The Second action of the Arkansas.
Retreating down the Yazoo
before the victorious Confederate ram, the gunboat Tyler
and the ram, ‘Queen of the West
’ rejoined the combined Union fleets in the Mississippi
By 8:45 A. M. they were all engaged with the ‘Arkansas
’ standing down past the fleet.
As before, the narrative from the papers of Active Master's Mate John A. Wilson
tells the story of the ram's second action—her great action.
Continuing down the river we soon came in sight of the whole fleet, thirty-three vessels in all, (the mortar fleet below the city is not included), consisting of sloops of war, iron-clads, gun-boats, rams, etc.
In passing them we underwent a terrific fire at close range, which we answered actively, bringing every gun into action that would bear upon the enemy.
The Federal ram “Lancaster,” running out to strike us, received a shot in her drum from one of our bow guns, which caused an escape of steam.
Many of her crew leaped overboard and perished in full sight of the fleet.
A shell penetrated the broken armor on our port side and exploded, wound-Lieut Gift in the right shoulder and killing most of his gun's crew.
I was at the same time cut in the arm and leg by fragments of wood and iron.
The heat on the gun deck from rapid firing and the concussions from shot and shell on all sides was terrific.
Men and officers fought their guns, clad only in pantaloons and undershirts.
Another shell exploded in front of my gun port, killing my sponger
and knocking down the other men. An 11-inch solid shot entered the ship's side above my gun, smashing in the bulkhead, killing two men and the powder boy, wounding three others and knocking me senseless, cutting my head and nose.
I was taken below, wounds were dressed and returned to my gun shortly afterwards.
The same shot continued on across the deck, passing through the lower part of the smoke stack, killing eight of Midshipman's Scale's men and wounding three others, (as they were running out their gun). It finally struck the opposite bulkhead, broke in half and fell on deck.
The smoke stack was so perforated by every kind of missile that it was almost impossible to keep up sufficient steam to give the ship enough motive power to steer her, but we finally cleared the enemy's line of vessels and ran in alongside the wharf, under the guns of the batteries at Vicksburg.
The enemies lower mortar fleet, thinking we were about to attack them, burned one of their vessels, which was around below the city, whilst the others hastily got under way and proceeded down the river.
Our loss after such a severe ordeal was 16 men killed and 17 wounded, besides the officers injured, already mentioned.
The scene around the gun deck upon our arrival at Vicksburg was ghastly in the extreme.
Blood and brains bespattered everything, whilst arms, legs and several headless trunks were strewn about.
The citizens and soldiers of the town crowded eagerly aboard, but a passing look at the gun deck was sufficient to cause them to retreat hastily from the sickening spectacle within.
In this engagement it would be invidious to mention any particular man or officer for acts of bravery; all hands did their duty well, honestly and courageously.
The enemy's loss was severe, being over 120 men killed and wounded, (according to statements published in Northern papers,) besides the damages sustained by their vessels.
The day was passed in burying the dead, sending the wounded ashore, cleaning ship and making all possible repairs.
The escape of the Confederate ram, from what threatened to be certain destruction, was due to her daring, her build and largely to the unpreparedness of the combined Federal fleets above Vicksburg
Why the ‘Arkansas
’ took her foes so much by surprise is almost unaccountable.
Flag Officer Farragut
reports to the Secretary of the Navy
: ‘It is with deep mortification that I announce to the department that, notwithstanding my prediction to the contrary, the iron-clad ram ‘Arkansas
’ has at length made her
appearance and taken us by surprise. * * * Although we were all lying with low fires, none of us had steam or could get it up in time to pursue her, but she took the broadsides of the whole fleet.
It was a bold thing, and she was only saved by our feeling of security.’
replies in terms approaching censure, as well as surprise and mortification, at the result.
He says: ‘It is an absolute necessity that the neglect, or apparent neglect, of the squadron should be wiped out by the capture or destruction of the “Arkansas
The achievement of passing through the fire of such a fleet, at close quarters, will always remain the most creditable exploit in the history of the Confederate navy.
Has it ever been matched in the history of any other navy?
In General Orders, No. 51, from the war department, in Richmond
, the following compliment was issued to the officers and crew of the ‘Arkansas
and the officers and crew of the Confederate steamer “ Arkansas
,” by their heroic attack upon the Federal fleet before Vicksburg
, equalled the highest recorded examples of courage and skill.
They prove that the navy, when it regains its proper element, will be one of the chief bulwarks of national defence, and that it is entitled to a high place in the confidence and affection of the country.’
Congress also passed the following joint resolution of thanks to Lieut. I. N. Brown
and all under his command:
‘Resolved, by the Congress of the Confederate States of America
, that the thanks of Congress are hereby cordially tendered to Lieut. Isaac N. Brown
, and all under his command, for their signal exhibition of skill and gallantry on the 15th day of July last, on the Mississippi River
, near Vicksburg
, in the brilliant and successful engagement of the sloop of war ‘Arkansas
’ with the enemy's fleet.’
‘Approved October 2, 1862.’