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The Battle of Belmont Through the Eyes of an Illinois Soldier

The following letter describing the fight was written the day after the battle, and published in the Flag Of Our Union newspaper in Clark County, Illinois on November 15, 1861. The letter was written by Orderly Greenough of Captain Bradshaw's company in the 30th Illinois. One interesting thing about the letter is that it does not mention General Grant.

FLAG OF OUR UNION-Nov 15, 1861

"Knowing how deep will be the interest by the people of Clark in the conduct of her boys in the fight yesterday at Belmont, I have volunteered a brief statement of the part taken by Company 'F' in that hotly contested battle. You have, of course, received telegraphic reports of the fight, and know its general character and results, but you may not get through the same source, any information in regard how our own volunteers stood the fire.

"Belmont, or Camp Johnson, is, as you are aware, directly opposite the city of Columbus, and completely commanded by the guns of the batteries on the high bluffs above. At this place Jeff Thompson's command had been encamped, but at the time of the attack, had gone into the interior having only two regiments in Belmont. Gen. Pillow gained information of our approach in time to reinforce the place with four or five thousand men of his own Brigade, himself commanding in person. We landed three miles above the destined point of attack, our Company being the first to land and lead the way. Before debarking Col Foulke approached Co F, saying 'Boys, I have selected you to lead off in today's encounter, I know you are drilled in the skirmish drill, I have great confidence in you and your officers. Don't let your conduct in to-days battle show that confidence in you have been misplaced.'

"We scoured the country around, taking in charge every individual of the 'masculine persuasion' capable of giving information to the enemy, and then advanced as skirmishers upon their position, approaching so near as to hear hear distinctly their field music as the troops were landing from Columbus, the bands playing 'The girl I left behind me.' The signal of recall was now sounded, the order given to unsling knapsacks and prepare for battle, the line formed, and the word 'forward' passed down to the ranks. Col Buford quickly came upon some detached companies of the rebels and routed them at the first discharge. Company F was now again called upon to deploy in front and protect the advance of our lines. In this order we traversed the woods (heavy timber with but little underbrush) until came upon the 7th Iowa Regiment, which were advancing in good order from a different direction on our left. They then passed on ahead of us driving the enemy's advance before them, when suddenly the whole rebel force, together with two full batteries opened upon them with a roar of musketry an artillery perfectly appealing. The balls flew like hail just above our heads, raining bark and severed twigs upon us, still not an enemy in view. The Iowa boys retreated in confusion, passing through the intervals of our Company, back upon the Thirtieth Regiment, and finally rallied in the rear. This movement left Company F two to three hundred yards in advance of our whole force, exposed to the fire of their batteries and infantry, But for our Zouave movements and skirmishing drill, not a man of us would've escaped. The enemy fire continued, and a rapid forward movement was determined on. Our boys were recalled, and once more took our place in the regiment. While perfecting the formation of the line, and in the partial confusion caused by this first check of our advance, the rebels were fast bringing their artillery in range and their balls now began to tell, A six pound shot whistled over the neck of McClernand's horse and after the general's beast, rising in his stirrups he waved his sword aloft, and yelled about the din of battle. 'Great God! Men is there no fight in you? We must move them; this thing shall be stopped; EGYPT to the reserve-victory or death.' This was enough; the order came, 'forward the Thirtieth.' In better order than could have been expected from older troops we advanced, but in ascending the raising ground in the enemy's front, the Regiment again came to a stand, and could not be forced forward by the utmost exertions of our Regimental Officers. Lieut. Peyton here set an example before the eyes of our officers which must have commanded their admiration. Taking Jake Fraker's gun he walked out in front of the ranks a distance of thirty yards, in front, accompanied by Lafe Milan and J.C. Brown on the left, with Bela Harrison and myself on his right, and quickly taking over, commenced loading and firing upon the enemy, who were now, from our new position, in full view and only 75 yards distant, Our entire company, seeing the example, came to our support. And here we removed far in advance of our regiment, firing with deliberate aim upon the centre of the rebel line, for full fifteen minutes, before a single company came up to support us, and when the regiment moved up, the rebel centre had been broke by the deliberate, effective fire our one company, and with their colors, was already in full retreat.

"While we were in front, loading and firing in true Zouave style, being on our backs to load and rising upon one elbow to fire, the storm of the rebel bullets was terrific. Scarcely any of our boys escaped without one or more balls through their clothes. Three pierced Geo, Overmire at the shoulder, one passing through the collar of Francis W. Hassett's coat, grazing his head, and knocking him down for some moments. Bob Shields was prostrated by a spent grape shot in the side, and Joshua Brown considerably bruised by a musket ball in the shoulder, and had his coat pierced by one or two more. Three balls struck the small tree behind which I was kneeling to load, any one of which would otherwise have been fatal. In taking aim at one time my eyes were filled by bark by a ball which glanced off grazing my head it flew by. One brave fellow who came up from a company to my right, fell dead within my reach with a ball through his right eye. Our knowledge of skirmish drill alone saved our company from utter annihilation. The danger was increased by the regiment firing over our head upon the enemy. You can readily imagine our delight when the rebels finally fled before us, and our own artillery, which, by this time, had been brought forward on our right, supported by the 22nd Illinois, opened an effective fire upon their flying columns at right angels with the fire of the 30th and 31st regiments. Following them up, we now emerged from the woods, drove them across their own trade ground and their camp. Here, among their tents and the weeds, underbrush and fallen timber which skirted then on either side, they made another stand.

