The drama that played out atop Battery C during the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863 was anything but typical. Though Arkansas was not bereft of hostilities by 1863, what happened during the Confederate attack on the Union garrison was among the bloodiest west of the Mississippi River. Akin to Pickett’s charge that occurred the day before in Gettysburg, the assault on Battery C had the same consequences: Confederate retreat and a Union victory. Following is the text on one of the interpretative panels in Battery C park. This will be reenacted on March 14, 2015.
The Confederates Take Battery C
Battery C, perched atop Graveyard Hill, commanded the city and the rugged landscape to the west. Confederate General Theophilus Holmes believed it was the gateway to Helena. He sent General Sterling Price’s Infantry Division, his strongest force, to take it.
Price Finally Attacks
Even though he could hear fighting on both ends of the line, General Sterling Price waited to attack. By the time he began his assault, the fog shrouding the battlefield had lifted, leaving his infantry exposed. William Bull of the 3rd Missouri Field Battery wrote, “[s]hots of the enemy which was poured upon us from small arms and artillery from the time we appeared on the top of the hill…”
Three Costly Assaults
Captain Thomas M. Gibson, 33rd Missouri, held Battery C with an artillery crew and a handful of infantry. The Confederates slammed into Gibson’s defenders until they actually crossed bayonets. An artillery barrage from the surrounding batteries, the gunboat Tyler and Fort Curtis drove the Confederates back twice. The third try carried the hill. The jubilant Confederates yelled and waved flags; bedlam reigned on Battery C.
Errors Lead to Disaster
General Holmes ordered an attack on Battery D. In the chaos, he was misunderstood. A Confederate brigade on Battery C rushed down the hill and attacked Fort Curtis instead. Half of the brigade was lost in the streets of Helena. Holmes was forced to withdraw; his Confederate army retreating back down the Lower Little Rock Road.
“They succeeded in carrying Battery C, but not until they had many of heir men and officers killed and wounded; but their superiority in numbers was so great that they completely overpowered our force at the battery.” – Lt. Col. Cyrus H. Mackey, 33rd Iowa
Battery C Park, maintained by the Delta Cultural Center, is open daily from 9am-5pm.