Published 1883, 1885







The position now occupied by the combined fleets of Farra­gut and Davis was from three to four miles below the mouth of the Yazoo River, near the neck of the long tongue of land opposite Vicksburg. The armed vessels were anchored on the east side, the transports tied up to the opposite bank. It was known that up the Yazoo was an ironclad ram, similar to one that had been building at Memphis when the capture of that city led to its destruction. The one now in the Yazoo, called the Arkansas, had been taken away barely in time to escape the same fate, and, being yet unfinished, had been towed to her present position. She was about 180 feet long by 30 feet beam, of from 800 to 1,000 tons burden, with a casemate resembling that of other river ironclads, except­ing that the ends only were inclined, the sides being in con­tinuation of the sides of the vessel. The deck carrying the guns was about six feet above water. The armor was of rail­road iron dovetailed together, the rails running up and down on the inclined ends and horizontally along the sides. The iron thus arranged formed nearly a solid mass, about three inches thick, heavily backed with timber; and in the case mate between the ports there was a further backing of com­pressed cotton bales firmly braced. The cotton was covered within by a light sheathing of wood, as a guard against fire. Her battery of ten guns was disposed as follows: in the bow, two heavy VIII-inch columbiads; in the stern, two 6.4-inch rifles; and in broadside two 6.4-inch rifles, two 32-pounder smooth-bores and two IX-inch Dahlgren shell-guns. The hull proper was light and poorly built. She had twin screws, but the engines were too light, and were more­over badly constructed, and therefore continually breaking down. Owing to this defect, she sometimes went on shore, and the commanding officer could not feel sure of her obey­ing his will at any moment. Besides her battery she had a formidable ram under water. She was at this time com­manded by Commander Isaac N. Brown, formerly of the United States Navy, and had a complement of trained officers.

Notwithstanding the reports of her power, but little appre­hension had been felt in the Union fleet, but still a recon­noissance was ordered for the 15th of July. The vessels sent were the Carondelet, Commander Walke, the Tyler, Lieutenant-Commander Gwin, and the Queen of the West of the ram fleet; they carried with them a number of sharp­shooters from the army.

The Yazoo having been entered early in the morning, the Arkansas was met unexpectedly about six miles from the mouth. At this time the ram and the Tyler were over a mile ahead of the Carondelet, the Tyler leading. The latter, having no prow and being unarmored, was wholly unfit to contend with the approaching enemy; she therefore retreated down stream toward the Carondelet.

The latter also turned and began a running fight down stream. The move was not judicious, for she thus exposed her weakest part, the unarmored stern, to the fire of the enemy, and directed her own weakest battery, two 32-pound­ers, against him. Besides, when two vessels are approach­ing on parallel courses, the one that wishes to avoid the ram may perhaps do so by a movement of the helm, as the Pensa­cola avoided the Manassas at the forts; but when the slower ship, as the Carondelet was, has presented her stern to the enemy, she has thrown up the game, barring some fortunate accident. The aggregate weight of metal discharged by each ironclad from all its guns was nearly the same,[1] but the Arkansas had a decided advantage in penetrative power by her four 6.4-inch rifles. Her sides, and probably her bow, were decidedly stronger than those of her opponent; but whatever the relative advantages or disadvantages under other circumstances, the Carondelet had now to fight her fight with two 32-pounders opposed to two VIII-inch shell guns, throwing shell of 53 pounds and solid shot of 64, and with her unarmored stern opposed to the armored bow of the lam. The Tyler took and kept her place on the port bow of the Carondelet; as for the Queen of the West, she had fled out of sight. "We had an exceedingly good thing," wrote one of the Arkansas' officers; and for a long time, Walke's report says one hour, they kept it. During that time, how­ever, a shot entered the pilot-house, injuring Commander Brown, mortally wounding one pilot and disabling another. The loss of the latter, who was pilot for the Yazoo, was seri­ously felt as the Arkansas came up and the order was given to ram; for the Carondelet was hugging the left bank, and as the enemy was drawing thirteen feet, the water was dangerously shoal. She accordingly abandoned the attempt and sheered off, passing so close that, from the decks of the Tyler, the two seemed to touch. Both fired their broadsides in passing.

