The CSS Arkansas, the most effective ironclad on the Mississippi River, battles with Union ships commanded by Admiral David Farragut, severely damaging three ships and sustaining heavy damage herself. The encounter changed the complexion of warfare on the Mississippi and helped to reverse Rebel fortunes on the river in the summer of 1862.
In August 1861, the Confederate Congress granted funds to build two ironclads in Memphis, Tennessee. The ships were still under construction when Union ships captured the city in May 1862. Confederates burned one of them to prevent capture, while the Arkansas was towed further south. Similar in design and appearance to the more famous CSS Virginia (Merrimack), the vessel was completed by early July.
Setting sail with a crew of 100 sailors and 60 soldiers and commanded by Isaac Brown, the Arkansas steamed to Vicksburg, Virginia, where Farragut’s gunboats were rapidly dominating the river from New Orleans northward. At the mouth of the Yazoo River on July 15, 1862, the Arkansas engaged in a sharp exchange with the three Union ships sent to intercept the ironclad. After fighting through these ships, the Arkansas headed for the bulk of Farragut’s fleet. It then sailed through the flotilla, damaging 16 ships.
Farragut was furious that a single boat wreaked such havoc on his force. The engagement temporarily shifted Confederate fortunes on the Mississippi, but not for long. The Arkansas, pursued by the Union ironclad Essex, fled down the river and experienced mechanical problems. On August 6, the ship ran aground, and the crew blew it up to keep it from falling into Yankee hands.