Skirmishes near Helena (October 11, 1862)

aka: Battle of Jones's Lane
aka: Battle of Lick Creek
aka: Battle of Shell Creek

Location: Phillips County
Campaign: None
Date: October 11, 1862
Principal Commanders: Lieutenant George B. Parsons, Major Benjamin Rector (US); Lieutenant Colonel DeWitt Clinton Giddings (CS)
Forces Engaged: 90 men from the Fourth Iowa Cavalry (US); Unknown number from the Twenty-first Texas Cavalry (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 3 killed, 6 wounded, 17 captured (US); 11 captured (CS)
Result: Federal victory

As Confederate cavalry harassed the Federal forces occupying Helena (Phillips County), the Union troops slowly began to learn how to fight back effectively. The October 11, 1862, Skirmish at Helena saw an initial Confederate success but ended with an overwhelming Federal victory.

Confederate cavalry were tasked with patrolling around Helena and observing the enemy after the Union Army of the Southwest captured the city in July 1862. The Confederates were part of a brigade of Texas cavalry under the command of Colonel William Henry Parsons. As part of the brigade, the Twenty-first Texas Cavalry under the command of Lieutenant Colonel DeWitt Clinton Giddings was tasked with scouting near the city in October 1862. Giddings decided to lead the scout on his own.

On the evening of October 11, the Confederates spotted a detachment from the Fourth Iowa Cavalry returning to the city. Preparing an ambush, the Confederates waited until the enemy entered a narrow lane with fences on both sides before attacking. The Federals were quickly overwhelmed, and their commander, Major Benjamin Rector, surrendered. Three Federals were killed, two wounded (one mortally), and fifteen captured during the action. No Confederate casualties were listed. Giddings sent the prisoners back to camp under guard and continued to scout with his smaller force.

The Texans’ luck did not continue, however. Another Federal patrol under the command of Lieutenant George B. Parsons rode to the sounds of gunfire and quickly encountered Giddings and his men. In the action that followed, Giddings and eleven of his men were captured. Four Federals were wounded in this skirmish, including Parsons, and two were captured by the Confederates. This second action was called the Battle of Jones’s Lane or the Battle of Lick Creek by the Federals and the Battle of Shell Creek by the Confederates.

With the loss of their commander, the Confederate cavalry returned to camp. The Federals continued to patrol the countryside around Helena and transferred Giddings and his men to the Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis, Missouri. There they remained even as Giddings launched a letter-writing campaign to gain their release through the prisoner exchange system. The men were finally returned to Arkansas on December 1, 1862.

For additional information:
Bailey, Anne J. Between the Enemy and Texas: Parsons’s Texas Cavalry in the Civil War. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1989.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 13. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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