Some of the distress was wearing away now that the worn out Army of the Southwest had reached the succor of the once thriving river port of Helena. Captain Joseph Trego of the 5th KN Cavalry spoke of taking a walk through town: “Saw some new kinds of ornamental trees and many new flowers.” He also mentioned consuming a variety of vegetables new to him, which he didn’t identify. He finalized his observations by declaring; “The Southern people seem to have a great deal of taste and a great fancy for flowers and shrubbery.”
Austrian born Sergeant August Bondi of the same unit after passing through the Smizer farm, seven miles from Helena later recorded in his diary “Today I saw and tasted the first figs in the United States.” One IN surgeon staying at the H C Rightor home declared his figs ‘insipid fruit’.
As everyone became more domesticated, it was apparent the Army of the Southwest, was now an army without a mission. Foraging and cotton stealing became more and more prevalent creating dissent in the ranks. Of the abundance of assorted fruit and vegetables, especially peaches and watermelons were most desirable now that they were in season.
On July 29th the Surgeon in charge of the military hospital in Pine Bluff was ordered to move to a healthier location eight mile away at White Sulphur Springs. The log boarding house in the small resort community accommodated the sick and the cool, open, mosquito-free atmosphere was a refreshing improvement. Within a three mile radius as many as six or more military training and supply camps operated. This emerging military community by the following year would become a major supporting factor during the Vicksburg Campaign.
Between Little Rock and Conway was located Camp Chrystal Hill where Gen Hindman caused the formation of an infantry division. Col Allison Nelson commanded a brigade of five dismounted TX cavalry regiments, besides his own 10th TX Infantry. A native Georgian, Nelson seemed to have devoted his adult life to physical combat ranging from the Mexican War to the cause of Cuban independence. After a short stint as mayor of Atlanta, he resigned the same year because the city Council reduced two small fines he imposed.
Going north he then measured swords with the jayhawkers during the KN border troubles then moved on to the TX frontier to play smash with the warrior tribes. He settled down long enough to serve in the TX legislature two years until hostilities opened.
Former Searcy Attorney Col Dandridge McRae, a veteran of Wilson’s Creek and Pea Ridge, commanded the other brigade. On paper he had charge of 5000 men, but of the six regiments he headed up about 3000 was present for duty.
Col Joseph C Pleasants had established himself upriver from Arkansas Post in 1858. Though he hadn’t either livestock or cotton, he is said to have constructed three miles of state levee. The six foot, four inch VA native received state troops wrenched from Governor Rector by Hindman, with conscripts fleshing out the rest of his unit.
Union controlled Missouri was a recruiting ground for volunteers, and Hindman gave authorization to hard bitten officers who, were returning from east of the River to raise new units. In the forefront were J O Shelby, Vard Cockrell and Sidney Jackman and other once prominent Missourians. Their mission of recruiting behind enemy lines was a bold and dangerous endeavor. Gen Hindman persuaded Richmond to return the Missouri State Guard under Gen Mosby M Parsons. Eleven days into their march, the small brigade, delighted at moving out of MS and toward their MO homes, arrived one mile from the Great River near Bolivar on July 29th.
Meanwhile Col William H Parsons was given command of the First Brigade, First Cavalry Division, Army of the West. The Cotton Plant area was his base with scouting and other tactical movements directed toward Helena.
Captain Alf Johnson’s Special Ops Group remained independent, taking orders from Col Parsons only when directed by Gen Hindman. On July 25th he was ordered by the latter to move to Wittsburg, then downriver toward Helena. Wittsburg was due west of Memphis and 100 miles north of Helena. Some reduced battalions of the 3rd WI Cavalry were making an unauthorized incursion toward Helena for the purported reason of assisting Gen Curtis. They were leaving behind a trail of plunder and mischief, but before reaching Hugh’s Ferry near Marianna, their condition was eroded from fatigue and disease.