against Columbus soon after taking command at Cairo. Despite the refusal of headquarters to permit any attack, he never lost interest in taking the offensive. Perhaps in the demonstrations that were ordered he saw the opportunity for that desired fight. His dispatch to Smith of November 5 suggested that he planned something more aggressive than the mere feints desired by headquarters. Also there was the message he sent to Oglesby that day before the battle telling the latter to communicate with him at Belmont. Moreover while Grant persistently disclaimed any intention of attacking Belmont prior to 2:00 a.m. on November 7, he also described his troops’ elation at the prospect of getting to fight after they started down the Mississippi. He wrote later that if he had not done something to satisfy their demands for action he would have lost their confidence and the ability to maintain discipline.[58] In light of the above, any report of a potential threat from Belmont was probably welcomed.

Grant’s generalship at Belmont dramatized his inexperience in leading an army into battle. His decision to strike a position in such close proximity to the large Columbus garrison was inherently dangerous, especially so with untried troops. In addition, he knew little of the tactical situation around Belmont. Grant moved down the river without knowing where he was going to land or much about the terrain where he would have to fight the battle.[59] The need for a large and reliable reserve force became obvious once the hasty retreat from the camp commenced. Fortunately, for the Federals, Grant’s tactical errors were minimized by Pillow’s rash decision to deploy his troops in an open field and attack instead of taking advantage of the defenses surrounding the camp at Belmont. Tactically, Grant’s battle plan had risked much, and under slightly different circumstances a Federal disaster was always a distinct possibility.

Belmont did not result in any strategic advantage despite Grant’s assertions to the contrary. As previously demonstrated, Grant’s claim that he saved Oglesby and prevented Confederate troops from moving to assist Price had no basis in fact. In reality the strategic balance in the area remained the same. Grant returned to Cairo to await another opportunity. Down river the rebels still occupied Columbus and Belmont, and the Confederate defensive line in the Mississippi Valley stood unbroken.

Grant’s mistakes at Belmont were manifest. A neophyte general had led raw troops into an unnecessary battle and after inflicting damage on the enemy had barely escaped destruction. Certainly Grant’s reputation as a great commander could never stand on his accomplishments at Belmont.

The record indicates, however, that Grant profited from his experience at Belmont, and even in that unfortunate battle he gave evidence of the qualities that would propel him into the front rank of Union generals. Unlike many of his contemporaries Grant displayed the willingness to fight that Lincoln expected of his commanders. Faced with a fluid military situation and changing orders, Grant used his available forces without badgering headquarters for more men and attacked. He led his army to victory initially, and when the tide of battle turned he retired fighting. In his first action Grant seemed to follow what he later claimed was the secret to the art of war, “Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike at him hard as you can, and keep moving on.”[60]

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From a purely military standpoint, Belmont might well be forgotten. It ranks as one of many minor engagements that were of little significance in deciding the final outcome of the Civil War. But as a starting point for studying the development of the military leadership of Grant the battle serves a useful purpose. For at Belmont, Ulysses S. Grant first demonstrated the qualities of aggressiveness, initiative and determination that characterized the man who eventually won the campaigns that saved the Union.
Notes:


[1] W. E. Woodward, Meet General Grant (n. p., 1928), 495

[2] Ulysses S. Grant, The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (New York, 1885) I, 281.

[3] New York Times, November 14, 1861; J. Cutler Andrews, The North Reports the Civil War (Pittsburgh, 1955), 119.

[4] Isabel Wallace, Life and Letters of W. H. L. Wallace (Chicago, 1909), 141

[5] John Fiske, The Mississippi Valley in the Civil War (Cambridge, 1900), 50.

[6] John Simon, ed, The Papers of U. S. Grant (Carbondale, Ill., 1969), II, 163, 214.

[7] Robert J. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel, eds., Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (New York, 1956), I, 280

[8] Simon, Papers, II, 214

[9] U. S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, 1880-1901), Series I, IV, 179. (Hereafter cited as O. R.; all citations are to Series I.)

[10] Johnson and Buel, Battles and Leaders, I, 348.

