Errors in Grant’s official map for the Battle of Belmont 2 comments

A close reading of the official reports for the Battle of Belmont indicates that Ulysses S. Grant’s official map, echoed by authors afterward, incorrectly portrayed Jacob Lauman’s move to the right side of the battle line during the engagement.

Although this detailed map of the action, which accompanied Grant’s report of the battle, showed Henry Dougherty’s Second Brigade (22nd Illinois and 7th Iowa) moving to the right soon after forming line at the slough—early in the advance—Lauman actually led his 7th Iowa to the right, across the path of John A. Logan’s and Philip Fouke’s regiments (two-thirds of John A. McClernand’s First Brigade) only after nearing the open space in front of the enemy encampment. The 22nd Illinois marched to the right along with the 7th Iowa.

McClernand, Dougherty, Fouke, and Lauman each mentioned how this occurred just in front of the rebel camp. The confusion may have derived from Dougherty’s mention of how, “we advanced by a flank movement to the right,” near the beginning of the action, even though he later stated that his brigade was on the left just before the last approach against the camp. Fouke, likewise, reached a cornfield and found the 22nd Illinois of Dougherty’s brigade on his right. But, instead of the cornfield where Pillow’s attack took place earlier in the day, this one was near the open space in front of the campground where Grant’s troops captured the rebel battery. Maps used in subsequent works (e.g., the Papers of U.S. Grant) apparently adhered to the General’s incorrect rendering. Furthermore, Grant’s map wrongly implied that only four Union transports were present and that only Logan’s and Fouke’s regiments faced Pillow at the beginning of the engagement. Grant’s sketchy, official, after-action report did not comment on the fighting in any great detail.

On a side note, other errors may have confused the issue. The transcription of the Diary of Patrick H. White in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 15, No. 3/4 (Oct., 1922–Jan., 1923), Page 646, also seems in error. It has White stating, “I took my sword and pushed on to the front and took my position to the left of the 31st Ill., commanded by Col. John A. Logan. This right moved farther to the right to cover some point exposed, but left one company to support me.” Instead of “This right,” White probably wrote something like “This rgmt” (meaning “this regiment”) or he meant to do so, especially as he referred to its leaving behind one company.

Captain John Seaton—on Pages 310–11 of “The Battle of Belmont” from the M.O.L.L.U.S. Kansas volume (1906)—wrote, “The advance was delayed while placing the advanced guard. After the disposal of the men was completed to the satisfaction of General Grant, he came riding up the river road to our regiment, which was on the extreme right.” Instead, Seaton’s 22nd Illinois was on the extreme left.

Errors abound in Civil War historiography, and it’s not sufficient to take many statements at their face value without performing due diligence.

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2 thoughts on “Errors in Grant’s official map for the Battle of Belmont

  • Christopher K. Coleman

    Good piece about how even “official” maps can deceive. I wonder if anyone has ever fact checked and corrected the official (and subsequent) maps for the Battle of Shiloh. General Buell asserted that it minimized his army’s gains on the second day. He also alleged that Sherman’s “corrected” map was deliberately misleading.

    • Joseph Rose Post author

      Thanks, Christopher. My cartography professor often stated that, “All maps lie,” because it’s impossible to perfectly replicate reality on a two-dimensional piece of paper. But that doesn’t explain why many maps of Shiloh grossly misrepresent what happened there.

      The George Thom map seems to have been motivated by Halleck’s preferences. And the map in Grant’s Memoirs seems to place the Federal line in a far more advanced position than it actually was.

      Sherman had an especially difficult time telling the truth. Long after the war, he was arguing that Lew Wallace had hardly done any fighting on April 7th and then wanted to safely hide behind Sherman’s lines at the end of the day. Instead, he had advanced the farthest and was wondering why no one sent him in pursuit.

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