Battery E, Second U.S. Colored Artillery (Light)
Battery E, Second U.S. Colored Artillery (Light) was one of two artillery units raised in Arkansas during the Civil War that were manned by formerly enslaved men.
The recruiting of African American military units to serve in the Union army was approved with the creation of the U.S. War Department’s Bureau of Colored Troops on May 22, 1863. At least seven regiments of Black troops were raised in Arkansas, but only two artillery batteries were recruited in the state: the Third Louisiana Light Artillery Battery (African Descent), recruited at Helena (Phillips County), and the First Arkansas Light Artillery Battery (African Descent), raised at Pine Bluff (Jefferson County).
The Third Louisiana Light Artillery Battery (African Descent) was organized at Helena on December 1, 1863, and would spend its entire term of service there. As with other African American units, the Third Louisiana Battery had white officers, though Black men could serve as non-commissioned officers. The battery’s designation was initially changed to Battery C, Second U.S. Colored Artillery (Light) on March 11, 1864, then to Battery E on April 26, 1864.
While the men of Battery E were primarily stationed in the fortifications of Helena, twenty-five men were sent as a fatigue party with the Quartermaster Department in early 1864; as they approached Bolivar Landing in Mississippi, they were attacked by guerrillas, and three men were captured.
On January 2, 1864, the battery received a pair of field pieces and horses from the Thirty-third Missouri Infantry Regiment, which had been servicing the artillery at Helena. Captain Jonas Fred Lembke assumed command of the battery on January 20, and in late February the battery received a two-pounder Woodruff gun, with an officer noting it was “to be used for scouting purposes and boat guards. One squad of men from this command is constantly acting as boat guards on the expedition[s] from this post.”
Lembke led a scouting foray with twenty-one men of Battery E in April, and a two-gun section of the battery was with an expedition to Wallace’s Ferry on Big Creek when Colonel Archibald Dobbins’s Confederates attacked them on July 26, 1864. Lembke and two men of Battery E were killed in the fight, two were wounded, and one man was missing. After ten horses were killed, the men were forced to destroy two caissons because they could not remove them.
Battery E was involved in the expedition up the White River on February 4–8, 1864; the fighting at Lamb’s Plantation on August 1, 1864; the expedition from Helena to Kent’s Landing on August 11–14, 1864; and the expedition from Helena up the White River from August 29 to September 2, 1864. As they settled into the routine of garrison duty in October, desertions increased, which one officer attributed to the fact that “the men were conscripted into the service from service of Rebel masters living within Rebel lines near this post and, being well-treated at home, have gone back to their families,” adding “it would be beneficial to the command if it could be removed from the state.”
Battery E, Second U.S. Colored Artillery served at Helena until it mustered out on September 26, 1865.
For additional information:
Dyer, Frederick. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. Des Moines, IA: Dyer Publishing Co., 1908, pp. 1213, 1722.
Hewett, Janet B., et al., eds. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. 77. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1998, p. 267–268.
Weidman, Budge. Introduction to National Archives Microfilm Publications M1818—Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served with the United States Colored Troops: Artillery Organizations. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1998, p. 4.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
Last Updated: 04/20/2022