Category Archives: Missouri

Preparing to Attack Island No. 10

April 4, 1862 – Major General John Pope prepared his Federal Army of the Mississippi to capture strategic Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River with naval support.

Gen John Pope | Image Credit:

Gen John Pope | Image Credit:

Capturing Island No. 10 had been Pope’s prime objective when he formed his army the previous month, as Confederate defenders there blocked Federal shipping on the Mississippi. Pope had seized nearby New Madrid, Missouri, which positioned his Federals within striking distance of the island. He then surrounded the stronghold on three sides and opened an artillery bombardment.

Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard reported to the War Department that the Federals had fired 3,000 rounds over the past two weeks in the largest cannonade of the war thus far. Beauregard also noted that the Confederate batteries remained relatively undamaged. To capture the island, Pope needed the Federal navy.

Pope wanted Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s gunboat fleet to run past the Confederates and close the fourth side, which the Confederates used to get supplies from Tennessee. Federal troops and contrabands had struggled to dig a 12-mile canal for the fleet to use in bypassing the island. However, Foote resisted using the canal because he feared that the Confederate batteries would destroy his vessels.

To soften the batteries, Colonel George W. Roberts of the 42nd Indiana led a 50-man raiding party to neutralize as many guns as possible. The men used muffled oars to row barges to Battery No. 1, one of five Confederate outposts guarding Island No. 10 on the Tennessee shore. Battery No. 1 consisted of six cannon about two miles upriver from the island.

It was a stormy night, and lightning revealed the Federals’ presence. The Confederate pickets fired at them and then ran back into their fortifications. Before the rest of the Confederates could mobilize, the Federals landed, spiked the guns, and escaped without loss. The operation took less than 30 minutes. The storm later produced a tornado that swept through New Madrid and killed soldiers on both sides.

Disabling Confederate guns | Image Credit:

Disabling Confederate guns | Image Credit:

Over the next few days, Federals prepared Commander Henry Walke’s ironclad U.S.S. Carondelet to run the remaining batteries. They fitted the ship with cordwood around the boilers and an anchor chain for armor. The Carondelet entered the canal at full steam around 10 p.m. on April 4, covered by darkness and a heavy thunderstorm.

The Confederates saw flames shooting from the Carondelet’s smokestacks, and lightning revealed her exact location. They opened fire and hit the ship once in the coal barge and once in a hay bale. Most shots missed because the guns could not be depressed low enough to fire down the steep banks.

The Carondelet successfully passed both Island No. 10 and a floating Confederate battery, arriving at New Madrid amid the cheers of Federal troops awaiting her arrival. The ship’s passage posed an immediate threat to the island’s defenders because she could transport troops to the Tennessee side of the river below them and attack the island from the rear.

Two days later, the Carondelet began clearing the Tennessee shore of Confederate batteries by destroying two cannon opposite Point Pleasant. She then moved further downriver to Tiptonville, Tennessee, where Federal troops landed and spiked a battery. Brigadier General William W. Mackall, who had replaced Brigadier General John P. McCown as commander of Confederate forces in the area, transferred his infantry and one battery from Island No. 10 to the Tennessee shore to protect against a Federal landing.

Pope made plans to attack the Confederates at Tiptonville, but he needed more naval support. Foote initially refused Pope’s request to run another ironclad past Island No. 10. Foote wrote, “There is so much hazard in running the blockade, and the rebels being so much on the alert, I consider it injudicious to hazard another boat.”

But Foote finally relented, and late on April 6, during a heavy thunderstorm, the U.S.S. Pittsburgh successfully ran past the batteries without damage. Pope was now ready to carry out his grand strategy to capture Island No. 10 and its adjoining defenses.


References (1 Apr 1862); Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 796; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 147, 150, 154; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 130-31, 134; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 527; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 193; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 415; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 81; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 163-64, 166; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 299; Sword, Wiley, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 386

The Fall of New Madrid

March 13, 1862 – Confederate defenders abandoned a position on the Mississippi River under artillery bombardment from Major General John Pope’s Army of the Mississippi.

By early March, General P.G.T. Beauregard had arrived in Tennessee after his transfer from Virginia to take command of Major General Leonidas Polk’s Confederates at Columbus, Kentucky, on the Mississippi. The fall of Forts Henry and Donelson, along with Nashville, had left Polk isolated and, despite his assertion that Columbus was the “Gibraltar of the West,” Beauregard directed him to abandon the place and fall back southward, down the Mississippi.

