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July 7, 2009

Civil War Interpretation Plan to be Introduced; Civil War Activities Planned Throughout the Day

“Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background, the countless minor scenes and interiors of the secession war; and it is best they should not. The real war will never get in the books.” Walt Whitman

In early 1861, the United States began falling apart. Many point the finger of blame toward slavery; others believe states’ rights to be the impetus. Regardless the catalyst, the next four years would be burdened with strife, death, discord, and controversy. With an estimated 600,000 men losing their lives, the four-year episode marks the deadliest period in the history of the United States.

Helena, AR felt the burden of the Civil War. In 1861, Helena was the largest Arkansas town located along the Mississippi River with an estimated population of more than 1,000. On the morning of July 4, 1863, the Battle of Helena began with more than 12,000 soldiers willing to give their life for victory. Yet there would be only one victor…one must suffer defeat.

In 2005, a long-term strategic plan for Phillips County was introduced and outlined options for economic development. The Civil War was identified as one of the area’s most significant cultural heritage resources. Over the next three years, citizens and organizations came together, committed to formulating a plan focusing on the community’s heritage in an effort to make Helena and Phillips County a Civil War tourism destination.

An Overview of the Battle of Helena – July 4, 1863

On July 4, 1863, daylight fell upon Helena, a river town that had been occupied by Union forces over the past year. Located along the banks of the Mississippi River, Helena held a strategic location along the mighty river between Memphis and Vicksburg (in the midst of a forty-plus-day siege led by General Ulysses S. Grant). Memphis, under Federal control since June of 1862, served as an important supply depot and staging area for many of the Union campaigns.

The battle would become an exercise of confusion. Lieutenant General Theophilus Holmes, commander of the Confederate District of Arkansas, gave the order to attack Union forces at “daybreak.” The phrase obviously had different meanings to different Confederate leaders. To Confederate Major General Sterling Price, the phrase meant dawn; to Brigadier General James Fagan, it referred to first light. This minor misunderstanding had a major impact on the outcome of the battle – with Fagan’s troops attacking a full hour before Price’s.

The battle was bloody. A total of 239 Union soldiers were killed, wounded or missing. The number for Confederate was nearly sevenfold – 1,696 killed, wounded, or missing. The Battle of Helena secured the Union stronghold on the Mighty Mississippi. The bloody battle also proved to be the last major Confederate offensive in Arkansas.

Civil War Helena Plan to be Introduced

On July 18, 2009, the Helena-West Helena Advertising and Promotion Commission; the Delta Bridge Project Tourism, Recreation and Quality of Life Goal Team; Southern Bancorp Capital Partners; and the Delta Cultural Center, a museum of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, will publicly introduce the Civil War Helena Interpretative Plan during a day of activities focusing on the historic town’s Civil War history.

The plan, created by Mudpuppy and Waterdog, Inc., of Versailles, KY, incorporates the interpretation of 29 historic Civil War sites located throughout Phillips County. The objective of the plan is to give a voice to those who were affected by the Civil War in Helena and Phillips County – Union and Confederate, black and white, soldier and civilian, and men and women.

The comprehensive plan details the development of a viable tourism industry that could emerge as a primary source of economic development. Data included in the plan estimates that the tourism generated by the development of the community’s Civil War resources “would generate $9 million in local revenue.”

July 18 Activities in Historic Helena

A day of activities has been planned around the announcement of the interpretive plan that focuses on the town’s vast Civil War history. All events are free and open to the public.

The opening ceremonies will take place at 9 a.m. at 640 Biscoe St., the future site of Freedom Park. Freedom Park will be an interpretive recreational area that features five major exhibits exploring the African American experience in Civil War Helena. The site is located northeast of the Helena Mississippi River Bridge off the Highway 49 bypass (Biscoe Street). The opening ceremonies will feature the 12th United States Colored Heavy Artillery of Camp Nelson, KY and Bankhead’s Battery, Company B, 1st Tennessee Light Artillery Regiment, CSA, of Memphis, TN. Visitors will have the opportunity to experience the life of a Civil War soldier, black and white, throughout the day as the soldiers give demonstrations and allow visits to the camps.

