Expeditions from Helena (July 1862)

aka: Expedition from Helena to Marianna (July 24–26, 1862)
aka: Expedition from Helena to Old Town and Trenton (July 28–31, 1862)

A pair of late July 1862 Union expeditions following the Union occupation of Helena (Phillips County) illustrate the continuing need of Federal forces to determine the size and location of Confederate troops in the area around the isolated Mississippi River port.

The Union’s Army of the Southwest occupied Helena on July 12, 1862, after marching across eastern Arkansas, liberating slaves throughout the region, and ending the campaign that began with the March 7–8, 1862, Battle of Pea Ridge. As Major General Samuel Curtis’s troops began to fortify the town, which would remain in Union hands throughout the war, the Federal forces aggressively patrolled the region to keep from being surprised by Confederate attackers.

On the evening of July 24, 1862, Colonel Robert J. Rombauer of the First Missouri Infantry (US), commander of the Second Brigade, Third Division, Army of the Southwest, left Helena with 300 Union cavalrymen in search of Confederate troops reported to be crossing the L’Anguille River. On arriving in Marianna (Lee County) at 5:00 a.m. the next day, he learned that a detachment of Union infantry and Fifth Kansas Cavalry Regiment troopers had attacked the Southerners with mountain howitzers the previous evening after the rebels had fired on the small steamer transporting the Federal soldiers.

Rombaurer ordered Captain John F. Youngs of the Fifth Kansas to take a portion of his command to pursue the Confederates they had shelled the night before while he detached eighty-five of his men under Lieutenant Colonel Rudolph Blome of the Fourth Missouri Cavalry (US) to scout along the L’Anguille and along the road to Helena while he headed north toward Hughes Ferry with the rest of his command. Running into some enslaved people, the Northern commander learned that two small parties of rebels had passed along the same road the night before. After seizing two guns and two pistols from an overseer at Benk’s farm, who was placed under guard, the Federal party arrived at Hughes Ferry at 10:00 a.m. on July 25.

As most of the troops rested by the ferry, Rombauer and a small party crossed over and learned that all of the Confederates in the area had left after a regiment of Federal troops arrived at Madison (St. Francis County), about fifteen miles northeast of Hughes Ferry. This led Rombauer to pull his troops back about four miles and establish a strong picket at a crossroads commanding access to the area while the rest of the Federals camped at Benk’s farm, where he ordered the enslaved inhabitants to return items they had looted from the plantation house and ordered the captured overseer to provide bacon, ham, and cornbread for his hungry troops.

Rombauer, accompanied by only an aide and a single trooper, drove a buggy to Marianna at 10:00 p.m. on July 25, where he received reports from scouting parties “all corroborating my impression that one company was all the organized force of the rebels between Saint Francis and L’Anguille Rivers, and it had left the evening before we arrived and was scattered through the woods running westward.”

Captain Youngs, meanwhile, had taken sixty-two Fifth Kansas troopers aboard a small steamboat to the place where they had fired howitzers and scattered the Confederates on the night of July 24 and began tracking a group of about fifty of the enemy. Learning that the rebels were commanded by a Colonel Barstow, who had ordered them to flee in small squads, Youngs located the camps of three squads and captured three men, bringing them and three secessionist civilians back to the steamer. His group returned to Helena on the afternoon of July 26, and he said, “On my return to Helena I took from rebel parties 1 ambulance, 1 buggy, 4 horses, and 3 mules.”

Also on July 26, Rombauer and a party of forty Union soldiers left Marianna at 7:00 a.m. in search of eight Confederates reportedly seen on the east shore of the L’Anguille. They found and captured a small boat before returning to Helena at 2:00 a.m. on July 27.

The Union colonel began another expedition the next day, leading 507 cavalrymen and a pair of mountain howitzers toward Old Town (Phillips County) and Trenton (Phillips County). Despite hearing reports of as many as 2,300 Texans in the region, they only “caught one secessionist armed with shotgun and saber and mounted.” The command lost one man when a sleeping Fifth Kansas trooper was killed when a log rolled over his head. They returned to Camp Beech Grove near Helena on July 31.

The expeditions from July 24–31, 1862, illustrate the constant vigilance required of Union troops in their isolated position at Helena, a post that would become increasingly important as it served as a staging area for operations against Vicksburg and other targets along the Mississippi River.

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. 175–177, 192–193. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1885.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


No comments on this entry yet.