A new defensive line was established from Corinth and Iuka in Mississippi on the right (east) to Island No. 10 and New Madrid in Missouri on the left (west). Beauregard notified General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding the Western Theater, of this move. Johnston, reorganizing Confederates in Middle Tennessee, responded: “You must now act as seems best to you. The separation of our armies is for the present complete.”

About 7,000 Confederate troops, supported by gunboats and 140 guns, held Beauregard’s western flank. They were stationed at Island No. 10 in the Mississippi, and at New Madrid Bend, a peninsula created by an “S” bend in the river. The Confederates defended against western enemy advances, and they blocked the passage of Federal shipping.

The Confederate commander in the New Madrid sector, Brigadier General John P. McCown, warned his superiors that the region would not last six hours if attacked. His artillery chief, James Trudeau, inspected nearby Island No. 10 and reported that it was “in no measure fortified.” It was quickly reinforced with 10 artillery companies.

Brig-Gen John Pope | Image Credit:

Brig-Gen John Pope | Image Credit:

Meanwhile, Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding the Federal Department of Missouri at St. Louis, feared that Polk’s Confederates might move north and attack the Federal supply base at Cairo, Illinois. To counter, Halleck assigned John Pope to reinforce Cairo while leading a force down the Mississippi to attack the Confederates at New Madrid and Island No. 10.

Pope raised a new 12,500-man “Army of the Mississippi” at Commerce, Missouri, about 50 miles from New Madrid. The force mobilized quickly but was soon slowed by steady rain and mud. Pope’s ultimate objective was Island No. 10, which was highly fortified and most responsible for blocking Federal river traffic. But first Pope had to take New Madrid.

Pope’s advance units clashed with General M. Jeff Thompson’s Missouri partisans, which were hopelessly outnumbered and forced to run 16 miles from Sikeston to New Madrid. The partisans left behind some of their new, experimental cannon, which Pope inspected and reported to Halleck:

“The pieces of artillery are of small caliber, breechloading, beautifully rifled, and handsomely mounted on four wheels, drawn by two horses each. They have an ingenious repeating apparatus at the breech, and were undoubtedly made for service in this swampy, low region.”

Just as the Confederates from Columbus began manning the garrisons on the Mississippi, Pope’s Federals arrived outside New Madrid. Pope had a decisive advantage in troop strength, but he wanted to wait for support from Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s gunboat fleet before attacking. Pope’s main concern was nearby Confederate gunboats, which could stop an infantry attack. Pope also awaited his own artillery–three 24-pounders and an eight-inch howitzer.

Pope seized Point Pleasant on the 5th, which cut New Madrid off from the south. However, Foote would not be coming up any time soon, as he explained:

“The gunboats have been so much cut up in the late engagements at Forts Henry and Donelson in the pilot houses, hulls, and disabled machinery, that I could not induce the pilots to go in them again in a fight until they are repaired. I regret this, as we ought to move in the quickest possible time, but I have declined doing it, being utterly unprepared, although General Halleck says go, and not wait for repairs; but that can not be done without creating a stampede amongst the pilots and most of the newly made officers, to say nothing of the disasters which must follow if the rebels fight as they have done of late.”

During that time, Beauregard formally took command of the Confederates in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi, as well as those at New Madrid and Island No. 10. He called them the “Army of the Mississippi” (the “the” was dropped later) and proclaimed that so far in the war, their losses were “about the same as those of the enemy.” Despite recent setbacks, “those reverses, far from disheartening, must nerve us to new deeps of valor and patriotism, and should inspire us with unconquerable determination to drive back our invaders.”

As Pope continued waiting for support, Foote provided an update to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles:

“The Benton is underway and barely stems the strong current of the Ohio, which is 5 knots in this rise of water, but hope, by putting her between two ironclad steamers to-morrow, she will stem the current and work comparatively well… I hope on Wednesday (March 12) to take down seven ironclad gunboats and 10 mortar boats to attack Island No. 10 and New Madrid… We are doing our best, but our difficulties and trials are legion.”

On March 12, nine days after reaching New Madrid, Pope’s heavy siege artillery arrived. The Federals spent the night deploying the guns to begin laying siege to the two forts defending New Madrid, Thompson and Bankhead, as well as the 20 Confederate guns.