After this moment the accounts are not to be reconciled. Captain Walke, of the Carondelet, says that he continued the action broadside to broadside for some minutes, till the Arkansas drew ahead, and then followed her with his bow guns until, his wheel-ropes being cut, he ran into the bank, while the ram continued down the river with her colors shot away. The colors of the Carondelet, he says, waved undisturbed throughout the fight. On the other hand, Cap­tain Brown, of the Arkansas, states explicitly that there were no colors flying on board the Carondelet, that all opposition to his fire had ceased, and was not resumed as the ram pur­sued the other vessels; the Arkansas' flag-staff was shot away. The loss of the Carondelet was 4 killed and 6 wounded; that of the Arkansas cannot well be separated from her casualties during the same day, but seems to have been confined to the pilot and one other man killed.

The ram 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 smoke-stack 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. “Every man has one chance," Farragut is reported to have said; “he has had his and lost it." The chance was unique, for a successful thrust would have spared two admirals the necessity of admitting a disaster caused by over-security. The retreating Tyler was sighted first, and gave definite information of what the firing that had been heard meant, and the Arkansas soon followed. She 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 XI-inch shells came 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 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. The execution of the plan was appointed for late in the afternoon, at which time Davis moved down his squadron and engaged the upper batteries as a diversion. Owing to difficulties in taking posi­tion, however, it was dark by the time the fleet reached the town, and the ram, anticipating the move, had shifted her berth as soon as the waning light enabled her to do so with­out being seen. She could not therefore be made out; which was the more unfortunate because, although only pierced twice in the morning, her plating on the exposed side had been much loosened by the battering she received. One XI-inch shot only found her as the fleet went by, and that killed and wounded several of her people. All Farragut's fleet, accompanied by the ram Sumter,[2] detached for this ser­vice by Flag-Officer Davis, passed down in safety; the total loss in the action with the Arkansas and in the second pas­sage of the batteries being but 5 killed and 16 wounded. None of this fleet ever returned above Vicksburg again.

The Upper Mississippi flotilla in the same encounter had 13 killed, 34 wounded, and 10 missing. The greater part of this loss fell on the Carondelet and the Tyler in the running fight; the former having 4 killed and 10 wounded, besides two who, when a shot of the enemy caused steam to escape, jumped overboard and were drowned. The Tyler lost 8 killed and 16 wounded. The commanding officer of the Arkansas reported his loss as 10 killed and 15 badly wounded.

The ram now lay at the bend of the river between two forts. On the 22d of July, Flag-Officer Davis sent down to attack her the ironclad Essex, Commander W. D. Porter, with the ram Queen of the West, Lieutenant-Colonel Ellet. They started shortly after dawn, the Benton, Cincinnati, and Louisville covering them by an attack upon the upper bat­teries. As the Essex neared the Arkansas the bow fasts of the latter were slacked and the starboard screw turned, so that her head swung off, presenting her sharp stem and beak to the broad square bow of the assailant. The latter could not afford to take such an offer, and, being very clumsy, could not recover herself after being foiled in her first aim. She accordingly ran by, grazing the enemy's side, and was carried ashore astern of him, in which critical position she remained for ten minutes under a heavy fire; then, backing and swinging clear, she ran down the river under fire of all the batteries, but was not struck. When Porter saw that he would be unable to ram, he fired into the Arkansas' bows, at fifty yards distance, three solid IX-inch shot, one of which penetrated and raked her decks, killing 7 and wounding 6 of her small crew, which then numbered only 41; the rest having been taken away as she was not fit for immediate ser­vice. The Queen of the West rammed, doing some injury, but not of a vital kind. She then turned her head up stream and rejoined the upper fleet, receiving much damage from the batteries as she went back.

