|"Do you take me for a Yankee? Don’t you see I wear a gray coat?’ ’Certain you’s a Yankee,’ the woman said. ‘Our folks aint got none them gumboats." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 551)|
It was the early morning of July 15, 1862 when a strange looking warship stopped at a plantation landing on the Yazoo River in the Sovereign State of Mississippi. All the inhabitants had fled at the sound of the approaching ironclad, except one old black lady, who stayed behind, to partake in the exchange above. It was no wonder that she and the rest of the inhabitants of the area thought that this strange vessel was some new Yankee deviltry and had fled. Since the start of the American Civil War the riverine warfare on mighty Mississippi had been an almost uninterrupted series of Confederate disasters and fiascoes. However, in this instance they were wrong, because this warship was the CSS Arkansas, Confederate Steam Ram. When she stopped that morning, she was into the 4th day of her operational life, which would last less than three weeks from the moment of the exchange. The operational life of the CSS Arkansas would be very short but it would be twenty-five days of glory.
There is a misconception that the ironclad came about during the American Civil War. This is incorrect. Armored floating batteries had made an appearance during the Crimean War of 1854-1855 and the navy of France had carried the practice to her blue water navy when she built the Gloire. The Gloire was a wooden ship, sheathed in iron plates and takes pride of place of being the first true ironclad warship. However, the Royal Navy was not slow in responding and laid down a far superior warship, the HMS Warrior. Warrior was built from the keel up as an iron armored warship and was far superior to the Gloire. None of these developments had been lost upon Stephen Mallory, the Secretary of the Navy, of the new Confederate States of America. Mallory realized that shipbuilding facilities of the Confederacy could not hope to match the industrial plant of the Union. What was needed was an equalizer and that was to be the ironclad.
From the start the Confederacy invested in ironclads. Probably the most famous was the CSS Virginia. When Virginia succeeded from the Union, the huge shipyard of Newport News fell to the South. One ship there was the large steam frigate Merrimac, which was burned by northern forces because it could not be evacuated. The iron armored casemate was added to the hull of the wooded frigate. Virginia was based upon an existing warship and had been converted and built in the largest shipyards in either north or south. The situation was war different in the west. Here the economy of both north and south was dominated by the Mississippi River. If the "Father of Waters" remained under Confederate control, the whole commerce of the Midwest would be bottled up and forced to rely on the already overburdened rail network. On the other hand if the Mississippi fell under Union control, the confederacy would be split in two with the Trans-Mississippi States of Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas separated from the rest. Those states were crucial to the confederate war effort for not only men for the southern armies but also production of meat and grain that would feed the armies in gray and butternut. For the defense of the Mississippi the confederacy relied upon three weapons systems, land based fortifications, wooden gunboats and lastly, ironclads.
The war had not progressed too far before it became apparent that land fortifications could not hold up against a determined Union attack. In August 1861 James B. Eads had persuaded the Union to build ironclads for the north at Eads’ facilities at Mound City, Illinois and outside St. Louis, Missouri. The result was the famous City Class of ironclads. Additionally other ironclads were built by conversion of existing river steamers. In January 1862 a little known Union Brigadier General of Volunteers sent a terse request to his commanding officer, MG Halleck, based in St. Louis. " With permission, I will take Fort Henry on the Tennessee, and establish and hold a large camp there. U.S. Grant Brigadier General." Halleck more concerned with successes of other northern generals than with the activities of the confederates quickly gave his consent. Grant led his attack from the river in the form of four Eads’ ironclads, under the command of Commodore Andrew H. Foote. Grant and Foote made a formidable combination, as they both strongly believed in joint operations. Grant used the ironclads and wooden gunboats as floating artillery batteries and steam transports for quick movement of his troops and quickly seized Ft. Henry guarding the Tennessee River. The effectiveness of Eads’ ironclads had made a strong impression on the confederates that escaped. Next Grant used the same process to attempt to seize Ft. Donelson, twelve miles away from Ft. Henry, but guarding the Cumberland River, which led to Nashville. The ironclads were not as effective but the Fort fell to Union anyway. Land fortifications had proven completely ineffective against the northern ironclads.