[11] Jay Monaghan, Swamp Fox of the Confederacy: The Life and Military Services of M. Jeff Thompson (Tuscaloosa, 1956), 32; Grant, Memoirs, I, 261-263.

[12] Simon, Papers, II, 198; O. R., III, 493.

[13] Simon, Papers, II, 225, 242, 288

[14] Kenneth P. Williams, Lincoln Finds a General (New York, 1952), III, 75.

[15] Ibid., III, 64-65.

[16] O. R., III, 267.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 268.

[19] Ibid., 256, 259, 268.

[20] Ibid., 268-269.

[21] Ibid., III, 260, 724-728, IV, 491.

[22] Ibid., III, 273.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Grant, Memoirs, I, 270-271.

[25] Ibid., 271-272; O. R., III, 269-270.

[26] O. R., III, 294; Williams, Lincoln, III, 94.

[27] Grant, Memoirs, I, 273.

[28] Johnson and Buel, Battles and Leaders, I, 348-349.

[29] O.R., III, 355.

[30] Johnson and Buel, Battles and Leaders, I, 354-355.

[31] Ibid.

[32] O. R., III, 278, 292.

[33] Grant, Memoirs, I, 269, 273; Johnson and Buel, Battles and Leaders, I, 355.

[34] O. R., III, 278; Henry I. Kurtz, “The Battle of Belmont,” Civil War Times Illustrated, II (June, 1963), 20.

[35] O. R., III, 340-341, 355.

[36] Ibid., 278-279

[37] Patricia Bell, “Gideon Pillow—A Personality Profile,” Civil War Times Illustrated, VI (October, 1967), 15.

[38] O. R., III, 355-358.

[39] M. F. Force, From Fort Henry to Corinth (New York, 1963), 20-21

[40] O. R., III, 325, 356-358; Grant, Memoirs, I, 273-274

[41] O. R., III, 280, 284.

[42] Grant, Memoirs, I, 274-276; Bruce Catton, Grant Moves South (Boston, 1960), 76-77

[43] O. R., III, 280-281.

[44] Grant, Memoirs, I, 276; Kurtz, “Belmont,” 21.

[45] William G. Stevenson, Thirteen Months in the Rebel Army (New York, 1959), 54-56.

[46] Harper’s Weekly, December 7, 1861.

[47] Grant, Memoirs, I, 276.

[48] Johnson and Buel, Battles and Leaders, I, 353.

[49] O. R., III, 270.

[50] Grant, Memoirs, I, 280.

[51] Ibid.; O. R., III, 281.

[52] O. R., III, 269-272.

[53] Ibid., 310-312.

[54] New York Times, November 17, 1861

[55] Johnson and Buel, Battles and Leaders, I, 356.

[56] O. R., III, 256-257; Harvey L. Carter and Norma L. Peterson, eds., “William S. Stewart Letters, January 13, 1861 to December 4, 1862,” Part II, Missouri Historical Review, LXI (April, 1967), 309-310.

[57] Grant, Memoirs, I, 281.

[58] Ibid., 271.

[59] Williams, Lincoln, III, 94.

[60] As quoted in David Donald, Lincoln Reconsidered, Essays on the Civil War Era (New York, 1961), 102.

Fight at Jackson Fairgrounds

The Fight at Jackson Fairgrounds:

Confederate Victory Against the Odds

by

©2003 Kirby Ross

with an Introduction by James E. McGhee, ©2003

The Fight at Jackson Fairgrounds: Confederate Victory Against the Odds

© Kirby Ross

Author’s Note & Introduction
Ch 1 – Lindsay Murdoch Ch 6 – Playing a Squally Game of Marbles
Ch 2 – Chasing Phantoms Ch 7 – Aftermath
Ch 3 – Closing In Ch 8 – Mopping Up
Ch 4 – Hell Breaks Loose Epilogue
Ch 5 – To the Death Bibliography
Return to Civil War St. Louis



AUTHOR’S NOTE

In the course of researching the Federal Missouri State Militia and its counter-insurgency operations in Missouri, I ran across the obscure story of the Skirmish at Jackson, Missouri.  The event itself was not unusual for the state—as Missouri historian and writer James E. McGhee mentions in his Introduction that follows this note, over 1000 military engagements took place there during the Civil War.  What is unusual, and even remarkable, is the level of documentation that exists concerning the Jackson affair.  It did not take long for me to see that this was a story waiting to be told—a story that might just be one of the most detailed accounts of a small-unit action existing in regard to the Trans-Mississippi Theater.  So detailed, in fact, that it has even been possible to deduce who killed whom in the fighting.

