One hundred and fifty years ago, the blacks in Arkansas found themselves in an unusual predicament. As the Federal forces moved throughout the state, a multitude of freed men, women, and children followed in its wake, or so the story has been told for 150 years. While studying the Civil War, the serious student must never make assumptions that this was the case 100% of the time.
According to an 1862 Little Rock newspaper, the Federal Army sent a scouting party toward Clarendon from Union-occupied Helena. The express purpose for the scouting party of five thousand soldiers under Federal General Hovey’s command was to bring “back the contraband spy, who was the cause of the expedition, and proved himself an efficient one by misleading the forces six miles from the road to a clearing, to find a camp of rebels.” The article continued, “The wagon train being sent forward after shelling the woods and finding no enemy the march was resumed.” The intention of the contraband spy was “to have the train captured.” The scouting party lost eight men in the deception.
This week one hundred and fifty years ago, a multitude of freed slaves, or “contraband”, were busy building Fort Curtis in Helena while over 40,000 Federal soldiers fine tuned their military maneuvers. It was this week that the heavy artillery guns, ranging from 64 pounder siege guns to 24-pounder artillery pieces arrived aboard the same boat that would later lend its help repulsing the Confederate attempt in taking Helena in July 1863- the Tyler.