Shortly after the capture of Helena in July 1862, the Union army took
measures to protect the city. Engineers designed a large earthen fort,
which African American laborers completed in October 1862. General
Benjamin Prentiss named the heavily armed fort for the city's first
Union commander, General Samuel Curtis.
Within weeks of the Union army's arrival in Helena,
engineers began work on a large redoubt, an enclosed
earthwork. They sited the earthen fort on high ground
at the end of a ridge. In 1862, the fort stood three
blocks north of here, just west of the city.
Fort Curtis's Formidable Guns
Engineers designed the impressive fort to protect Helena
from attack. Huge guns brought by Mississippi River
steamboats bristled from the ramparts. The army hoped
that the formidable weapons would cause the Confederates
to think twice before attacking.
Six 24-pounders and one 32-pounder cannon armed Fort
Curtis. The 32-pounder gun alone weighed 7,200 pounds
and could fire a projectile over a mile.
Top right:The guns in Fort Curtis, like the guns in Fort Stevens
above, fired over the wall of the fort rather than
through openings cut into the wall.
The guns at Fort Curtis looked like these seen here, in seacoast
mounts on the rampart of Fort Totten near Washington, DC.
Bottom right: Seven Union officers stand next to a 32-pounder
cannon in a fort that protected Washington, DC.