Battle of Helena, Arkansas
As described in a letter by Henry S. Carroll
Orderly Sergeant, Co. D, 33rd Missouri Volunteer Infantry
I take pen in hand this morning in haste to inform you that I am in excellent health. You will probably have heard before this reaches you that we have a fight here. And most a bloody one it was too. Yesterday morning we were attacked at half past four o'clock by the rebels under Price, Marmaduke and Holmes. We were expecting an attack and as I mentioned to Edna the other day in my letter we were ordered into line every morning before daylight. Yesterday morning I was up at two o'clock and was engaged in delivering some tools to be used in the rifle pits. I remained up the balance of the night. At half past three the Capt ordered me to get the company into line.
Everything was calm and serene and we began to think the rebs had concluded not to attack us. I divided the men into gun squads and scarcely had the men taken their posts ere an officer rode up and ordered us to fire an alarm gun which we did. In ten minutes afterward, the enemy attacked our batteries on the left, almost as the fight opened on the right and center. I think the rebels had their whole force engaged. Our center was headed by two companies of our regiment who were protected by some earthworks in which were planted two brass field pieces. A rebel brigade charged upon this work. They were composed of the 7th, 8th,and 12th Missouri rebel regiments. The ground over which they charged was very broken and the two guns and the infantry in the rifle pits made fearful havoc among them.
The fight by this time was raging fearfully all around the lines. All this time we were standing at our guns. I commanded gun No.6 in Fort Curtis. We loaded first with a shell. The fog was so thick that at the distance of six or seven hundred yards,we could not distinguish our men from the rebels. This was just at sunrise. Gradually as the sun arose, the fog lifted and cleared away and I could see them coming in to flank the battery on the hill opposite us. I asked the Capt if I could give them a fourth of July salute. He replied to give it to them and thus opened the most murderous fire from our guns that ever men withstood.
But nothing seemed to daunt the foolhardiness of the rebels; they came on yelling like indians all the time. Our men at the batteries were overpowered and compelled to retreat. They retreated to Fort Curtis. The rebs rushed to the top of the hill and formed a new line. They seemed to think they had gained the day but they were woefully mistaken. While they were forming,we were throwing shot and shell into them that told fearfully. Their colors were posted in a very conspicuous place and time after time they dropped to the ground. Men would rush up and hoist them again but only to be shot down.
As soon as they were formed, they began to advance toward us. They had to cross seven hundred yards of open ground. They seemed as they intended to take us at the bayonet point. They advanced steadily and briskly while six heavy guns from one fort and also several companies of infantry, that had been driven in from the outer works, were mowing them down under this murderous fire. They advanced four hundred yards.
They were so close,the day seemed lost in spite of all we could do. At this distance, we poured in a double charge of grape that made them reel and stagger. Their officers waved their swords and tried to urge the men forward, but it was of no use. It was not human to stand it. They broke and began to retreat and such a slaughter was never greater on any battlefield west of the Mississippi. They started up the road and I trained my gun upon it, as also did two other gunners in the fort. We all fired at once and when the the smoke cleared away not a man was to be seen within a rod of the place. Dead, dying,and wounded were strewed thickly on the ground. This charge was made down a hill and so perilous was it to retreat that they fell closer to us in a hollow, and the way we did slaughter them was something.
They soon raised a white flag and all of the eighth and tenth Mo rebels regiments surrendered but what lay on the field dead and wounded. We captured one thousand prisoners, two cols., 7 captains, 14 Lts., and guns and accouterments by the card.
I could not give you all the minute details if I were to write two days but will do so in a few days. By eleven o'clock they had retreated and the firing had ceased. And such a looking set of fellows as we were all black with powder as negroes and well we might be for we had fired 103 rounds from our gun during that time. Every one of our company behaved nobly; we are all heroes. Old Pike (County) may well be proud of her representatives here yesterday.
Our Colonel,who was at Pittsburg Landing and Corinth and many other battles of this war says the 33rd are every one heroes. General Salomon says he never saw artillery used more effectively than we did ours yesterday. Not one of us was hurt though the fort is sickening full of balls. The gun carriages (damaged?) but no one was hurt inside the fort. But the enemy were slaughtered.
It was supposed yesterday evening that there were two hundred of their dead on the field, but our men have been burying them since three o'clock yesterday. We find them behind logs and stumps and in hollows. Everyone seems to think that there are at least four hundred of their dead on the field. I have just been over the battlefield and no language can describe its horrors. It was a scene I never shall forget. Men were torn and mutilated in every possible manner. They were all Missourians. Numbers of them surrendered that could easily have escaped. There happened to be a steamboat here at the time and we put six hundred on board of her and started them to Memphis in one hour after the surrender. I suppose you will see an account of it in the papers before I write again. I must close as the mail is ready.
I received letter from Edna this morning.
Our whole loss was 50 killed.
So good bye
This transcription of Sergeant Carroll's letter home to his mother was generously supplied by Kent Salomon for use on this web page.