Date of Graduation

8-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

History

Advisor

Daniel E. Sutherland

Committee Member

Elliott West

Second Committee Member

Patrick G. Williams

Keywords

Arkansas, Civil War, Helena, Phillips County

Abstract

“Civil War in the Delta” describes how the American Civil War came to Helena, Arkansas, and its Phillips County environs, and how its people—black and white, male and female, rich and poor, free and enslaved, soldier and civilian—lived that conflict from the spring of 1861 to the summer of 1863, when Union soldiers repelled a Confederate assault on the town. Scholars have been writing Civil War community studies since the 1960s, but few have investigated communities west of the Mississippi River. Historians also have written widely about Arkansas during the war, but there are no comprehensive studies of a single community in the state. “Civil War in the Delta” fills these voids by detailing the wartime experiences of soldiers and civilians in Helena and its surrounding countryside.

“Civil War in the Delta” also describes the 1863 Helena campaign, one of the most significant engagements of the war west of the Mississippi. On July 4, 1863, approximately 7,600 rebels attacked and were repulsed by 4,100 Federals at Helena. The attack was launched to relieve pressure on the besieged Confederate garrison at Vicksburg and secure an important rebel position on the Mississippi River. In the end, it was too little and too late to save Vicksburg, which capitulated on the same morning. However, over 1,800 men were killed, wounded, or captured in the engagement, and its outcome ensured Union control of the Mississippi. The campaign also illustrates the natural environment’s pivotal role in the Civil War. The Confederates believed if they moved against Helena with “celerity and secrecy,” they would easily capture the post. However, the natural environment of the Arkansas Delta—and the Federals’ strategic use of that environment—prevented the Confederates from achieving those ends. Harsh environmental conditions during the rebel approach to Helena in tandem with the Federals’ adaptation of the landscape as a key ally led to Confederate defeat and, by extension, solidified Union control of the Mississippi River and Arkansas.

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