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the Arkansas

 

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The following people or groups provided support in some way to the CSS Ram Arkansas and her crew.

Whether in the construction phase, while the boat passed through the Union fleets, while the boat was tied up at the Vicksburg waterfront, or after her sailing on 4 August 1862, they were in some way, a support and friend to the Arkansas.

Sarah Morgan — Sarah Morgan kept a famous war-time journal. She lived near Baton Rouge and on the Mississippi River and was witness to the burning Arkansas and its sinking. She and her family gave shelter, aid, and food to the stranded crewmen. This lengthy story of the last hours of the Arkansas and the escape of its crew is borrowed from Sarah Morgan: The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman, Charles East, ed., Simon and Schuster, New York, 1991, pgs. 194-197, 197-198.

Sarah writes about hearing that the Arkansas was coming down the river.

"I jumped in the carriage that was still waiting, and ran after the others to bring them back before they got in danger; but when we reached the end of the long lane, we saw them standing on the high levee, wringing their hands and crying. We sprang out and joined them, and there, way at the bend, lay the Arkansas on fire!

"All except myself burst into tears and lamentations, and prayed aloud between their sobs. I had no words or tears; I could only look at our sole hope burning, going, and pray silently. O it was so sad! Think it was our sole dependence! And we five girls looked at her as the smoke rolled over her, watched the flames burst from her decks, and the shells as they exploded one by one beneath the water, coming up in jets of steam. And we watched until down the road we saw crowds of men toiling along towards us. Then we knew they were those who had escaped, and the girls sent up a shriek of pity.

"On they came, dirty half dressed, some with only their guns, a few with bundles and knapsacks on their backs, grimy and tired, but still laughing. We called to the first, and asked if the boat were really afire; they shouted yes, and went on, talking still. Presently one ran up and told us the story. How yesterday their engine had broken, and how they had labored all day to repair it; how they had succeeded, and had sat by their guns all night; and this morning as they started to meet the Essex, the other engine had broken; how each officer wrote his opinion that it was impossible to fight her with any hope of success under such circumstances, and advised the Captain to abandon her; how they had resolved to do so, had exchanged shots with the Essex across the point, and the first of the latter (only one, also) had set ours afire, when the men were ordered to take their side arms. They thought it was to board the Essex, assembled together, when the order was given to fire the Arkansas and go ashore, which was done in a few minutes. Several of the crew were around us then, and up and down the road they were scattered still in crowds.

"Miriam must have asked the name of some of the officers; for just then she called to me "He says that is Mr Read!" I looked at the foot of the levee, and saw two walking together. I hardly recognized the gentleman I was introduced to on the McRae, in the one that now stood below me in rough sailor pants, a pair of boots, and a very thin and slazy lisle undershirt. That was all he had on, except an old straw, andyes! he held a primer! I did not think it would be an embarrassing to him to meet me under such circumstances; I only thought of Jimmy's friend as escaping [Lieutenant Charles W. ] a sad fate; so I rushed down a levee twenty feet high, saying "O Mr Read! You won't recognize me, but I am Jimmy's sister! He blushed modestly, shook my hand as though we were old friends, and assured me he remembered me, was glad to meet me, etc. Then Miriam came down, and talked to him, and then we went to the top of the levee where the rest were, and watched the poor Arkansas burn.

"By that time, the crowd that had gone up the road came back, and we found ourselves in the centre of two hundred men, just we five girls, talking with the officers who stood around us as though they were old friends. You could only guess they were officers, for a dirtier, more forlorn set I never saw. Not dirty either; they looked clean, considering the work they had been doing. Nobody introduced anybody else; we all felt like brothers and sisters in our common calamity. There was one handsome Kentuckian, whose name I soon found to be [Midshipman Daniel B.] Talbot, who looked charmingly picturesque in his coarse cotonade pants, white shirt, straw hat, black hair, beard and eyes, with rosy cheeks. He was a graduate of the Naval Academy some years ago. Then another jolly faced young man from the same Academy, pleased me too. He, the doctor and the Captain, were the only ones who possessed a coat in the whole crowd, the few who saved theirs, carrying them over their arms. Mr Read more than once blushingly remarked that they were prepared to fight, and hardly expected to meet us; but we pretended to think there was nothing unusual in his dress I can understand though, that he should feel rather awkward; I would not like to meet him, if I was in the same costume.

They all talked over their loss cheerfully, as far as the loss of money, watches, clothes, were concerned; but they were disheartened about their boat. One threw himself down near my feet saying, "Me voilà, I have saved my gun, at puis the clothes that I stand in!" and laughed as though it were an excellent  joke. One who had been on the Merrimac chiefly regretted the lost of the commission appointing him there, though he had not saved a single article. The one with the jolly face told me Will Pinkney was among those attacking Baton Rouge, and assured him he expected to take supper there last night. He thought it would be with with us I know! I hope he is safe!

"After a while the men were ordered to march up the lane, to some resting spot it is best not to mention here, and straggled off; but there was many sick among them, one wounded at Vicksburg, and we instantly voted to walk the mile and three quarters home, and give them the carriage and a buggy. But long after they left, we stood with our new friends on the levee watching the last of the Arkansas, and saw  the Essex, and two gunboats crowded with men, cautiously turn the point, and watch her burn. What made me furious was the thought of the glowing accounts they would give of their "capture of the Arkansas!!!" Capture, and they fired a shot a piece! for all the firing we heard was the discharge of her guns by the flames. We saw them go back as cautiously, and I was furious, knowing the accounts they would publish of what we ourselves had destroyed. We had seen many shells explode, and one magazine, and would have waited for the other, if the clouds had not threatened rain speedily. But we had to leave her a mere wreck, still burning, and started off on our long walk."

