Helena in Phillips County, Arkansas — The American South (West South Central)
“Put arms in their hands”
"A Liberating Army"
In September 1861, Frederick Douglass, a former slave and passionate and influential advocate for black rights, wrote, "Let it be known that the American flag is the flag of freedom to all who will rally under it and defend it with their blood Let colored troops from the North be enlisted and permitted to share the danger and honor of upholding the Government." It was 1863 before the War Department listened to Douglass and many others who believed that black men should be allowed to serve in the Union army.
By late summer of 1862 it was clear that there would be no peaceful end to the war. Since the beginning of the war, free black men in the North had insisted that they had the right to fight for their country. Now, entering the third year of the war, the War Department decided that arming black men was solid war policy. The army needed men, and black men were willing to take up arms against the Confederacy.
In late March 1863, just three months after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, the Department of War sent Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas to the Mississippi Valley to recruit African Americans into the Union army. Thomas began his efforts in Cairo, Illinois. He reached Helena on
Lorenzo Thomas later reported that when he began his task, "the prejudice against colored troops was quite general, and it required in the first instance all my efforts to counteract it, but finally it was overcome, and the blacks themselves subsequently by their coolness and determination in battle fought themselves into their present high standing as soldiers."
Lincoln wanted to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation but thought that doing so when the Union was losing on the battlefield would make it look like an act of desperation. The victory at Antietam in September 1862 gave Lincoln the opportunity he sought. He issued the proclamation two weeks later.
Top left: Frederick Douglass spoke for many—black and white—when he wrote in May 1861, "Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service, and formed into a liberating army."
Middle right: President Abraham Lincoln, center, Allan Pinkerton and General John McClernand on the Antietam Battlefield near Sharpsburg Maryland.
Bottom left: When finally given the opportunity African Americans by the thousands volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army and Navy.
Erected 2013 by Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial
Location. 34° 31.586′ N, 90° 35.188′ W. Marker is in Helena, Arkansas, in Phillips County. Marker can be reached from Cherry Street south of Rightor Street, on the right when traveling south. Touch for map. Located in courtyard next to Main Street Helena. Marker is at or near this postal address: 413 Cherry Street, Helena AR 72342, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Recruiting in Helena (here, next to this marker); Fighting to Stay Free (here, next to this marker); USCT in Helena (here, next to this marker); Live at the Opera House (about 700 feet away, measured in a direct line); Seven Confederate Generals (about 700 feet away); Arkansas' Mercí Car (about 700 feet away); The Right to Vote (about 700 feet away); Civil War Comes to Arkansas (about 700 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.
Categories. • African Americans • War, US Civil •
Credits. This page was last revised on September 5, 2017. This page originally submitted on September 5, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 58 times since then. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on September 5, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.