One hundred and fifty years ago, one of the last major engagements of the Civil War in Arkansas occurred 22 miles southwest of Helena. The Federal force of 315 infantry, two cannons, and 130 cavalry under the command of Colonel W.S. Brooks of the 56th United States Colored Troops clashed with a Confederate force of 1500 mounted infantry under the command of Helena’s own General Dobbins.
As the Federals arrived at Big Creek, or Wallace’s Ferry at daylight on July 26, 1864 under the assumption that Confederates were not in the area, Dobbins’s Arkansas and Missouri cavalry attacked the unsuspecting blue coats from three sides. For the next four hours, the African-American troops held their ground against the battle-tested Confederates.
As the fighting raged on, the U.S.C.T. received much-needed help at 10 a.m. from an Illinois contingent of cavalry. As the fresh Illinois troops entered the fray, they sliced through Dobbins’s mounted infantry and a fighting retreat ensued, chasing the Illinois and U.S.C.T. troops back to the relative safety of Helena. Union casualties mounted to 19 killed, 40 wounded, and 4 missing.
This week one hundred and fifty years ago, there were 12 military actions that took place within the borders of Arkansas, including a skirmish at West Point and at Scatterville on the 28th; a skirmish at Fort Smith on the 29th; skirmishes on the Little Rock Road, May Station No. 3, and at Pine Bluff on the 30th; an action near Fort Smith on the 31st; a skirmish at Lee Creek and Lamb’s Plantation near Helena on August 1; an action at Osceola and in Helena on the 2nd; and a skirmish at Osceola on the 4th of August. For a complete list of over 700 military actions that took place in Arkansas during the Civil War, go to www.arkansastoothpick.com.