Thursday, September 25, 2014

On the Field of Battle - The Story of a Father and Three Sons

Helena Arkansas was a town on the Mississippi River, about 50 miles south of Memphis and 100 miles southeast of Little Rock (as the crow flies). Helena was a town of wealth, and a major port on the river. In 1862 the Union Army marched in Helena without opposition, and fortified the town for occupation.

On July 4, 1863 the Confederate army executed an attack on Helena. Under the impression that most of the Union forces in Helena had been relocated to join General Grant in the Vicksburg campaign, they thought the recapture of Helena would be successful. They split forces into three, attacking at dawn from three different directions.

But two things thwarted their plan. First, the Union army had not reduced troops in Helena as they had thought – at least not to the point of weakening it. And second, the Union soldiers had felled trees along all the passages into town. This prevented the Confederates from moving their wagons or artillery up the ridge.

A father first loves his son, then tries to understand him. But war provides no answers...

The siege on Helena was a dismal failure. Of the 7,646 Confederate soldiers who marched into the July 4th battle, 173 were killed, 687 wounded and 776 missing; a total of 1,636 men. The Union side fared much better. Of the 4,129 Union soldiers engaged, 57 were killed, 127 wounded and 36 missing; total casualties of 220.

Amos Pitts was the first born son of Levi and Elizabeth Pitts of Clarksville, Arkansas. Amos was born and raised in the USA – specifically in the state of Arkansas. But when Amos was 18 years old the State of Arkansas declared its succession from the Union and became a part of the Confederate States of America – which was at war with the United States of America.

So Amos Pitts enlisted in the Confederate army; specifically Company I, Arkansas 35th Infantry Regiment. The 35th was among those who marched on Helena, and Amos F. Pitts was among those brave Confederate soldiers who fought on that hot July day. And on that day, July 4th, 1863, Private Amos F. Pitts was counted among the 173 Confederate souls who perished on the field of battle.

While Arkansas was a southern state and a part of the Confederacy, being of the “upper south” many of its populace were not keen on the succession, and clung to their unionist sympathies. Arkansas was truly a state where brother was pitted against brother.

With Helena as its base of operations, the Little Rock Campaign was launched. The fall of Vicksburg had freed up thousands of Union troops, and 6,000 infantry were dispatched for the purpose of capturing Little Rock. In September 1863 Maj. Gen. Fredrick Steele’s Union army marched into Little Rock and accepted the surrender of the city. Along the way he lost only 137 men. And having a strong Union presence in Arkansas, and with many of the locals sympathetic to the North, the Union army established several regiments in the state.

Perhaps Levi Pitts of Clarksville, Arkansas pitied his firstborn son Amos for having given his life for the wrong cause. A father first loves his son, then tries to understand him. But war provides no answers – much less, logic, and now this son was lost forever. But Levi had other sons, and his influence over those boys was strong. And so it was that, on the 13th day of January, 1864, Levi Pitts, at the age of 45 left his wife Elizabeth behind to watch over the five youngest kids, and enlisted as a private in the UNION army - 2nd Arkansas Infantry Regiment, Company H. And he was joined by his sons, Hiram K. Pitts, age 21, and Elijah D. Pitts, age 19, who both enlisted in that same Regiment on that same day.

The military operations during the initial days of July 1864 consisted primarily of scouting parties for the Union. On July 9, 1864, Colonel James Stuart dispatched one lieutenant and twenty men from the Tenth Illinois Cavalry Volunteers to scout the area from Huntersville - present-day North Little Rock  - to Little Rock. The Union forces came across a small Confederate party twenty miles north of the city, taking one prisoner and wounding/killing four (the total is unclear in the official records). 

Skirmishes like this one broke out around the periphery of Little Rock following its fall to Union forces in September 1863. At times, the commanding officers of Confederate and Union forces fighting in these skirmishes knew little about their opponent, as evidenced by the official reports.

On September 20, 1864 at Huntersville, AR (now North Little Rock) Levi Pitts fell, apparently killed by skirmishers loyal to the Confederacy. Then, on December 8, 1864, again at Huntersville, young Elijah Pitts followed his father in death, in like manner.

Of this father and three brothers, only one survived that awful war; Hiram K. Pitts. Hiram went on to marry, and had a daughter they named Lura Lea. Lura Lea Pitts became Lura Lea Kepler when she married my grandfather, John Franklin Kepler.

I lost my 2nd great grandfather Levi Pitts, and two great grand uncles, Amos and Elijah Pitts to the Civil War. In fact, most of us have ancestors whose lives were forever changed by that war. And while my family tree holds others who served, this father and two sons paid what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”


Illustration: Sherman at Atlanta, by George N. Barnard (in the public domain)


  1. OMG, thank you for writing this. I am amazed that I found it. I am tracing my family history of The Pitts family and am so glad to find history of them. Sincerely, Robin Spears. My papa's name is Doyle Pitts, his father was Houston I believe. My email is

  2. Interesting, although this account contains many factual errors. Amos was the second son and enlisted along with his older brother John Samuel (my gg grandfather). Levi did not enlist by choice, but was conscripted at Dover. Levi and Elijah did die in Huntersville of camp fever according to the official death certificate.

    1. Thanks, Randy, for some clarification. I of course defer to your additional information, cousin!

  3. This was a great story!! Thanks so much for writing it. My lineage is thru James Henry Pitts. If anyone has pictures of Levi or any of his kids, please send a copy to me. My email address is