With his troops in position, the Federal siege guns opened with a sudden and massive bombardment through the foggy dawn of the 13th. The barrage caught the Confederate gunboats by surprise; they had not even gotten started when the firing began. Soon the Confederate artillery responded, taking out one 24-pounder and some field pieces.

Pope planned to focus on capturing Fort Bankhead on the Confederates’ right, but their gunboats arrived and forced Pope to change his strategy. The Confederate artillery was strong enough to prevent a frontal assault, but General McCown, with just 3,500 men against Pope’s 12,500, received word that Brigadier General Franz Sigel was on the way with 40 Federal regiments to reinforce Pope. McCown knew it was just a matter of time before he would have to evacuate or surrender.

That night, Captain George N. Hollins withdrew his Confederate gunboat squadron (the C.S.S. Livingston, Polk, and Pontchartrain) and used steamers to evacuate McCown’s defenders. During a violent storm, they pulled back to more fortified positions at Island No. 10, about 10 miles upriver on the Mississippi’s east bank. The Confederates spiked their guns to render them useless to the enemy, but they left behind many other valuable supplies in their disorganized retreat.

The next day, Pope’s men discovered that McCown had abandoned his positions. The Federals entered New Madrid and the forts without opposition, recovering the supplies and artillery the Confederates had left. Pope began planning to attack his main target, Island No. 10, and fortifications along the Tennessee bank of the river.

Meanwhile, Foote’s naval fleet finally left Cairo to support Pope; it consisted of seven ironclad gunboats, one wooden gunboat, 10 mortar boats, a coal barge, two ordnance steamers, and two army transports. Confederate cavalry stationed at Hickman, Kentucky, fled as the fleet approached.

The fall of New Madrid left the Confederates at Island No. 10 isolated from communications and supplies. It also trapped them in the swamps east of New Madrid, where Pope would confront them next month.


References (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13281, 13290; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 135-38, 141; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 307; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 116-17, 122-23; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 527; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 177-78, 184-85; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 258; Sword, Wiley, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 386

Halleck Cracks Down in Missouri

December 22, 1861 – Federal Major General Henry W. Halleck issued General Orders No. 32 as part of his program to suppress alleged disloyalty in Missouri.

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit:

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit:

Halleck announced that a “state of insurrection” existed in the state, but unlike John C. Fremont, Halleck requested permission from his superiors at Washington to impose martial law. Permission was granted on December 2 in a message signed by President Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward:

“General: As an insurrection exists in the United States and is in arms in the State of Missouri, you are hereby authorized and empowered to suspend the writ of habeas corpus within the limits of the military division under your command, and to exercise martial law as you find it necessary, in your discretion, to secure the public safety and the authority of the United States.”

Two days later, Halleck issued General Orders No. 13, which addressed the issue of secessionist spies operating within Federal lines:

“The mild and indulgent course heretofore pursued toward this class of men has utterly failed to restrain them from such unlawful conduct. All persons found in disguise as pretended loyal citizens, or under other false pretenses, within our lines, giving information to or communicating with the enemy will be arrested, tried, condemned, and shot as spies. It should be remembered that in this respect the laws of war make no distinction of sex; all are liable to the same penalty.”

Halleck singled out “wealthy secessionists who render aid, assistance, and encouragement to those who commit these outrages, although less bold,” proclaiming them “equally guilty.” To penalize them, Halleck directed that Federal commanders round up the thousands of Unionist refugees in St. Louis and “quarter them in the houses, and to feed and clothe them at the expense of avowed secessionists and of those who are found guilty of giving aid, assistance, and encouragement to the enemy.”

The orders instructed departmental commanders to adhere to the Confiscation Act regarding any fugitive slaves entering Federal lines. Halleck added, “Should Congress extend this penalty to the property of all rebels in arms, or giving aid, assistance, and encouragement to the enemy,” added Halleck, “such provisions will be strictly enforced.” Halleck concluded:

“Peace and war cannot exist together. We cannot at the same time extend to rebels the rights of peace and enforce against them the penalties of war. They have forfeited their civil rights as citizens by making war against the Government, and upon their own heads must fall the consequences.”