Well, if ironclads worked for the north, they would be even better for the south and the south had some a-buildin. After all, if "a race of pasty-faced mechanics" could build a successful iron warship for river warfare, think of how much better the sons of the south, born to the hunt, could do. At the southern gateway to the Mississippi, New Orleans, two huge ironclads had been started. The CSS Louisiana was to mount 16 guns but the other one, the CSS Mississippi, was designed to be a true monster of 4,000-tons. With a length of 270-feet, she would mount twenty heavy guns. Surely these two would secure the Crescent City from Yankee mischief. Hundreds of miles up the Mississippi to the north two more ironclads had been laid down to provide security for the northern gateway to the Mississippi. In the fall of 1861 Captain John B. Shirley of Memphis, Tennessee, received a construction order to build two ironclads in his shipyard south of the city. The two ironclads, smaller and more humble than the monsters building in New Orleans, were to be named CSS Tennessee and CSS Arkansas and were to be completed in December 1861. However, chronic lack of necessary supplies slowed construction. Instead of finishing both at the same time, it was decided to place emphasis on finishing the Arkansas first.
The confederates needed time to finish their ironclads and they felt that they had plenty of time, since New Orleans and Memphis were both protected by fortifications on the Mississippi. With Grant’s seizure of Ft. Henry and Donelson, in February 1862 through the assistance of northern ironclads, it should have become clear that time was running out. Still there was no urgency in the work on the confederate ironclads. Memphis was protected from the Union ironclads by Island No. 10, which was a fortified island in the Mississippi where the river makes a brief dip into Tennessee before returning to Kentucky. This was at the juncture of Tennessee, Kentucky and the southeast tip of Missouri. On March 17, 1862 Foote used his seven ironclads to start after this next objective, which was armed with 60 cannons. Foote was more circumspect in taking on Island No. 10 and for ten days he bombarded it with 13-inch siege mortars mounted on specially designed mortar boats. Finally the ground commander, BG Pope, grew impatient and had one and then two ironclads, Carondelet and Pittsburg, run the fort successfully. This cut off river supply to Island No. 10 and it soon surrendered on April 8th.
This knocked down the first barrier in the north and later in April the next blow came to the southern barrier. The Confederate navy was still working on the Louisiana and Mississippi at New Orleans. Additionally, there was an experimental ironclad, that the Confederates had finished in 1861. The CSS Manassas was a tug on which iron plate had been mounted. It mounted one fixed 32-pound cannon and looked like a cigar. In October 1861 it had tired unsuccessfully to engage northern blockading forces but was ready for the defense of the city. The confederates in New Orleans still felt confident that Forts Jackson and St. Phillip, on the Mississippi, 100 miles below the city, would protect them from any northern incursion up the river. Then in April Confederate authorities heard that Rear Admiral David Farragut was preparing to take his deep water warships up the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico to seize the city. In mid April Farragut ascended the Mississippi and he also had mortar boats accompanying with deep water sloops. On April 18, 1862 the mortars opened up on the two forts. Although still incomplete CSS Louisiana was towed down the river to serve as a floating battery at the base of Fort St. Phillip, while CSS Mississippi waited to be towed upriver to safety. With the immobile Lousiana came the Manassas and six wooden gunboats. For six days the forts were pounded and at 0200 April 24 Farragut moved in for the kill. The Manassas, Louisiana and all of the wooded gunboats were destroyed and the two forts fell. Two days later New Orleans meekly surrendered. The Mississippi was burned as she never did receive vessels to tow her to safety upriver.
