August 6

This Day in History

Civil War

Aug 6, 1862:

Confederate ship blown up by crew

The C.S.S. Arkansas, the most feared Confederate ironclad on the Mississippi River, is blown up by her crew after suffering mechanical problems during a battle with the U.S.S. Essex near Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The Arkansas's career lasted just 23 days. In August 1861, the Confederate Congress appropriated $160,000 to construct two ironclad ships for use on the Mississippi. Similar in style to the more famous C.S.S. Virginia (Merrimack), the ships were both 165 feet long and 35 feet wide, and were constructed in Memphis. Since a labor shortage delayed completion, they were not finished when the Union captured Memphis in May 1862. One ironclad was burned to prevent capture, and the Arkansas was towed south to the Yazoo River.

Lieutenant Isaac Brown, the ship's commander, showed great innovation and determination in completing construction of the craft. A sunken barge loaded with railroad rails was raised so that the rails could be bolted to the hull of the Arkansas, and local planters opened their forges to the builders. On July 12, the work was completed and Brown steered the ship down the Yazoo and into the Mississippi.

The Arkansas came out of the Yazoo with guns blazing. She ran off three Union ships, inflicting heavy damage on two of them, and ran a gauntlet of 16 Union ships, damaging several as she slipped down the river toward Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Union commander, Admiral David Farragut, was furious that a single ship could cause so much damage to his flotilla, so he sent his ships in pursuit of the Confederate menace. At dusk, Farragut marked the position of the Arkansas as it lay anchored at Vicksburg. In the dark, he sent his ships one by one past this position, and each ship fired a volley into the spot where the Arkansas should have been. But Brown had fooled the Yankees by moving his ship after dark.

The Arkansas sparred with two other Union ships on July 22, successfully running off the ships but suffering damage to her engines. The ship was ordered south to Baton Rouge on August 3 to support Confederate operations there, but the Arkansas suffered more engine problems and ran aground. While the crew worked on repairs, the U.S.S. Essex steamed up for a confrontation. The Arkansas set sail, but a propeller shaft broke and left the vessel circling helplessly. She ran aground again, and the crew blew up the ship before the Essex could move in for the kill.

Although the Arkansas was never defeated, unreliable engines doomed the craft to an early death.

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