Guard, Garrison and Fatigue Duty
The United States Colored Troops (USCT) in Helena were part
of the Union garrison holding the city. Their duties were much
the same as those of white troops. Like all Union regiments,
they drilled for part of the day. Black troops occupied the
batteries and Fort Curtis and some men received artillery
training. They stood grand guard and picket duty. Soldiers
guarded wood choppers on islands in the river and government
stores in Helena. They built winter quarters. Black regiments
spent a great deal of their time, more than most white
regiments, on fatigue duty-working as laborers. But they also
participated in scouts-small scale military actions whose
purpose was to capture Confederates in the area and to gather
Missouri, Iowa and Kentucky Regiments
The 56th U.S. Colored Infantry, organized at St. Louis, spent
more time in Helena than any other USCT regiment—over
three years. They became involved in the community, donating
money and labor to the Quaker school. At least one member of
the 56th stayed in Helena. James Kelly married Nancy Green of
Helena and the couple settled here after the war.
The 60th U.S. Colored Infantry, organized in Keokuk, Iowa,
spent two years in Helena. The 5th and 6th
Cavalries, recruited at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, were part of
the post-war Reconstruction/occupation force. They mustered
out in Helena in the spring of 1866. The 69th U.S. Colored
Infantry was partially recruited in this area in 1864. The
regiment served near here and at other points in Arkansas and
Tennessee until September 1865.
The Battle of Big Creek
Parts of the 56th and the 60th U.S. Colored Infantries, with two guns
of Battery E, 2nd U.S. Colored Light Artillery, fought at the Battle of
Big Creek in Phillips County on July 27, 1864.
Lieutenant Harmon T. Chappel of the 2nd U.S. Colored Light
Artillery, a white officer, praised the USCT: "They marched eighteen
miles at once, fought five hours, against three to one, and were as
eager at the end as at the beginning for the fight. Never did men,
under such circumstances, show greater pluck or daring."
The USCT suffered 19 killed, 39 wounded and 4 missing. Among the
wounded were several members of the 56th U.S. Colored Infantry.
Nelson Lamb was shot through the left arm. Adam Brown was
wounded while cutting a dead horse from an artillery
wagon as the battle raged. James Baldwin
received a shot to the neck. All three made
it back to Helena and survived the war.
Top right: Samuel Truehart, 5th U.S. Colored
Middle right: William Stewart, 60th US. Colored Infantry
Stewart served as the regiment's wagon master
This photograph, found in his army pension
application, was taken in 1904.
Bottom left: James L. Baldwin, 56th U.S. Colored Infantry