Later this month, a Federal colonel stationed 80 miles west of St. Louis reported “that several parties of secessionists are gathering and committing depredations in Montgomery County, within 10 miles of us.” Halleck directed the colonel to “send strong force to cross in the direction of Warrenton. Arrest all secessionists and bridge-burners.”

Meanwhile, Federal scouts intercepted a copy of Special Orders No. 14, written by Major General Sterling Price of the Missouri State Guards: “You are hereby ordered to immediately cause to be destroyed all railroad bridges and telegraph wires in your vicinity.” Halleck responded by issuing General Orders No. 32, which targeted citizens sabotaging Federal operations by burning bridges, destroying railroads, and cutting telegraph wires:

“These men are guilty of the highest crime known to the code of war and the punishment is death. Any one caught in the act will be immediately shot, and any one accused of this crime will be arrested and placed in close confinement until his case can be examined by a military commission and if found guilty he also will suffer death.”

Moreover, any “pretended Union man” who had evidence against secessionists but did not share it with Federal authorities would also be arrested. Federal commanders were to confiscate “the slaves of all secessionists in the vicinity and if necessary the secessionists themselves and their property.” Halleck concluded:

“Hereafter the towns and counties in which such destruction of public property takes place will be made to pay the expenses of all repairs unless it be shown that the people of such towns or counties could not have prevented it on account of the superior force of the enemy.”

As Federals scattered secessionists at Fulton and repaired the railroad at Warrenton, Halleck wrote to General-in-Chief George B. McClellan that the sabotage was “the most annoying features of the war… effected by small parties of mounted men, disguised as farmers, but well armed. They overpower or overawe the guards, set fire to the bridges, and escape before a force can be collected against them. Examples of severe punishment are the only remedies.”

Halleck issued orders to 15 Federal commanders at 15 points throughout the state: “Look out for bridge-burners. It is reported that concerted attempts will be made to destroy railroads and telegraph lines. Shoot down every one making the attempt.” Brigadier General John Pope dispatched cavalry to Lexington, where they destroyed two ferryboats that secessionists could have used to cross the Missouri and join Price’s retreat toward Springfield.

The day after Christmas, Halleck proclaimed martial law in St. Louis and along all railroad lines in Missouri. Two days later, the Federal sweep through Missouri that Halleck envisioned began when Brigadier General Benjamin M. Prentiss’s forces attacked secessionists near Hallsville, inflicting 50 casualties (five killed, 35 wounded, and 10 taken prisoner) and capturing 90 horses and 105 stands of arms. The sweep continued into the next year.



Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 88, 92-93; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 145-46, 150-51; The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 8, p. 453, 456-57, Series II, Volume 1, p. 236-28

The Blackwater Creek Engagement

December 18, 1861 – Federals under Brigadier General John Pope overwhelmed a force of Missouri State Guards and demoralized secessionists in the western part of the state.

Brig-Gen John Pope | Image Credit:

Brig-Gen John Pope | Image Credit:

Pope commanded the District of Central Missouri, covering the area between the Missouri and Osage rivers, with headquarters at Sedalia. His main task was to break up the pockets of pro-secession State Guards assembling and trying to join forces with Major General Sterling Price’s main army at Osceola in western Missouri.

On December 5, some of Price’s men successfully ferried about 2,500 volunteer Guards across the Missouri River at Lexington and led them to Osceola. In response, Pope wrote to Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding the Federal Department of Missouri: “I would respectfully suggest that to quiet all the disturbances and uneasiness engendered by the presence of so large a hostile force in this region, an advance in force against Price be made as soon as possible.”

Pope expressed confidence that his 15,000 armed, trained, and disciplined Federals could defeat whatever force that Price may have, and they could mobilize within two hours. Pope also outlined a strategy of confusing State Guard pickets with cavalry diversions before moving southwest, crossing the Osage River, and attacking with his main force before Price could gather more recruits.

Halleck responded by urging Pope to move, but not in the direction that Pope had requested. Instead Halleck directed Pope to move northwest toward Lexington and disperse the recruits that Price had not yet collected. Halleck also restricted Pope to using just his one division (Pope had requested two others). Although Pope disagreed with the order, he replied that he would begin moving the next morning.

Pope gathered 4,000 troops for the northwest march on the 15th when he learned that about 4,000 State Guard recruits had already left Lexington to join Price at Osceola; they were now probably near Warrensburg, 60 miles north of Price’s force. Pope received permission to change his marching orders to cut the recruits off between Warrensburg and Clinton. The Federals moved out but covered just 11 miles before camping southwest of Sedalia.

