The Battle of Belmont: The Fight Begins

John McClernand

General John McClernand. From the Library of Congress.

The fighting at Belmont began on the morning of Nov. 7th, 1861, when Union Gen. Grant’s 3,000 men attack the Confederate encampment of 1,000 men at Camp Johnston. At 10 am when the first shots are fired, Gen. Polk could see from his position across the Mississippi River at Columbus that his encampment is outnumbered. Worried about the advancing Union Gen. Smith, Polk acted with caution sending the 12th, 13th, 21st, and 22nd Tennessee Regiments, giving the Confederates a boasted 3,100 troops, versus Grant’s 3,000. (Gleeson p.35) The first part of the fighting ended fairly quickly due to a mistake by Confederate General Pillow, who decided to place his cannons in a cornfield, instead of a protected area by the camp. The canons were immediately overrun by the Union forces, which were under the command of John McClernand. Showing his inexperience in battle, Union General McClernand assumed the day was won and gave a celebratory speech to the Illinois regiments. It is noted that the men begin to drink and became, “intoxicated and unorganized.” (Gleeson p.35)