Fort Curtis (1862-1867) - A U.S. Army post established in 1862 during the U.S. Civil War at the town of Helena in Phillips County, Arkansas. Helena was strategically located on the west bank of the Mississippi River south of Memphis, Tennessee. The Fort was named for Union General Samuel R. Curtis, (Cullum 655), the first fort commander. The post was abandoned in 1867 when Union troops left Helena.
Union forces captured Helena, Arkansas in the summer of 1862 and erected five earthworks fortifications, one of which was Fort Curtis. Two companies of the 33rd Missouri Volunteer Infantry manned the fort with three, 30 pounder Parrott cannons. The four other defenses were batteries A, B, C, and D all facing outward and covering the land approaches to the city. Fully expecting an attack by Confederate forces, the defenses included rifle pits in front of the gun batteries and a Union gunboat in the river.
The forts at Helena were attacked by Confederates on 4 July 1863. The Confederates with some 7646 men attempted a simultaneous coordinated attack on all four of the gun batteries (A, B, C, and D) but command failures resulted in staggered attacks that allowed the batteries to support each other with crossfire.
Only Battery C fell to the Confederates and then only after three costly attempts. Union gun crews succeeded in spiking the guns of Battery C before they retreated and because logs had been placed around the battery the confederates could not get their own artillery into the battery. A murderous crossfire then was reigned down on the Confederates in Battery C. The other batteries, the fort's guns and the Union gunboat all pounded the captured battery. In the chaos, part of the Confederate force went to attack another battery while the remainder surged down the hill toward the Fort below. Neither group was successful and their losses were heavy.
By noon the Union forces had prevailed and the Confederates retreated after suffering over 2,000 dead and wounded. The fort was abandoned for a time after the battle and was reoccupied between January and March 1865.
Fort replica built in Helena, Phillips County, Arkansas. This is a representative replica not on the original site that provides many of the elements of the original fort. There is a picture of the actual interior of the fort on one of the many reader-boards (the only known photo) and it illustrates a much more chaotic scene.
Above the city in a separate location is the Battery C Historic Park with displays and replica cannon illustrating the significance of this battery to the fort below and to the battle. The other batteries are on private property and not open to the public two of the three have one or more markers near the site.
Visited: 5 Sep 2020