The Fourth action of the Arkansas.
In a few days after the last action the Confederate
armored ram was ready to assume the offensive.
Steaming up the river, she had the satisfaction of putting to flight the mortar boats under tow of the Eads iron-clads, all escaping by their superior speed.
“On the 21st of July, Flag Officers Farragut
and W. D. Porter
held a council of war on board the ‘Benton
,’ at which Commander Porter
volunteered the service of the ‘Essex
’ to make an effort to destroy the ‘Arkansas
;’ ” and the following programme was agreed on:
That on the morning of the 22d, precisely at 4 o'clock the whole available fleet, under command of Flag Officer Davis, was to get under way, and when within range, to bombard the upper batteries at Vicksburg; the lower fleet, under Flag Officer Farragut, was to do the same, and attack the lower batteries; the “Essex” was to push on, strike the rebel ram, deliver her fire, and then fall behind the lower fleet.
This armored ram, the ‘Essex
’ was held to be the strongest vessel of war in the Federal fleet.
She was, in appearance, unlike the ‘Arkansas
,’ having sloping sides and shields fore and aft, pierced and carrying three heavy guns each.
The Confederates rated her (from their knowledge) superior to their own vessel, but she never proved herself to be so. Designed to operate with the ‘Essex
’ in the approaching action was one of Lieut. Col. Ellet
's rams, the ‘Queen of the West
,’ already met and put to flight by the ‘Arkansas
’in the early morning fight on the Yazoo River
W. D. Porter
, commanding the ‘Esssex,’ reports: ‘On the morning of the 22d, I got under way and passed the “ Benton
,” * * I arrived at the ram, delivered my fire and struck her; the blow glanced and I went high on the river bank with the bows of the ship, where I lay ten minutes, under three batteries of heavy guns, I backed off and loaded up. The enemy had drawn up up three regiments
of sharpshooters and several batteries of field pieces, ranging from six-pounders to 24-pounders.
I found it impossible, under these circumstances, to board the rebel boat, though such was my original intention. * * Seeing no hope of relief or assistance, I now concluded to run the gauntlet of the enemy's lower forts and seek an anchorage below the fleet.’
This charge of having no ‘relief or assistance’ was sharply resented by Porter
Flag Officer Farragut
writes to Davis
: ‘I regret to say to you how much I was disappointed and chagrined at the results of Porter
's fight this morning.
It appears that in the first place he missed striking the ram by their skilful management of her in loosening their shorefast, whereby Porter
slipped by her and ran ashore.’
Then Flag Officer Davis
I am also entirely dissapointed in the result of the morning's work, which last night seemed to me to promise very fair.
I do not understand where the “Sumter” was this morning.
Col. Ellet went down according to the plan and struck the ram in such a manner as to injure her, to what extent my observers cannot form an opinion until the sun falls upon her. Col. Ellet's ram ( “Queen of the West” ) is cut to pieces with round shot and grape, but, strange to say, though many persons in her small crew were struck, no one was killed and no one even seriously wounded. * * * I charge Commodore Porter, in his statement of the conduct of the “ Benton,” and other vessels of the squadron on that day, with a misstatement of facts, so well-known, so directly observed and actively participated in by hundreds of people, that this statement cannot be regarded as otherwise than deliberate; and I also charge him with calumniating his commander-in-chief.
A Confederate account of the action is as follows: A more opportune moment to destroy the ‘Arkansas’ could not have been chosen, as many of her officers and all but twenty-eight of her crew were ashore in the hospitals, and she lay helpless at anchor with a disabled engine. * * * In about half an hour after the firing had begun (the upper fleet engaging the land batteries) the large and formidable iron-clad ram, the “Essex” emerged from the smoke above and made directly for the “Arkansas.”
Commander Brown received the attack at anchor, with a crew sufficient to work two guns, but with the aid of his officers he was able to man all the guns which could be brought to bear.
When the muzzles of the guns were nearly touching each other, the broadside of the “Arkansas ” was exchanged for the bow guns of the “Essex.”
As the latter
struck the “Arkansas,” one of her 10-inch solid shorts struck the armor of the “ Arkansas.” * * * killing eight men and wounding six, half of the crew.
The “Essex” swung alongside of the “Arkansas,” when the latter gave her a port broadside with guns depressed, apparently disabling her, for she ceased firing and drifted down the river.
’ fired only three shots; and, but for the short-handed crew of the ‘Arkansas
,’ would not have escaped capture.
“The Queen of the West
” was now close to us, evidently determined to ram us. The guns
had been fired and were now empty and inboard.
Somehow we got them loaded and run out; and by the time she commenced to round to, the columbiads were ready, as also the broadside guns.
adopted the plan of turning his head to her also, and thus received her blow glancing.
She came into us at an enormous speed, probably fifteen miles an hour. * * * Her blow, though glancing was a heavy one; the prow or beak making a hole in our side and causing the ship to carreen and roll heavily. * * As did the “Essex
,” so the “Queen
” ran into the bank astern of us, and got the contents of our stern battery.
More nimble than the “Essex
,” the “Queen
” soon backed away, returning up-stream and, getting our broadside guns ready again, she evinced no disposition to engage us further. * * ‘Beating off these two vessels, under the circumstances, was the best achievement of the “Arkansas
Notwithstanding her severe experiences at Vicksburg
, and the fiery ordeal of those two great battles, the ‘Arkansas
’ could be seen, almost daily, steaming up and down the river in front of the batteries, as if in contempt of all the efforts made to destroy her. The Federal fleet had given up the siege of Vicksburg
, and gone down the river towards New Orleans, or Baton Rouge