A look at naval history in the war

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

The 15th Mississippi, which included three companies raised in Choctaw County, was in Vicksburg during the June and July 1862 naval bombardment. in June and July 1862, along with the forces of General Earl Van Dorn. According to Dunbar Rowland’s book, Military History of Mississippi 1803 – 1898, “The Fifteenth was posted on the present site of the National Cemetery, July 15, 1862, the day that the battleship Arkansas came down the Yazoo and ran through the Federal fleet above Vicksburg…, and witnessed that memorable scene. (L. P. Carr.)”

The C.S.A. Navy was charged with protecting and defending her rivers and waterways against a superior U.S. fleet. The website for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas states, “on August 24, 1861, the navy ordered two ironclads from Memphis, Tennessee, shipbuilder John T. Shirley; one was christened the CSS Arkansas [the other to be named Tennessee].

The CSS Arkansas’s keel was laid in October 1861, with work continuing through the winter. While the vessel was under construction, news arrived that Union naval forces were en route to capture Memphis. Evading the enemy, on April 26, 1862, the CSS Arkansas was towed under the command of Lt. Charles H. McBlair to a site below Memphis and above Vicksburg, Mississippi, into the Yazoo River, and then to Greenwood, Mississippi. Its sister ship, not yet seafaring, was burned in the shipyard to avoid capture…

In May, Lt. Isaac Newton Brown was ordered to assume command of the CSS Arkansas ‘to finish and equip the vessel.’ When he arrived, Brown found framework without armor, pieces of engines, no gun carriages, and railroad iron armor at the bottom of the river. Recovering the iron, Brown had the CSS Arkansas towed to the Yazoo City Navy Yard, where it underwent five weeks of construction. The ship operated with 232 officers and men…

In mid-July 1862, with the Yazoo River falling, Brown was ordered to the defense of Vicksburg…the vessel was delayed en route as steam had leaked into the forward magazine, rendering the gunpowder there useless until dried.

With repairs made just in time, it engaged three Union gunboats hunting for it [U.S. gunboats Carondelet and Tyler and the ram Queen of the West]. Damaging two and chasing the fleeing third, the CSS Arkansas emerged into the Mississippi River to find Admiral David Farragut’s twenty-ship squadron at anchor blockading Vicksburg.

Taking an offensive position, the CSS Arkansas stormed firing into their midst, arriving damaged but afloat at the Vicksburg port. Its losses were twelve killed and eighteen wounded, with the commander among the latter. Union losses on the Yazoo River were eighteen killed, fifty wounded, and ten missing; Farragut’s Mississippi losses were five killed and nine wounded.

Brown was promoted to the rank of captain for his actions and was ultimately awarded the Confederate Medal of Honor… wounded Brown was moved to Grenada, and first officer Lt. Henry K. Stevens took command.

The CSS Arkansas was next ordered to Baton Rouge… Nearing Baton Rouge on August 6, 1862, it engaged the Union ironclad Essex, one of the vessels that attacked it at Vicksburg. Engine failure caused its collapse. Dead in the water and drifting to shore, it was abandoned, scuttled, and set afire. Drifting downstream, it exploded and sank.

Today, the CSS Arkansas rests roughly at the same location but under a levee 1.4 miles south of the auto/rail bridge below Free Negro Point, 690 feet past river mile 233. Its ensign (naval flag) is displayed at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia. ‘Naval history records few deeds of greater heroism or higher professional ability than this achievement of the Arkansas,’ reads the August 16, 1862, report of Confederate secretary of the navy Stephen Mallory of the CSS Arkansas.”