Despite the fact the number of soldiers that participated in the Jackson Skirmish barely totaled 90 men, no fewer than eight first-person eyewitness accounts relating to it have surfaced—most of which have been gathered through the work of Jim McGhee.  Where one personal anecdote would fade off and leave the reader wondering what happened next or what happened on other parts of the far-flung field of battle, lo and behold, another version would surface, until finally a very comprehensive, all-encompassing picture emerged.  While my efforts in weaving each account into a seamless, cogent, single story was at time quite trying and entailed more than a few rewrites, I believe the final result that is embodied in the story that follows is an accurate depiction of what transpired in and around Jackson, Missouri, on the first days of April in 1862.

Kirby Ross

INTRODUCTION

The True Life Wild West Memoir of a Bush-Popping Cow Waddy

By Charley Hester, Edited by Kirby Ross

available for pre-order at Amazon.com

Also by this author:

James O. Broadhead: Ardent Unionist, Unrepentant Slaveholder by Kirby Ross

Missouri was the scene of over 1,000 engagements during the American civil war, ranking it third behind only Virginia and Tennessee in the number of military encounters that occurred within its boundaries between 1861-1865.  Some of the Missouri battles were large affairs that decided important strategic issues, involved sizeable numbers of troops, and resulted in great loss of life.  The bloody combats at Belmont, Lexington, Pilot Knob, Wilson’s Creek, and Westport fall into that category.  Much of the warfare in the state, however, consisted of little fights between small groups of men simply intent on killing one another.  The skirmish at Jackson in April 1862 is a classic example of the type of fighting that most often happened in Missouri during four years of internecine warfare.

The engagement at Jackson, sometimes referred to as the “Battle at the Fair-Grounds,” was a chance encounter between a small group of Confederate recruits and a Union militia detachment from Cape Girardeau determined on driving them from the area.  Barely mentioned in the official records of the war, it has been nearly forgotten, even by the people of Jackson.  But the skirmish at the fairgrounds was important to local residents in 1862 for at least two reasons.  First, the fight brought home the dreadful reality that war was not necessarily something that occurred elsewhere; the townspeople actually heard the exchange of fire between the contending parties and later viewed the blood and pain of wounded soldiers first hand.  Secondly, the men who fought that day, especially on the Confederate side, were “their” boys, members of the local community that were suddenly seen in the unfamiliar role of soldiers.  Doubtless the war never seemed quite the same to Jackson residents after seeing it so close to home.

After the fight at Jackson the Union troops of the Missouri State Militia that were involved returned to Cape Girardeau.  Their unit would undergo several reorganizations over the succeeding months and spend the remainder of the war fighting local guerrillas and Confederate raiders that occasionally penetrated Missouri.

The center of attraction at the Jackson fight—the small contingent of Confederate recruits commanded by William L. Jeffers—formally organized a company on April 16, merely a few days after leaving Jackson.  It had Jeffers as captain; William E. “Button” McGuire, as first lieutenant; Richard J. Medley, as second lieutenant; and John A. Bennett, as third lieutenant—all of whom figure somewhat prominently in the following story by Kirby Ross.  Operating initially as an independent company, their unit was driven from the state into northeast Arkansas in May.  It eventually was attached to Lieutenant Colonel Charles Matlock’s Arkansas Cavalry Battalion on June 16.  When Matlock’s troopers were dismounted in July, Captain Jeffers resigned his commission.  He returned to southeast Missouri to recruit again, and was soon followed by Lieutenant McGuire and other members of his company.

