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Transcriptions are given below each of the original letters. For the most part, they are typed as seen.
(Letters are courtesy of the Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg, Miss.)
 

 

This letter by Dabney Minor Scales is of much interest to researchers. The sketch of the Arkansas, entitled "The Rebel Rascale," verifies the vertical sides of the boat's gunbox. Especially of interest is the mention of "about 600 yankee graves" seen on the Desoto peninsula, across the river from Vicksburg. The commanders of the Federal fleets mention burying their dead, but they are not specific concerning it. In later years the graves were probably moved to the new Vicksburg National Cemetery where Confederate water batteries had been located for the purpose of covering the approaching Federal boats rounding the point of Desoto peninsula to approach Vicksburg.
 

 

                                                                Confederate St[eam]r. Arkansas
                                                                Off Vicksburg July 31, 1862
                     Dear Father
                                               This is the third time I have addressed
myself to the old folkes at home, since the arrival of the Arkansas at Vicksburg. And as
er myself better off now than at first, for blessed are they that expect nothing not
for they shall be disappointed_ It is most natural for me to conclud from you
protracted silence that the yanks have bagged you all or your writing material_
But I have not been very uneasy on either account; for I saw accounts of the
Yankee raid on Holly Springs; and heard of no services depredations,except in the
thieving way_ I heard that Judge Clayton had suffered by the light finge
ed scoundrels_ Did they carry any of our citizens away?_ Where is Joe
and henry? I have not been able to hear from them since Joe came
home from Corinth_ I went to Jackson on the ?8th inst. to bring our sick back
to Vicksburg_ While there I saw Frank Dancy & Bill Govan, the latter from
Richmond_ Neither could tell me any news from H_S_ I think Henry
might afford to write me a word where he is located, of nothing else_
If I had known his where-abouts I should have written long since_ Immediately
on our arrival at vicksburg(15th inst.) I scratched off a few lines to mother, even before
the decks had been cleared of the killed and wounded,in order that you might know
that I was unhurt. Three or four days afterwards, I addresed a letter to you, giving
a sort of detailed account of our adventure with the fleets of Davis and Faragut
Part of this last, I lost and was compelled to close the remainder abruptly in order to
get it off in time_ I think I told you of the fleets coming down to "annihillate" us, or get
below us and hem us in again. this was the night of the 15th inst. when we were very
short handed; most of our own crew having been sent to the hospital with fever, the seeds of
which were sewn in Yazoo river, the disease itself, no doubt, was hastened by over exer
tion on the preceeding morning_ What few men we did have were green soldiers_
volunteers_ who had only been aboard a few hours, and knew nothing of handling
great guns_ It is a shame for the Department to keep us here, half manned
with green soldiers, who only volunteer for a week at a time_ long enough
learn the drills, when another green set comes, to give way to another in their turn.
And all this time there is a good crew of sailor men, the Virginia's, in

shore battery, near Richmond, where soldiers could work nearly as well. At
any rate, itis evident that they are not so much needed there as here
Since I sent my last letter to you, I have another event to cronicle_ At 4 oclock
on the morning of the 22nd. I was awakened by the call to quarters_ hurrying to
our stations, with not even a full compliment of men for 3 guns; our soldiers
having just left the night before; we discovered the enemy coming right down upon
us. We did not have a third of the five men required in that department; consequently
steam was behind hand_ Here I would beg leave to state that Capt. brown has offered double
wages, $60_per month, for negros, firemen, and with an agreement to pay the
full value to the owners in case the slave is killed; yet he has been unable to get
one. But to proceed- we did not have enough to heave the anchor up and get under
way, before the enemy got to us, even if we had had steam ready_ So we had to lay
in to the bank, and could'ent meet him on any thing like equal terms_
His forces consisted of one large ironclad vessel mounting 8 more guns than we
18),and one ram, protected by bales of compressed cotton all around. The Gunboat
was the Essex, the Ram I believe, was the "Queen of the West." The Essex came first.
firing on us with her three bow guns_ we replied with our two bow guns as long as
they could be broght to bear- which was not a very long time, as our vessel being station [-]
ary, the enemy soon came too much on our broadside for these guns_ and their
crews had to be shifted to the broadside guns. in the mean time the Essex range
up alongside, us, and at the distance of 20 feet poured in a broads which
crashed against our sides like_ nothing that I ever heard before_ One 10in
solid shot struck against the foward edge of one of the broadside ports, which
glanced it aft in a raking direction over the deck_ This killed six of our
crew & wounded 4, just leaving two crews unhurt_ We were so close that
ourmen were burnt by the powder from the enemy's guns_ We continued
to fire our broadside & stern guns on the Essex, who had ran astern of us; and
it was now seen that she was unable to turn her head upstream & come along
side, as she evidently tried to do; but drifted down past the batteries, to the
lower fleet. all this time the Ram was not idle, but came close down on the
huls of his consort_ on he came surning bent on running us down_
We welcomed him as warmly as we could with our scanty crew_
Just before he got to us, we managed by the helm & with the aid of the starbor
propellor, to turn our bow out stream a little, which prevented him from
getting a fair lick at us _ As it was, he glanced round our side & 
ran aground just astern of us_ This was the time we needed our men most, for had


