One hundred and fifty years ago, Major-General N. J. T. Dana, commander of the District of Vicksburg, arrived in Helena to inspect the Union garrison. His inspection revealed that the health of the troops in Helena, “appears to be the most deadly place on the river.” He noted that, “The Sixth Minnesota should be immediately removed to Vicksburg to regain its health enough to make it effective. The effective force here now is about 3,100 men.”
General Dana’s inspection revealed that the 15th Illinois Cavalry consisted of five companies and were largely unarmed, “having only 185 carbines and accouterments, most of which are condemned.” The unit needed 300 sets of horse equipments, 400 carbines and accoutrements, and 343 pistols.
The inspection of Battery E, Second U.S. Artillery (colored) revealed a healthier condition with 108 effective soldiers. The artillery battery consisted of two 3-inch ordinance rifles and two captured 12-pound mountain howitzers, 83 horses, and three six-mule teams in good condition.
The 56th USCT had 780 effective men, “of which 581 are at Helena and the remainder at two points four and fourteen miles below here guarding a district of plantations.” The regiment’s weapons were “dirty and in bad order, with the exception of Company I, Captain Mohrstadt, which was in good order.” But the commanding officer noticed that the 56th USC had, “Many deficiencies in haversacks, canteens, and cartridges. Instruction of officers in drill and tactics very deficient; knapsacks very poor and badly slung. General appearance unsoldierlike.”
The 60th USCT regiment was also inspected. This unit was in much better condition than their 56th USCT counterpart. General Dana commented that their, “Arms in tolerable order. Clothing, equipments, and accouterments good. Drill and instruction pretty good. Discipline good. Officers tolerably good. General appearance rather creditable.” Though the unit’s sanitary condition was not so well, Dana made note that the 60th USCT garrisons the multiple hilltop batteries in Helena.
The 43rd Illinois was inspected next and was found to have 684 effective soldiers. Their weapons and equipment were in good order, but lacked in sanitary condition.
The 6th Minnesota was found to have 325 effective soldiers out of 937. Dana commented, “This is an old and most excellent regiment, with a fine set of intelligent and well-instructed officers. The colonel is an excellent and educated soldier.” This unit left Cairo, Illinois two months previous with over 900 men fit for duty. According to the inspection report, “They have been terribly afflicted at this unhealthy spot till the sick-list is now 598. It has increased in the last two days forty-five, and there are a number of deaths daily.”
Overall, the readiness of the soldiers garrisoning Helena 150 years ago was lacking in both equipment and soldiers fit for duty. Because of the poor sanitary conditions, Major-General Dana recommended that several units be relocated to Vicksburg where they could recover from their illnesses in a better climate.
There were several military actions that occurred in Arkansas this week one hundred and fifty years ago, including a skirmish near Pine Bluff on the 18th; a skirmish at DeVall’s Bluff on the 21st; a skirmish on the 22nd in Yell County; a skirmish in DeVall’s Bluff on the 23rd; skirmishes at Devall’s Bluff, Fort Smith, Jones’ Hay Station, Long Prairie, Ashley’s Station, Gerald Mountain, and Mud Town on the 24th; and a skirmish at Brownsville on the 25th. For a complete list of military actions that took place in Arkansas during the Civil War, go to www.arkansastoothpick.com.