The fall of Island No. 10 shocked the southerners and in panic, the still unlaunched CSS Tennessee was burned on the stocks in Memphis, but they still had Fort Pillow, which guarded the Mississippi, 100 miles south of Island No. 10. As a result of the fall of Island No. 10 the Arkansas was towed down the Mississippi River to the Yazoo River that empties into the Mississippi just north of Vicksburg. From there Arkansas was towed far up the Yazoo to Greenwood. Fort Pillow was the last substantial position north of Memphis. Within a week of the fall of Island No. 10 Foote moved on Ft. Pillow but became disheartened when he was only left with two regiments of troops for coordinated action. "Foote felt let down and depressed. Fort Pillow was a mean looking place, with the balance of the guns from Columbus dug into its bluff, and he did not think the navy could do the job alone. Downstream there was a Confederate flotilla of unknown strength, perhaps made stronger than his own by the addition of giant ironclads reportedly under construction in the Memphis yards." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 379) Foote delayed and was replaced by Commodore Charles Henry Davis. There was indeed a flotilla of wooden Confederate rams based in Memphis. It was with the ram flotilla north of Fort Pillow that the Confederate riverine navy enjoyed one of their first notable successes after a long string of failures.
However, Davis did not jump into action himself. He used his mortar boats to fire harassing shells on the fort every half-hour. Meanwhile he kept his force at Plum Run Bend, five miles above Fort Pillow, with one ironclad three miles downstream for picket duty. A Confederate flotilla of eight wooden gunboats brought north by J.E. Montgomery right before the fall of New Orleans was at Memphis. With memories of the disaster south of New Orleans fresh in his mind and fearful that Farragut may soon approach Memphis from the south, Montgomery decided to attack the ironclads north of Fort Pillow. On May 10 the Confederates achieved complete surprise. The picket ship, USS Cincinnati and the USS Mound City, which was the first ironclad to come to Cincinnati’s aid were both rammed and sunk in shallow water. The Confederate flotilla withdrew with great celebration and without loss. This was the first time that the Eads’ ironclads had really been opposed on the water and although the Cincinnati and Mound City would be quickly raised and restored to service, it was a humiliation for Commodore Davis and the Union river men. On May 25 the Union flotilla received nine of their own wooden steam rams. These had been built by Charles Ellet as a result of the success of the CSS Virginia in ramming. Fort Pillow fell on June 4 and Davis with his ironclads and new rams decided to surprise Montgomery’s ram flotilla at Memphis.
At dawn on June 6 the federals struck. Four of the ironclads were in the lead but behind them were the Ellet rams, which solely relied on speed and mass. The Confederate flotilla was certainly hopeful of a repetition of Plum Run Bend but once the ironclads had opened fire, the rams were unleashed. At 15-knots, they were the fastest ships on the Mississippi, and they quickly rushed past the Eads’ ironclads. Using strictly ramming tactics, seven of the eight Confederate gunboats were sunk with no Union losses. Memphis was lost. Of the five Confederate ironclads built or building in 1861, four were now gone as Louisiana, Manassas, Mississippi and now Tennessee were lost or burned. Only the CSS Arkansas remained far from finished and literally far up the Yazoo.
In late May Lieutenant Isaac Newton Brown, CSN, was given command of the CSS Arkansas. When Brown arrived at Greenwood, Mississippi, to first view his new command, he was taken aback. "The vessel was a mere hull, without armor. The engines were apart. Guns without carriages were lying about the deck. A portion of the railroad iron intended as armor was at the bottom of the river, and the other and far greater part was to be sought for in the interior of the country." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 550) Brown had meager resources but he was determined to make a go of it. For the first day after the arrival of Brown at Greenwood, the sunken railroad iron was hauled out of the Yazoo. Then he ordered his new command towed 180 miles down the Yazoo to the town of Yazoo City. The facilities at Yazoo City were better than at Greenwood but not by much, as sparse would be an over generous word in their description.
