Battle of Helena- The 33rd Missouri Spikes the Guns

The 33rd Missouri Spikes the Guns

During the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863, less than 300 men with two cannon held this battery for several hours against 3,000 Confederates.

Infantry Mans the Guns
The 33rd Missouri (U.S.) defended Battery C. The regiment had cross-trained as gunners, an unusual practice, and manned the guns at all of Helena’s defensive works. Here, two companies served as artillerists and sharpshooters. After the battle began, two companies of the 33rd Iowa Infantry arrived, completing the small command. They repelled two assaults before falling to the Confederates.

Rendering the Guns Useless
Civil War cannon were simple weapons. To fire, the gunner put a friction primer into the hole on the top of the barrel, called the vent. At the signal, he pulled a rope attached to the friction primer, creating a spark. The spark ignited the powder and fired the gun. The Confederates planned to turn Battery C’s gun on the Union forces, but the 33rd Missouri foiled their plans. Before retreating they spiked the gun- hammering files into the vents and breaking them off. They also took the friction primers.

The 33rd Suffers Heavy Losses
After leaving Helena, the 33rd Missouri participated in the Red River Campaign, Price’s Missouri Campaign, and the Battle of Nashville. But nowhere were they as hotly engaged as here. During the war, the regiment lost four officers and fifty-two enlisted men killed and mortally wounded. It suffered thirty of those casualties at the Battle of Helena.

Battery C Park, maintained by the Delta Cultural Center, is open daily from 9am-5pm.