Jack Myers, Delta Cultural Center education coordinator, recalled a piece of Helena's history as he told the story of USS Tyler, a steamboat that carried produce, mail, and other items up and down the Mississippi River before the Battle of Helena.
Jack Myers, Delta Cultural Center education coordinator, recalled a piece of Helena's history as he told the story of USS Tyler, a steamboat that carried produce, mail, and other items up and down the Mississippi River before the Battle of Helena. “The Tyler really had no story to it at all until after it struck another steamboat and sank and was brought back up to the surface,” Myers stated. According to Myers, the Tyler was a side-wheeler as he presented several PowerPoint examples of the steamboat that was capable of turning around “in the footprint” of the boat. “The steamboat was a packet, a delivery boat that traveled to Cincinnati down to New Orleans carrying passengers, mail, freight and anything else that it could carry,” he said. Myers added that the Tyler was a commodity boat until rumors began to swirl that the boat was carrying ammunition. The USS Tyler was making a run from Helena to Vicksburg, Miss. when it was attacked. “The Mississippi had just receded four days earlier and the governor ordered all traffic suspected of carrying ammunition and possible roughens should be searched, and so the USS Tyler was searched,” commented Myers. Myers stated that the first shots fired at the Tyler were part of Helena's history in that it was among the first shots fired in the Civil War. The Tyler had a very unusual situation in that it was literally fighting a war within its own boundaries. “How are you going to move an army very easily without roads? You have to put them on the river,” continued Myers. When the USS Tyler was bought it was purchased as an Army vessel and not a navy vessel. The purchase included three boats – the Tyler, the Lexington, and the Calistoga, which in essence was a gun platform, a useful object. The guns were 8-inch and the largest guns in the U.S. were on the Tyler. During the first days of war, the biggest fear was that these soldiers were going to war in sub-climate temperatures that they were not prepared for and suffer greatly. They tried to apply shade to the timber-clads, as they were often referred to, with hand canvas to provide shade. The USS Tyler never had a proper captain. Captain is the honor bestowed on the commanding officer. The Tyler was given the distinction as being among the three boats assigned to Division 7 on the Mississippi River to Memphis, Tenn., where it traveled to Helena. “It was difficult traveling the river banks because there were always shots being fired at you,” reported Myers. The Tyler was involved in an altercation with the SS Jackson and was an influence and helped Grant win the Battle of Shilo, and got chased by the CSS Arkansas out of the Yazoo River. “It was very influential in the Battle of Helena as it had the biggest guns in town,” concluded Myers.