Sunday, July 15, 2012

Commander Walke and the CSS Arkansas: 15 July 1862

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the engagement between the Confederate ironclad Arkansas and the Federal gunboats Carondelet, Tyler, and Queen of the West.  Unlike the Union ships,  CSS Arkansas was new and inexperienced in combat.  The Union vessels were all veterans of river offensives like Shiloh, Memphis, and the initial repulse at Vicksburg.  
The newly created Confederate ships were directed by General Earl Van Dorn, commanding the Army at Vicksburg, to bring the ship to the Rebel "Gibraltar."  The CSS Arkansas ran into the  Federal ships while she was making her way down the Yazoo River on her way to the city.  As shown, the CSS Arkansas proved to be a worthy adversary to the experienced Union fleet.  The Arkansas managed to damage the Carondelet and TylerThe following is an excerpt from the deck log of the USS Carondelet, written by commanding officer Henry Walke. 

July 15.  At 4 a. m. proceeded up the river, gunboat Tyler and ram Queen of the West following us. At 4.30 entered Yazoo River. At 5 the Tyler and Queen of the West passed us. At 6 discovered a boat coming down the river. Immediately went to quarters and cleared the boat for action. Rebel ram opened fire upon the Queen of the West and gunboat Tyler and they immediately rounded to. We found the advancing rebel boat to be a powerful gunboat and ram. We rounded to and headed downstream, at the same time firing upon her with all our batteries as we brought them in range. Captain Walke hailed the Tyler as she passed and ordered Lieutenant Commanding Gwin to go ahead and inform the commodore of the Arkansas approach. The ram made for us and for an hour we continued a running fight (she gaining on us), distance 500 to 50 yards. Our wheel ropes were shot away, steam escape pipe cut, exhaust pipe cut, cold water supply pipe riddled with pieces of shot, and steam gauge shot away, the boat becoming unmanageable. Our tiller ropes and box being shot away, the Carondelet was unmanageable and ran upon a small stump after the Arkansas passed us. As she passed by us we called the boarders upon deck, and we gave her our starboard broadside and bow guns, firing them as the enemy came in range. At this time the Arkansas flag was down and not hoisted again while in sight. Our backing bell and speaking trumpet. being shot away, the pilot could not communicate readily with the engineer. By this time the ram had passed us and was following the Tyler. After remaining at the bank for a short time to repair damages, we made our way down the river and found the rebel boat had succeeded in passing by the whole of the flotilla and rams. We received 5 shots in the captains cabin and 3 in the wardroom, 3 of the shots passing clear through the wheelhouse, 1 lodging in the steerage mess room, 1 going through wheelhouse, carrying away deck pump, passing through bulkhead aft of steam drum, glancing up, passing over steam drum, striking carlines, carrying away 4 of them and falling into fire room. One going through the wheelhouse carrying away steam escape pipes, going through 2 coppers on the galley, through smoke pipe, through ventilators, through bulkhead forward of fire room, through loose timbers placed upon the bulkhead and entering 4 pieces of one-fourth-inch iron. One coming in captains cabin on starboard corner, carrying away 12 carlines, striking chambers of side pipe, glancing upward and cutting exhaust pipe and striking upper deck over engine room and falling to the main deck. One coming in wardroom just about amidships, cutting away 8 carlines, passing through chief engineers, surgeons, and gunners rooms, carrying away bulkheads and striking the deck and fetching up against the after stanchion on port side. Another shot came through starboard quarter, passing through second and first masters room and through the captains cabin, out of the after port. Another shot came through the iron on starboard side, breaking in casemate and the shot breaking in pieces. Two shot carrying away iron and coming through the iron into the wood on the inside. Both cutters shot away; 2 boat davits carried away; all boats falls on starboard side shot away. Three awning stanchions shot away. One shell burst on starboard side of upper deck, cutting awning in pieces and setting starboard hammock netting on fire. We expended during the engagement one 32-pound gun, weight 42-hundred weight, struck on the lower part of the muzzle, splitting the gun in two pieces; 6 boarding pikes, 1 musket, 3 revolvers, and 4 cutlasses, belts, and accouterments were lost and shot to pieces during the engagement. Four men were killed, 15 wounded., and 16 missing. Expended 90 rifle and solid shots. 
From S to 12 meridian: Came to anchor with fleet. At 8: 30 hospital boat Red Rover came off alongside and took off the wounded. Cincinnati proceeded to the assistance of the Benton. Explosion seen at the point below supposed to be a mortar schooner aground at that point. At 10: 30 the Louisville proceeded down the river. At 6:30 p. m. vessels proceeded down the river.
Source:  Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion; Series I - Volume 23: Naval Forces on Western Waters (April 12, 1862 - December 31, 1862)

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