CSS Arkansas, an ironclad ram, was built at Memphis, Tennessee, in 1861-62. Incomplete when Union forces closed in on Memphis in May 1862, she was towed up the Yazoo River to Yazoo City, Mississippi, and finished as far as circumstances allowed. On 15 July 1862, her enterprising commanding officer, Lieutenant Isaac Newton Brown, CSN, took Arkansas down the Yazoo, where she encountered the U.S. gunboats Carondelet and Tyler and the ram Queen of the West, leaving the first two badly damaged. Continuing out into the Mississippi River, she boldly fought her way through the assembled Federal fleet and came to rest under the protection of the Confederate fortress at Vicksburg. While at Vicksburg on 22 July, Arkansas was attacked by the Queen of the West and ironclad Essex, but was not severely damaged. Though badly in need of repairs, she was next ordered to steam down the river to assist Confederate forces in an attack on Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While carrying out this mission on 6 August 1862, CSS Arkansas suffered a severe machinery breakdown during an engagement with the Essex, drifted ashore and was burned. to prevent capture.

http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx? entryID=2854 CSS Arkansas

The Confederate navy’s task to defend rivers from its better-equipped adversary’s attacks and blockades required the building of vessels capable of meeting the challenge. To this end, on August 24, 1861, the navy ordered two ironclads from Memphis, Tennessee, shipbuilder John T. Shirley; one was christened the CSS Arkansas. The CSS Arkansas’s keel was laid in October 1861, with work continuing through the winter. While the vessel was under construction, news arrived that Union naval forces were en route to capture Memphis. Evading the enemy, on April 26, 1862, the CSS Arkansas was towed under the command of Lieutenant Charles H. McBlair to a site below Memphis and above Vicksburg, Mississippi, into the Yazoo River, and then to Greenwood, Mississippi. Its sister ship, not yet seafaring, was burned in the shipyard to avoid capture by the enemy.

In May, Lieutenant Isaac Newton Brown was ordered to assume command of the CSS Arkansas “to finish and equip the vessel.” When he arrived, Brown found framework without armor, pieces of engines, no gun carriages, and railroad iron armor at the bottom of the river. Recovering the iron, Brown had the CSS Arkansas towed to the Yazoo City Navy Yard, where it underwent five weeks of construction. Boilerplates, not curved armor as intended, ended up on the pilothouse and stern, while thirty-six-foot dovetailed railroad iron was placed on its sides. Ten guns—broadside, forward, and aft— provided firepower. Eyewitnesses called it rust colored, but it was painted brown to match the color of the Mississippi River. The ship operated with 232 officers and men, between fifty and sixty of whom Brown had rounded up, referring to them as his “Missouri Volunteers,” including some Arkansas residents who had enlisted in Missouri units.

In mid-July 1862, with the Yazoo River falling, Brown was ordered to the defense of Vicksburg. Getting under way, the vessel was delayed en route as steam had leaked into the forward magazine, rendering the gunpowder there useless until dried. With repairs made just in time, it engaged three Union gunboats hunting for it. Damaging two and chasing the fleeing third, the CSS Arkansas emerged into the Mississippi River to find Admiral David Farragut’s twenty-ship squadron at anchor blockading Vicksburg. Taking an offensive position, the CSS Arkansas stormed firing into their midst, arriving damaged but afloat at the Vicksburg port. Its losses were twelve killed and eighteen wounded, with the commander among the latter. Union losses on the Yazoo River were eighteen killed, fifty wounded, and ten missing; Farragut’s Mississippi losses were five killed and nine wounded. Brown was promoted to the rank of captain for his actions and was ultimately awarded the Confederate Medal of Honor.

A Union admiral sought retaliation, but Vicksburg batteries kept his fleet at bay while repairs were made, leaving the Union navy to abandon Vicksburg. A wounded Brown was moved to Grenada, and first officer Lt. Henry K. Stevens took command.

The CSS Arkansas was next ordered to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in support of land forces. Nearing Baton Rouge on August 6, 1862, it engaged the Union ironclad Essex, one of the vessels that attacked it at Vicksburg. Engine failure caused its collapse.

