On this day in 1861, Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant overrun a Confederate camp at the Battle of Belmont, Missouri, but are forced to flee when additional Confederate troops arrive. Although Grant claimed victory, the Union gained no ground and left the Confederates in firm control of that section of the Mississippi River.
This engagement was part of Grant’s plan to capture the Confederate stronghold at Columbus, Kentucky, just across the river from Belmont, by first driving away the Confederate garrison at Belmont. General Leonidas Polk, Confederate commander at Columbus, had posted about 1,000 men around Belmont to protect both sides of the river. On the evening of November 6, Grant sailed 3,000 troops down the Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois. They landed early on November 7, just three miles above Belmont, and proceeded to attack. Upon hearing noise from the battle, Polk sent another 2,500 troops across the river to provide relief for his beleaguered Rebels. The Yankees routed the arriving reinforcements and scattered them along the river. At that point, the Union troops began to celebrate their victory and loot the Confederate camp.
Grant had ordered a small Union force under General Charles Smith to advance from Paducah, Kentucky, which lay to the northeast, to provide a diversion and keep Polk from sending any more reinforcements to Belmont. Grant hoped that Polk would believe that Smith’s advance was the primary attack and that Belmont was the diversion. Polk did not buy it, and he dispatched additional reinforcements to Belmont. Five Confederate regiments arrived as Grant ordered his men to return to the boats. Grant himself narrowly escaped capture, butwas able to get most of his force back on the river. The Yankees retreated to Cairo.
Grant lost 120 dead and 487 wounded or captured, while the Confederates lost 105 dead and 536 wounded or captured. Although he gained no ground, Grant demonstrated that, unlike many other Union generals, he was willing to mount a campaign using the resources at hand rather than calling for reinforcements. This trait served Grant well during the war, and it eventually carried him to the top of the Union army.