Two days later, Farragut's fleet and the troops on the point opposite Vicksburg, under the command of General Williams, went down the river; Farragut going to New Or­leans and Williams to Baton Rouge. This move was made necessary by the falling of the river and the increasing sick­liness of the climate. Porter, on his passage down a fort­night before, had expressed the opinion, from his experi­ence, that if the heavy ships did not come down soon they would have to remain till next season. But the health of the men, who had now been three months up the river, was the most powerful cause for the change. On the 25th of July forty per cent. of the crews of the upper flotilla were on the sick. list. The troops, who being ashore were more exposed, had but 800 fit for duty out of a total of 3,200. Two weeks before the Brooklyn had 68 down out of 300. These were almost all sick with climatic diseases, and the cases were in­creasing in number and intensity. The Confederates now having possession of the point opposite Vicksburg, Davis moved his fleet to the mouth of the Yazoo, and finally to He­lena. The growing boldness of the enemy along the banks of the Mississippi made the river very unsafe, and supply and transport vessels, unless convoyed by an armed steamer, were often attacked. One had been sunk, and the enemy was reported to be establishing batteries along the shores. These could be easily silenced, but to keep them under re­quired a number of gunboats, so that the communications were seriously threatened. The fleet was also very short-handed, needing five hundred men to fill the existing vacan­cies. Under these circumstances Flag-Officer Davis decided to withdraw to Helena, between which point and Vicksburg there was no high land on which the enemy could perma­nently establish himself and give trouble. By these various movements the ironclad Essex and the ram Sumter, now permanently separated from the up-river fleet, remained charged with the care of the river below Vicksburg; their nearest support being the Katahdin and Kineo at Baton Rouge.

On the 5th of August the Confederates under the command of Breckenridge made an attack upon General Williams’s forces at Baton Rouge. The Arkansas, with two small gun­boats, had left Vicksburg on the 3d to co-operate with the movement. The Union naval force present consisted of the Essex, Sumter, Cayuga, Kineo, and Katahdin. The attack was in superior force, but was gallantly met, the Union forces gradually contracting their lines, while the gunboats Katahdin and Kineo opened fire as soon as General Williams sig­nalled to them that they could do so without injuring their own troops. No Confederate gunboats came, and the attack was repelled; Williams, however, falling at the head of his men.

The Arkansas had been prevented from arriving in time by the failure of her machinery, which kept breaking down. After her last stop, when the order to go ahead was given, one engine obeyed while the other refused. This threw her head into the bank and her stern swung down stream. While in this position the Essex came in sight below. Powerless to move, resistance was useless; and her commander, Lieutenant Stevens, set her on fire as soon as the Essex opened, the crew escaping unhurt to the shore. Shortly afterward she blew up. Though destroyed by her own officers the act was due to the presence of the vessel that had gallantly attacked her under the guns of Vicksburg, and lain in wait for her ever since. Thus perished the most formidable Confederate iron­clad that had yet been equipped on the Mississippi.

By the withdrawal of the upper and lower squadrons, with the troops under General Williams, the Mississippi River, from Vicksburg to Port Hudson, was left in the undisputed control of the Confederates. The latter were not idle during the ensuing months, but by strengthening their works at the two ends of the line, endeavored to assure their control of this section of the river, thus separating the Union forces at either end, maintaining their communication with the Western States, and enjoying the resources of the rich coun­try drained by the Red River, which empties into the Missis­sippi in this portion of its course. On the 16th of August, ten days after the gallant repulse of the Confederate attack, the garrison was withdrawn from Baton Rouge to New Or­leans, thus abandoning the last of the bluffs above the city; the Confederates, however, did not attempt to occupy in force lower than Port Hudson. Above Vicksburg, Helena on the west side was in Union hands, and the lower division of the Mississippi flotilla patrolled the river; but Memphis continued to be the lowest point held on the east bank. The intercourse between the Confederates on the two sides, from Memphis to Vicksburg, though much impaired, could not be looked upon as broken up. Bands of guerillas infested the banks, firing upon unarmed vessels, compelling them to stop and then plundering them. There was cause for suspecting that in some cases the attack was only a pretext for stopping, and that the vessels had been dispatched by parties in sym­pathy with the Confederates, intending that the freight should fall into their hands. Severe retaliatory measures upon guerilla warfare were instituted by the naval vessels.

