Skirmish at Lick Creek

Location: Phillips County
Campaign: None
Date: January 12, 1863
Principal Commanders: Lieutenant James B. Bradford (US); Unknown (CS)
Forces Engaged: 26 troopers from the Second Wisconsin Cavalry (US); 75 cavalry (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 1 killed, 2 wounded, 10 captured (US); Unknown (CS)
Result: Confederate victory

With the capture of Helena (Phillips County) on the Mississippi River, Federal forces had a tenuous foothold in Arkansas. Deep in enemy territory, the Union troops were forced to constantly patrol against the threat of a Confederate attack on the city. When Federal units did leave the city, they were likely to draw the attention of enemy forces and be attacked.

Colonel Powell Clayton of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry led an expedition from Helena on January 11, 1863, in the direction of the White River. On January 12, Lieutenant James Bradford, commanding twenty-five men of the Second Wisconsin Cavalry, left on a mission to deliver a number of dispatches back to Helena from the expedition.

Leaving the expedition near Big Creek on the afternoon of January 12, Bradford began moving the eighteen miles to Helena. Receiving word that Confederate forces were seen nearby, the lieutenant sent an advance party of three men ahead of the main body. For the first six miles of the trip, the Federals did not see any enemy forces. Upon reaching Lick Creek, Bradford found that the bridge constructed by Union forces the previous day had been destroyed. After he moved part of his command across the stream to the east bank at a nearby ford, the troops remaining on the west side of the creek were attacked by about seventy-five Confederate cavalry. Bradford and his men on the east bank quickly engaged the Confederates until their weapons were empty, reportedly wounding several horses. Unable to help the men on the other bank—who were by this time killed, wounded, or captured—Bradford fled with about ten soldiers.

Stopping some distance from the creek, Bradford ordered his men to reload their weapons. Before this could be accomplished, the Federals were attacked by another group of Confederates concealed in nearby brush. Defying calls for surrender, Bradford led his remaining men past the enemy and continued on the road to Helena, arriving at 7:00 p.m. During the last attack, Bradford lost another five men and returned to Helena with only four companions.

After delivering his dispatches, Bradford anxiously awaited the return of his missing men. By the next morning, five more men arrived in the city and reported that about ten of their comrades had been captured, while the remainder were killed and wounded. Eventually, Bradford reported that five more men who had been captured were paroled and returned to Helena. The released prisoners reported to Bradford, who related a final tally of fourteen unharmed men, with one killed, two badly wounded, and several slightly wounded.

While unable to prevent Bradford from delivering his messages, the Confederate forces opposing the Federals near Helena did almost completely wipe out his small command. Though ultimately insignificant, this action demonstrates the violence surrounding the Federal forces in Helena.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Part 1, Vol. 22. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


    Thank you for the posting of these two skirmishes! There is a record of the Lick Creek action, but I didn’t know about the assault when they stopped to reload.

    Kirby Maples Macon, GA