On Nov. 12, 1861, readers of the Mount Vernon Democratic Banner learned of the Battle of Belmont on Nov. 7.
It wasn’t a big battle (maybe more of a raid), but it came at a time when nothing much was happening in Virginia except the recent Union defeat at Ball’s Bluff, and the Missouri situation was in flux, as the opposing forces jockeyed for position.
It wasn’t a big fight, involving about 3,000 federal troops under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and about 5,000 confederates under Gen. Gideon Pillow. Grant had lead a small expedition down the Mississippi from Cairo, Ill., to “demonstrate” against the Confederate forces at Columbus, Ky.
When Grant heard rebel troops from Columbus were landing at a place called Belmont in an apparent attempt to aid Confederate forces in Missouri, Grant landed his forces a mile above Belmont and marched on the Confederate camp. He scattered the Confederates and was destroying supplies when reinforcements from across the river joined the reformed rebel units and attacked.
Grant’s men conducted a fighting withdrawal to their boats and left. He claimed it as a victory, since he destroyed the camp and disrupted the attempt to join the action in Missouri, but so did the Rebels, on the basis of having driven the Yankees off. Lincoln, however, was pleased — a general had actually showed some initiative.
The Banner presented the story under the headlines: “Battle at Belmont, Ky.” “The Rebels Defeated and Driven In To Their Camp” “Federal Troops Compelled to Retreat” “Great Loss On Both Sides.”
The account of the fight was dramatized and casualty figures were, as usual, inflated, but here’s some of the story: “After landing they were formed in line of battle, Gen. McClernand in command of the Cairo troops, Col. Dougherty in command of the Bird’s Point troops. They were encountered by the Rebels 7,000 strong, and fought every inch of the way to the enemy’s camp, making sad havoc in the ranks of the rebels.