Flag-Officer Davis and General Curtis also arranged that combined naval and military expeditions should scour the banks of the Mississippi from Helena to Vicksburg, until a healthier season permitted the resumption of more active hostilities. One such left Helena on the 14th of August, composed of the Benton, Mound City, and General Bragg, with the Ellett rams Monarch, Samson, and Lioness, and a land force under Colonel Woods. Lieutenant-Commander Phelps commanded the naval force. The expedition landed at several points, capturing a steamer with a quantity of am­munition and dispersing parties of the enemy, and proceeded as far as the Yazoo River. Entering this, they took a newly erected battery twenty miles from the mouth, bursting the guns and destroying the work. Going on thirty miles farther, the rams were sent twenty miles up the Big Sunflower, one of the principal tributaries of the Yazoo. The expedition returned after an absence of eleven days, having destroyed property to the amount of nearly half a million.

The lull during the autumn months was marked by similar activity on the Tennessee and Cumberland, for which a squadron of light vessels was specially prepared. During the same period the transfer of the flotilla from the army to the navy was made, taking effect on the 1st of October, 1862. From this time the flotilla was officially styled the Mississippi Squadron.

During the rest of the summer and the autumn months Admiral Farragut's attention was mainly devoted to the sea­board of his extensive command. The sickly season, the low stage of the river, and the condition of his squadron, with the impossibility of obtaining decisive results without the co-operation of the army, constrained him to this course. Leaving a small force before New Orleans, he himself went to Pensacola, while the other vessels of the squadron were dispersed on blockading duty. Pursuing the general policy of the Government, point after point was seized, and the blockade maintained by ships lying in the harbors themselves. On the 15th of October, Farragut reported that Galveston, Corpus Christi, and Sabine Pass, with the adjacent waters, were in possession of the fleet, without bloodshed and almost without firing a shot. Later on, December 4th, he wrote in a private letter that he now held the whole coast except Mobile; but, as so often happens in life, the congratulation had scarcely passed his lips when a- reverse followed.

On the 1st of January, 1863, a combined attack was made upon the land and naval forces in Galveston Bay by the Confederate army and some cotton-clad steamers filled with sharpshooters, resulting in the capture of the garrison, the destruction of the Westfield by her own officers, and the surrender of the Harriet Lane after her captain and execu­tive officer had been killed at their posts. The other vessels then abandoned the blockade. This affair, which caused great indignation in the admiral, was followed by the cap­ture of the sailing vessels Morning Light and Velocity off Sabine Pass, also by cotton-clad steamers which came out on a calm day. Both Sabine Pass and Galveston thenceforth remained in the enemy's bands. An expedition sent to at­tempt the recovery of the latter failed in its object and lost the Hatteras, an iron side-wheel steamer bought from the merchant service and carrying a light battery. She was sent at night to speak a strange sail, which proved to be the Con­federate steamer Alabama, and was sunk in a few moments. The disproportion of force was too great to carry any discredit with this misfortune, but it, combined with the others and with yet greater disasters in other theatres of the war, gave a gloomy coloring to the opening of the year 1863, whose course in the Gulf and on the Mississippi was to see the great triumphs of the Union arms.

The military department of the Gulf had passed from Gen­eral Butler to General Banks on the 17th of December, shortly before these events took place. It was by Banks that the troops were sent to Galveston, and under his orders Baton Rouge also was reoccupied at once. These move­ments were followed toward the middle of January by an ex­pedition up the Bayou Teche, in which the gunboats Calhoun, Estrella, and Kinsman took part. The enterprise was successful in destroying the Confederate steamer Cotton, which was preparing for service; but Lieutenant-Commander Buchanan, senior officer of the gunboats, was killed.

[1] The Carondelet, by returns made to the Navy Department in the following month, August, had four VIII-inch guns, six 82-pounders, and three rifles—one 30, one 50, and one 70-pound. Assuming her rifles to have been in the bows, the weight and distribution of battery would have been:

                              Carondelet             Arkansas

Bow                             150                          106

Broadside                   170                          165

Stern                             64                           120

                                     384                          391


The Arkansas' battery, as given, depends upon independent and agreeing statements of two of her division officers, A third differs very slightly.

[2] Commanded by Lieutenant Henry Erben.

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