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Civil War Round Table of Arkansas

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Our 45th Year 

Meets Fourth Tuesday; January-November
Founded March 1964

Second Presbyterian Church

600 Pleasant Valley Drive

Little Rock 
Program at 7 p.m. 
Jan Sarna, President 

Rick Meadows, Editor / 
Dues $20 Per Year


 Mark Christ


The Battle of Helena

Mark Christ, Community Outreach Director for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, will be our featured speaker.  A frequent speaker at our Roundtable, his talk Tuesday will be about the Battle of Helena, which occurred on July 4, 1863. Discussion will focus on what the Union did right and what the Confederates did wrong.

A native of Indiana, Christ graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1982.  After working as a journalist with the Commercial Appeal in Memphis and the Arkansas Gazette, Christ returned to college and earned his Master’s Degree from the University of Oklahoma in 2000. His thesis was on the Little Rock Campaign of 1863. Christ lives in Little Rock with his wife and two children. Since 1990 Christ has worked for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.

 He has authored or edited several books, which include:

  • Rugged and Sublime

  • Getting Used to Being Shot at: The Spence Family Civil War Letters

  • All Cut to Pieces and Gone to Hell

  • The Earth Shook and Trees Trembled: Civil War Arkansas, 1863-1864

  • Sentinels of History: Reflections on Arkansas Properties on the National Register of Historic Places

Christ’s new work, Civil War Arkansas, 1863: The Battle For a State, will be published in 2010 by the University of Oklahoma Press.

 Three Battles on July 4th

Most Civil War historians can name Gettysburg and Vicksburg as critical campaigns that culminated in 1863 on July 4th with Federal victories. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia were forced to return across the Potomac River. In Mississippi, the surrender of Vicksburg soon would grant Federal complete access to the Mississippi River. Forgotten often is the critical Battle of Helena!  

In June, Confederate Generals Theophilus Holmes and Sterling Price met to discuss a plan to regain control of Helena, which Federal troops used to control trade and communication in Southeast Arkansas. In addition, it was hoped that action at Helena might relieve pressure on the besieged city of Vicksburg which is located 230 miles downstream. If a substantial number of Federal troops would transfer north, perhaps Pemberton could break out or Joseph E. Johnston could find a way to fight through the siege lines at Vicksburg and bring relief to the garrison and civilians of the town. As we heard early this year from our friend Terry Winschel, historian at the Vicksburg National Battlefield, Johnston would not come to their assistance and was quoted saying, “I am too late.” Three campaigns that turned the tide that led to Federal victory. 

Tom DeBlack writes, “The Confederate plan called for Price’s infantry and General John S. Marmaduke’s cavalry to move from Jacksonport to the vicinity of Helena, where they would unite with forces from Little Rock under the command of Brig. Gen. James Fagan. Holmes would travel from Little Rock, accompanied by Gov. Harris Flanagin, to take personal command of the attack.” (PG 75 Rugged and Sublime).  Could this be the Confederate’s first tactical mistake?

Waiting among the hills and ravines of the southern tip of Crowley’s Ridge were Federal troops under the command of Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss, a veteran of Shiloh. By late June, Prentiss had his men fell trees on the roads leading to Helena and had them on their posts by 2:30 A.M. DeBlack continues, “The town’s principal defense was Fort Curtis, an earthen bastion on the western edge of town. (high point downtown and away from the low land near the river’s edge which was prone to flooding.) To supplement this position, Prentiss placed four batteries, protected by breastworks and rifle pits, on four hills that formed a rough semicircle around the town.  He designated these batteries, north to south, as A, B, C, and D.  Additional firepower was provided by the U.S.S. Tyler, a paddlewheel steamer 180 feet long and 42 feet wide anchored off the river bank.  The Tyler was armed with one thirty-pound Parrott gun and six eight-inch smoothbore cannon. These defenses were formidable.” (PG 79). 

USS Tyler

According to the Official Records: Holmes orders “The attack on Helena will be made to-morrow morning at daylight, and as follows:

1st. Maj-Gen Price, in command of McRae’s and Parson’s brigades, will proceed by the best route, assume position, assault and take Graveyard Hill at daylight. (Battery C)  

2nd. Brig Gen Walker, with his cavalry brigade, will, in like manner, proceed to the Sterling road, where he will hold himself in position to resist any troops that may approach Rightor Hill; and when that position is captured, he will enter the town and act against the enemy as circumstances may justify.

3rd. Brig Gen Fagan will proceed by the best route, assume position, and take the battery on Hindman’s Hill at daylight. (Battery D)

4th. Brig Gen Marmaduke will proceed with his command by the best route, assume position, and take Rightor Hill at daylight.” (O.R.Series I. Vol. XXII. PG 409-410)

When was daylight? To some it was first light and others sunrise. A coordinated attack was doomed at daylight. Mark Christ will expand on the battle and the preparation by both Confederate and Federals generals. Issues such as reconnaissance, communication, command and control will be addressed.

What if Robert E. Lee had adapted Longstreet’s plan at Gettysburg?

What if Joseph E. Johnston had relieved Pemberton at Vicksburg?

What if Walker had supported Marmaduke at Helena?

What if the Confederates had actually attacked at the same time?

What if Holmes’ order was more detailed?

What if Prentiss hadn’t been prepared?

What if the Tyler was at Vicksburg? (She inflicted many casualties at Battery D)

What if……….?????

