Life in Helena during the Civil War was anything but pleasant. Now a haven for heritage tourists, the Delta port town was a miserable situation for the citizens, the soldiers occupying the city, and the liberated slaves that saw Helena as their escape from bondage. A soldier in the 29th Iowa Infantry wrote back home about the morale of the Federal Army that “I think we are doomed to stay in this miserable town of graves and Sutler shops all summer. I would rather run the risk of one battle than stay here through the hot months of august and September.”
Throughout the Federal occupation of Helena, which began in the summer of 1862, the War ravaged throughout the Delta. Destruction of homes, crops, and forage was commonplace. The infantryman continued, “… we are in for fighting to the last rather than give way to traitors and rebels. We will kill, ‘burn,’ and destroy everything before us to gain our end.”
While countryside supplies were being ravaged and destroyed to prevent its use by the Confederate Army, an officer in the 28th Wisconsin described the preparations being taken to fortify Helena in anticipation of any attack coming from the west: “The fortifications about Helena are being completed & new ones are being built. Gen. Gorman having a short time since been directed to put Helena in a complete state of defense, as no more troops could be spared at present for its protection.”
By the time the Confederates made their attack on Helena on July 4, the town was well-fortified. Fort Curtis and four hilltop batteries would prevent any Confederate attack from threatening the Yankee foothold in Eastern Arkansas, or so they hoped.