Expeditions from Helena (September 26, 1862)

aka: Expedition from Helena to Jeffersonville and Marianna
aka: Expedition from Helena to LaGrange

Two separate Union expeditions left Helena (Phillips County) in search of Confederate guerrillas on September 26, 1862, resulting in a tragic friendly fire incident.

Captain James T. Drummond of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry led a force of two squadrons from his regiment and four squadrons from the First Missouri Cavalry (US) from their camp near Helena at 8:30 a.m. on September 26, 1862, heading toward LaGrange (Lee County) in pursuit of Confederate troops and guerrillas. Major Thomas W. Scudder of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry, meanwhile, left Helena with 275 men from the Fifth Kansas, Fourth and Fifth Missouri Cavalry (US), and Fifth Illinois Cavalry Regiments—100 of them taking a small steamboat—and headed to Jeffersonville (Lee County).

After riding for a mile and a half, Drummond ordered Lieutenant William Dorsey and Lieutenant James H. Burnett to take two squadrons each on flanking roads and to meet up with him closer to LaGrange. Drummond and the rest of his troops reached LaGrange without encountering enemy troops, but when Burnett arrived, he said sixty to eighty Confederates under a Major Anderson were on the road ahead of them. Arriving at Dick Anderson’s (possibly the same man as Major Anderson) plantation one and a half miles north of LaGrange, the Federals captured a horse that was “branded ‘U.S.’ [and] had on a McClellan saddle and United States Government equipments.” Drummond and his men headed west on the Paradise Road.

They soon met Dorsey’s detachment, with the lieutenant reporting that guerrillas had just fired on his advance men “from the brush,” killing one and dangerously wounding another. The Confederates escaped into the thick underbrush.

The Union force under Scudder, meanwhile, had reunited at Jeffersonville; finding no Rebels, Scudder sent the steamer back to Helena. Advancing to Marianna (Lee County), Scudder captured a pair of guerrillas from Anderson’s band. They followed Anderson’s trail, “sometimes in the highway and sometime in the timber,” for about eight miles before finding a log building with firing ports cut into it; Scudder ordered it burned. As they continued, the Federals ran into around thirty rebels in a band of timber on the St. Francis and Helena Road, “but they escaped by scattering through the dense timber in every direction.” He burned another log building, containing “large numbers of straw beds and old bedquilts…spread on the floor,” and captured a horse.

It was near there where the two Union commands collided, with Drummond’s scout reporting that “the enemy in considerable force within about 50 yards of us.” Forming into line, Drummond’s troops opened fire, but “before the engagement became general they announced themselves the Fifth Kansas.” The initial gunfire, though, killed a man of the Fifth Missouri Cavalry, severely wounded a Kansas trooper, and killed a horse. Scudder reported that Drummond said that “only a few moments before they had been fired upon by guerrillas dressed in United States uniform and 2 of his men killed, and they supposed at first sight that our men belonged to the same party.”

Drummond returned to his camp that evening, having “taken a number of citizens prisoner, supposed to be identified with the guerrillas or furnishing them aid and comfort.” Scudder and his men arrived at 10:00 a.m. on September 27, with his two guerrilla prisoners “sent in last night by Lieutenant [H. S.] Wait, of the Arkansas Rangers, who acted as guide for me during the scout.”

The September 26 expeditions from Helena were typical of Union counter-guerrilla operations in the area, also illustrating the dangers of multiple forces maneuvering in ignorance of each other, particularly as the bushwhackers they sought often wore Union blue.

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. 284–286. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1885.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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