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The end of the Arkansas.

While his vessel was repairing damages under the bluff at Vicksburg, Lieutenant, now Commander, Isaac N. Brown now obtained leave of absence, and was soon after taken down with fever at Grenada, Miss. While thus disabled, he learned from his executive office, Lieut. H. K. Stevens, left in command, that peremptory orders had been sent him by Gen. Van Dorn to co-operate with Gen. Breckinridge in the attack on Baton Rouge. ‘Commander Brown sent positive orders to Lieut. Stevens not to move his vessel until he [12] could join it, as the ‘Arkansas’ was not ready for action. * * Lieut. Stevens referred the matter for his decision to Capt. William F. Lynch, the senior officer of the Confederate States navy in the West. Ignorant or regardless of the condition of the “Arkansas,” Capt. Lynch ordered Lieut. Stevens to disobey the instructions of commander Brown and comply with the request of Van Dorn. It this way the Arkansas was placed under the command of Lieut. Stevens, with orders to run 300 miles against time.’ (Note in

A long run with engines, that had already been broken down off Vicksburg, imposed a great responsibility on the new commander. But with unflinching spirit and utmost confidence in his officers and crew, if he could not have the same in his engines and machinery, Lieut. Commander Stevens left Vicksburg on the 3rd of August, at 2 A. M.

Quoting from Wilson's narrative (Official Records Vol. 19, p. 135.):

The Arkansas proceeded down the river until within 22 miles off Baton Rouge, when, near midnight, her starboard engine broke down. She was made fast to the bank and repairs begun, which were finished about 8 A. M. the next morning under the superintendence of Third Assistant Engineer E. H. Brown, of Norfork, Va., the senior naval engineer at that time aboard. We again started, and coming in sight of the enemy's fleet, consisting of the iron-clad “ Essex,” three gunboats, and some transports, all hands were beat to quarters and the guns cleared for action. Almost immediately afterwards the engine broke down and the ship drifted ashore, where she was secured and repairs again commenced. By night the ship was afloat and the engine arranged. We started a short distance up the river to secure some coal lying on the river bank, and had scarcely reached the place when the unfortunate engine became disabled a third time. Another night was spent in making repairs and taking coal aboard.

Gen Breckinridge, having awaited our coming until long after the appointed time, attacked the enemy on the morning of the 4th, drove him from Baton Rouge to the shelter of the lower fleet. On the morning of the 5th, Engineer Brown reported the engine repaired, but unreliable. A consultation was held between Lieut. Stevens and his officers, and at 9 A. M., 6th August, we started from the bank to attack the enemy's fleet, which now had been [13] reinforced to fourteen vessels, and, headed by the “Essex,” was slowly advancing up the river. We had not steamed any distance when the port engine broke. The ship was then headed for the shore, and in a few moments her starboard engine suddenly gave way and she drifted toward the enemy in a helpless condition, they opened fire upon us. Finally, however, she grounded near the river bank, stern down stream and Lieut. Read answered their fire with his stern rifles but the enemy having halted, the fire of our guns was ineffective.

The “Essex” continued to shell us at long range, but with no effect, her missiles falling short and out of range. Our engines were now beyond repair. In our present condition the ship was immovable and her guns could not be brought to bear upon the Federal fleet. Under the circumstances there was no alternative left Lieut. Steveas but to destroy the Arkansas to prevent her falling into the hands of the enemy. The officers and crew were sent ashore with small arms and ammunition, and as one of our lookouts reported a force landing below us, our ship's company was marched off toward the interior of the country, only two men deserting, both mess room men from New Orleans. Lieut. Read, Midshipmen Bacot, Scales and Talbott, Gunner Travers and myself (acting as aid to Lieut. Commanding Stevens) were ordered to remain aboard, to assist in destroying the vessel. The machinery of the engine was broken up with axes and the ward room bedding fired in several places; the cotton in the inside bulkheads between the guns was cut open and fired; the magazines opened, cartridges scattered about, and loaded shell placed on the gun deck between the guns. In this condition, with the ward room in a blaze, we abandoned the ship, assisting Lieut. Stevens ashore, he having had his hands badly burned by the premature explosion of a hand grenade whilst occupied in desroying the engine. We landed with our side arms and no other clothing than what we had on, which, being our fighting rig, was rather scanty.

The reports made by the commander of the ‘Essex,’ W. D. Porter, were found to be so little supported by the facts of the case (See Official Records, Vol. 19, pp 117-127,) that they called for contradiction by Rear Admiral Farragut and Lieut. Commander F. A. Roe. The language used by the latter is: ‘Any virtuous and brave man cannot fail to be shocked at the extraordinary assertions of Commander Porter in relation to the part both the “Essex” and [14] “Cayuga” took in the affair.’ * * “It was precisely no fight at all. * * ‘As I was turning around to return down-stream I observed that the Arkansas seemed to be on fire. During this time the ‘Essex’ did not advance more than one-quarter of a mile nearer the enemy, and her fire was only occasional at that great distance.’ * * * Subsequently Captain Porter explained to me that he had intended to have the honor of destroying the Arkansas all to himself, but that on his approach to her she looked so formidable that he said he found that he had more than he could do, and required all the help he could get, and more, too.” Rear Admiral Farragut writes: ‘The Court on Fairfax did not elicit as much in the cross-examination as I hoped they would, but sufficient to satisfy themselves that there was no justification for the report of Commander Porter. * * They fully proved that he had determined to attack her alone, and only wanted Fairfax to be in supporting distance, but that he subsequently changed his mind and made signal “for close action,” while he was a mile and a half off, and by the time Fairfax got up with the “Essex,” the Arkansas was discovered to be on fire, and he then told them to return to Baton Rouge as he did not want them.’

In his official report of the operations at Vicksburg and Baton Rouge, dated September 9, 1862, Maj. Gen. Van Dorn says:

I think it due to the truth of history to correct the error, industriously spread by the official reports of the enemy, touching the destruction of the “Arkansas.” She was no trophy won by the “Essex” nor did she receive any injury at Baton Rouge from the hands of any of her adversaries. * * * With every gun shotted, our flag floating, and not a man on board, the Arkansas bore down upon the enemy and gave him battle * * It was beautiful—

said Lieut. Stevens while the tears stood in his eyes—
to see her, when abandoned by commander and crew, and dedicated to sacrifice, fighting the battle alone.

Had her former commander been present that day on deck he would have done the same thing as did Stevens. Indeed while convalescing, he wrote approvingly of his Lieutenant's conduct, adding generously that he ‘would always speak as highly of Lieut. Stevens as if he had captured the “ Essex ” and all the rest of them.’

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