Chapter II -- Battle of Belmont

Our regiment camped at Ft. Wright until some time in July. Tennessee having seceeded, we were transferred to the Confederate Army and sent to New Madrid, Missouri. We landed there about the middle of the day on Sunday, I thought about the hottest day I ever felt. We had no water to drink that day except the warm, muddy water from the Mississippi river. We were marched from the boat and were placed on a low vacant plot of ground covered with weeds and Dog Fennel and compelled to stand there in the sun for more than two hours without shade or water.

We were the first Confederate troops that had ever been there, and of course, attracted no little attention. While waiting there for all saloons and all other places where liquor was sold in the town, to be closed and guarded, the ladies of the town, especially those who sympathized with the Southern cause, had gathered around and near by to witness our landing. When it became known to them that we were both hungry and thirsty they began to bring us something to eat and water to drink, greatly to our relief, as we had had nothing to eat that day.

After camping at this place for two or more weeks we then went up the river by boat to Island number 10. After camping there for some time we were moved up the river to Columbus, Kentucky. In a short time we were moved by forced march to Mayfield, Kentucky.

After staying there for two or three weeks we were marched back to Columbus, where soon after the 7th of November, on the opposite of the river, the battle of Belmont was fought.

Belmont was only a little village on the Missouri side of the Mississippi river opposite Columbus, Kentucky and consisted more in name than anything else, until occupied by a small force of Confederates, perhaps six or eight thousand, composed of one Company of Cavalry and one Field Battery of light artillery from New Orleans. This force was under Command of Colonel Govan, Colonel of the 13th Arkansas Infantry, which in turn was under the command of General Polk, who was the Commander-in-Chief of all the forces at Columbus and Belmont.

To illustrate how little the best officers of both sides understood military matters at that time, I will give some of the details of that battle: The Confederate forces across the river were supplied with only three rounds of ammunition, and strange to say, there were no pickets posted up the river to keep a watchout for the enemy, who were camped only eighteen miles away at Cairo, Illinois.

Early on the morning of November 7th from the high bluff on the Columbus side of the river, boats could be seen some six miles up the river. Some of the officers with strong field glasses said the enemy was landing troops from these boats onto the Missouri side. These boats could not be seen from Belmont owing to a slight bend in the river.

I was one among the number of a work detail on the high bluff just above the town of Columbus and could plainly see the Federal boats up the river.

We were all ordered to our quarters and put in readiness for an attack on our side, but strange as it may appear today, the Confederates across the river were not notified of the enemy landing above them and they were not thinking of an attack until the enemy was in sight of their camp.

It was but a short time before the Confederate forces were driven back, their artillery captured and their camp destroyed, besides several Confederates had been taken prisoner and sent to the Federal boats up the river.

While this was taking place the Confederates were landing reinforcements above where the battle was being fought, but it was a long time before the tide of battle had changed and the enemy was in full retreat, leaving many dead and wounded on the field. The Federals were followed to their boats and many of them killed on their boats as they were getting away.

Had General Grant moved his troops down in the night and not been seen by the Confederates it would have been an easy matter for him to have captured the entire force at Belmont, but as it turned out he only destroyed the Confederate camp with the resulting loss of a considerable number of men.

A circumstance happened on this battlefield that has been told and retold, and I will tell it again because I believe that it might interest some reader or lover of the curious: As the prisoners were being taken back from the battlefield and were passing over the ground where the first part of the battle had been fought, a young baby girl was found lying in an old road in the woods. One of the guards dropped his gun and picked up the baby and carried it to Cairo, Illinois. When the prisoners were exchanged and returned they told of this baby being found and the papers of Columbus published this news with the hope that the baby's mother might be found, but no claimant ever inquired or called for the baby, and the matter remained a mystery.

Some eight or nine years ago one of the men who was a prisoner at that time made inquiry in the Confederate Veteran if there was anyone living who knew anything of the circumstances. It appeared that the Federal soldier who had carried the baby from the battlefield read this notice and made this reply: that after reaching Cairo he got a lady there to care for it until he could advertise it in the Cairo, Illinois and the Columbus, Kentucky newspapers. Not hearing of its mother, and the lady who was keeping it having children of her own and not being able to keep it, it was given to a German farmer and wife living in Missouri who raised it until she was grown, when she married a well-to-do farmer, and at that time was the mother of four children, all nearly grown, but her identity still remained a mystery.

Perhaps you will ask how the baby came to be there on the battlefield. I have given you the facts. You can do your own guessing.

Next: Federals Open Cumberland River
Previous: Backward, Turn Backward
Table of Contents