United States Gunboat Lexington,
Off Cairo, November 9, 1861.
Sir: This communication conveys well-authenticated information, which I trust will excuse its great length as well as secure it an attentive perusal. I send herewith a report of Commander Walke, of the gunboat Taylor, showing the participation of that vessel, and the gunboat Lexington, Commander Stembel, in the attack on the batteries at Belmont, on the Mississippi river, this side of Columbus.
As a synopsis of this full and extended report, I may say that the gunboats rendered the most effective service on this occasion, having but one man killed and two wounded; in fact, I am informed, both by army and navy officers, that the boats, by covering the final retreat with well-directed fire of grape and canister, mowing down the enemy, prevented our troops from being almost, if not entirely, cut to pieces.
General Grant, the commanding general, informs me that there are 40,000 men and 108 guns of large calibre in Columbus and its vicinity, and that the rebels intend to make this point their principal stand against the movements of the gunboats and troops down the Mississippi river. A rifle shot weighing 90 pounds was picked up by one of our men, thrown a distance of three miles from one of the rebel batteries.
The demonstration down the river was intended rather as an armed reconnoissance than an attack on Columbus; in fact, mainly for the purpose of destroying the detachment which had crossed the river, and this was effected by capturing the cannon and burning the tents and baggage, the latter accomplished by Quartermaster Hatch with a detachment of men. This movement, it is believed, has prevented, for the present at least, a junction with General Price in Southwest Missouri, also the detachments being cut off which have been sent from here to attack Jeff Thompson, as well as establishing the fact of Columbus being so strongly fortified that a large land force must co-operate with the gunboats in order to move successfully beyond this point down the Mississippi river. On the other hand, General Graut is impressed with the idea that the rebels may retaliate by an attempt to seize "Bird's Point" or "Fort Holt," in this immediate vicinity, and, in view of this, wants early reinforcements of well-equipped regiments. The general estimates the loss on our side at 250 killed, wounded, and missing, and the enemy's loss in killed alone at 300. My opinion is, after careful inquiry, as stragglers are still coming in, that our loss of killed, wounded, and missing will amount to five hundred persons, together with 25 baggage wagons, 100 horses, 1,000 overcoats, and 1,000 blankets. The men fought with great gallantry, and Generals Grant and McClernand had their horses shot under them; and had not the troops been flushed with their early success, and commenced looting, instead of being prepared to retire when the object of the expedition was accomplished, they might have left with comparatively little loss, but the delay gave the enemy time to cross from Columbus in great force, and hence the comparative disastrous termination in the withdrawal of our forces. * * *
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
A. H. FOOTE, Commanding Naval Forces Western Waters.
Hon. Gideon Welles,
Secretary of the Navy, Washington., D. C.