Greg, I thought you might be interested in this excerpt from a letter written by a man in the 35th Arkansas Infantry. It mentions the capture of Bell's 37th Arkansas at Helena --
The night was a beautiful one. The moon and stars shone beautifully and all nature seemed unconscious of the awful deeds we soon expected to execute. We passed on crossing a muffled bridge and arrived as close to the field Officers deemed prudent to go on horseback. They accordingly dismounted and their horses were taken to the rear. At grey day our skirmishers and theirs opened up on each other.
We were then started on double quick and run with all our might for a mile or more when we found ourselves upon the field of action. The city is surrounded with very steep hills and deep hollows. The fortifications consist of three principal forts, “Prentice”, “Grave Yard Hill” and Fort Hindman. Our Brigade was led against Ft. Hindman with the exception of Brooks’ Regiment was reserved to support the battery.
The Fort was arranged somewhat after this manner. The defences faced the west and S. W. The fort was square, built of sand bags of sufficient height to make a good protection for the riflemen; it also was defended by a battery of very large guns. Then in front of this was the hills and hollows running parallel to works which compelled us to charge over the hills exposed to a deliberate and murderous fire. Then to make the matter worse the timber had been felled in such a manner as to make it next to impossible to pass over this ground at all.
We found the enemy posted in his rifle pits and we were ordered to dislodge him at all hazards. Our part of the great fight then commenced. After fighting for over two hours we at length charged and drove them from the pits to the fort. The battle then continued for several hours from the pits which we occupied to the fort, but we were unable to dislodge them without it could have been done by storm and our forces were not sufficient for such a measure.
Col. Bell with his regt passed the breastworks and the Col. and all of the field officers (except the Major), together with nearly half the men, were taken prisoners. Gen. Parsons succeeded in taking the fort of Grave Yard Hill but could not hold it for any length of time. During this time parts of the army were shelled terribly by the gunboats. Some shells were thrown as large as a water bucket which dealt death in every direction.
Unfortunately for us reinforcements arrived during the battle which may have turned the fortunes of the day against us. Our entire loss I can not tell for certain as we have had no official report; it was probably 1500. It is very mortifying to suffer defeat under any circumstances but when one has ground to believe that it might have been prevented by proper Generalship it makes it doubly hard. Gen. Holmes must certainly be answerable for the defeat at Helena.
From letter dated at Camp near Searcy, White County, Ark., Wednesday, July 23rd, 1863, Pvt. W. H. H. Shibley to his parents.