our stern guns (rifle 6in)been manned then we could have blown her up or so disabled her as
to have prevented her escape_ But such was not the case, and the ram suceeded in backin
off very soon and "skedadled" for her friends around the point. But "Queen caught something
heavy while passing on her return up the river. Persons on the hills who had a good opportu
nity of judging; say that on turning the point, she was helled over to port, cosiderably, &
signaled for the assistance of two transports_ Whether this be true or not I do not know.
It was told by reliable men. but this i do know; that two nights afterwards when the
enemy evacuated the place, a burning vessel supposed to be this ram floated down
past the city burned to the waters edge_ from this I conclude that they burned the
ram, finding her so disabled as not to render it practcable to take her
up the river_ The following question has arisen among our officers; What is
the gender of a vessel made to destroy another, by running in to her?_ In
other words is a Ram a he or a she? I believe that I, although ignoran
have used it in both genders_ If it is he how will we reconcile the name
in this case, (Queen of the west) to the masculine gender?_ We have since heard
from the others sick of the river, that six or eight of our shot penetrated the Essex
killing & wounding a good many men_ The Ram was struck ?4 times by
the Arkansas and upper battery_ This news came from head quarters
ashore; how they heard it is another thing_ pink Scales cavalry company and
a portion Withers Artillery, succeeded in capturing a Federal transport the other day
about 40 miles  above here _ The whole of the Yankee mail was taken also_ as
the boat burned_ Gen. van Dorn sent some of the letters to read.
Many of them were quite interesting_ most of them were written by the officers of the
fleet; dated 17th & 16th July, and all related to the fight of the Arkansas_ these private
letters gave a more truthful account of the affair than i had expected_ But the letters
written for publication are nothing more than a pack of infamous lies, to decieve its 
own people_ Their officers accknowledge that we did them more damage than all the
forts and batteries on the river put together_ They confess that they were very badly
frightened when we made our "debut on the 15th. they give us credit for the most daring
deed performed during the war, and say that our Comdr. should be known and honor
ed. I gathered this from the different letters that I read. Many of them have been coppied
for publication, and you may have a chance to judge for yourself, what part the
Arkansas had in causing the evacuation of Vicksburg- Three of the upper fleet, and one of the
lower, had to be towed off when the thiefing rascals left_ capt. brown late lieut.
Comdg. was promoted to Commander by the President for Meriterious conduct. I
hope that he will not be the only one on board promoted_ Mr Stevens, our first

Lieut., certainly deserves it equally as much_ It is also due to many other
officers on board. The President has the authority now to promote for meretorious
conduct: and I think he will never have a better opportunity or cause
to award merit than in the present instance_
In order that you may more fully understand how Vicksburg was shelled
by hidden mortar boats and also how the fleets lay around the city, I will
give you a rough sketch of the lay of the land around the city_


Now was it that i could 
not get a line from 
any of the home folks while
I was at Yazoo City
I wrote to mother soon after
our return from Greenwood,
But never recieved a line 
except the note from you
telling me of Floyds letter, Cherr's
dispatch_ i replied, asking you to send Floyds letter, which you may do now_ But i have
waited & looked in vain for Floyd's letter and one from you_
??? ???   ???forne of our men went
over the river to where the yanks were
working at their canal_ Wiliams
Ditch, as they call it. They found
about 600 yankee graves_ But most
of all they found about 500 negros,most
of them sick; and all left in the woods
without anything to eat, or any
provisions what ever being made                    
for them_ They say that they were worked hard in the mud and water, where their soldiers refused to
work. and when they were taken sick, they were turned opff to hunt a home, probably many
miles distant_ They were shot down like dogs, because the left the trench when we
threw shell among them_ this is the way the yankees treat the race for whos
freedom they pretend to fight_ August 1st_ I have been interrupted so often while
writing this that I was unable to finish it yesterday. It is certainly laboring
under difficulties to write on board here_

