Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Figure 1: CSS Arkansas (1862). Sepia wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett, 1904. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: CSS Arkansas (1862). Nineteenth century photograph of a sketch by S. Milliken, CSN. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: CSS Arkansas (1862). Line engraving after a drawing by J.O. Davidson, published in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III, page 573, depicting the ship fitting out off Yazoo City, Mississippi, in June-July 1862. Assisting in the work is the CSS Capitol. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: CSS Arkansas engaging USS Carondelet, 15 July 1862. Line engraving published in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III, page 574.This action, which took place in the Yazoo River, Mississippi, left Carondelet seriously damaged. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: "Battle between the Carondelet and Arkansas." Engraving published in Rear Admiral Henry Walke's Naval Scenes and Reminiscences of the Civil War in the United States (1877), depicting USS Carondelet in action with CSS Arkansas on the Yazoo River, Mississippi, 15 July 1862. Walke commanded Carondelet at this time. Note that Arkansas is depicted with greatly exaggerated freeboard. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: CSS Arkansas running through the Union fleet above Vicksburg, Mississippi, 15 July 1862. Line engraving after a drawing by J.O. Davidson, published in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III, page 556. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: "The Rebel Ram 'Arkansas' Running Through the Union Fleet off Vicksburg." Line engraving published in Harper's Weekly, 1862, depicting the passage of CSS Arkansas through the Federal fleet above Vicksburg, Mississippi, on 15 July 1862. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: "The Union Gun-boat 'Essex' (Commander Porter) Destroying the Rebel Iron-clad Ram 'Arkansas,' in the Mississippi." Line engraving published in Harper's Weekly, 1862. CSS Arkansas was run ashore and burned to prevent capture when her engines failed during this encounter with USS Essex, on 6 August 1862. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after the state of Arkansas, the 800-ton CSS (Confederate States Ship) Arkansas was a twin-screw ironclad ram that was partially built in 1861 by J. T. Shirley at Memphis, Tennessee. The ship was approximately 165 feet long and 35 feet wide, had a top speed of 8 knots, and had a crew of 200 officers and men. Arkansas was armed with two 9-inch smoothbore cannon, two 9-inch 64-pounders, two 9-inch shell guns, two 6-inch rifled cannons, and two 32-pounder smoothbore cannons.
This Confederate warship was still under construction when the Union fleet began to near Memphis in May of 1862. As a precaution, Arkansas was towed up the Yazoo River to Yazoo City, Mississippi, for completion. On 26 May 1862, Lieutenant Isaac Newton Brown, CSN (Confederate States Navy), took command of Arkansas and quickly completed construction of the ship. Boilerplate iron, thick timber, and railway iron were used throughout the ship, making it very difficult for cannon shot to penetrate her sides. Yet despite her size and weight, Arkansas was quite maneuverable and fast for an ironclad ram. As soon as Arkansas was completed, Lieutenant Brown was determined to take the fight to the Union Navy.
On 15 July 1862, Lieutenant Brown took Arkansas boldly down the Yazoo River where he soon encountered three Union warships, the gunboats USS Carondelet and USS Tyler, and the ram USS Queen of the West. Arkansas did not hesitate and quickly attacked the superior force. First, Arkansas neared Carondelet, Commander Henry Walke, USN, in command. Arkansas scored several hits on Carondelet’s unprotected stern, severely disabling the ship and forcing it to run aground to prevent her from sinking. Arkansas then turned her attention to Tyler, which was near the stricken Carondelet. The two ships traded shots, but Arkansas inflicted substantial damage to Tyler, forcing her to retreat with many casualties.
Arkansas then left the Yazoo River and entered the mighty Mississippi River. What met her was a sight to behold. A large array of Union warships lay in front of her, just outside the range of the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Lieutenant Brown decided to run the Federal blockade and head for the protection of Vicksburg. Although it looked like suicide, the Confederate warship started steaming past the Union warships. Both sides were shooting at each other and the Union ships scored many hits on Arkansas. But the timber and iron on board the Confederate ram held together and Arkansas steamed right through the Union line, eventually reaching the safety of Vicksburg. Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory said of the event, “Naval history records few deeds of greater heroism or higher professional ability than this achievement of the Arkansas.”
Although Arkansas made it to Vicksburg, she was badly damaged. Some repairs were made, but on 22 July 1862, Arkansas was attacked by the Union warships USS Queen of the West and the ironclad USS Essex. Arkansas was hit again, although not severely damaged in this battle. By this time, Arkansas was in serious need of an overhaul and extensive repairs. But with few Confederate warships available, Arkansas was ordered to steam down the Mississippi and 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 another gun battle with the Union ironclad Essex. Unable to escape, Arkansas drifted ashore and had to be burned to prevent her capture by Union forces.
CSS Arkansas showed that warships built by the Confederate States were tough and heavily armed. But the Confederates did not have the industrial base to either maintain them or build a lot of them. So no matter how good their ships were, they could simply be overwhelmed by the Union Navy’s superior numbers and huge manufacturing capacity. This should be a stern warning to all those individuals who place their faith in “quality” over “quantity.” In the end, you can have the best gunboat in the world, but it will always be overwhelmed by superior numbers.