Speaking of Gettysburg

Your editor spent 3 days early in October at Gettysburg on a tour led by noted historian Ed Bearss. The Tour featured The Second Day at Gettysburg. Friday night lecturers were Jeff Wert, Dr. Richard Sauers and Dr. Mark Snell. Saturday and Sunday were spent with Ed Bearss. On the Confederate left, we walked with Gen. James Longstreet on his Flank March. Dodging shot and shell, we stormed Devil’s Den with the Third Arkansas. Without canteens of refreshing water we stood with Col William Oates and the 48th Alabama as they charged Little Round Top only to be repulsed by Gen Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine.  

On the Confederate left, we struggled thru the timber with Gen Jubal Early at Culp’s Hill. It was here that breastworks, ordered by Brig Gen George S Greene, were first used in the Civil War. Just as important as the stand made by the 20th Maine, Col. David Ireland and the 137th New York played an equal role in saving the Federal right flank from being overwhelmed. Bearss suggests that Ireland possibly would have been as popular as Chamberlain if he had survived the war. Unfortunately, he died of dysentery in 1864 during the Atlanta Campaign.   

One final bit on knowledge that I gained on this trip, I did not know that the Confederate forces led by Gen Wright’s Brigade of Georgians, almost accomplished what Lee planned for the Third Day. After the Georgians crossed the Emmitsburg Road, they captured two guns belonging to Lt. Gulian Weir’s 5th US Battery just in front of Cemetery Ridge. There was a gap in the Federal lines! But without adequate support from Posey, Wright’s attack stalled at 7:00 P.M. at a clump of trees made famous the next day with Picket’s Charge. What if…….? 

Watch for information on Ed Bearss leading a tour to Vicksburg in June 2010 by the Smithsonian Institute. Is anyone ready for a short hike? Bearrs, who is in his mid 80’s, will put any tender foot to shame with his stamina.

Bill Meadows, myself (Rick Meadows), and Ed Bearss. In the background in a small white house used by Meade for his HQ.


Civil War Conference  

Historic Ft. Negley Park, one of the only remaining fortifications in Nashville, will be the setting for the upcoming Civil War Conference. This educational event will be held on Saturday, November 21st from 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. The scheduled speakers are: 

  • Sarah Boyd – Tennessee History teacher from Williamson County

      The Roots of the Civil War: How Our Forefathers Passed the Buck 

  • Carole Boyd – History Professor at Volunteer State Community College

Storm Clouds on the Horizon: Nashville in the Decade Before the Civil War 

  • Myers Brown – Extension Services Curator, Tennessee State Museum

Spies, Scouts and Guerrillas: Irregular Warfare in Middle Tennessee 

  • Krista Castillo – Museum Coordinator, Ft Negley Park

Finding Peace: Reconstructing Middle Tennessee 

  • Thomas Flagel – History professor at Columbia State University

Appomattox: The Place of Lee’s Surrender and a National Resurrection

 Cost is only $40. Payable to

BONPS, C/0 Ft. Negley Visitors Center

1100 Ft. Negley Blvd

Nashville, TN 37203 

For additional information contact Gregg Biggs:


 John Bell Hood Exhibit

While in Nashville, you may wish to visit the Carnton Plantation in historic Franklin. The new Fleming Center hosts the John Bell Hood Exhibit with features artifacts from Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood, commander of the Army of Tennessee in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign of 1864. The exhibit includes swords, his uniform, frock coat, a saddle, documents, flags and more.

Meeting Room Change 

We are hoping to able to move our meeting room across the hall for where we have been meeting. The new room is larger, quieter, and has better lighting.

MacArthur Museum Announces Lee and Grant Events

Wednesday, November 11, 7:00 p m - The Dilemma of General Robert E. Lee portrayed by Al Stone

Al Stone will present a one-hour monologue on the dilemma facing Lee in early 1861 as President Lincoln asked him to lead the U.S. Army against the seceded states of the newly-formed Confederacy. He will discuss what led Lee to refuse the offer and join his native state, Virginia, in seceding. NOTE: This program will occur at the Old State House Museum in the 1836 House of Representatives Chamber (the chamber from which Arkansas' legislators voted to secede in May 1861). This event is FREE, but seating is limited to 150 persons. Call 501-324-8663 and make reservations.

Thursday, November 12, 5:00 - 7:00 p m - Preview Reception for Lee and Grant at the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History

Join us for a preview of the exhibit and the chance to mix and mingle with Generals  Robert E. Lee and  Ulysses S. Grant , debate moderator Paul Greenberg,  as well as our program sponsors . Tickets for this event are $250 for one ticket admitting two persons and include a heavy hors d'oeuvre reception, full bar and reserved seating at the Lee/Grant debate following the reception. This event is part of the museum's biennial fundraiser.

Thursday, November 12, 7:30 - 8:30 p m

Lee and Grant Debate moderated by Paul Greenberg was to be performed at the Children's Theater at the Arkansas Arts Center but has been moved to the Holiday Inn. This event is FREE to the public, but seating is limited. Call 501-376-4602 to make reservations. NOTE: Reserved seats for the debate are included in the price for admission to the Lee and Grant reception.

Call the museum at 501-376-4602 and speak with Stephan McAteer if you have any questions.    

William Shea is coming

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Our speaker for November’s meeting will be Dr. William Shea from the University of Arkansas at Monticello. His talk will be “What really happened at Prairie Grove?” This talk is based on his new book: Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign published by the University of North Carolina Press. Mark Tuesday, November 24 on your calendar. Hope to see you this Tuesday with Mark Christ and The Battle of Helena!