Jeffers’ recruiting efforts were very successful, aided no doubt by a Federal order commanding all men to enroll in the Missouri (Union) militia.  Unwilling to fight against the South, men flocked to Jeffers’ standard in sufficient numbers to create the 8th Missouri Calvary Regiment.  The balance of the war saw the 8th raiding Missouri with Generals Johns S. Marmaduke and Sterling Price, and vainly contesting the Federals for control of Arkansas.  Throughout, Colonel Jeffers led his men from the front rank during its combat history.  As Luther Jenkins would recall, with Jeffers in command “It was never ‘Go on,’ but ‘Come on, boys.’”  The regiment finally surrendered, with the men receiving their paroles at Shreveport, Louisiana, in June 1865.

Years after the war, when Colonel Jeffers died, survivors of his regiment initiated a campaign to erect a monument in his honor at Jackson.  Although the process was slow, the monument was finally dedicated at the Jackson Homecoming celebration of 1908.  It stands today at the south end of High Street at the entrance to the Old City Cemetery near Jeffers’ final resting place.  In the northwest part of the cemetery is a stone that marks the burial place of William E. McGuire, Jeffers’ lieutenant.  It makes no mention of his Confederate service, or of the fact that he died shortly after being released from the hell that was the military prison at Alton, Illinois.  Remembered on the opposite side of the same stone is John W. McGuire, William’s son, who fell while charging a Federal line at Glasgow, Missouri, on October 16, 1864.  Other troopers of Jeffers’ little recruit command are buried nearby.  And to the southwest, only a short distance away, is the Russell Heights Cemetery, once the fairgrounds, where Jeffers’ squad boldly won their spurs in combat and then rode away into history.

Kirby Ross has rescued the fight at Jackson in 1862 from historical obscurity.  He has diligently researched the official records, various memoirs, muster rolls, and newspapers in a whole-hearted effort to reconstruct the events of the engagement as accurately as possible.  It must be said that he has accomplished his goal in admirable fashion.  The men and events come alive in a fast paced and well written narrative that places the event in its proper historical context.  It is a fine, well balanced battle account, and a fitting tribute to the men in blue and gray that fought at Jackson on a quiet spring day in 1862—for cause, honor and survival during some of the dark days in the history of our great republic.

James E. McGhee

First Missouri Confederate Brigade

Counties of Origin

First Missouri Confederate Brigade

By James E. McGhee, ©2004

James E. McGhee is a retired lawyer with an avid interest in the Missouri State Guard and Missouri Confederate units. His latest book is Missouri Confederates: A Guide to Sources for Confederate Soldiers and Units, 1861-1865 (Independence, Mo.: Two Trails Publishing, 2001). McGhee’s titles are available from Camp Pope Bookshop.

Following are the counties of origin of the various companies of the First Missouri Confederate Brigade.  The counties in bold face print contributed the greatest number of soldiers to a company. Not all counties that contributed soldiers to a particular company are shown, however, as some companies included men from as many as fifteen or more counties.  Therefore, a county is included only if it provided at least three soldiers to a company.  The artillery units attached to the brigade are not included as the make-up of the batteries was so mixed as to make any attempt at showing a county of origin meaningless.



1st Infantry Regiment:

Co A – New Orleans, La., St. Louis

Co B – St. Louis

Co C – Memphis, Tn., St. Louis

Co D – New Madrid, Pemiscot, St. Louis

Co E – Memphis, Tn., Mississippi, New Madrid, St. Louis

Co F – New Madrid, St. Louis

Co G – New Madrid, Pemiscot, St. Louis

Co H – New Madrid, Pemiscot

Co I –   New Madrid

Co K – Cape Girardeau, New Madrid, Pemiscot

2nd Infantry Regiment:

Co A – Marion, Pike, Ralls, Shelby, St. Charles, St. Louis

Co B – Howard, Lincoln, Montgomery, Pike

Co C – Lincoln, Montgomery, St. Charles, Warren

Co D – Cole, Miller, Moniteau, Morgan

Co E – Andrew, Atchison, Cedar, Howard, Nodaway, Pettis

Co F – Jefferson, Laclede, Lincoln, Marion, Pike, Ralls, St. Charles, St. Louis, Vernon

