One hundred and fifty years ago, word had just reached Arkansas regarding the bloodiest day in American history: the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam). Depending on whether you were a Yankee or Confederate, this would have been the best or worst news, respectively, as news of the absurd number of casualties from both sides began filling 1862 newspapers, letters, and diaries from both sides.
The only unit from Arkansas that fought at the Battle of Sharpsburg was the 3rd Arkansas Infantry. It was this unit that fought a desperate fight where the Antietam Battlefield visitor’s center now stands, directly across the street from the famous landmark Dunkard’s Church. Bluffing the Federals at the end of a hard day’s fight, the 3rd Arkansas saved Lee’s Army from certain destruction.
According to Coleman Chubb in Company A of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry stationed in Helena, Arkansas, in his September 20, 1862 diary entry, he noted that, “ Today paper brings good news from Md. and Virginia.” While the Federal forces in Helena were poised for any threat the Confederates could muster, there was still bigger threats to the Federal plans for complete domination over the South, and that threat was down the river at a city built on high bluffs on the Mississippi River: Vicksburg. Though Vicksburg will not fall into the hands of the Yankees until the Summer of 1863, operations against this Southern stronghold stared much sooner. According to Captain Jos. Trego, 5th Kansas Cavalry Company C, his September 18, 1862 diary entry relates that, “Several boat-loads of troops started out to Vicksburg at daylight (from Helena).”
As disease runs rampant through the Federal camps in Helena, the Confederate forces keep the bluecoats on their toes at every chance. Skirmishes become a near daily occurrence. Following is a list of military actions that took place during September, 1862:
06 – Skirmish, La Grange
11-13 – Expedition from Clarendon to Lawrenceville (20 miles south of Clarendon) and St. Charles
19-20 – Affair, Helena
23 – Skirmish, McGuire’s Ferry (10 miles south east of Fayetteville)
26 – Expedition from Helena to La Grange (9 miles south of Marianna)
26 – Expedition from Helena to Jeffersonville (6.5 miles south east of Marianna) and Marianna