Once there Brown went to work with a purpose. He was driven to have the Arkansas completed. Fourteen forges were acquired from local plantations and once fired up they were kept going 24 hours a day. Scrap iron and railroad track was brought in from all locations and blacksmiths kept hammering it into usable fittings for the emerging ironclad. Two Hundred carpenters were added to the mix for shaping the 50-foot logs into backing for the armor, each with a cross section of 18 to 24 inches in width and height. Central Mississippi had no naval tradition for building naval gun carriages, so Brown had to look around for somebody that would try to construct a serviceable carriage. The solution was found in "two gentlemen of Jackson", who produced them in a wagon factory in Canton. Paint was another problem, It was decided to paint the CSS Arkansas in a chocolate brown so that she would blend in with the muddy Mississippi. However, it quickly became apparent that Confederate paint just lacked the quality to do the job. Layer after layer, coat after coat of the brown paint was applied and every time the Arkansas reverted to her unpainted color, a rich rusty red. From then on rust red was the color in which she served. If the amount of energy expended by Brown, his crew and the local citizenry of Yazoo City had been found in Memphis and New Orleans in 1861, the Confederacy would have completed all of their Mississippi ironclads. "Within five weeks, according to one of her lieutenants, ‘we had a man-of-war (such as she was) from almost nothing." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 550)
After their reverse at Plum Run Bend, the Union navy was wildly successful in every venture. New Orleans and Memphis were captured and as far as the Union commanders were aware every Confederate warship, except one wooden ram, had been destroyed. After capturing New Orleans, Farragut soon captured Baton Rouge. That just left one point on the Mississippi that could bar complete Union navigation of the river and conversely would allow Confederate access to the Trans-Mississippi, Vicksburg. Fortunately for the south, Farragut and Davis took their time before continuing on their respective north and south pincers. After making a 400-mile trip upriver, Farragut arrived south of Vicksburg in early June. He spent ten days, sighting his mortar vessels and then on the night of June 27, under covering fire from the mortars, he took eleven of his ships north past Vicksburg. Two days later the ironclads, steam rams and mortar boats under Davis, which had steamed south from Memphis, linked up with Farragut’s deep ocean ships between Vicksburg to the south and the mouth of the Yazoo to the north. Davis had sent two Ellet rams ahead early to investigate reports of some Confederate gunboats were hiding up that river. Indeed on June 26, the Union rams had discovered the last surviving member of Montgomery’s Memphis squadron and to other gunboats lurking a little way up the Yazoo. All three were burned by the Confederates when the Union rams appeared. "…all three were set afire as soon as the rams hove into view, and Ellet came back out again to report that he had destroyed the fag end of Confederate resistance on the western rivers." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 548) With the force to the north and part of Farragut’s force still to the south of Vicksburg, the Confederate connections across the Mississippi were tenuous at best at the point of Vicksburg itself. Federal troops were on the west bank in an attempt to cut a canal by-pass to the city.
Farragut and the Union fleet were bored. He had proven that he could sail past fortifications when he wished. To him it certainly seemed clear that the Confederate naval presence on the Mississippi had been successfully eradicated. Indeed his only concern was that his deep draft sloops may be stranded up river as the water levels fell in the summer. Davis on the other hand was still uneasy. Undoubtedly the losses his forces had sustained at Plum Run Bend when he first took command of the Eads’ ironclads made him very wary of another surprise attack. There were rumors, whispers, wisps, fragments of conversations that mentioned a Confederate ironclad that was under construction somewhere on the Yazoo. Davis felt very uneasy about this spectral presence. Farragut completely discounted all such rumors. Even if one was hiding up there, it certainly would never show in face of the overwhelming Union strength gathered at Vicksburg. "I do not think she will ever come forth," he reported. However, Davis would rather have been safe than sorry and dispatched three ships to go up the Yazoo to find the truth. Early on July 15, 1862 ironclad USS Carondelet, wooden gunboat USS Tyler and Ellet steam ram, USS Queen of the West, made the turn to starboard and started up the sleepy Yazoo River.
