November 5th, 1861.
It is late at night and I want to get a letter into the mail for you before it closes. As I have just finished a very hasty letter to Julia that contains about what I would write, and having something else to do myself, I will have my clerk copy it.
Day before yesterday, I left here with about 3000 men in five steamers, convoyed by two gun boats, and proceeded down the river to within twelve miles of Columbus. The next morning the boats were dropped down just out of range of the enemy’s batteries and the troops debarked.
During this operation our gun boats exercised the rebels by throwing shells into their camps and batteries.
When all ready we proceeded about one mile towards Belmont opposite Columbus; then I formed the troops into line, and ordered two companies from each regiment to deploy as skirmishers, and push on through the woods and discover the position of the enemy. They had gone but a little way when they were fired upon, and the ball may be said to have fairly opened.
The whole command with the exception of a small reserve, was then deployed in like manner with the first, and ordered forward. The order was obeyed with great alacrity, the men all showing great courage. I can say with gratification that every Colonel without a single exception, set an example to his command that inspired a confidence that will always insure victory when there is the slightest possibility of gaining one. I feel truly proud to command such men. From here we fought our way from tree to tree through the woods to Belmont, about two and a half miles, the enemy contesting every foot of ground. Here the enemy had strengthened their position by felling the trees for two or three hundred yards and sharpening the limbs, making a sort of abattis. Our men charged through making the victory complete, giving us possession of their camp and garrison equipage, artillery and everything else.
We got a great many prisoners. The majority however succeeded in getting aboard their steamer and pushing across the river.
We burned everything possible and started back, having accomplished all that we went for and even more. Belmont is entirely covered by the batteries from Columbus and is worth nothing as a military position. It cannot be held without Columbus.
The object of the expedition was to prevent the enemy from sending a force into Missouri to cut off troops I had sent there for a special purpose, and to prevent reinforcing Price.
Besides being well fortified at Columbus their numbers far exceed ours, and it would have been folly to have attacked them. We found the Confederates well-armed and brave. On our return, stragglers that had been left in our rear, now front, fired into us, and more recrossed the river and gave us battle for fully a mile and afterwards at the boats when we were embarking. There was no hasty retreating or running away. Taking into account the object of the expedition the victory was most complete. It has given me a confidence in the officers and men of this command, that will enable me to lead them in any future engagement without fear of the result. General McClernand — (who by the way acted with great coolness throughout, and proved that he is a soldier as well as statesman) — and myself each had our horses shot under us. Most of the field-officers met with the same loss, besides nearly one third of them being killed or wounded themselves. As nearly as I can ascertain our loss was about 250 killed, wounded, and missing.
I write in great haste to get this in the office tonight.
U. S. GRANT.
SOURCE: Jesse Grant Cramer, Editor, Letters of Ulysses S. Grant to His Father and His Youngest Sister, 1857-78, p. 64-7