                              I was very much surprised today by a letter
from Ma and Delia_ dated July 29th ult. It is needless to say that I was very much
over joyed at this unexpected pleasure_ Im sorry to hear that have been unwell, and
hope you are up again on this_ I take it for grant that Sis. Luci sis May are well
For Mother forgot to say anything about them_ I am very glad that our servants proved
faithfull. Judging from what i know to be true they are a thousand times better off than those
poor foolish souls who have been won over by fair promises, which is all they will ever get except hard
work and a plenty of it._ The musquitoes have gained the victory & I canstand it no longer
goodbye & write soon to your son.   
                                          (signed) DM Scales CS Navy


[This is written along the side of the map.]
Charge all mistakes to musquitoes
for i have to stop every 1/2 minute to
brush them off & rub the bumps_
Love to all our relations. Also remember me to Dr.Gray & Mr Cotse
Dabney Scales drew these two sketches in his letter.
Scales wrote in his letter above, "In order that you may more fully understand how Vicksburg was shelled
by hidden mortar boats and also how the fleets lay around the city, I will
give you a rough sketch of the lay of the land around the city_"

On the map, he notes these locations --

-- [The location of] both fleets when passed by the Arkansas [Davis' and Farragut's fleets]
--
The Old River and the Yazoo River
-- Northerly fleet in position for shelling [Vicksburg]
-- Williams' Ditch (or canal)
-- Transports and mortar boats
-- The town of Vicksburg on the left bank and the railroad from Jackson [left bank is the east bank of river]
-- [The writing under the city is difficult to read. Is he marking the position of the Arkansas?]

 

"The rebel Rascal", St[eame]r Arkansas 10 guns. As she appeared after the fight." (Sketch by Lt. Dabney Minor Scales.)

The materials to build the Arkansas were not plentiful. Because of the war, there was a severe shortage of pressed iron to use for cladding. The Arkansas was covered, instead, with T-rails from nearby railroads. The heavy machinery on the Capitol drilled the holes necessary for mounting.

Note that Lt. Scales has sketched the protective layer of the iron rails horizontally on the side of the boat. The side of the gun box is vertical (not slanted). The front and back of the gun box are slanted, and the iron has been placed vertically. Most artwork of the Arkansas does not reflect this construction.



  

This letter is from William Alexander Hicks, CSN, assigned to the Arkansas, to his mother Mrs. Martha Hicks of Vicksburg. The letter is dated 20 April 1862. He died ten days later onboard the Capitol while assisting in completing the Arkansas in the Yazoo River. At the time of his death, the Arkansas was not active. He was buried in his family's lot in Vicksburg's Cedar Hill Cemetery.

William A. Hicks
Born Nov. 3, 1841
Died April 30, 1862
Aged
20 Yrs. 5 Mos..& 27Dy
 

 

Photo by Bryan Skipworth

 

 

Memphis, Tenn.
April 20th 1862

My Dear Mother    

I received your letter this morning in which I found enclosed a $00 dollar bill.

You may be assured that I shall follow your directions. To day was wet rainy and disagreeable, so I did not go out to church. I have been thinking of getting confirmed and will do so, whenever I get the first opportunity.

Gen Price and Gen Van Dorn are here, and I suppose they will go out to Corinth soon, but their destination is not at present known.

I stopped on board the Victoria when I first came up for three days, expecting to go up to Fort Pillow but was finally ordered to the iron clad gun boat ArKansaw. Since that time I will go to the steamer Capitol, where I shall probably remain, for at least eight or ten days.

You must address my letters still to the care of Capt. Shirley and they all always reach me.

Captn. McBlair is the captn. of our vessel, he is a Baltimorean.

Tell Mrs Ford that I have met Captn. Stockton here.

I have very little news to write but will write every day tho whilst I am here. I will telegraph the day I leave and where I am going. I was ordered to New Orleans on yesterday but the order was countermanded, and I am permanently attached [paper torn] ArKansaw. Kiss [little] Charlie for me, and give my love to all.

                                                              Your affec. son
                                                                 W. A. Hicks


 

 

 

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