On July 12, 1862 the CSS Arkansas was as ready as could be hoped. Armed with ten guns of various types, mounted on the jury-rigged carriages from the Canton wagon factory, she had a crew of 175. Two-thirds of these came from the three steamers burned on the lower Yazoo in June with the remainder made of infantry volunteers, who were worked into the gun crews. "Brown sent the mechanics ashore and dropped down to Sartartia Bar, where, as he later said, ‘I now gave the executive officer a day to organize and exercise his men." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 550) So July 13 was spent training the scratch crew of the ironclad. They unanchored on the 14th and continued down the Yazoo. Fifteen miles later at the mouth of the Sunflower River it was discovered that the powder of the forward magazine was damp from steam from the engines and boilers. The Arkansas tied up at a clearing and the wet powder was set on a canvas to dry. It was dry enough for use by the time the sun set. Arkansas set off again.
Around midnight, she pulled over to the bank at Haine’s Bluff for a crew rest but it was a short one. By 0300 she had shoved off and continued her journey. However, it was then that the Achilles’ heel of Arkansas acted up. Her twin engines, removed from the steamer Natchez, were not reliable. "The twin-screw vessel’s engines had a habit of stopping on dead center, one at a time, which would throw her abruptly into bank, despite the rudder, and this was what happened now in the predawn darkness." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 551) While the engine was being repaired, a lieutenant went ashore to seek information and only found the lady, who replied to his questions in the manner shown at the start of this article. It took less than an hour but the two delays of the day had prevented Arkansas from reaching the Mississippi during darkness. As the sun rose on the 15th the rust-red ironclad had just entered Old River, a ten-mile long cutoff former channel of the meandering Mississippi and now part of the Yazoo. As the Arkansas entered Old River from the northeast, Carondelet, Tyler and Queen of the West entered from the southwest, each side steaming towards the other on a collision course but hidden from each other by a series of river bends.
Brown knew that the combined forces of Farragut and Davis were between the Arkansas and Vicksburg, so the ironclads crew were already ready for action. The Confederate crew saw smoke over the tree line and knew that action was imminent. "In a few moments we see three gunboats round a point in full view, steaming towards us gallantly and saucily, with colors streaming in the wind. The ironclad Carondelet of twelve guns, commanded by Lieutenant Walke was on the right. The A.O. Tyler, the vessel which annoyed our troops at Shiloh, commanded by Lieutenant Gwin, my classmate, was in the center, and the unlucky river ram, Queen of the West, commanded by an army ‘mustang’ named Hunter, was on the left. It was quite probable that they imagined we would take to our heels when we saw the odds, which were against us. They were mistaken." Lieutenant George Gift, CSS Arkansas (Old Steam Navy CSS Arkansas History at page 5)
The Union force was still uncertain of what they had encountered and they continued to close and opened fire at the odd red ship approaching them. However, Arkansas held her fire. It had previously been decided not to fire until the Arkansas was close enough to the target to assure a hit without elevating the guns. Lieutenant Gift continues his narrative. "The gunnery of the enemy was excellent, and his rifle boats soon began to ring on our iron front, digging into and warping up the bars, but not penetrating. Twice he struck near my port, and still we could not ‘see’ him. The first blood was drawn from my division. An Irishman with more curiosity than prudence, stuck his head out the broadside port, and was killed by a heavy rifle bolt, which missed the ship." When another member of the same gun crew was told to throw the headless body over the side, he replied, "Oh! I can’t do it sir, its my brother." The Arkansas made for the Tyler. One of the two guns commanded by Lieutenant Gift, the port bow-chaser, an eight-inch Columbiad, opened fire first from Arkansas. "It struck him fair and square, killing a pilot in its flight and bursting in the engine room. She reported seventeen killed and fourteen wounded, and I think this shell did the better part of the day’s work on her." Gift’s bow-chaser recoiled off its carriage and was out of action for ten minutes.