At 9:30 a.m., Bankhead’s Battery, Company B, 1st Tennessee Light Artillery Regiment, CSA, will move to the Mississippi River levee in historic downtown Helena. Firing of the cannons of the two groups will take place every 30 minutes from the future Freedom Park site and from the Mississippi River levee.

From 9:30 to 11 a.m., two historic Civil War homes will be open to the public. Estevan Hall, located at 653 S. Biscoe St., was built in the 1820s and used by the Union Army during the occupation of Helena. It is believed to be one of the oldest structures in Phillips County. The Moore-Hornor House, located at 323 Beech St., was built in 1859 and played a major part in the Battle of Helena. On that day, the backyard of the Moore-Hornor House became a battlefield. Graveyard Hill, which was the site of one of the bloodiest battles during the Battle of Helena, is located directly behind the house and slopes down to join the yard. During the skirmishes, Confederate forces were behind the Moore-Hornor House firing at the Gunboat Tyler, located to the east on the Mississippi River. During the chaos, two rifle shots went through the windows of the parlor, where they lodged in the sliding parlor doors. The bullet holes can still be seen in the doors today. Both houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Refreshments will be served at both locations.

Beginning at 11 a.m., Joe and Maria Brent of Mudpuppy and Waterdog, Inc. will officially present the Civil War Helena Interpretative Plan. Immediately following, Mark Christ of Arkansas Historic Preservation Program will provide an overview of the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and show a short film focusing on the statewide celebrations slated to begin in 2011.

Robert L. Bell, vice president of the United States Colored Troops Living History Association and a member of the Reactivated 12th Regiment: United States Colored Heavy Artillery, will speak on the role of African American soldiers in the Battle of Helena. All presentations will be held at the Malco Theater, 422 Cherry St., in downtown Helena.

At noon, Jack Myers, Delta Cultural Center education coordinator, will make a presentation about the gunboat USS Tyler at the Delta Cultural Center Visitors Center, located at 141 Cherry St. Constructed in 1857 as a commercial side-wheel steamboat, the Tyler was acquired by the U.S. Navy in 1861 and converted into a gunboat protected by thick wooden walls (also known as a timberclad). The Tyler had patrolled the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers before being placed on the Mississippi River to assist with the first stage of the siege of Vicksburg. The timberclad was on the river near Helena during the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863. After the battle at Helena, the gunboat was moved to the White River, where she would patrol for virtually the remainder of the conflict. The Tyler also played a major part in the rescue efforts of the SS Sultana, a steamboat carrying 2,400 passengers that exploded near Marion, AR, on April 27, 1865. Many of the nearly 1,800 passengers who perished were Union soldiers and former P.O.W.’s. The Sultana accident became America’s greatest maritime disaster.

The day’s activities will conclude with the opportunity for visits to historic Helena’s other Civil War-related attractions. The Helena Confederate Cemetery, located within Maple Hill Cemetery on North Holly Street in historic Helena, was established in 1869 and is the final resting place for many Confederate soldiers who died or fought in the Battle of Helena. Confederate major general Patrick Cleburne, who died at the Battle of Franklin in 1864, was re-interred in the cemetery in 1870. In 2004, the remains of six Confederate soldiers were found at Helena’s Battery D. The soldiers, who died during the Battle of Helena, were believed to be members of General James F. Fagan’s Division. Confederate General Thomas Hindman is buried in Maple Hill Cemetery, just below the Confederate Cemetery. The Phillips County Museum, located at 623 Pecan St., offers a variety of Civil War-related artifacts from the seven Confederate generals from Phillips County, including the bullet that mortally wounded General Hindman in 1868. The museum also features a detailed diorama of the Battle of Helena. The Delta Cultural Center Depot’s second floor is dedicated to Helena and Phillips County’s Civil War history, including detailed maps of the Battle of Helena, a variety of artifacts, and a model of the USS Tyler. The Helena Confederate Cemetery and the Phillips County Museum will be open to visitors until 4 p.m. The Delta Cultural Center Depot and the Delta Cultural Center Visitors Center, located at 141 Cherry St., will be open until 5 p.m.

For More Information

To learn more about the July 18 Civil War activities in historic Helena, visit or contact the Phillips County Chamber of Commerce at 870-338-8327. You may also visit All events are free and open to the public.