Expedition from Helena to Buck Island (July 13–16, 1864)

Brigadier General Napoleon B. Buford ordered the expedition from Helena (Phillips County) to Buck Island on the Mississippi River to determine whether a shipment of guns and ammunition had crossed the river to supply the troops of Confederate Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby operating in eastern Arkansas.

Captain Rudolph Schoenemann of Company E, Sixth Minnesota Infantry Regiment, led forty-three men from Company E and a detachment from Company F of the Sixth, along with troops from either Company E or L of the Fifteenth Illinois Cavalry Regiment, out of Helena on the evening of July 13, 1864. Boarding the steamboat Dove, the expedition headed upriver.

After disembarking the cavalrymen at a Doctor Peterson’s plantation on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi the next morning, Schoenemann continued northward until reaching Buck Island, after which parties of infantrymen were sent out on both shores in search of information.

Civilians on the Tennessee side of the river revealed that, between July 6 and 9, twelve wagonloads of guns and ammunition, protected by around seventy Confederate cavalrymen, were ferried across the river in small boats to Arkansas. Arkansas residents disclosed that the armaments were received by between 500 and 1,000 Confederates led by a Colonel McGill; around 1,500 rifles and “a large quantity of cartridges” were delivered. While a Union gunboat later destroyed the Confederate boats, the shipment was successfully transported to Arkansas, in part because the Confederates had refrained from firing on passing steamboats during the operation.

After discovering empty ammunition boxes bearing signs of U.S. origin, the expedition returned to Helena, arriving there on July 16.

In addition to gaining valuable information on the arms supplied to the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy, the expedition from Helena to Buck Island revealed that despite Union control of the Mississippi River, much needed supplies could still be delivered from the eastern shore.

For additional information:
Hewett, Janet B., et al., eds. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vols. 8 and 32. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1995, 1996.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 41, part 1, pp. 69–71. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1893.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System

Last Updated: 04/19/2022

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