Yet it was left unassailed till near the close of the siege of Vicksburg
, ere which, Lt.-Gen. Holmes
, commanding in Arkansas
, had solicited1
of Lt.-Gen. Kirby Smith
, chief of the trans-Mississippi department, permission to attack it; which was readily granted.
Meantime, the Confederate Secretary of War
had not merely sanctioned the enterprise, but suggested and urged it. Thus authorized and stimulated, Holmes
left2 Little Rock
, which he had designated as the rendezvous for his forces.
, with a part of his men, was promptly on hand; but Sterling Price
, owing to heavy rains and consequent high water, was unable to arrive till four days afterward.3
The attempt at surprise was thus baffled; Maj.-Gen. B. M. Prentiss
, commanding at Helena
, being seasonably aware of his peril, and fully on the alert to repel it. He had 3,800 effectives, behind strong earth works mounted with serviceable guns, with the main approaches well covered by abatis.
The gunboat Tyler
-Com'g J. M. Pritchett
, was on hand, and played a very efficient part in the defense.
And, though Helena
lies on a flat adjoining the river, its outworks had been judiciously located on the bluffs a mile back, where deep ravines and steep ridges favor the defensive and impede the bringing up of artillery by their assailants.
Brig.-Gen. F. Salomon
who had in good part planned and constructed them, was in immediate command of our exterior defenses.
— who had been grossly deceived both as to the strength of our works and the number of their defenders — had never a reasonable chance of success.
His only ground of rational hope was that he might be confronted by a coward, a traitor, or an idiot; and that did not happen to be the case.
Two years of sanguinary conflict had begun to tell on the resources of the Confederates
Here were Price
, and Parsons
, and Marmaduke
, with what the waste of war had left of their Missourians; Holmes
had evidently swept Arkansas
to swell the brigades of Fagan
, and Walker
; yet he reports his total force at 7,646; or about twice the number he vainly struggled to overcome.
He needed twice that number to give his attack a fair chance of success.
His dispositions appear to have been judicious; his movements well timed; and his soldiers, in the main, tenacious as well as brave.
The Rebels were rarely deficient in a charge; but they often failed where endurance was required.
In this instance, beside Sterling Price
— eminently loved and trusted by the Missourians — the Rebel Governor
, Harris Flanagan
, and his Adjutant-General
, Col. Gordon Rear
, were on the field, acting as volunteer aids to Holmes
Having arrived within five miles of Helena
on the morning of the 3d, with his front well covered by cavalry, who permitted no one to pass them riverward, no matter on what pretext, he rested his men till midnight; when they were moved forward to within a mile or so of the outworks, where they halted till daybreak, and then pushed on.
, with the brigades of Parsons