Napoleon, Arkansas

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Coordinates: 33°47′49″N 91°04′26″W / 33.797°N 91.074°W / 33.797; -91.074 Napoleon is a ghost town in Desha County, Arkansas, United States, near the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. Once the county seat of Desha County, Napoleon was flooded in 1874 when the banks of the Mississippi River burst through and destroyed the once-thriving river port town.[1]

The town was the subject of a chapter in Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi, in which $10,000 had been hidden behind a brick in a building. Twain says he learned of the money's being hidden but, when he tried to retrieve it, discovered the entire town has been washed away in earlier floods.[2][3]

Twain reports that the early explorers De Soto, Marquette and Joliet, and La Salle visited "the site of the future town of Napoleon, Arkansas" in their pioneering journeys.[4]

In 1852, Bolivar County, Mississippi established Wellington as its county seat, nearly opposite Napoleon, on the east bank of the Mississippi River.[5] There would have been a natural rivalry between business and civic leaders in Desha County, Arkansas, and Bolivar County, Mississippi, for river-related commerce at the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers.

Civil War and destruction[edit]

North of Napoleon, the river followed a sharp curve east into Mississippi along what was then called the "Beulah Bend" (now Lake Beulah). During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers would move east by foot from Napoleon, hide in a wooded area near the bend, and then fire on passing Union ships. The bend was so tight that the same cannon could be used on ships as they entered and then left Beulah Bend.

Following one such ambush in 1863, a Federal gunship led by William Tecumseh Sherman landed at Wellington and burned the town.

Seeking to permanently avoid the ambush point at Beulah Bend, Union commander Thomas Oliver Selfridge ordered a channel dug across the peninsula around which Beulah Bend flowed. The soft land and strong river current enabled the "Napoleon Channel" to be cut in just a day. The Napoleon Channel improved the Mississippi River for shipping, as it removed 10 mi (16 km) from the navigable route. Unfortunately, the diverted river currents caused by the Napoleon Channel caused both Wellington and Napoleon to be completely submerged within a few years.[6]


  1. ^ "Napoleon (Desha County)". Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. The Central Arkansas Library System. 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  2. ^ Clemens, Samuel L. (1917). "XXXII, The Disposal of a Bonanza". Life on the Mississippi. New York: Harper & Row. pp. 281–286. 
  3. ^ "Napoleon, Arkansas". Directory of Mark Twain's maxims, quotations, and various opinions. 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-16.  Web page includes an 1863 map showing the location of Napoleon, Arkansas.
  4. ^ Clemens, Samuel L. (1917). Life on the Mississippi. New York: Harper & Row. p. 15. 
  5. ^ "Wellington", History of Bolivar County Mississippi, Mississippi Delta Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1948
  6. ^ "Lake Beulah" (PDF). Retrieved Sep 2, 2013. 

External links[edit]