Dead in the water and drifting to shore, it was abandoned, scuttled, and set afire. Drifting downstream, it exploded and sank. Today, the CSS Arkansas rests roughly at the same location but under a levee 1.4 miles south of the auto/rail bridge below Free Negro Point, 690 feet past river mile 233. Its ensign (naval flag) is displayed at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia. “Naval history records few deeds of greater heroism or higher professional ability than this achievement of the Arkansas,” reads the August 16, 1862, report of Confederate secretary of the navy Stephen Mallory of the CSS Arkansas.

http://www.civilwarhome.com/ramarkansas.htm The Ram Arkansas

SOON after the secession of Tennessee, efforts were made to construct vessels for war purposes, and at Memphis were commenced two ironclad rams, the Arkansas and the Tennessee. Upon the fall of Memphis the latter vessel was burned, but the Arkansas was carried by her commander, Capt. Charles H. McBlair, to the Yazoo river. Captain McBlair was relieved of command by Lieut. Isaac N. Brown, who by extraordinary and unparalleled exertions got her ready for service by July, 1862.

She was indifferently armored, but had a formidable battery, viz., two 8-inch columbiads, two 9-inch Dahlgren guns, four 6-inch rifles and two smoothbore 32-pounders. She drew 14 feet of water, and had a maximum speed of six knots. She was admirably officered with Lieuts. H. K. Stevens, J. Grimball, A.D. Wharton, C. W. Read, A. Barbot and George W. Gift; Surg. H. Washington, Asst. Surg. C. M. Morfit, Asst. Paymaster Richard Taylor; Engineers City, Covert, Jackson, Brown, Doland, Dupuy and Gettis; Acting Masters Phillips and Milliken; Midshipmen Bacot, Scales and Tyler; Gunner Travers and Master’s Mate Wilson, with Messrs. Shacklette, Gilmore, Brady and Hodges as pilots, and a crew of 200 men, principally soldiers and rivermen.

Upon consultation with General Van Dorn, commanding at Vicksburg in the summer of 1862, Captain Brown determined to proceed in the Arkansas to that city, distant by water about fifty miles. To do this he had to pass the vessels of Admiral Farragut and Flag-Officer Davis, and the rams of Colonel Ellet. These vessels were at anchor in the Mississippi, three miles below the mouth of the Yazoo, and among them were six ironclads, seven rams and ten large ships of war. On the morning of July 15, 1862, Captain Brown started in the Arkansas for Vicksburg. About six miles from the mouth of the Yazoo river he was met by the United States ironclad Carondelet, Captain Walker; the gunboat Tyler, Lieutenant Commanding Gwinn, and the ram Queen of the West. All three of these vessels turned, and a running fight ensued. The ram made a straight wake, but the other two fought well. The Tyler was too weak to encounter the Arkansas, though her commander, Gwinn, did all that could be expected of him. The Arkansas bestowed most of her attention to the ironclad Carondelet, killing and wounding many of her men, and finally driving her into shoal water. Captain Brown asserted that she lowered her colors; this Captain Walker denied, but there is no doubt that the Arkansas would have made a prize of her could she have spared the time to stop, which she could not. In the encounter with the Carondelet, Captain Brown was badly wounded and two of his pilots were killed. One was the Yazoo river pilot who, as they were carrying him below, had the courage and devotion to exclaim with his dying breath, “Keep in the middle of the river!” The Arkansas’ smokestack was so riddled that she could hardly make more than one knot per hour when she entered the Mississippi; but this, with the current of the river, enabled her to run the gauntlet of Farragut’s fleet.

Capt. A. T. Mahan says: The ram [Arkansas] now followed the Tyler, which had kept up her fire and remained within range, losing many of her people, killed and wounded. The enemy was seen to be pumping a heavy stream of water both in the Yazoo and the Mississippi, and her smokestack had been so pierced by shot as to reduce her speed to a little over a knot an hour, at which rate, aided by a favoring current, she passed through the two fleets. Having no faith in her coming down, the vessels were found wholly unprepared to attack; only one, the ram General Bragg, had steam, and her commander unfortunately waited for orders to act in such an emergency …. She [the Arkansas] fought her way boldly through, passing between the vessels of war and the transports, firing and receiving the fire of each as she went by, most of the projectiles bounding harmlessly from her sides; but two 11-inch shells came [went] through, killing many and setting on fire the cotton backing. On the other hand the Lancaster, of the ram fleet, which made a move toward her, got a shot in the mud receiver which disabled her, scalding many of her people, two of them fatally. The whole affair with the fleets lasted but a few minutes, and the Arkansas, having passed out of range, found refuge under the Vicksburg batteries. The two flag-officers [Farragut and Davis] were much mortified at the success of this daring act, due as it was to the unprepared state of the fleets; and Farragut instantly determined to follow her down and attempt to destroy her as he ran by.

