The following account of the Battle of Helena, Arkansas, was written by General Frederick Salomon some thirty years after the War's end to members of the Society of the 28th Wisconsin Vol. Infantry. The General had been invited to attend the 11th annual reunion of the regiment but was unable to attend, and so forwarded his written account to be read at the reunion and published in the proceedings.
Source: transcribed from an original draft held by Mary Lou Salomon, a descendant of General Salomon, and generously made available for use on this web page.
Eleventh Annual Meeting of
The Society of the 28th Wisconsin Vol. Infantry
Held at Mukwonago, Wisconsin, June 21st and 22nd, 1893.
Battle of Helena, Second Paper
Salt Lake City, Utah, June 9th, 1893
S. R. Bell, Esq., Sec., Soc. 28th Wis. Regt. Vol. Inf.
My Dear Sir:
Your kind letter of June 1st, ‘93 has been received; and enclosed please find the desired account and sketch of the battle of Helena, Ark., July 4th, 1863. With my best wishes for your success in the reunion of the old brave 28th Wis. I am,
Comrades of the 28th Regiment Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, GREETING:
I have been requested to address you at your annual reunion to be held at Mukwonago, Wis., June 21st and 22nd, 1893, on the battle of Helena, Arkansas, July 4th, 1863, in which you bore such a prominent part thirty years ago. Unable to be there personally, I will be wish you in thought, and send you, with my best wishes, my recollections of that memorable battle, and while I write this, the battle with all its details and excitements is clearly before me.
Helena is situated in Arkansas, on the right bank of the Mississippi River; it is bounded on the west and northwest by pretty high and steep hills, heavily timbered. On a spur of these hills, running south, is Fort Curtis, armed with five 24 and two 32 pounders. But the Fort, built principally to control the Mississippi River, is subject to the fire of common muskets of those days from the higher adjoining hills. The south side
of Helena is open and level, a splendid opportunity for cavalry charges. General Prentiss commanded the Military District, General Ross the Forces and Defences of Helena, and when Gen. Ross left on a leave of absence of thirty days in the commencement of June, I was placed in command of said Forces and Defences. At the time General Prentiss informed me that the enemy, reported to be 20,000 strong, was marching from Little Rock eastward.
I then commenced the fortifications, and rushed them energetically. On the crest of the hills, west of town and Fort Curtis, I erected four batteries, which were given in charge of the 33d Mo. These batteries were connected with rifle pits. From the two extreme batteries A and D, rifle pits were run east to the levee of the Mississippi River, and on the south side of the town; in addition to the rifle pits, a line of Trous de loup in fence against cavalry charges were constructed, the whole line being seven miles long. Besides this the trees in front of the batteries were cut down, the roads except two made impassible; in short, the soldiers, only 3,500 strong, had hard work to do in that scorching June sun.
The first of July arrived; there was no knowledge of the whereabouts of the enemy; scouting cavalry forces did not find him, yet all indications forboded an early attack. I then ordered the whole force to fall in at the rifle pits every morning before daybreak. After adjusting the number of troops to the line, every man knew his place, and when before daybreak of the fourth of July the alarm gun was fired, the men hurried to their posts without confusion, awaiting the enemy. The enemy, under command of Lieut. Gen. Holmes, with Generals Price, Marmaduke, Fagan and other Generals, intended to make a simultaneous attack from all sides at daybreak, but owing to the obstructions in the roads and the cutting down of the trees they failed in it, and when they afterwards made an energetic but disconnected attack on various points of my line of defence, they gave me the chance to reinforce my troops at the endangered places.
Everything looked favorable, so that at about eight o’clock, after fighting for over four hours, and after repelling the assaults upon batteries C and D three times, I could send my Adjutant Blocki to Gen. Prentiss with the report, that I hoped to be able to hold the place.
Then a phenomenon, perhaps known only on the Mississippi, threatened to frustrate all our hopes. A fog rose from the bottom of the valley, white, thick. It rose quick, covering everything from view. No one could see the approach of the enemy. Then the fog still rose, leaving everything clear below it; then I saw innumerable legs, the upper part of the bodies still in the fog, marching on Fort Curtis. General Price had taken Battery C, had broken my line. I opened fire at once from the heavy guns of Fort Curtis; the troops on the south line were thrown against the storming enemy; two pieces of artillery received the enemy with cannister from south east; two from north east batteries D and E relieved at that moment, opened at their flanks and rear; they were under five different artillery crossfires; a few minutes of thunder; a white handkerchief; cease firing; an hour later the first lot of prisoners steamed north toward Memphis.
The battle was virtually over.
The next day reinforcements came from Memphis, the enemy was pursued, but could not be overtaken. On the same day, July 4th, 1863, Vicksburg, the long contested stronghold of the enemy, was surrendered to Gen. Grant, who sent Sherman immediately with his army east to fight the approaching enemy.
Comrades, think what a change might have been made in the whole warfare with Helena in possession of the enemy.