During the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863, less than 300 men with two cannon held this battery for several hours against 3,000 Confederates.
Infantry Mans the Guns
The 33rd Missouri Infantry (U.S.) defended Battery C. The
regiment had cross-trained as gunners, an unusual practice, and
manned the guns at all of Helena's defensive works. Here, two
companies served as artillerists and sharpshooters. After the
battle began, two companies of the 33rd Iowa Infantry arrived,
completing the small command. They repelled two assaults
before falling to the Confederates.
Rendering the Guns Useless
Civil War cannon were simple weapons. To fire, the gunner put
a friction primer into the hole on the top of the barrel, called the
vent. At the signal, he pulled a rope attached to the friction
primer, creating a spark. The spark ignited the powder and fired
the gun. The Confederates planned to turn Battery C's guns on
the Union forces, but the 33rd Missouri foiled their plans. Before
retreating they spiked the guns-hammering files into the vents
and breaking them off. They also took the friction primers.
The 33rd Suffers Heavy Losses
After leaving Helena, the 33rd Missouri participated in the Red
Price's Missouri campaign, and the Battle of
Nashville. But nowhere were they as hotly engaged as here.
During the war, the regiment lost four officers and fifty-two
enlisted men killed and mortally wounded. It suffered thirty of
those casualties at the Battle of Helena.
The Guns at Battery C
Orderly Sergeant Henry S. Carroll, 33rd Missouri, gave us the
only clue about the guns here, writing that the regiment's two
companies "were protected by some earthworks in which
were planted two brass field pieces." This is a reproduction
non-firing six-pounder field piece.
Middle: An unidentified member of the 33rd Missouri Infantry (U.S.)
Bottom right: Battery C would have looked much like the battery above, though it only had two guns.