The next day, Pope’s Federals moved toward Warsaw, covering 23 miles in one of the longest marches of the war. Federal cavalry entered Chilhowe and learned that 3,600 Guards were camped six miles north of Warrensburg, near the Black River. Pope dispatched a force to Milford, just north of the suspected encampment, and another force to block the road extending southwest from Warrensburg.

The Federals attacked on the 18th, sending the Guard recruits across the Black River and capturing the bridge. The recruits were compelled to surrender when they fled southward and ran into the second Federal force blocking their path.

Pope reported that he had captured “1,300 men… three colonels… one lieutenant-colonel, one major, and 51 commissioned company officers,” along with about “500 horses and mules, 73 wagons heavily loaded with powder, lead tents, subsistence stores, and supplies of various kinds… also 1,000 stand of arms.”

Although this was likely exaggerated, it still made for an impressive victory. Over three days, Pope’s Federals had marched 100 miles and captured over 1,500 prisoners, 2,000 weapons, and 100 wagons. This severely damaged the secessionist cause in western Missouri and convinced Price that he could no longer rely on either recruits or Confederate aid.



Anders, Leslie, “The Blackwater Incident,” Missouri Historical Review, LXXXVIII, No. 4, July 1994, p. 420-25; (multiple dates); Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 88-89; The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 8, p. 39-40

Missourians Lobby the Confederacy

December 16, 1861 – Missouri General Sterling Price sent another message to Confederate President Jefferson Davis asking him to provide more support for their secessionist cause.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit:

General Sterling Price | Image Credit:

Price, commanding the Missouri State Guards, had written to Davis in November requesting Confederate aid. He wrote again on December 16 urging Davis to order General Ben McCulloch, commanding secessionists in Arkansas, to join with Price’s Guards: “I have repeatedly assured your Government that such co-operation would enable me to take and maintain possession of three fourths of the State and to gather around me at least 50,000 recruits.”

Price explained that thousands of secessionists were gathering throughout Missouri, but they “cannot come to me in the present condition of the State… most of them are compelled to stay at home to give whatever protection they can to their families against the armies and marauding gangs which are laying waste and desolating the State.”

According to Price, the main problem was that volunteers who “would gladly join the army, if they could get to it,” were “prevented from doing so by the extension of the enemy’s lines across the State and their occupation of every approach to the army.”

While this letter was in transit, Davis responded to Price’s letter of November 10 requesting aid. Davis assured Price that he was “most anxious to give to Missouri all the aid in our power, and have been hopefully looking for the tender of troops from Missouri and Arkansas, to be organized into brigades and divisions under the laws of the Confederate States.”

However, Davis had “at present no troops to give you except those under General McCulloch, and you are aware of their condition… You may rest assured that the welfare of Missouri is as dear to me as that of other States of the Confederacy, and that I will do all in my power to assist her in her struggle to maintain the common cause and to vindicate her freedom and sovereignty.”

Exiled Missouri Governor Claiborne F. Jackson, now in New Orleans, wrote to President Davis on the 30th in response to Davis’s suggestion that Price assimilate his Missouri State Guards into the Confederate army. Jackson explained that Price’s Guards had been “left alone to face a foe of more than five times their strength,” but they still “successfully held in check the Lincoln forces in our state.”

Jackson expressed concern that “General Price and his men being thus forsaken by those on whom they relied for aid can scarcely be expected they will enter the Confederate Army with that alacrity and promptness they would do under more favorable auspices.” Missouri had been “left to the mercy of the thieving jayhawker and murderous Hessian,” while the soldiers’ “towns and their houses (were) destroyed by fire, their property stolen, their country laid waste, and their wives and children driven from their homes to perish or to live as best they can.”

Jackson was also concerned that even if the Guards were absorbed into the Confederate army, Price would not be. As such, he asked Davis to put Price in command of the Confederacy’s fledgling Western Department, hoping that Davis had “already been clothed with power to make the appointment.”

The exiled governor wrote to Price that same day: “Why it is that he (Davis) can’t give you the appointment at once I am utterly at a loss to determine… (but) I will not censure the President until I know he has wronged us.” Jackson notified Price that money had been raised to buy a new sword for the general, as “a beautiful present from the young ladies of New Orleans.”

