Nestled securely in their comfortable lawn chairs on the hilltop surrounding Fort Curtis, nearly 1,000 visitors got a glimpse of what The Battle of Helena was all about. Bullets whizzed through the air and cannon blasts shattered the silence of the morning and early afternoon.
The spectators were never really in harm's way as that fateful battle of the Civil War was re-enacted last weekend. Re-enactors dressed out in authentic uniforms went through the motions of preparing for the battle. Union soldiers retreated from a Confederate attack at Battery C and returned to the “safe” confinements of Fort Curtis.
Union defenders fired shot after shot at the attacking Rebels, who eventually charged the fortress only to be repelled by a hail of gunfire.
When the smoke cleared, the Southern soldiers had surrendered to the Federal Army and Helena was officially secured by the Union troops. The battle eventually sealed the South's fate in Arkansas as the Feds now had control of the Mighty Mississippi River.
Fortunately, it was a re-enactment played out before a whole lot of history buffs. No one lost his or her lives Saturday. However, it was a grim reminder that scenario played itself out on the streets of Helena nearly 150 years ago.
The period of 1861 to 1865 was one of the darkest periods in U.S. history. Americans had seen war on its home soil before, such as the American Revolution and the War of 1812, but previously it was not brother against brother and father against son.
According to Ron Kelley, Civil War historical researcher for the Delta Cultural Center, spectators, re-enactors and living history participants from 34 states and three countries were in Helena Saturday for an “unforgettable re-enactment” that was labeled as a “crowd pleaser.”
During a recent Kiwanis session, President Dana Chadwick quipped, “In all my years of watching war movies and re-enactments, I had never heard the command 'soldiers resurrect.'”
Yes, those talented re-enactors lived to recreate another battle another day. The soldiers, North and South, struck by musket and cannon balls on that fateful July 4th day in 1863 were not so fortunate. Hundreds of Confederate soldiers are buried in a mass grave on a hillside in Maple Cemetery.
We must remember that freedom comes at a very expensive price.