One hundred and fifty years ago, word had finally reached the Union garrison in Helena of Robert E. Lee’s disaster in Gettysburg and Pemberton’s surrender in Vicksburg. Morale in the U.S. army was at all all-time high, but they had to remain on alert at all times, as the Confederate forces in Arkansas kept well-hidden and ever-present. A skirmish could erupt at any point at any time. Though many Rebs were killed, wounded, and taken prisoner during the Battle of Helena on July 4, there were plenty in the countryside in the Delta keeping a watchful eye on the enemy in blue.
As scout and foraging bands roamed the countryside in search for food and foe, Robert T. McMahan of the Twenty-Fifth Ohio Light Artillery, kept note of his travels in the summer of 1863. Because of the sweltering heat in the Delta, the U.S. army made a habit of starting their marches as early as possible. On August 1, 1863, McMahan wrote that they were up by three in the morning and marching by six A.M. As they marched through Wittsburg, near the present city of Wynne, he noted that a “small stern wheel steamer lying here at the landing…brought us grub the other day.”
Supplying an army deep in enemy territory was not easy. Good drinking water was hard to come by as the Yankees found themselves scraping green scum from the surface of swamps only to succumb to malaria, dysentery, and a host of other water-borne illnesses. Life as a soldier on either side of the conflict was arduous. But another danger, just as deadly as the drinking water, involved the roaming bands of guerrillas in the countryside.