While Jackson enjoyed New Orleans and violent partisanship continued in Missouri, Davis disputed members of the Confederate Congress over military command in Missouri. This prompted him to write, “I have, long since, learned to bear hasty censure in the hope that justice if tardy is sure, and in any event to find consolation in the assurance that all my ends have been my country’s.”


References (multiple dates); Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 148-49

The Battle of Belmont

November 7, 1861 – Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals narrowly escaped destruction in an engagement in southeastern Missouri.

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit:

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit:

Grant, commanding 20,000 Federals at Cairo, received orders from Major General John C. Fremont on November 1 to make a demonstration on both sides of the Mississippi River to force Confederates at Columbus, Kentucky, to stay within their defenses. This would prevent General Leonidas Polk, commanding at Columbus, from reinforcing General Sterling Price’s State Guards in southwestern Missouri. It would also address the growing Confederate threat to Grant’s command. The orders stated that Grant was not to provoke an engagement.

Four days later, Grant supposedly received a dispatch from department headquarters stating that Polk was indeed sending troops down the Mississippi and up the White River to reinforce Price. Grant was to demonstrate against Columbus immediately to prevent the transfer. The dispatch was never found, but Grant later asserted that this prompted him to hurry preparations for the demonstration.

On the 6th, Grant loaded 3,114 troops–five infantry regiments, two cavalry troops, and a six-gun battery–onto four transports escorted by the wooden gunboats U.S.S. Lexington and Tyler. They steamed downriver under cover of growing darkness before stopping for the night on the eastern (Kentucky) bank, about nine miles below Cairo and six miles above the hamlet of Belmont, Missouri.

Polk had about 2,700 Confederates at Belmont under Brigadier General Gideon J. Pillow, with his main force at Columbus. Contrary to Federal concerns, Polk had no plans to reinforce Price; in fact, Pillow had received orders to leave Belmont the next morning and move east to Clarksville, Tennessee. The Confederates at Belmont had no idea that Grant was approaching that evening. Grant ordered General Charles F. Smith, commanding Federals at Paducah, to demonstrate against Columbus while Grant prepared to “menace Belmont.” This would prevent Polk from reinforcing the hamlet.

Around 8 a.m., Grant’s Federals landed at Hunter’s Farm, about three miles above Belmont, concealed by woods. They cut through the dense underbrush as they advanced on the town. Pillow, whose troops had begun heading toward Clarksville, hurried back and formed a line of battle in the face of the oncoming enemy. Confederate artillery from the Columbus bluffs fired on the Federals as they approached and attacked Pillow’s right, anchored on the Mississippi, and center.

Map of the engagement at Belmont | Image Credit:

Map of the engagement at Belmont | Image Credit:

The Confederates held firm until their ammunition ran low. Pillow ordered a bayonet charge, but only some of the men complied, and their line quickly collapsed. The Confederates fled, leaving the Federals in possession of their abandoned camps. Grant, with no wagons to collect captured supplies, directed that captured soldiers, horses, and cannons be put on the transports while the rest was burned. The Federals looted the camps as they listened to officers delivering patriotic speeches and bands playing “Yankee Doodle.”

Meanwhile, Polk landed reinforcements from Columbus between the Federals and their transports. With their line of retreat cut off, some officers suggested surrender. Grant replied that “we had to cut our way in and could cut our way out just as well.” The Federals fought their way through the enemy forces and hurried back to their transports. Grant nearly rode into enemy lines on his way to the river. The Lexington and Tyler provided covering fire as the troops boarded the vessels and returned north. Grant was the last to board, leaving his dead and wounded behind.

Each side lost about a quarter of their total, with Federals sustaining 607 casualties (120 killed, 383 wounded, and 104 captured or missing) and Confederates losing 641 (105 killed, 419 wounded, and 117 captured or missing).

Grant’s men returned to Belmont the next day under a flag of truce to collect the dead and wounded. Some officers’ wives searched for their missing husbands. Grant hosted Polk aboard the Federal headquarters boat, where Grant offered to turn over some wounded Confederate troops that had been captured. Polk responded that “… my Government requires all prisoners to be placed at the disposal of the Secretary of War.”

