Scouts from Helena to Alligator Bayou (September–October 1864)
The Civil War scouts from Helena (Phillips County) to Alligator Bayou were Union operations undertaken in September and October 1864 to hunt for Confederate soldiers and Union deserters and to seize cattle for the Federal base at Helena.
Lieutenant Alexander F. Rice of the Sixtieth U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) led three separate scouting expeditions from Helena to Alligator Bayou near the St. Francis River in present-day Lee County in the fall of 1864. The soldiers in the scouts likely came from Companies C, E, F, and G of the Sixtieth, all of which reported being involved in scouting operations in September and October.
Rice led troops from Helena on September 9, 1864, and marched to Thomas’ Station about five miles from the mouth of the St. Francis River and stayed for two days, sending out parties that captured a Confederate soldier and two horses. Two days later, they approached Alligator Bayou, capturing an additional soldier on the way, and then taking two other men prisoner. They then returned to Thomas’ Station, with some men riding captured horses while others took skiffs down the St. Francis. When they returned to Helena on September 14, they had taken four men of Colonel Archibald Dobbins’s Arkansas Cavalry and the adjutant of the Sixth Texas Cavalry Regiment as prisoners.
Rice led a party of twenty-one men of the Sixtieth USCT out of Helena on September 22, arriving at Alligator Bayou the next day. Rice dispatched six men to observe a group of houses believed to be used by Union deserters; they captured a deserter from the Fourth Arkansas Cavalry (US) and another man there. They continued on, reaching Balks Point on September 25, where Rice seized horses and, leaving the prisoners guarded by a group of his men, mounted several of his troops and continued along the St. Francis, capturing four prisoners along with weapons, horses, and mules.
On September 26, his party reached Council Bend and several men were sent to look for cattle; they encountered Confederate troops and killed two men before returning after capturing a deserter from the Second U.S. Colored Artillery and another man. Rice seized some cattle on September 27 and drove them to Council Bend, where they were put aboard a steamboat. Another squad took sixty cattle but lost them in the night. Two of the prisoners escaped before Rice’s scouts returned to Helena on September 28, but the officer reported that “we captured and brought in, all told, 5 horses, 1 mule, 14 head of cattle, and 1 revolver.”
Rice left Helena again on October 1, crossing the Mississippi River and capturing William Tannahill, who ferried Confederate soldiers across the river on orders from Major General Sterling Price. They returned to Arkansas and went up the St. Francis River to Alligator Bayou, then turned back toward Helena, capturing a pair of Confederate soldiers, one of whom escaped before the party made it to Helena.
While the Sixtieth USCT participated in the July 1864 Action at Wallace’s Ferry, the scouts to Alligator Bayou and expedition to Kent’s Landing were far more typical of the regiment’s activities while it remained in Helena until April 1865.
For additional information:
Dyer, Frederick. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. Des Moines, IA: Dyer Publishing Co., 1908.
Hewett, Janet B., et al., eds. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. 78, pp. 355, 360, 362, 364. 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. 41, part 1, pp. 759, 816–817, 851. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1893.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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