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The Belmont Battle.


November/December 1861

From The Missouri Democrat, Wednesday, November 13, 1861.



The Plan and the Movements Clearly Stated.

[Special Correspondence of the Missouri Democrat.]

CAIRO, Nov. 10, 1861.

Several days ago, orders were received here from St. Louis, to Gen. Grant, commanding this district, to move his forces, and make a demonstration on both sides of the river towards Columbus and Belmont. The object of the demonstration was not, as is generally supposed, to either take or attack Columbus, but to alarm the rebels, and to cause them to abandon the intention, which they are known to entertain, of sending large reinforcements to Price and Buckner, and to induce them to draw in and concentrate their forces at Columbus.

General Smith was ordered to send a force from Paducah, on the Columbus road, to proceed no farther than Mayfield, fifteen miles from Columbus. Colonel Cook was ordered to proceed from Fort Holt to Elliott’s mill, eight miles from Columbus. These forces moved on Wednesday.

On Monday, previous, Gen. Grant dispatched some 3,500 men, under command of Col. Oglesby, to Indian Ford, with instructions to disperse forces which were gathered there under Jeff. Thompson, and drive them from Missouri. This expedition was sent out before the order was received for a demonstration down the river. On Tuesday night, however, Gen. Grant sent orders to Oglesby to march his forces towards Belmont to co-operate in the expedition which had been subsequently planned-having information that Thompson was in rapid retreat to Arkansas.

On Wednesday night Gen. Grant, with his fleet of steamboats and the gunboats Lexington and Tyler, left Cairo and started Southward. The whole force accompanying him consisted of a detachment of the First Brigade under command of Gen. McClernand and a detachment of the Second Brigade under command of Col. Dougherty.

General McClernand’s command consisted of detachments of the Twenty-seventh Illinois, Col. Buford; the Twenty-ninth, Col. Fouke; the Thirtieth, Col. Logan, and two companies of Cavalry, in all some 1,700 men.

Col. Dougherty’s command consisted of detachments of his own, the Twenty-second Illinois, and of the Seventh Iowa, Col. Lohrman, and Taylor’s battery, six pieces, and a company of Cavalry, in all some 1,200 men.

General Grant was accompanied by the following members of his Staff Col. Webster, Engineer Department, Capt. Rawlins, Adjutant, Captains Lagon and Hillyer, aids, and Capt. Hatch and Commodore Graham, who went as volunteer aids, and Surgeon Brenton.

The fleet moved down the river with the utmost caution and quiet, and was safely moored about 11 o’clock on the Kentucky shore, about eight miles above Columbus. Gen. Grant then ordered the gun boats to proceed down the river with caution and make reconnaissance of the rebel batteries. About five o’clock in the morning the gun boat returned, reporting that on account of the dense fog, they were unable to make a satisfactory reconnaissance.

In the mean time Gen. Grant received reliable information that a considerable number of rebel forces at Columbus were under marching orders to cross next morning to Belmont, and move towards Greenville and cut off the return of our forces under Col. Oglesby.

Prior to receiving this information, it was Gen. Grant’s design to lead his troops on the Kentucky side, and threaten the enemy until Colonel Oglesby could reach Belmont, and co-operate in such movement as subsequent reconnaissance might dictate.

The information relative to the enemy’s intentions of cutting off Col. Oglesby changed the plan, and Gen. Grant immediately ordered the fleet to move down the river and land on the Missouri shore. The landing we effected about eight o’clock at a point some four miles above Belmont.

The troops were immediately disembarked, and made a rapid march towards Belmont, scouts having been sent forward to ascertain the strength and position of the enemy.

While being disembarked the gunboats were ordered to drop down the river, and engage the rebel batteries on the bluff above Columbus. A brisk fire ensued; one of the enemy’s guns was disabled, our gunboats escaping unharmed.

When two miles from Belmont our troops were halted, and skirmishers sent out to reconnoiter. They had proceeded but a few hundred yards, when they were engaged with a large body of the enemy. The main body of our forces were then ordered forward, and they moved with enthusiasm and alacrity.

An now the ball was fairly opened. For ten minutes there was one unceasing roar of musketry, and success seemed fairly poised. Now could be heard the voices of our officers cheering on their men. Logan and Fouke on the left, and Dougherty and Lohrman on the right, Buford’s regiment being the reserved corps. The enemy had the advantage of position, of numbers and artillery, our artillery not having yet been brought into action.

But our men were moving with a consciousness of right, and a fixed determination not to yield, and the enemy gave way before them. The shouts of victory now resounded from our ranks, and our men moved on towards Belmont. In a few minutes the enemy rallied and were reinforced, and again the air resounded with the rattle of musketry and the roar of artillery, followed by the shouts of our victorious columns. Again and again was this repeated, until two and a half hours had been consumed of severe fighting, with scarce an interval of five minutes.

During all this time Generals Grant and McClernand were in the thickest of the fight, directing the movements of our forces.

Finally the enemy were utterly routed, their camp and guns taken, and they driven on to their boats. The Star and Stripes were raised over the rebel tents to the tune of Yankee Doodle.

Our guns were planted on the banks of the river and fired at the rebel boats, and one lone shout of victory resounded through the air.

The order was now given to withdraw, and our troops reluctantly prepared to abandon the ground they had so gallantly won. It was then the enemy took fresh courage; their defeated troops, with large reinforcements, were landed, and attacked our retreating columns.

Again our men charged upon them and drove them back, but the rebels rallied as often as our troops withdrew, and as our column moved back to the transports they followed, retreating as often as our forces turned upon them, till our men had embarked on board the boats.

Then they came in large numbers to the bank of the river, and the gunboats opened upon them, making sad havoc in their ranks.

Thus ended the battle of Belmont. The object of the expedition was accomplished. It was, in every sense, a brilliant engagement and a fruitful victory. Our loss was heavy, but theirs was terrible. Their design to reinforce Price and Buckner was abandoned; their plan to cut off Oglesby’s command frustrated–and now they concentrated their whole force at Columbus, having abandoned altogether their position at Belmont.

The rebels were confident that they had killed Gen. Grant, and Gen. Polk would not believe the bearer of our flag of truce next day, who contradicted the report.

The reason for their belief, I suppose, was this: Gen. Grant’s horse was shot while he was in the thickest of the engagement. Capt. Hilyer immediately dismounted and gave the General his horse, and the saddle of the General’s horse was left upon the field, with his name on it. This was captured by the rebels, who thought it good evidence of his having been killed.

The Seventh Iowa Regiment suffered most. It was in the advance when the enemy’s guns were taken, and covered the retreat. Col. Lohrman, their gallant commander, was severely wounded in the charge at which the rebel guns were taken.

When the battle seemed apparently to have been finished, and the enemy gone, Capt. Lohrman was placed in an ambulance, to be carried off the field; but when the enemy again attacked us, he leaped from the ambulance, again mounted his horse, and led his regiment on to another charge, and remained in command to the last.

There are many brave and touching incidents of the battle, which I will give you in another letter, as well as the details of our loss.