Next it appeared that the Queen of the West under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hunter was going to attempt to ram the Arkansas. Brown had the starboard battery open fire on Queen of the West and Hunter had enough. "This settled the account on that side. The Lieutenant Colonel had business down the river, and straightway went to attend to it; that is to say, to quote Gwin (commander of Tyler), he ‘fled ingloriously.’ This left us with the Tyler, now getting pretty sick, and the Carondelet to deal with." However, the fight was not one sided as Arkansas began to sustain damage from the combined fire from Tyler and Carondelet. One rifle bolt penetrated the pilot house and killed one Mississippi River pilot and injured the Yazoo River pilot. Fortunately Arkansas had a second Mississippi River pilot, James Brady, who took over navigation, even though he did not know the tricks of the Yazoo.
"The fight had been an advance on our part; we had never slowed the engines, but stood forward as though we held such small fry in contempt. Gwin handled and fought the Tyler with skill as long as there was any hope; but he finally took to his heel, badly crippled, and went after the ’mustang." With Tyler steaming fast on the heels of the speedily retreating Queen of the West, that just left the Eads’ City Class ironclad Carondelet.
After a ten-minute delay in remounting his 8-inch Columbiad, Lieutenant Gift looked out for the position of the Carondelet, so that his forward gun could engage her. "…the Carondelet was right ahead of us, distant about one hundred yards, and paddling down stream for dear life. Her armor had been pierced four times by Grimball (Lieutenant commanding starboard bow-chaser and first starboard broadside gun) and we were running after her to use our ram, having the advantage of speed. Opposite to me a man was standing outside on the port – still loading the stern chaser. He was so near that I could have readily recognized him had he been an acquaintance. I pointed the Columbiad for that port and pulled the lock string. I have seen nothing of that man or gun since." The Carondelet was almost defenseless while being chased from the stern, as her thinnest armor was there. "If his stern guns were not dismounted the crews had deserted them, for they were not used after my gun came into action the second time." Just as the Arkansas was about to ram the stern of the Carondelet, Brady discovered that the Arkansas was in shallow water. The Carondelet drew four feet less water and could go where Arkansas could not. Arkansas sheered off and depressed the muzzles of her port side battery, so that as they came right alongside the Carondelet, they could fire down through the casemate armor of Carondelet and through her bottom. "As we lapped up alongside, and almost touching, we poured in our broadside, which went crashing and plunging through his timbers and bottom. Although his four broadside guns – one more than we had – were run out and ready, he did not fire them." The Carondelet had almost made it to the Mississippi but with this last broadside, she veered into the bank, "leaking steam and frantic survivors from all her ports." Queen of the West and then the Tyler had already made the turn to port into the Mississippi and were rushing to rejoin their gaggle of friends down river.
Arkansas could not stay to continue fire on Carondelet, as she had to be upon the main federal fleet before they were fully prepared for her arrival. Lieutenant Brown had placed himself on the upper deck of his command during the battle and had shouted orders to the pilots through the open top of the conning tower to the pilots steering the ship. Even as Arkansas took damage during the battle, so did Brown. One Union cannon round hit the forward face of Arkansas and caromed upwards where it whisked past Brown’s head, giving him a slight concussion from its passage. Aboard the Tyler their were Union infantrymen, who couldn’t hurt the ironclad with their rifle fire. However, there was one target that they could see and that was Lieutenant Brown, who was the only member of the crew outside of the protective armor of the ship. One minnie ball grazed Brown’s temple and he collapsed and had to be carried below.