Colonel Scharf says in his history: “The Federal line was now forced, and the Arkansas emerged from the volcano of flame and smoke, from an hour’s horizontal iron hail of every description, from 32 to 200 pounders, hurled by a fleet of about forty formidable war vessels— shattered, bleeding, triumphant! … They were welcomed by the patriotic shouts of the army at Vicksburg, and the siege of that city was virtually raised.” This last assertion may be disputed.

The loss in the Federal fleet on this occasion was, according to Captain Mahan, 13 killed, 34 wounded and 10 missing. Captain Brown reported his loss as 10 killed and 15 badly wounded. The New York Herald made the loss in the Federal fleet 42 killed and 69 wounded.

On July 22d the United States ironclad Essex and ram Queen of the West made an attack on the Arkansas as she lay at the wharf at Vicksburg. They were driven off with loss. The Arkansas at the time had but 41 men on board. On the 3d of August the Arkansas, under the command of Lieut. H. K. Stevens, Captain Brown being on shore sick, left Vicksburg to co-operate with General Breckinridge in an attack upon Baton Rouge. On the way her machinery occasioned trouble, and finally broke down altogether. Lieutenant Stevens then burned her to prevent her falling into the hands of the enemy, the officers and crew escaping, And so ended the Arkansas. Source: The Confederate Military History, Volume 12, Chapter VIII This Page last updated 01/26/02

http://www.missouridivision-scv.org/mounits/cssark.htm When one hears of the “Battle Between the Ironclads”, one often hears of the battle played out between the U.S.S. Monitor and C.S.S. Virginia (“Merrimack”). However, Confederates of the West have an even greater legend, the story of the C.S.S. Arkansas. Not only did she sink the Union ironclad, the U.S.S. Carondelet, but shot her way through a Federal fleet and broke the seige of Vicksburg. Missourians, among others, played a major role in making this happen.

HISTORY CHANNEL On July 15, 1862, “the CSS Arkansas, the most effective ironclad on the Mississippi River, battles with Union ships commanded by Admiral David Farragut, severely damaging three ships and sustaining heavy damage herself. The encounter changed the complexion of warfare on the Mississippi and helped to reverse Rebel fortunes on the river in the summer of 1862.

In August 1861, the Confederate Congress granted funds to build two ironclads in Memphis, Tennessee. The ships were still under construction when Union ships captured the city in May 1862. Confederates burned one of them to prevent capture, while the Arkansas was towed further south. Similar in design and appearance to the more famous CSS Virginia (Merrimack), the vessel was completed by early July.

Setting sail with a crew of 100 sailors and 60 soldiers and commanded by Isaac Brown, the Arkansas steamed to Vicksburg, Virginia, MISSISSIPPI where Farragut’s gunboats were rapidly dominating the river from New Orleans northward. At the mouth of the Yazoo River on July 15, 1862, the Arkansas engaged in a sharp exchange with the three Union ships sent to intercept the ironclad. After fighting through these ships, the Arkansas headed for the bulk of Farragut’s fleet. It then sailed through the flotilla, damaging 16 ships.

Farragut was furious that a single boat wreaked such havoc on his force. The engagement temporarily shifted Confederate fortunes on the Mississippi, but not for long. The Arkansas, pursued by the Union ironclad Essex, fled down the river and experienced mechanical problems. On August 6, the ship ran aground, and the crew blew it up to keep it from falling into Yankee hands.”