The C.S.S. Arkansas was an ironclad gunboat of the Confederate States Navy. The construction of the gunboat was contracted to John T. Shirley of Memphis, Tennessee by the Confederate Government. As federal naval forces approached Memphis, the Arkansas was ordered up the Yazoo River to Greenwood, Mississippi, for completion. In Greenwood, completion of the Arkansas proceeded slowly. Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory placed Lieutenant Isaac N. Brown, CSN, in command of the Arkansas with orders to complete her as soon as possible. The ship was completed in approximately five weeks time by the use of labor from local craftsmen, and some 200 soldiers from the Confederate Army.
The Arkansas sailed for the first time on July 14, 1862. The Arkansas moved from the Yazoo River into the Mississippi River and ran past federal gunboats before Vicksburg. Facing federal naval forces of 3,000 men, 300 guns, and over 50 ships, the Arkansas, with 10 guns and 200 men, succeeded in running past the federal naval force. The Arkansas arrived at the wharf in Vicksburg on the morning of July 15, 1862. The townspeope had observed the exploits of the Arkansas, and the ironclad gunboat received a tumultuous welcome in Vicksburg. For several days, federal gunboats shelled the Arkansas and enjoyed only limited success. Finally, the federal fleet departed Vicksburg, Faragut returned to New Orleans, and the first seige of Vicksburg was broken by the Arkansas. Lieutenant Isaac Brown was promoted to the rank of Commander. Repairs to the Arkansas commenced and Brown took a sick leave to be with his family in Grenada, Mississippi.
Shortly after Brown began his sick leave, Major General Earl Van Dorn sent John C. Breckinridge down to retake Baton Rouge from the Federals. Breckinridge's troops left Memphis by train on July 27, 1862 for Camp Moore, Louisiana. The federal force in Baton Rouge consisted of some 5,000 men and the ironclad gunboat USS Essex. In the action at Vicksburg, the Essex was hit 42 times by the Arkansas. Lieutenant Stevens, second in command to Commander Brown, was ordered to proceed downriver to arrive simultaneously with Breckinridge's troops on August 5, 1862. Stevens refused and cited orders from Commander Brown that the Arkansas was not to be moved until Brown returned and was able to check the engines on the ship. Van Dorn caused Brown's order to be countermanded and the Arkansas set out for Baton Rouge.
In the early morning hours of August 5, 1862, the engines of the Arkansas stopped just north of Port Hudson, Louisiana. At daylight, the Arkansas was underway again, and within the sound of Breckenridge's guns. Some time later, the starboard engine stopped working. The engines were fixed by nightfall. Communications with Breckenridge were established. Breckenridge reported that he had defeated the federals on August 5th, and had driven them to the Missississippi River where they could be protected by the guns of the Essex. Breckenridge would renew his attack on the following morning, and the Arkansas would join in. The Arkansas began moving toward Baton Rouge at 3:00 a.m. The ship's engines again failed. At 7:00 a.m., the ship again got underway. Just as the engagement with the Essex commenced, the engines on the Arkansas failed again. Lieutenant Stevens ordered the crew ashore and, before he left the ship, he ignited the explosives which blew up the Arkansas.
CSS Arkansas Specifications:
Namesake: State of Arkansas Ordered: August 24, 1861 Laid Down: October, 1861
Launched: April 24, 1862 Fate: Scuttled by crew August 6, 1862 Displacement: app. 800 tons
Length: 165 feet Beam: 35 feet Draft: 11.5 feet
Speed: 8 knots Crew: 232 officers and men
Armament: 10 guns total (3 on each broadside, 2 forward, 2 aft). Cast iron ram on the bow.
2x8 inch Columbiads in bow ports, 2x6.4 inch Brookes Rifles in stern ports.
Broadside ports: 2x6.4 inch Brookes Rifles, 2x8 inch Dahlgren smoothbores,
2x32 pound smoothbores.
Armor: Casemate: Railroad iron over wood and compressed cotton.
Pilothouse: 2 inches, Top: 1 inch, Stern: Boiler iron only.