"Col Logan, Foulke and Buford now charged into this camp-the rebels not caring to wait for the bayonet, were completely routed and driven into the river or scattering among the brush and weeds south of their camp. The scene at this juncture was glorious in the extreme. The hateful symbol of treason had been torn down, and the 'Flag of the free hearts's hope and home' waved proudly in its stead. As the crackling flames licked up their tents and camp buildings like a flash, a short roar wild and joyous from the Union boys, whose long struggle were now crowned with success. The city of Columbus and the rebel fortifications were in full view across the river and each saluted by a few shots from our batteries. They opened fire upon us from the opposite shore, but they shot and shell mostly ranged too high.


"After the capture of the camp. no effort was made to preserve order in any of the regiments, and men permitted to scatter in all directions through the burning tents searching for booty. The only measure of precaution taken to guard against surprise reinforcements of the enemy, was and order by Col Foulke to Lieut. Peyton to send twenty men of his company into the woods north of the camp for this purpose. I took the twenty men and deployed them out with the manner I thought best calculated to secure the desired end. We had not been in position two minutes before Charley Brown reported a regiment of "Secesh" approaching on the left. Our skirmishers retired rapidly before them, but being uncertain whether they were rebels or one of our own regiment, I advanced towards them in order to satisfy myself on this point. They came up within less than a hundred yards, and I might easily have picked off their commander (who rode a gray horse in the rear of their line) had it not been for my doubt about the identity of the regiment. I had a good rifled musket with graded sights and could have killed a squirrel at the distance, but recovered my aim, and discovered my mistake too late to rid the the country of Gen. Pillow, for it was he (as our prisoners say) bringing up the rebel reinforcements. Fire paced on slow, with horrid front they came on, and I came off, firm and fast, to report their approach to Col. Foulke. Every effort was now made to re-form our forces into line, which had only partially succeeded when the enemy opened fire. To return to our boats was now the object, and to do so we were obliged to cut our way through the enemy. Our regiment covered the retreat in good order, and last to embark on the boats.

"Thus ended our first fight, successful in its ulterior object, but disastrous in its immediate results. The Iowa 7th Regiment retreated in great confusion, and lost 200 men; the 30th retreated in comparative order and lost 48. the melancholy circumstances of the retreat which followed a hard-earned and glorious victory, is due in most part to the weaknesses and oversight of the officers, who took no precaution against surprise, and the enthusiasm of the men who regarded it as a point of honor to bring some trophy from the field. In the fight our officers behaved most gallantly. Col. Foulke was perfectly cool and deliberate throughout the battle, and twice had his horse shot under him. Logan sought the spot where the conflict raged fiercest, and seemed in his element where bullets fell the thickest.


"McLernand is a hero on the field. His clothes and equipments were riddled with bullets. But Clark county will be best pleased to learn of heroic conduct and gallant bearing of her own boys, when first under fire, but conducting themselves with the coolness and courage of veterans.

"I had the melancholy satisfaction of 'killing my man,' but cannot say I felt no revulsion of feeling as I saw a human being sent to return his worthless trust of perishable clay by my hand. I went up and examined him. The ball had entered his right cheek and passed out t the back of his head, the brains crimsoned with blood slowly oozing out, and staining the stock of his musket. Lieut. Peyton also shot a secesh through the backbone, killing him instantly.

"We found the rebels well armed, well fed, and well drilled. They had provided themselves with homespun clothes trimmed with stripes to suit the taste of the wearer. The prisoners represent provisions as plenty among them, with the exception of bacon and coffee. The first was worth 25 and the second 50 cents per pound. Their haversacks left on the field were filled with a profusion of good things, and Bela Harrison and I refreshed ourselves with some of them on the field. The great want on the field was water. At one time I asked a Sergeant at my side to give me a drink from his canteen. He protested that the fire was too hot to admit of it. He had not closed his lips when a ball pierced his canteen, and I then asked a refreshing draught from the bullet hole without uncorking the canteen. A plentiful supply of water would have saved many lives. Our boys will learn a valuable lesson from the experience of the 7th, and never go into battle again without every canteen filled to repletion, nor ever again carry a knapsack into the field.

"The boys of our company carried old English muskets into the fight, and before it closed each had secured a good rifle musket, together with every species of secession booty. I had the good fortune to save and capture a young Tennessean, a very intelligent, good looking fellow. He took breakfast with us this morning. You will probably see some of our trophies soon. I hope to be left to tell something of our next fight.



Ogden Greenough, author of Belmont letter, was killed June 15, 1864 at Marietta, Georgia and is buried in Marshall, Illinois.

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Darryl R. Smith
Darryl R. Smith
Jul 23, 2022

Enjoy seeing a positive commentary on McClernand as I think many have this mindset that he was not an effective commander and I believe that falsehood has been accepted for far too long. Nice article, David.

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