Phillips County, AR | Jul 4, 1863
In June, 1863, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Holmes, Confederate commander in Arkansas, sought to relieve Union pressure on Vicksburg, Mississippi as the army of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant besieged that strategic city. Holmes won approval for a plan to assault the Union-held river town of Helena, Arkansas, 170 miles north of Vicksburg. About 4,000 Union soldiers were in Helena under the command of Maj. Gen. Benjamin Prentiss, who had already sent one division from the town to reinforce Grant’s army. Four artillery batteries defended Helena, surrounded by breastworks and rifle pits. Steep hills faced the town on three sides. Holmes planned three attacks against the town's defenses: the largest, main attack from the west and other attacks from the north and south. Early on the morning of July 4, Holmes's columns struck the Federal defenses. The north and south attacks were not coordinated well and failed due to poor timing, bad communications and lack of artillery support. In the center, the main attack column struck Battery C on Graveyard Hill and achieved a breakthrough. Union defenders from other parts of the line pushed the attackers back and sealed the breach. By 11:00 a.m. the fighting was over and the Confederates withdrew. Vicksburg surrendered to Grant that same day, and Helena continued to be an important Union base for Union operations west of the Mississippi.