They arrived at the home of Sarah's family.

"We all met at the steps, and water was given to our cavaliers who certainly enjoyed it. We could not ask them in, as Dr Nolan is on his parole; but Phillie intimated that if they chose to order, they might do as they pleased, as women could not resist armed men! So they took possession of the sugar house, and helped themselves to something to eat, and were welcome to do it, since no one could prevent! But they first stood talking on the balcony, gaily, and we parted with many warm wishes on both sides, insisting that if they assisted at a second attack on B.R. [Baton Rouge], that they must remember that our house was at their service, wounded, or in health. And they all shook hands with us, and looked pleased, and said God bless you, and good bye."

NOTE: Arkansas crewmen mentioned in her diary were Lt. Charles W. Read, Midshipman Daniel B. Talbott, Lt. Henry K. Stephens, Midshipman Dabney M. Scales, Lt. Alphonse Barbot, Dr. W. J. Addison ("the doctor," pg. 266), and Samuel Milliken (pg. 282), whose "harsh" Kentucky accent Sarah found extremely amusing.


John S. Jackman of the Orphan Brigade wrote Diary of a Confederate Soldier, William C. Davis, ed., University of South Carolina Press, 1997. Here are a few selected entries from his diary, pgs.49-52, passim.

July 15At 9 A.M. heard firing up the river, and went up on the bluff to see the cause. Could see a commotion on the upper fleet which was sending up a dark cloud of smoke, and firing. Presently we saw the C.S. Arkansas coming around the bend, and soon after landed at the levee under our batteries, where there was an enthusiastic crowd assembled to welcome her. Late in the evening marched to our old positionabout the rail road cut, below the depot, or rather, the engine house. The air was full of shells. Just as we were filing off the railroad, up a street, where there was a high bluff that could protect us, in a measure from the shells, all the upper batteries opened and were replied to by the upper fleet dropping down before the city. The first intimation we had of this movement, one of those long conical shells 2 feet in length, and 10 inches in diameter came shrieking just over our heads, making something [like] the noise of a man screaming in agony. Soon the fight became general. The mortar fleet above and below filled the air with bursting shells; the fleet vomited forth iron and flame: our batteries thundered, making the by a little white cottage, now tenantless, and waited for morn. Soon the gray light or morning came very earth tremble, hot shot from the fleet were flying through the air, mimicking the fork-tongued lightening, and the flash of artillery, made the night as light as day. To heighten the grand scene, some buildings up-town took fire from hot missiles and a pillar of flame pierced the very heavens. As the storm-closed passes, so did this. Soon a perfect silence brooded over the city and we went to sleep. I hardly think the firing lasted an hour.

Several days later, Jackman writes,

July 22dCompanies withdrawn before daylight; but a few of us were left until after sun-up to watch the river to see that no one crossed. We were stationed about 60 yards apart, and ordered to secrete ourselves, but watch vigilantly. I hid away "neath a rosy bower," by a little white cottage, now tenantless, and waited for morn. Soon the gray light of morning came—then came the "powerful King of the day, rejoicing in the east". The landscape was beautiful, and I was admiring it, peeping out from my "rosy bower"and occasionally looking out of the corner of my eye at two large frigates, just below me, their sides bristling with guns, and wondering what would be the consequence, were they to give us a broadsidewhen "Whistling Dick &  Co. commenced thundering up the river and I forsook my "bower" to see what was going on. I saw "Essex" coming down and give the Arkansas a broadside. After that she closed all her ports. About that time the Corporal came along withdrawing us and we started up-town. Before we got up the bank, a heavy water-battery commenced firing over our heads at the Essex, and the concussion was so great from the balls passing over, that we were almost lifted off the ground. The Essex kept on her way, our guns peppering her; but the balls would bounce off, as rain-drops from a duck's back....

July 24thIn town again. Not well—have been feeling badly several days. At night, a detail was made to report to the Arkansas for duty, and I had to go from our company. Twas first thought we were to make up the crew and one fellow objected so much that he ran off. We all objected to such a fate, and Lieut. McC [?] in charge of the whole detail from the brigade, said that if such was the case he would resist. We had to wait until morning for all the detail to get together.

July 25thThe Lt. found out that we were to do some work at the Arkansas, and as I did not feel well enough to work, tried to get off, but could not. Went down to the boat and reported, and the Captain [Isaac N. Brown] told us that we would not be wanted until dark, so we went up-town and took up quarters in a large mansion then vacated. There were fifty on the detail.  ...  The Ram had gone up the river and did not get back until 9. P.M. We went down then, and fund out our job was to coal the boat, which had to be done by carrying the coal some distance in bags. I didn't work much. Got through by midnight, and went back to our house. All day the mortars had been at work, which was the last shelling done that season.

July 26thAt daylight saw the lower fleet had gone, and the upper one just disappearing up the river. Went to camp early. That evening moved camp 2 miles from town. Am sick.

NOTE: On pg. 51, a footnote corrects Jackman, stating that it was Lt. Robert B. Matthews of Cobb's battery who led the Kentuckians who helped work aboard the Arkansas, and actually worked one of her guns in battle. (See ORN I, vol. 15, pp. 1122-1124) On pg. 43, the editor tells us that some of the Kentuckians became temporary crewmen when the CSS Ram Arkansas was attacked. "As many as" 60 assisted in operating the ram and manning her guns."


 

 

 

 

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