The Battle of Belmont: Strategy

From the Union point of view the plan was simple, eliminate the Confederate presence in the border states of Missouri and Kentucky, and gain control of the Mississippi River. The Union forces under General Grant in 1861, departed from Cairo Illinois to Paducah, Kentucky. General Grant split his army into three parts to attack the Confederacy. The first part was under Gen. Charles Smith, which Grant sent through inland Kentucky to threaten the 17,000 Confederate troops at Columbus, Missouri. The second and third parts of his army were organized under two brigades and sent on the river bank across from Columbus, Missouri. From here Grant planned to attack the Confederate encampment at Camp Johnston across the river from the main Confederate force at Columbus, Missouri. By defeating the troops at Camp Johnston, and launching a diversionary attack on Columbus from General Smith on land, Grant could orchestrate a three pronged attack on Columbus and remove Confederate control of the Mississippi River. (Gleeson p.26-29) (Morris p. 24)


Click to zoom. Map of Belmont.

The Confederate strategy under Gen. Polk is to maintain control of the Mississippi River. General Polk stationed his 17,000 men at Columbus, Missouri, 19 miles south of Grant’s stronghold at Cairo, Illinois. Aware of General Smith’s Union troops marching across the Kentucky countryside, Gen. Polk put a small force of 3,000 men across from Columbus at Camp Johnston. General Polk is convinced, even after the fighting has started, that the main force of the Union army is with Gen. Smith marching toward Columbus. Due to this he is constantly hesitant throughout the Battle of Belmont to send reinforcements to his position at Camp Johnston. Polk’s strategy was one of caution, he wanted to keep a defensive position at Columbus, and stop and Union advancement upon his entrenchment. (Gleeson p.35-49)