The view from these 180-foot bluffs has changed significantly in the last several centuries. The Mississippi River has shifted course. Portions of the bluff has crumbled into the river. The bustling town of Columbus, which once lay just beneath these bluffs, has largely vanished, and the view of Belmont across the river is not what it once was. Close your eyes, and even the sounds have changed. An element of quiet now exists in what was at times a very noisy place.
These images - some photographic and some drawn - show you what you might have seen had you stood here in earlier times. Each is explained more fully in the museum. Look for them as you view the exhibits, and you will get a sense of the degree to which Columbus was transformed by human and natural forces.
(Captions under photos and illustrations in the center and right):
View from the bluffs - looking towards the battlefield at Belmont - 1864
On November 7, 1861, civilians and soldiers on these bluffs and in the town below heard gunfire (some from nearby cannon), saw smoke, and caught glimpses of a battle that was being fought across the river at Belmont, Missouri. As spectators at Columbus watched, Confederate troops beat back a Union attack led by a future President of the United States. Who was he? You'll find out inside the museum.
Map of Columbus and Belmont during the Civil War
Though some of the details are not quite correct, this map shows the relative locations of Columbus, as fortified by the Confederates; Belmont, site of the Battle of Belmont, and Cairo, an early Union stronghold at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Members of the 4th US Colored Heavy Artillery on the bluffs - 1864
This photograph was taken within 400 yards from where you are now standing. Much of "downtown" Columbus can be seen in the background, including warehouses, docks, and railroad tracks. The soldiers are members of the 4th US Colored Heavy Artillery, which was raised here and was one of two core regiments garrisoning Columbus.
Birds-eye view of Columbus - taken in 1907 or earlier
This postcard view of Columbus shows the original downtown area, early in the 20th century. The town had already suffered from floods, fires, and hard economic times. In 1927, the Mississippi permanently overran its banks, took a new course, and claimed much of historic Columbus. The town was relocated to the bluffs, where it remains today.
Plan of the Confederate fortifications at Columbus - 1862
This map was made by Union engineers, shortly after the Confederates abandoned their position here. Traces of the earthwork fortresses and trenches shown on this map can still be seen. In fact, you have passed a reconstructed portion of one as you approached the museum.