Confederates considered this engagement a victory because they had driven the Federals off. One reported that Grant “fled the field, virtually abandoning one of his regiments, leaving his dead and wounded, a large preponderance of prisoners, a stand of colors, 1,000 stands of arms, and the caissons of his battery at the hands of the Confederates.”

Pillow reported that his “small Spartan army” had withstood an attack from a force three times its size with impressive gallantry. General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding the Western Theater, announced:

“This was no ordinary shock of arms; it was a long and trying contest, in which our troops fought by detachments, and always against superior numbers. The 7th of November will fill a bright page in our military annals, and be remembered with gratitude by the sons and daughters of the South.”

Some northerners tended to agree. An editorial in the Chicago Tribune lamented the perceived defeat at Belmont:

“The disastrous termination of the Cairo expedition to Columbus is another severe lesson on the management of this contest with the rebels. Our troops have suffered a bad defeat… The rebels have been elated and emboldened while our troops have been depressed, if not discouraged.”

However, Grant claimed victory because he successfully carried out his orders, even if his force had to flee to narrowly avoid destruction. In his official report, Grant declared, “The victory is complete.”

In reality, this engagement gained nothing for either side. However, the role played by the Lexington and Tyler in protecting the Federal escape demonstrated the importance that naval gunboats would have in future engagements on the western rivers. And despite Grant’s questionable performance, this proved for the first time that he would fight when other generals would not.


References (multiple dates); Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 149; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 77, 79; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 138-39; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 396; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 46-49; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461

Fremont Finally Removed

November 2, 1861 – Major General John C. Fremont finally received the order removing him from command of the Federal Army of the West and replacing him with Major General David Hunter.

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit:

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit:

Fremont had incurred the ire of the Lincoln administration ever since he issued his unauthorized proclamation declaring martial law in Missouri and freeing all slaves belonging to disloyal masters. Since then, various investigations had uncovered vast amounts of corruption and fraud in Fremont’s department, which bore either Fremont’s complicity or his ignorance. Either way, President Abraham Lincoln decided in late October that Fremont had to go.

When Fremont learned that Lincoln had made the order removing him from command official, he worked to prevent messengers from delivering it by posting guards and issuing orders not to allow anyone into his Springfield, Missouri, headquarters without his authorization.

Leonard Swett and Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis, the men entrusted with delivering the order, had anticipated Fremont’s move. They enlisted a Captain McKinney to disguise himself as a farmer and enter Fremont’s headquarters on the premise that he had information about the secessionist Missouri State Guards.

McKinney arrived just outside Fremont’s lines at 5 a.m. after traveling 200 miles from St. Louis. Noting the stipulation that he was not to deliver the order if the army was about to go into battle, McKinney scouted the forces for five hours before determining that a battle was not imminent. One of Fremont’s aides halted McKinney as he approached, and after hearing the nature of the “farmer’s” visit and consulting with Fremont, the aide allowed McKinney to enter.

McKinney presented the order to Fremont, who frowned upon reading it. He pounded the table and exclaimed, “Sir, how did you get admission into my lines?” Fremont dismissed McKinney, who was arrested by aides to prevent him from notifying Hunter of the change. But McKinney explained that a second messenger had been dispatched, and Hunter had most likely already been informed already. Later that evening, McKinney escaped the aides’ custody.

Fremont called a meeting of all his division commanders (except Hunter) and announced that he would keep command by immediately confronting General Sterling Price’s Missouri Guards. However, the Guards had fallen back 60 miles, well beyond Fremont’s immediate reach. Brigadier General John Pope, one of Fremont’s critics, said, “It might be best, before deciding upon a plan of battle, to know whether there was any enemy to fight.” Hunter then arrived and announced his intention to carry out the order replacing Fremont. This ended both the meeting and Fremont’s reign as Western Department commander.

The news of Fremont’s removal soon spread through the army, causing resentment and outrage among his loyal followers, especially the German immigrants. General Franz Sigel, one of his division commanders, threatened to resign in protest, and some troops suggested staging a mutiny. But cooler heads ultimately prevailed as Fremont issued a farewell address that began, “Soldiers! I regret to leave you,” and asking them to be faithful to Hunter. He then left Springfield and returned to his wife at St. Louis.


References (November 2); Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 6; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21320; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 91-92; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6641; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 98-99, 149; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 77-78; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 391; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 133-35; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 814-15