Helena in Phillips County, Arkansas — The American South (West South Central)
A Great Upheaval
Thousands of refugee slaves came with the Union army into Helena and they continued to come. Helena became an island of freedom in a slave state.
The Union Army Recruits Freedmen
In the spring of 1863, changes in federal policy allowed Freedmen to enlist in the Union army. Over 2,000 men in Helena volunteered. United States Colored Troops guarded plantation workers, and manned the batteries and Fort Curtis. They fought in the Battle of Helena in 1863 and in a desperate action at Big Creek in the summer of 1864.
The Union Occupation Brings Change
The Union occupation changed Helena in ways that no one could have anticipated. Confederate sympathizers saw their worst fears realized. For many, most shocking was the changed status of their former slaves. Freedmen could walk the streets in Helena without a pass, they worked for a wage, and by 1868 they could vote.
A Society Transformed
Former masters often expressed feelings of betrayal when their former slaves chose freedom. In her diary Mary Sale Edmonson recorded the death of "our faithful, beloved Davy," a slave: "...the last of the family of a faithful upright servant-whose ancestors have belonged to my ancestors
She then names three others, writing that they "... are the only ones of all my father's well cared for, well taught servants who have withstood the temptation constantly employed by Yankee Abolitionists, for more than a year, to leave him and us.
But Freedmen, now able to leave positions of servitude, did just that.
Bottom left: At the Battle of Big Creek, less than 400 United States Colored Troops held off 1,200 Confederates for several hours.
Bottom right: Many Freedmen seized the long-denied opportunity to learn to read and write offered by schools that Northern charities established.
Erected 2013 by Civil War Helena.
Location. 34° 31.35′ N, 90° 35.141′ W. Marker is in Helena, Arkansas, in Phillips County. Marker is on Missouri Street east of Natchez Street, on the left when traveling east. Touch for map. Located along Helena Levee Walk near the Helena Train Depot. Marker is at or near this postal address: 65 Missouri Street, Helena AR 72342, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. A Union Stronghold in Confederate Arkansas (here, next to this marker); Phillips County Goes to War The Battle of Helena (within shouting distance of this marker); They Passed This Way (within shouting distance of this marker); Helena and The Trail of Tears (within shouting distance of this marker); Hernando De Soto (within shouting distance of this marker); KFFA 1360 Helena (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Blues Trail: Mississippi to Helena (about 400 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Helena.
More about this marker. An Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial site and a part of the Arkansas Civil War Discovery Trail.
Also see . . . Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture article - Black Union Troops. (Submitted on September 3, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)
Categories. • African Americans • Forts, Castles • War, US Civil •
Credits. This page was last revised on September 4, 2017. This page originally submitted on September 3, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 80 times since then and 18 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on September 3, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.