Expedition from Helena to Friar’s Point, Mississippi (February 19–22, 1865)
The expedition from Helena (Phillips County) to Friar’s Point (usually spelled Friars Point) was the last of a series of Civil War military operations originating in the Union base at Helena against targets in Mississippi.
Union troops occupied Helena in July 1862, and the town became a base supporting efforts to take the rebel stronghold at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and to conduct other offensive actions against Confederate activities across the river. The last such raid recorded in the Official Records took place in late February 1865.
Colonel Charles Bentzoni of the Fifty-Sixth U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) ordered a sizeable detachment from the Helena garrison to board the steamboat Curlew at 1:00 a.m. on February 19, 1865, for an expedition across the Mississippi River to Friar’s Point. The detachment included eleven officers and 270 men of Companies C, D, G, and K of the Fifty-Sixth USCT, troopers from the Eighty-Seventh Illinois Mounted Infantry under Captain John T. Anderson, and a single gun from Battery E, Second U.S. Colored Light Artillery commanded by Lieutenant Harmon T. Chappel.
They landed at Friar’s Point three hours later, and the Union horsemen were sent toward Shufordsville, Mississippi, while the infantry set up base at the landing site. The mounted infantrymen did not find any organized Confederate troops in the town but did capture around thirteen rebel cavalrymen, along with their horses and equipment; in addition, a Dr. Pillow was made a prisoner. Anderson left an officer and twenty men of the Eighty-Seventh Illinois at Friar’s Point, while the rest of the horsemen boarded the Curlew and returned to Helena.
Bentzoni sent a scouting party of two companies of the Fifty-Sixth USCT and a detachment of cavalrymen, all led by Major Henry A. Wells of the Fifty-Sixth, toward Shufordsville and Moon Lake on February 19–21. They raided a plantation owned by a Mr. Irvine, who had four brothers in the Confederate army, and they brought thirty-two men, women and children enslaved by him back to Friar’s Point. They also seized twenty-one mules and a horse, mostly from Irvine’s plantation.
On February 21, five Black men along with three women and two children approached Bentzoni’s troops seeking freedom; the five men, along with two men from Irvine’s plantation, were deemed eligible to serve in the Union army. A Confederate private, W. A. Alcorn, surrendered to the Federals and told them where to find his brother R. J. Alcorn, who also served in the rebel army. Lieutenant Archibald Spring led the Eighty-Seventh Illinois troopers to capture him.
That afternoon, the Curlew returned and Second Lieutenant William B. Murray of the Sixtieth USCT brought orders for Bentzoni’s command to return to Helena. They reembarked on the steamboat by 5:30 p.m., but high winds delayed their voyage to Helena until the morning of February 22, ending the last substantial raid into Mississippi from Helena.
For additional information:
Hewett, Janet B., et al., eds. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Vol. 78, pp. 314–315, 319, 321. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1998.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 48, part 1, pp. 120–121. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1896.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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