McRae Found Blameless Long After Helena Loss


Arkansas Gazette, July 5, 1963

he official report of Lt. Gen. Theophilus H. Holmes on the battle of Helena was vaguely critical of the conduct of Brig. Gen. Dandridge McRae with reference to the attempt made by McRae to go to the assistance of Brig. Gen. James F. Fagen at Hindman Hill.

Holmes said, "After much delay he proceeded on this duty but utterly failed to render the slightest aid, making no attempt to assault the hill."

McRae’s own report gave a reasonable explanation for his failure to attack the hill from the rear. Evidently it was satisfactory to his immediate superior, Maj. Gen. Sterling Price.

Price said in his report "I must also commend the excellent discipline which General McRae maintains at all times in his brigade; the marked good sense and energy with which he conducted its march to Helena; the promptitude with which he has always obeyed my commands and the earnest efforts which he made to re-enforce General Fagan toward the close of the attack."

Nevertheless, there was a great deal of talk about Little Rock that was sharply critical of McRae, based mo0stly on rumors of Holmes’ disapproval.

Finally on December 29, 1864, almost a year and a half after the battle a Court of Inquiry was convened at Shreveport by order of Lt. Gen. E. Kirby Smith to investigate a charge against McRae of "misbehavior before the enemy" at the battle of Helena.

McRae is said to have requested the Court of Inquiry, in order to put an end to the gossip once and for all. It had the desired effect for after hearing testimony and studying papers and maps pertaining to the operation the Court of Inquiry declared that McRae’s conduct at Helena "was obnoxious to no charge of misbehavior before the enemy."

Brigadier Gen. John S. Marmaduke’s report of the battle laid the blame for his failure to capture Rightor Hill on Brig. Gen. L. Marsh Walker, who failed to prevent the Federals from sending reinforcements against Marmaduke and who did not respond to Marmaduke’s request that he help him to dislodge them.

Walker’s report gave no explanation and in fact did not even mention these things. Holmes was too far from Rightor Hill to see for himself what happened but he obviously accepted Marmaduke’s opinion that Walker could easily have blocked the Federal troops. He said Walker had given no satisfactory reason why he did not do it.

This was the beginning of the hard feelings between Marmaduke and Walker that had a tragic ending two months later when Marmaduke killed Walker in a duel near Little Rock.

For additional information on McRae see the Heritage Index or contact the White County Historical Society, P.O. Box 537, Searcy, AR 72145.