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Who Built Fort Curtis?
Thousands of escaped slaves, known as Contraband, followed
the Union army to Helena in July 1862. Within weeks, the army
put hundreds of Contraband to work building Fort Curtis.
Hard Labor in Hot Weather
African American laborers moved tons of earth, cut trees, milled
lumber and did everything else required to build Fort Curtis. Imagine
moving enough dirt to build this fort with only shovels, picks and
wheelbarrows. Then imagine doing this backbreaking work in the
hottest months of the year. The men who came to Helena seeking
freedom did just that, building a fort larger than this reconstruction
in three months.
Union soldiers under orders seized African American men, including
those workingg for the army in other jobs, and set them to work on Fort
Curtis. General Eugene Carr, an advocate for the Contraband,
complained to General Curtis, writing, “It would be
better to send the orders through the proper
channels than to send parties to gather them
[Contraband] wherever they may be found!”
Carr felt that the Union army’s actions sent the
wrong message about freedom saying, “. . . there is
no ssecurity for those [who] in good faith have
engaged in labor in our service.”
General Eugene A. Carr
Library of Congress Prints
and Photographs
tographs Division
of C
Prints a
Photograapphs Division
In spite of being forced to labor on the fort many of the men who
built Fort Curtis enlisted in the Union army the following
ollowing spring.
A Part of the
Civil War Discovery Trail
Support for Civil War Helena generously provided by Southern
Bancorp, Department of Arkansas Heritage Delta Cultural Center,
and Helena-West Helena Advertising and Promotion Commission.
Arkansas Civil War
Sesquicentennial Site
r ry
r of
o Congress
ngress Prints
t and Photographs
ographs Division
DRAFT DATE : March 11, 2011
Seized and Set to Work