Battle of Helena artifacts

Battle of Helena artifacts

Have you ever been to a museum and wondered what the whole story behind an artifact was? Perhaps you saw something similar to what is in the photo. To ninety-nine per cent of us, they are just bullets. Chucks of lead used in a forgotten battle. These unassuming bits of lead are American history.

Interpretation is everyone. One might simply say they are bullets in a case and move on to the next case. From where did the lead come? There could be an entire story on the extraction of lead from its respective ore. Arkansas had many lead mines during the Civil War and they were exploited to make ammunition for Confederate and Federal soldiers. In fact, the area of Gravel Ridge, a community just outside Sherwood, was littered with lead mines.

What did it hit? If you look at the shape of these bullets, it is obvious they hit something solid on July 4, 1863. Did they hit a tree? A house? A horse? A person? We will never know, but one can most certainly rest assured these bullets were fired in anger with the intention of hitting another person. Just by examining and interpreting these bullets, a flood of questions may come across your mind. One of the last men to touch that bullet was a man far away from home in a war over a hundred and fifty years ago.

Objects by themselves bereft of interpretation are only objects. These bullets help tell the story of when Americans were so mad at themselves they decided to split the country in two and spent the next five years shooting these chunks of lead at each other. Oh no, these are not your standard bullet. These are weapons of war outlawed by the Geneva Convention. These are bullets that, when they hit a person’s arm, the arm will shatter, leaving no choice but to amputate. While today’s heavy small arms weapons in use today are .50 cal., the bullets you see here are .58 cal.

These bullets and hundreds more like them can be seen on display at the Helena Museum at 623 Pecan Street.