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Doc. 47: the battle of Helena.

Report of Lieutenant-General Holmes.

little Rock, August 14, 1863.
Brigadier-General W. R. Boggs, Chief of Staff, Department Trans-Mississippi, Shreveport, Louisiana:
General: I have the honor to submit to the Lieutenant-General commanding the following report of the attack made by me upon Helena, on the fourth of July, 1863:

In the month of June, 1862, the Federal forces under General Curtis, from the attempted invasion of Arkansas betook themselves to the city of Helena, and there fortified. Since that time it has been constantly and heavily garrisoned by Federal troops. The possession of this place has been of immense advantage to the enemy. From it, they have threatened at all times an invasion of Arkansas, thereby rendering it necessary that troops should be held in position to repel such invasion. From it they have controlled the trade and sentiments of a large and important scope of country. It has been to them a most important depot for troops in their operations against Vicksburg.

In view of these great advantages to them, of the great embarrassment to my movements elsewhere, arising from the proximity of a large and threatening army, and of the deleterious effect on that portion of the State caused by their presence, it was deemed of very great importance that they should be driven from their only stronghold in Arkansas. As a means of raising the siege of Vicksburg, and of keeping the Mississippi river closed, in the event of a surrender of that city, the policy of the move was perfectly apparent. Moreover, from information, considered reliable, in my possession, the capture of Helena by the forces at my disposal seemed perfectly practicable.

On the fourteenth June, 1863, I telegraphed to Lieutenant-General Smith, that I believed I could take the place, and asked his permission to attack it. Two days after I started to Jacksonport, there to consult with Generals Price and Maxmaduke, and to make the necessary preliminary arrangements. The result of this interview was the following orders:

Price's command, consisting of General McRae's Arkansas and General Parsons' Missouri brigades of infantry, constituting Price's division, and Colonels Green's and Shelby's brigades of Missouri cavalry, Marmaduke's division to rendezvous at Cotton Plant, and Brigadier-General Fagan's Arkansas brigade of infantry, at Clarendon, on the twenty-sixth June (Friday), whence, by converging roads, the two columns would move in the direction of Helena. I also informed General Walker, commanding brigade of cavalry in the vicinity of Helena, of my intention, and directed him to allow no ingress to the place.

Upon my return to Little Rock, I found that General Smith had fully sanctioned my proposed attack, and that the Secretary of War had written a strong letter, suggesting, advising, and urging it. Thus encouraged, on the twenty-sixth of June, I proceeded to Clarendon, and assumed command of the expedition. From unavoidable necessity, consequent upon rain, high water, and wretched roads, General Price's command did not reach its rendezvous for four days after the day fixed, thus giving the enemy abundant notice of my approach. General Fagan arrived at his place of rendezvous (Clarendon), on the twenty-sixth. As soon as the troops were in position, I proceeded towards Helena by converging roads, and reached Allan Polk's house, five miles from Helena, on the morning of July third.

Having received full, accurate, and reliable information of the forces and fortifications of the enemy in Helena, and the topography of the surrounding country, I here made the final disposition for the attack. That information disclosed that the place was very much more difficuit of access, and the fortifications very much stronger than I had supposed, before undertaking the expedition; the features of the country being peculiarly adapted to defence, and all that the art of engineering could do having been brought to bear to strengthen it. The fortifications consisted of one regular work, heavily armed with siege guns, and four strong re-doubts, mounted with field pieces and protected by rifle-pits on suburban hills.

The disposition for the attack was as per following order:

The attack on Helena will be made to-morrow morning at daylight, and as follows:

First--Major-General Price, in command of McRae's and Parsons' brigades, will proceed by the best route, assume position, assault and take Graveyard Hill, at daylight.

Second--Brigadier-General Walker, with his cavalry brigade, will, in like manner, proceed to the Stirling road, where he will hold himself in position, to resist any troops that may approach Righton Hill; and when that position is captured, he will enter the town and act against the enemy as circumstances may justify.

Third--Brigadier-General Fagan will proceed by the best route, assume position, and take the batteries on Hindman Hill, at daylight.

Fourth--Brigadier-General Marmaduke will proceed with his command, by the best route, assume position, and take Righton Hill, at daylight.

* * * * * *

This plan of attack was fully concurred in by all my General officers, and the part assigned to each accepted with alacrity. [596]

Between eleven and twelve o'clock at night, the troops began to move to their respective positions, whence to assault in the morning.

General Fagan detached a regiment from his brigade, and sent it forward to the right, on the lower Little Rock road, to occupy the attention of the enemy in the rifle-pits below the city, and to protect his flank, in case of an attack from that quarter.

Three detached companies of cavalry, under Captain Denson, were ordered to act as vedettes in the plain south of the city, and to transmit to General Fagan rapid information of any attempt to flank him. His artillery was also sent forward on this, the only practicable road, with the hope that it might assist in creating a diversion, and thereby aid the general movement.

I took a position a little after daylight on the Graveyard Ridge, half a mile from the fortifications, a central point, there to await the development of the attack.

Soon after daylight, Brigadier-General Marmaduke drove in the pickets of the enemy in his front and assaulted Righton Fort. It is believed that a strong, vigorous, and sudden attack on this fort would have been successful; but some delay occurring, a heavy force of the enemy appeared on his left flank and rear, and held him perfectly in check during the whole day. It was the peculiar duty of Brigadier-General Walker to have prevented this movement on the part of the enemy, and, as represented by General Marmaduke, the same could have been easily accomplished. No satisfactory reason has been given by General Walker why this service was not rendered. This attack, being most remote, was not under my personal supervision, and was too distant for me to give specific orders.

The assault on the first line of rifle-pits, in front of Hindman Hill, was made at a few minutes after daylight. General Fagan, at the head of his brigade, charged gallantly over four lines, under a deadly fire from the rifle-pits and guns on his front, and most disastrous enfilading fire from Graveyard Hill on the left, previous to the attack by General Price. Having driven the enemy from, and carried the fifth and last line of rifle-pits, the brave men, who had followed him thus far, overcome by sheer exhaustion, resulting from the inordinate exertion of their difficult charge, and the intense heat of the day, were unable to proceed further. A charge upon the fort was nevertheless attempted, and failed. The brigade thereupon took shelter behind the inner line of breastworks, anxiously awaiting assistance. This assistance never arrived. Major-General Price did not make his attack till after sunrise, and more than an hour after the time named in the order. As an explanation of this delay, his report states that, finding when he had gotten within one and a half miles of the position he had been ordered to take, that his division would arrive upon the ground prematurely, he ordered a halt, and resumed his march at dawn of day. His troops, when brought into position and ordered forward, behaved magnificently, charging rifle-pits and breastworks without a falter, and taking the hill without a halt.

As soon as the works were carried, I rode rapidly into them. Finding the guns in the fort had been rendered useless, by the enemy, before being abandoned, I at once dispatched one of my staff to the rear, to bring up some artillery. Owing to the impracticability of the roads, this could not be effected in time.

Perceiving the position of the gallant Fagan and his command, I ordered Brigadier-General Parsons, the only General officer present, to proceed at once to attack the Hindman Fort in the rear. Everything was in confusion. Regiments and brigades mixed up indiscriminately, and the order was not attended to. Immediately afterwards I sent an order to General Price to the same effect, and then returned to my headquarters.

Two or three hundred yards in the rear, I passed Brigadier-General McRae, who had not joined his brigade since the assault. I ordered him at once to the fort.

It seems that

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