Expedition from Helena (November 14–17, 1863)

Location: Phillips County
Campaign: None
Dates: November 14–17, 1863
Principal Commanders: Major Eagleton Carmichael (US); Unknown (CS)
Forces Engaged: Unknown number from the Tenth Illinois Cavalry (US); Unknown (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 0 (US); 7 killed, 2 wounded, 4 captured (CS)
Result: Union victory

On November 14–17, 1863, Union forces sent a small expedition along the Mississippi River to gauge Confederate strength around Helena (Phillips County). The fighting that ensued is typical of the combat that both sides engaged in during this period.

On the evening of November 14, 1863, a detachment of the Tenth Illinois Cavalry under the command of Major Eagleton Carmichael departed Helena on the steamer Hamilton Belle. The steamer first patrolled along the Mississippi side of the river, before halting for the night. The next morning, the steamer continued to patrol and troops disembarked at the house of a man named Gillen. There, the Federals captured a member of the Third Arkansas Cavalry and a commissary sergeant, as well as a slave and a horse and a mule.

With the slave as a guide, Maj. Carmichael approached the camp of the captured Confederates and ambushed a small group as they relieved a picket post. In this action, the Federals killed three, wounded one, and captured one. Three others escaped, and the Union troops attacked the camp, capturing three more men and killing four others. Carmichael ordered his men to destroy all of the equipment in the camp and sent a party to a nearby house to destroy ammunition stored there. In all, more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition, numerous shotguns, and camp equipment were destroyed. Additionally, several horses and mules were captured.

Carmichael continued to search the area for other enemy troops and marched his command southward next to the river. About eight miles from where they landed, the Federals encountered other Confederates and attacked. The Confederates fled, and the Union troops captured one and killed one of their number.

Carmichael then approached the home of a Dr. Monroe and observed men fleeing from the house. Carmichael arrested Monroe for aiding the enemy and released the other two men in the house. The expedition then returned to Gillen’s house for the night.

The next morning, the Hamilton Belle began its return journey to Helena with the Federal troops and prisoners onboard. However, a leak in one of the boilers was discovered, and the Hamilton Belle stopped at Island 63. There, Carmichael arrested the crew of the steamer Cheek and forced them to tow the Hamilton Belle to Helena. He also arrested a slave catcher on the Cheek.

The expedition returned to Helena on November 17. The Federals had captured sixteen horses, eight mules, five carbines, and three shotguns. While not an overwhelming victory, the loss of supplies and animals would have a negative impact on the Confederate forces in the area.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 22, Part 1. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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