On the ships of the Union fleet above Vicksburg, the cannon fire of the engagement had been heard but it was assumed that the northern ships were just having target practice with snipers in the woods. Presently, as sailors looked up river, the Queen of the West and the Tyler were seen steaming as fast as they could towards the combined fleet and yet there was something else. "Now they saw better, though they still did not understand what they saw. Observing the gunboat returning with a strange red vessel close on her heels, one officer remarked: ‘There comes the Tyler with a prize." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 552) Instead of a prize, Farragut and the fleet received a surprise in the form of the Confederate steam ram CSS Arkansas.
The Arkansas was about to enter her second fight of the day but instead of facing just three to one odds as faced in the first tussle, this time she was taking on the combined strength of the ironclads and rams of Davis and the big deep ocean warships of Farragut. "Within range of the fleet – ‘a forest of masts and smokestacks,’ Brown called it; ‘In every direction, except astern, our eyes rested on enemies’ noting that the army rams were anchored behind the bigger ships, in position to dart out through the intervals, the Confederate skipper told his pilot: ‘Brady, shave that line of men-of-war as close as you can, so that the rams will not have room to gather headway in coming out to strike us." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 552-553) The combined Union squadrons were completely surprised and did not have steam up or guns loaded
However, as Arkansas proceeded to leisurely cruise through the massed formation of the federal ironclads, steam sloops, steam rams and mortar boats, the hundreds of Union cannons came alive with each trying to mark down the impudent intruder. "I had the most lively realization of having steamed into a real volcano.’ Guns were flashing, and as he advanced ‘the line of fire seemed to grow into a circle constantly closing.’ Even so, he saw one definite advantage to fighting solo from an interior position, and the Arkansas was not neglectful of it, ‘firing rapidly to every point of the circumference, without the fear of hitting a friend or missing an enemy." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 553) The Arkansas replied by firing her ten cannons as quickly as possible but Arkansas was being punished for her boldness.
Shells and shot came in from all directions. One 11-inch Dahlegren round punched through the casemate and took out all sixteen men of one gun. "We were passing one of the large sloops of war when a heavy shot struck the side abreast of my bow gun, the concussion knocking over a man who was engaged in taking a shot from the rack. He rubbed his hip, which had been hurt, and said they would ‘hardly strike twice in a place.’ He was mistaken, poor fellow, for immediately a shell entered the breech made by the shot, and bedding itself in the cotton bail lining on the inside of the bulwark proper, exploded with terrible effect. I found myself standing in a dense, suffocating smoke, with my cap gone and hair and beard singed. The smoke soon cleared away, and I found but one man left. Sixteen were killed and wounded by that shell, and the ship set on fire." A solid rifle bolt came through and took out another nine men working another gun. "The ill luck, which befell the crew of the bow gun, was soon to be followed by a similar misfortune to the crew of my broadside gun. An eleven inch shot broke through immediately above the port, bringing with it a shower of iron and wood splinters, which struck down every man at my gun; it passed across the deck, through the smokestack, and killed eight and wounded seven men at Scales’ gun." The stack was totally perforated from shrapnel and therefore the engines did not have the forced draft effect and dropped in pressure from 120psi to 20 psi. Arkansas barely had enough power to allow her to maintain steerage. Accordingly, the use of her ram was removed from her arsenal of weapons. Brown, who had revived before entering the maelstrom of fire, decided not to ram unless some ship blocked his way south. With no draft from the funnel, temperatures in the engine room soared to 130 degrees and engine crews had to work in 15 minute shifts. Her boats were shot away, one third of her crew was dead or wounded, and one complete section of her armor had been taken away, but the Arkansas continued south and continued to fire with all guns that were still crewed.
