One hundred and fifty years ago, the Union garrison in Helena was not comfortable with the number of troops protecting the city from Confederate bands of irregulars throughout the countryside. Major General Canby was notified of the situation in a late June 1864 dispatch sent by Union commander N.B. Buford at Helena. Following the deadliest shot fired in the Civil War by Confederates at St. Charles at a Union gun boat, the Queen City on June 24, 1864, Confederates under the command of J.O. Shelby were east of the White River- a fact that made the Union commanders in the Delta nervous.
The dispatch went on to relate that Colonel Dobbins was only 18 miles west of Helena, “across Big Creek, with a cavalry brigade, estimated at from 1,000 to 2,000 men.” It continued, “He holds as prisoners a master’s mate and 19 seamen of the Queen City… Shelby’s force is estimated at 2,500 men.” The Rebs had artillery, “with which they disabled the gun-boat and have taken from her nine pieces of heavy artillery, with all the ammunition and stores of the boat.”
The situation in Helena was indeed dire. Compared to the numerous artillery pieces and a multitude of troops in Helena during the battle on July 4, 1863, the summer of 1864 was quite another story. There were only two artillery pieces in Helena which were manned by colored troops. There were only 289 cavalry ready for the field. Buford made his plea for an additional one thousand infantry and an regiment of cavalry to garrison the port city, which fell of deaf ears, as General Washburn replied, “I have sent everything out after [Nathan Bedford] Forrest, infantry, cavalry, and artillery. I have not a single battery here. I much regret that I cannot send a force to help you clean out Shelby.”
Other military actions that took place within the borders of Arkansas this week one hundred and fifty years ago included a skirmish on Ju;y 1 in Pine Bluff; a skirmish at Searcy Landing on July 2; a skirmish near Benton on the 4th; a skirmish in Van Buren on the 6th, and a skirmish on the 7th at Huntersville.