Portrait of Benjamin Prentiss

Major General Benjamin Prentiss was the victorious Union commander at the Battle of Helena. [Wikimedia Commons]

Battle of Helena Facts

July 4, 1863

Key facts about the Battle of Helena.

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Date and Location

  • July 4, 1863
  • Phillips County, Arkansas

Campaign

Principal Union Commanders

  • Major General Benjamin Prentiss

Principal Confederate Commanders

  • Lieutenant General Theophilus Holmes
  • Major General Sterling Price
  • Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke

Union Forces Engaged

  • Union garrison at Helena

Confederate Forces Engaged

  • Combined forces from the District of Arkansas

Number of Union Soldiers Engaged

  • Roughly 4,000

Number of Confederate Soldiers Engaged

  • Roughly 7,000

Estimated Union Casualties

  • 239 (killed, wounded, captured/missing)

Estimated Confederate Casualties

  • 1,696 (killed, wounded, captured/missing)

Result

  • Union victory

Significance

  • Following the Union victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge (March 6–8, 1862), Federal troops occupied Helena, Arkansas, on July 12, 1862.
  • Located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, between Memphis, Tennessee, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, Helena, Arkansas served as a Union base of operations during Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign in 1863.
  • In 1863, the size of the Federal garrison at Helena swelled to roughly 20,000 soldiers before being reduced to about 4,000 men.
  • On June 18, 1863, Lieutenant General Theophilus Holmes, commander of the Confederate District of Arkansas, met with Major General Sterling Price, his field commander, and Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke to develop plans to wrest Helena from Union control.
  • The three-pronged Confederate plan of attack against Helena called for Price’s 3,000 infantrymen to attack from the west, Marmaduke’s 2,780 cavalry troopers to advance from the north, and Brigadier General James Fagan to lead a column of 1,770-foot soldiers from Little Rock and approach Helena from the south.
  • Inclement weather delayed the Confederate assault against Helena from late June to early July 1863.
  • On July 3, 1863, the Confederate leaders held a final council of war where they agreed that the coordinated attack would begin at “daybreak” the next morning.
  • Misunderstandings about the term “daybreak” caused the Confederate assault on Helena to be disjointed.
  • By 10:30 a.m., on July 4, 1863, Lieutenant General Theophilus Holmes determined that the Confederate attack on Helena had failed and signaled a retreat.
  • The failed attempt to capture Helena was the last major Confederate offensive launched in Arkansas during the war.
  • The Union victory at the Battle of Helena remains relatively obscure because it shares the date—July 4, 1863—with the surrender of Vicksburg, and with the beginning of Robert E. Lee’s withdrawal from Pennsylvania following the pivotal Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg the previous day.

Timeline of the Vicksburg Campaign

These are the main battles and events of the Vicksburg Campaign in order.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Battle of Helena Facts
  • Coverage July 4, 1863
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Helena
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 28, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 14, 2021
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