The battle of Belmont was the first battle in the western theater of the Civil War and, more importantly, the first battle of the war fought by Ulysses S. Grant. It set a pattern for warfare not only in the Mississippi Valley but at Fort Donelson and Shiloh as well. Grant's 7 November 1861 strike against the Southern forces at Belmont, in southeastern Missouri on the Mississippi River, made use of the newly outfitted Yankee timberclads and all the infantry available at the staging area in Cairo, Illinois.
The Confederates, led by Leonidas Polk and Gideon Pillow, had the advantages of position and superior numbers. They hoped to smash Grant's expeditionary force on the Missouri shore and cut off the escape of the Illinois and Iowa troops from their boats. The confrontation was a bloody, all-day fight that a veteran of a dozen major battles would later call "frightful to contemplate." At first successful, the Federals were eventually driven from the field and withdrew up the Mississippi to safety. The battle cost some twenty percent of his troops, but as a result of this engagement he became known as an audacious fighting general.
Using diaries and letters of participants, official documents, and contemporary newspaper accounts, Nathaniel Hughes provides the only full-length tactical study of the battle that catapulted Grant into prominence. Throughout the narrative, Hughes draws sketches of the lives and fates of individual soldiers who fought on both sides, especially of the colorful and enormously dissimilar principal actors, Grant and Polk.
About the Author
Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes Jr. is author or editor of many books, including Bentonville: The Final Battle of Sherman and Johnston and The Life and Wars of Gideon J. Pillow (both from the University of North Carolina Press). He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
What People are Saying About This
In this definitive study of U. S. Grant's first Civil War battle, Nathaniel Hughes has done for Belmont what Wiley Sword did for Shiloh and Peter Cozzens for Stones River. This is a lively account, as well researched as it is well written.James I. Robertson, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Will gain a coveted place in Civil War historiography as the authoritative work on this battle.Choice
With lively prose and judicious interpretations, Hughes captures the reader's attention and maintains a high level of action and suspense throughout. . . . Intimately familiar with the terrain of the battlefield and the backgrounds of the key players, the author brings alive the smaller human interest stories in the struggle of brother against brother. A lively and authoritative account for all adult readers.Choice
Hughes presents the results of his impressive research into more than a hundred manuscript collections and hundreds of books, articles, dissertations, and more in a convincing, logical, and thought-provoking text that points out that a very secondary or even tertiary engagement can cause ripples that spread ever wider until they are felt far away in ways undreamed of. Belmont caused such ripples, Hughes argues, and in the face of his impressive evidence and conclusions, so eloquently presented, it would be perilous to argue with him.The Journal of American History
A detailed and absorbing work on this early engagement in the western theater of the Civil War which had consequences far beyond the number of men involved.Charles P. Roland, University of Kentucky
The most complete account yet of this little-studied battle. . . . Those readers interested in the detailed retracing of battlefield movements will appreciate [Hughes's] painstaking efforts to reconstruct the ebb and flow of the struggle.Journal of Southern History