Co G – Audrain, Boone, Monroe, Shelby, Ralls

Co H – Johnson, St. Louis, Texas [state]

Co I –   Boone, Callaway

Co K – Chariton, Howard, Linn, Sullivan

3rd Infantry Regiment:

Co A – Caldwell, Ray

Co B – Gentry, Harrison, Ray, Worth

Co C – Carroll, Ray

Co D – Barry, Clay, Livingston, Platte, Ray

Co E – Clay, Daviess, DeKalb, Platte

Co F – Boone, Daviess, Chariton, Clay, Howard, Livingston, Randolph, Ray

Co G – Buchanan, Clay, Jackson

Co H – Carroll, Daviess, Grundy, Livingston, Platte

Co I –   Caldwell, Clay, Clinton, Ray, Saline

Co K – Chariton, Lafayette, Macon, Randolph, Shelby

4th Infantry Regiment:

Co A – Taney

Co B – Howell, Polk

Co C – Ozark, Arkansas [state]

Co D – Oregon, Shannon

Co E – Henry, Laclede, St. Clair

Co F – Benton, Christian, Greene, St. Clair

Co G – Arkansas [state], Dallas, Dent, Greene

Co H – Bates, Cass, Henry, Johnson

Co I –   Arkansas [state], Oregon, Shannon

Co K – Clark, Marion, Monroe, Lewis

5th Infantry Regiment:

Co A – Johnson, Newton

Co B – Adair, Grundy, Howard, Macon

Co C – Polk

Co D – Polk

Co E – Gasconade, Franklin, Osage, St. Clair

Co F – Linn, Macon, Moniteau, St. Louis, Saline

Co G – Cooper, Henry, Pettis

Co H – Cass, Johnson, Lewis, Marion

Co I –  Macon, Johnson, Linn, Randolph

Co K – Dunklin, Stoddard

6th Infantry Regiment:

Co A – Cass, Jackson, Kansas [state]

Co B – Cass, Jackson, Johnson, Lafayette, Saline

Co C – Audrain, Boone, Howard

Co D – Arkansas [state], Cape Girardeau, Mississippi, New Madrid, Scott, St. Francois, St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Stoddard, Washington

Co E – Jackson, Johnson

Co F – Cass, Hickory, Jackson, Johnson, St. Clair

Co G – Kansas [state], Platte

Co H – Chariton, Howard, Macon

Co I –   Dunklin, Cape Girardeau, Mississippi, Perry, Scott, Ste. Genevieve, Stoddard

Co K – Arkansas [state], Cape Girardeau, Madison, New Madrid, Ripley, St. Louis, Wayne

1st Cavalry Regiment (Dismounted):

Co A – Andrew, Buchanan, Clinton, Holt, Marion, Lafayette, Nodaway, Platte

Co B – Callaway, Cole, Montgomery, Ray

Co C – Andrew, Grundy, Holt, Platte

Co D – Ray

Co E – Andrew, Buchanan, Clay, Platte

Co F – Andrew, Atchison, Buchanan, Holt, Ray

Co G – Daviess, Gentry, Harrison, Worth

Co H – Andrew, Gentry, Nodaway, Worth

Co I –   Clay, Jackson, Platte, Ray

Co K – Audrain, Boone, Buchanan, Callaway, Montgomery, Phelps, Platte

3rd Cavalry Battalion (Dismounted):

Co A – Cole, Moniteau, Pulaski

Co B – Clay, Nodaway, Polk, Worth

Co C – Greene, Lawrence

Co D – Andrew, Clay, DeKalb, Platte

Co E – Greene, Laclede, Miller, Pulaski

Co F – Cass, Greene, Laclede, Webster

Co G – [Exchanged prisoners, very mixed. Also, few records denote residence.]

Co H – [Exchanged prisoners, very mixed].



Sources:

Service Records for the 1st – 6th Infantry Regiments, 1st Cavalry Regiment, and 3rd Cavalry Battalion.  Microfilm. Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City, Missouri.