Expedition from Helena to Coldwater, Mississippi (July 23–25, 1862)
The Civil War expedition from Helena to Coldwater, Mississippi, was one of many Union operations proceeding from the Federal base at Helena (Phillips County) following its July 12, 1862, occupation by Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Army of the Southwest.
At 8:00 p.m. on July 23, 1862, some 100 troopers of the Sixth Missouri Cavalry (US) and ninety soldiers from the Eighth Indiana Infantry Regiment, along with two mountain howitzers, all commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Samuel N. Wood of the Sixth Missouri, boarded the steamboat Catahoula at Helena to steam up the Mississippi River for a raid on targets on the east side of the river.
The Indiana troops landed near Austin, Mississippi, at daybreak on July 24 and quickly took up positions along the road to Senatobia as the cavalry and cannon left the boat. Wood led the cavalry two miles north, discovering the hastily abandoned camp of thirty Confederate troops and learning that they were led by General M. Jeff Thompson. He also learned that a sizeable shipment of arms and ammunition had come into the area, destined for use by Confederate major general Thomas Hindman, who was trying to create a rebel army in Arkansas following the state’s abandonment by Major General Earl Van Dorn. Wood called up his infantry, gathered the artillery, and proceeded on.
Approaching White Oak Bayou, the Union force discovered Confederates positioned in a canebrake on the east side of the bridge across the bayou. After the rebels fired on his advance troops, Wood ordered up the howitzers, which fired a few shells and sent the enemy fleeing; two Confederates were captured. After repairing the partially destroyed bridge, the Union men pressed on, learning that the forty-wagon arms train, which the Confederates valued at $200,000, had turned back.
After driving off a small force at a second bridge and capturing another prisoner, Wood’s command continued to the Coldwater River, where they found that the Confederates had removed the planks from the bridge, making it impossible for his cavalry to cross. Though 100 Federals crossed the remains of the bridge on foot, Wood decided to return to the Catahoula after burning the bridge on the Coldwater, having captured a total of six rebel soldiers. “I regret very much our inability to capture their ammunition train, and especially the swamp fox, General Thompson,” Wood reported. “Had we been acquainted with the country and had an idea of their movements they could not have escaped us.”
The expedition from Helena did, however, prevent desperately needed weapons and ammunition from reaching Hindman in Arkansas, at least for the time being. Helena would be the base for other riverine operations in the months to come, including one against Eunice in Chicot County in August and one to Grenada, Mississippi, in November and December 1862.
For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 13, pp. 173–175. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1885.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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