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CSS Arkansas Vs The Union Navy

CSS Arkansas in a 1904 sepia wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett.

CSS Arkansas Vs The Union Navy The CSS Arkansas, a ramshackle ironclad built in Yazoo City, Mississippi, steamed down the Yazoo River on a mission to restore a Southern naval presence on the Mississippi.

Encountering a reconnaissance force consisting of the USS Carondelet, USS Tyler, and USS Queen of the West on the Yazoo, the Arkansas quickly went to work, disabling the Carondelet, severely damaging the Tyler. And chasing the Queen of the West out of the Yazoo and into the Mississippi.  

Building the Arkansas

At 6:50 a.m. the Arkansas rounded the bend into the Mississippi river and “encountered a forest of masts and smokestacks” of the Union fleet.

The captain of the Arkansas, Isaac N. Brown, realized his only safe harbor lay under the guns of Vicksburg, but to reach it would require the ironclad to plow its way through the entire Federal fleet.  Undaunted, Brown ordered the Arkansas to engage Farragut’s force.

The plucky rebel boat steamed her way through the Federal flotilla, firing her guns as fast as possible in all directions while making top speed towards Vicksburg.  Miraculously, the Arkansas managed to fight its way through her opponents and achieve the safe harbor of the Fortress City.

Arkansas running through the Federal fleet above Vicksburg, Mississippi, on 15 July 1862

As a result, leaving in her wake sixteen damaged Union warships and one infuriated David G. Farragut. 

At 8:50 a.m. the battered Arkansas docked at Vicksburg. Accompanied by cheers from the throngs of civilians and soldiers along the bluffs above. The celebrations were quickly silenced as spectators witnessed the carnage below decks.  An officer on the Arkansas, Lt. George Gift, noted 

Arkansas, as the vessel appeared to readers of the New York Tribune, July 31, 1862
 “A great heap of mangled and ghastly slain lay on the gun deck … The citizens and soldiers of the town crowded eagerly aboard, but a passing look at the gun deck was sufficient to cause them to hastily retreat from the sickening spectacle within.”

Moreover, the Arkansas’s courageous passage had come at a cost. At the end of the day, the ironclad’s fragile engines were out of action. Over a third of the crew was dead or injured, two guns were out of service. Furthermore, there were several large gaps torn into its armor. The ship’s captain found it difficult to replace crew members lost in action once prospective volunteers saw the damage and carnage from the morning’s action. Farragut’s fleet tried on two more occasions to destroy the Arkansas while docked at Vicksburg undergoing repairs. On July 23rd, the falling levels of the Mississippi forced the ocean-going Union fleet to retreat to the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Having failed to destroy the Confederate ironclad.

Following makeshift repairs, the Arkansas cast off her moorings at Vicksburg and steamed south to assist an effort to retake Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Lastly, on August 6th, the ironclad’s fickle engines again failed.

As the Union ironclad USS Essex neared, the captain of the Arkansas ordered the crew to abandon ship. In addition to set the Arkansas on fire, so the Union wouldn’t take it. In conclusion, the burning ironclad drifted downriver and soon exploded, ending the Arkansas’s notable, but brief career.

Illustration of the Arkansas burning while under fire from USS EssexHarper’s Weekly, 5 September 1862

Siege of Vicksburg 

Sherman’s March To The Sea

Columbia Professor Eric Foner on the Civil War

CSS Arkansas Vs The Union Navy