August 6th, 1862 – Farewell CSS Arkansas

Today-In-History

The CSS Arkansas was a Confederate Ironclad warship which served during the American Civil War in the Western Theater. Arkansas ran through a U.S. Navy fleet at Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 15th, 1862, in a celebrated action in which she inflicted more damage than she received. She was later destroyed by her crew on August 6th, 1862 to prevent capture by Union forces.

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After several battles, Captain Brown of the Arkansas requested and was granted four days of leave, which he took in Grenada, Mississippi. Before leaving, he pointed out to General Van Dorn that the engines of his ship needed repairs before she could be used. He also gave positive orders to his executive officer, Lt. Henry K. Stevens, not to move her until he returned.

Unfortunately for the ship, Van Dorn disregarded his subordinate. He ordered Lt. Stevens to take Arkansas down to Baton Rouge, where she would support an attack on the Union position there by a Confederate Army force led by General John C. Breckinridge. Stevens demurred, citing his orders from Brown, and referred the question to “a senior officer of the Confederate navy.” The “senior officer” chose not to intervene. Stevens, now under the orders of two superior officers, had to rush the ship down the river.

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Confirming Brown’s fears, the engines broke down several times between Vicksburg and Baton Rouge. Each time, the engineer was able to get them running again, but it was clear that they were unreliable. Nevertheless, the ship was able to get all the way to Baton Rouge, where she prepared for battle with a small Federal flotilla that included her old opponent USS Essex. On the morning of August 6th, Essex came in sight, and Arkansas moved into the stream to meet her. Just at this time, crank pins on both engines failed almost simultaneously, and Arkansas drifted helplessly to the shore.

Stevens prepared to abandon ship. He ordered the engines to be broken up, the guns to be loaded and excess shells spread around, and then the ship set afire. The crew then left. About this time, the ship broke free and began to drift down the river, and Stevens, the last man to leave, had to swim ashore. The burning vessel drifted down among the attacking Federal fleet, which watched from a respectful distance. At about noon, Arkansas blew up.


 

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