Sunday, July 12, 2009

Brief Career of CSS Arkansas Started Nearly 150 Years Ago

On the morning of 12 July 1862, nearly 150 years ago, the Ironclad Ram CSS Arkansas, her guns manned by Confederate soldiers from Missouri, set sail on her maiden voyage...

Construction work on CSS Arkansas began in Memphis, TN in October, 1861. She was supposed to have been delivered to the Confederate Navy by January, 1862.

However, she was still incomplete in May 1862, when Union forces closed in on Memphis. In order to prevent her capture, she was towed up the Yazoo River into Mississippi to the area of Greenwood, MS. Her incomplete sister ship, CSS Tennessee, was burned when Memphis fell to Union forces. It was hoped that, safe from capture, the much-needed warship could be quickly completed.

However, when her newly appointed Commanding Officer, CAPT Isaac N. Brown arrived, he found the engines in pieces, the guns without their needed carriages and the railroad iron, intended as armor, lying at the bottom of the river. CAPT Brown ordered a recovery mission and the armor was pulled out of the mud. CAPT Brown then had his ship towed to Yazoo City, MS, where he pressed both local craftsmen and 200 Confederate Army soldiers into service as construction crews. Forges were borrowed from nearby farms. Men who refused to work were arrested.

After five weeks of toil under the Mississippi summer sun, Arkansas was fully outfitted, lacking only the curved armor intended for her stern and pilot house. Complete or not, the ship had to get underway - river levels were falling, and Arkansas was in danger of being trapped.

On the morning of 12 July 1862, 147 years ago today, CSS Arkansas, her guns manned by Confederate soldiers from Missouri, set out for Vicksburg, then under siege by Union forces.

Within a few miles, Arkansas was forced to stop. Steam from her boilers had leaked into the forward powder magazine, soaking the gunpowder and rendering it useless. A clearing was located on the bank of the river. The wet gunpowder was spread out on tarpaulins in the hot summer sun to dry. With constant attention, and by shaking and stirring the powder, it was dry enough to use by sundown and the Confederate Navy's newest ship was ready for action...

To be continued...

Artwork courtesy of the Naval Historical Center


Post a Comment

<< Home