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 Grant
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.