Helena in Phillips County, Arkansas — The American South (West South Central)
Fighting to Stay Free
Freedmen Fill Two Regiments
Within days of Lorenzo Thomas' speech in Helena on April 6, 1863, enough Freedmen enlisted to fill a regiment—1,000 men. Many were already in Helena. Others came in from Confederate-controlled areas outside of Helena. Some, like Aaron Hurvey and Burrill Eastman, escaped from their owners in Mississippi and crossed the Mississippi River to come into Helena and enlist. Here, as in every place that Thomas spoke, black men were eager to fight for the Union. They knew that the Union had to win the war if they were to keep the freedom guaranteed by the Emancipation Proclamation.
The 2nd and 4th Arkansas Infantries of African Descent, later designated the 54th and 57th U. S Colored Infantries, respectively, filled within weeks. Before the Civil War ended, 5,526 black men joined the Union Army in Arkansas.
Helena's 54th U.S. Colored Infantry
Three months later, the 2nd Arkansas Infantry of African Descent, not yet officially mustered into service, defended the city in the Battle of Helena. The 54th United States Colored Infantry was later ordered to Fort Smith, Arkansas. They saw action at Fort Gibson and Cabin Creek, Oklahoma, in September 1864 and Cow Creek, Kansas, that November. Ordered to Little Rock
Helena's 57th U.S. Colored Infantry
The 57th United States Colored Infantry was attached to the District of Eastern Arkansas and posted to garrison duty at Helena and Little Rock until August 1864. In 1864, all or parts of the regiment participated in the Camden Expedition and took part in a skirmish near Little Rock. They also participated in operations against Confederate General Jo Shelby north of the Arkansas River. The regiment was posted to De Valls Bluff and Little Rock until June 1865, and then at various points in the Department of Arkansas guarding property and on post duty until December 1866.
Top right: The color party of the 57th U.S. Colored Infantry. Aaron Hurvey, holding the small snare drum, was a slave from Mississippi. He enlisted after being brought to Helena with a cotton raiding party. This photograph was probably made in Little Rock when the unit was mustered out on December 31, 1866.
Bottom: By the end of the Civil War, 178,975 African Americans had served in the U.S. Army as members of the United States Colored Troops. Another 9,695 served in the U.S. Navy. They fought
Erected 2013 by Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission.
Location. 34° 31.586′ N, 90° 35.189′ 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); "Put arms in their hands" (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 6, 2017. This page originally submitted on September 6, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 67 times since then and 12 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on September 6, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.