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With Shelby and Greene’s brigades recoiling in disarray, Rice’s riflemen and cannoneers concentrated their fire on Bledsoe’s two guns. In this moment of crisis, Major Robert Smith, Marmaduke’s quartermaster, forgot his presentiments of death. The staff officer leaped from his horse and took charge of one fieldpiece. When a bullet perforated Smith’s hat, he hooted at the Yankees, “Ah, shoot better than that.” A second slug grazed the major’s leg, prompting him to joke, “A miss is as good as a mile.” An anxious Marmaduke admonished Smith to leave the post of danger, but the latter replied, “One more shot, General, one more shot.” Before Smith could finish sighting his gun, a bullet smashed into his shoulder and another tore through his side and lodged in his heart, killing him instantly.33

A grief-stricken Marmaduke knew that he could make no headway until someone dislodged the pesky Clayton from his left flank. The fretting Missourian sped two galloping couriers to beg the assistance of General Walker, whose brigade had halted more than half a mile to the north. Walker had put his two Arkansas cavalry regiments in motion down the Sterling Road at daylight, only to encounter the inevitable roadblock a mile short of Helena. He dismounted approximately three hundred troopers and advanced them beyond the barricade as skirmishers, but he held the majority of his brigade north of it. Aside from several hours of desultory, long-range sniping, however, Walker’s Arkansans contributed nothing to the Confederate attack. Infuriated by this failure to support Marmaduke, General Holmes fumed, “No satisfactory reason has been given by General Walker why this service was not rendered.”34

Marsh Walker’s timidity did not affect the battle’s outcome as much as the inexplicable behavior of Sterling Price. Price ended his night march toward Battery C one-and-a-half miles short of his objective. He subsequently claimed that he feared alarming the Yankees prematurely, but one of Old Pap’s brigade commanders testified that the halt was ordered “to await sufficient light.” Whatever Price’s motives, he stayed put for more than an hour after the first streaks of dawn showed over the horizon and Fagan’s brigade engaged Battery D. Finally prodded into action by an impatient General Holmes, Price’s division moved out. Brigadier General Mosby M. Parsons’ brigade of 1,868 Missourians led the way and Brigadier General Dandridge McRae’s brigade of 1,227 Arkansans brought up the rear. Dense woods, precipitous ridges, and deep ravines cut up the ground over which Price marched, slowing his progress to a crawl. After the sharpshooter battalion composing Parsons’ advance guard made contact with Union pickets, Price arrayed his brigades in columns of divisions. That meant that the lead regiment in each brigade deployed in a column two companies wide and five companies deep, the men in each company aligned in a double-ranked line of battle. All the other regiments in the brigade stacked up behind the first in the same formation. As Price took the time to assume this new configuration, the whiz of Yankee minié balls terrified the five civilians guiding his division. They gradually slipped away, which further slowed the Missourians after they resumed their advance.35

The energetic Parsons trailed behind his sharpshooters until he ultimately sighted Battery C. Blue gunners from the 33rd Missouri’s Company E downed twenty of their fellow Missourians in gray with shrapnel and grapeshot, but Parsons drove to within three hundred yards of the enemy’s rifle pits before halting on the south slope of a hogback ridge. Price’s attack plan called for Parsons to let McRae fall in on his left and the two brigades would attack together. Unfortunately, the ridge leading to Battery C hid the Missourians and their Arkansas comrades from each other, and neither Parsons nor McRae thought to check on his counterpart’s position. That breakdown in communications cost the Confederates more precious minutes until an exasperated Price discovered the mix-up and instructed his brigade commanders to close with the enemy. By this time, the Federals had checked Marmaduke at Battery A and pinned down Fagan’s Arkansans in front of Battery D.36

Price’s men atoned for the hours squandered by their generals with their valorous ascent of Graveyard Hill. A Federal staff officer called the division’s charge “a splendid spectacle,” and General Prentiss credited the Confederates with “a courage and desperation rarely equaled.” Screaming shrill battle cries every step of the way, the Rebels made their difficult climb as the defenders of Battery C shredded their ranks with cannon and small arms, and the artillery and infantry at Batteries B and D inflicted additional casualties from the flanks. “The shots of the enemy . . . was poured upon us . . . from the time we appeared,” testified Sergeant Bull, the musket-toting Rebel artilleryman. “We did not know the fate of individuals at the time but the gaps in our . . . lines showed the fire had been very disastrous.” Standing by Gun No. 6 in Fort Curtis, First Sergeant Henry S. Carroll of Company D, 33rd Missouri Infantry, spotted Parsons’ right as it wrapped around the south side of Graveyard Hill. “I asked the Capt[ain] if I could give them a fourth of July salute,” Carroll recounted. “He replied give it to them and thus opened the most murderous fire from our guns that ever men withstood.” That portion of Parsons’ brigade was also bombarded by the Tyler, Lieutenant Lyon’s section from the 3rd Iowa Battery, and even two guns in the works south of Helena belonging to the 1st Missouri Light Artillery’s Battery K.37

Twice that merciless crossfire hammered Price’s regiments to a standstill, but the frenzied Rebels regrouped and bulled their way forward for a third time. The artillerists inside Battery C let their assailants approach to twenty feet and then unleashed a final salvo. The Confederates absorbed that murderous salute without a pause. In a matter of seconds, the 9th Missouri Infantry raised its battle flag triumphantly over Battery C’s parapet. A short melee with bayonets and rifle butts climaxed in the battery’s outnumbered defenders breaking to the rear as fast as their legs could carry them. Before the quick-thinking gunners from the 33rd Missouri abandoned their pieces, however, they disabled them by carrying away all their friction primers and priming wires. Taking heart from Price’s success, Fagan’s weary Arkansans roused themselves and captured the last line of rifle pits barring them from Battery D-but they would need help if they were going to take the battery itself. It was now 8:00 a.m., and Helena’s fate hung in the balance.38

General Salomon reacted to Price’s breakthrough by recalling Lieutenant Colonel Thomas N. Pace’s 1st Indiana Cavalry and a section of the 3rd Iowa Battery from the Union right to Fort Curtis. Remnants of the two 33rd Missouri companies shoved off Graveyard Hill rallied on Pace, and Lieutenant Colonel Mackey extended the Hoosiers’ line with five companies from his 33rd Iowa. Colonel McLean also double-quicked half of the 35th Missouri from the Union left to assist in containing any further Rebel lunges. In the meantime, the three hilltop batteries still in Federal hands-in concert with Fort Curtis, assorted artillery sections, and the Tyler-continued to pound Graveyard Hill. The gunboat alone fired 413 rounds that day. One of its 8-inch shells exploded beneath a fieldpiece in Battery C as twenty-five Rebels strained to turn it around and aim it at Fort Curtis. When the smoke cleared, twenty-four of these men lay dead or wounded.39







Lieutenant Colonel Cyrus H. Mackey initially deployed the 33rd Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment to support Batteries C and D. After Battery C fell, Mackey rallied five companies and joined in the defense of Fort Curtis.  He then led counterattacks that helped sweep the Rebels off Graveyard and Hindman Hills.  U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle.



Colonel Thomas Hart Benton, Jr., and his aggressive 29th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment drove Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s Confederate cavalry division from the high ground overlooking Battery A. Benton was the nephew of the late Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. Author’s collection.



Colonel William L. Jeffers led the 8th Missouri Cavalry from Colonel Colton Greene’s brigade of Marmaduke’s division in the abortive attack on Battery A. State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia.


Union Forces


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