Just as Arkansas was about to break clear, one of the Ellet steam rams appeared with the apparent attention of ramming the ironclad. "Go through him Brady!’ Brown shouted. But one of the bow guns averted the need for a collision by putting a shell through the Federal’s boiler. Steam went up like a geyser and the bluejacket crew went overboard." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 553) "The rams were taking up a position to come out and strike us as we passed. One of them, the Lancaster, was slowly moving across our path, and I heard Brady ask Captain Brown if he should cut that boat in two. The Captain returned an affirmative answer, and the game pilot steadied our ship for the ram. I had in a five second shell, which I wished to get rid of before we got to the ironclads, and so I set it in motion. It struck his mud drum, emptying the hot steam and water into the small barricaded engine room, where the crew and a company of sharp shooters were seeking protection about a hundred of which were killed. The poor fellows came pouring up the scuttles, tearing off their shirts and leaping overboard as soon as they reached the air."Arkansas broke free, past the last Union vessel. She was greatly damaged but every Union vessel had also received damage. Arkansas had hit plenty of targets. However, most of the damage to federal vessels had come from their own guns. As Arkansas steamed right through the middle of the federal force, if a Union round missed the Confederate ironclad, it was sure to strike a Union vessel on the other side of the formation.
Not only was the Federal Fleet completely taken by surprise, Admiral Farragut the fleet commander, displayed his own surprise in a most conspicuous manner. Farragut had been sleeping late that morning and when the Arkansas had opened up, he had rushed to the deck of the Hartford, still in his pajamas. What he saw shocked, amazed, humiliated and infuriated him. He had dismissed the idea of the existence of a southern ironclad as idle rumor, a mere figment of imagination. Now here in front of him, the rumor was all too true. His complacency was shattered with his pride, as the lone Confederate ship seemed to show no concern of the numbers that she faced. The Arkansas seemed to saunter through the assembled massed ranks of Union warships, as if strolling through a park on a sunny day. The sheer bravado and effrontery galled him. As the Arkansas leisurely departed the scene bound for the protection of the batteries at Vicksburg, Farragut left the deck, still in his pajamas, saying, "Damnable neglect, or worse, somewhere!" His fury and embarrassment had boiled over.
Farragut was not in his cabin for long. He came back on deck in full uniform and boiling mad. He ordered the fleet to immediately raise anchors to steam down to Vicksburg to destroy the Arkansas, and the massed gun batteries of the bluff of Vicksburg be damned. His captains on the other hand did not think that it was such a good idea to present themselves as targets in broad daylight. The staff of Farragut talked the Admiral out of an immediate attack in daylight. "His staff managed to dissuade him from this – at least give the fleet captains time to wash the blood from their scuppers, they said – but, even so, the old man would noy be put off any longer than nightfall: Porter’s mortar schooners, together with the Brooklyn and the two laggard gunboats, were still below the city, where the apparently unsinkable rebel ironclad might engage them any minute. He ordered all guns loaded with solid and suspended his heaviest anchor from the tip of the Hartford’s port mainyardarm, intending to drop it through the Arkansas’ deck and bottom when he got alongside her. The Davis gunboats and the Porter mortars would give covering fire, above and below, while he went in and dragged the upstart monster from its lair." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 554)
As sunset came to the Mississippi, the Federal ships got underway for their third engagement with the Arkansas that day. The sun was down but it was still twilight. The federal ships were silhouetted in the glow to the west. Arkansas on the other hand, with her rust red color, blended in perfectly with the red clay bluffs of Vicksburg. Not only did she blend in perfectly with her surroundings, but also she was further obscured by the gloom and murk of night descending from the east. Brown could not have picked a better camouflage. Every aspect of terrain and weather worked in favor of the Arkansas. "The first each skipper saw of her as the ships came past in single file, taking in turn a pounding from the batteries overhead, was the flash of her guns as he crossed her line of fire. By then it was too late to attempt to check up and grapple; all there was time for was one quick broadside in reply, before the current swept him out of range. Aboard the Arkansas, dismay at having to fight the day’s third battle, tied to bank and with less than half her crew still functional, gave way to elation as the action progressed. One by one, the ships glided past with their towering spars in silhouette against the glow of the western cloudbank, and one by one they took them under fire, as if in a gigantic shooting gallery."(The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 554) Then Hartford, with the vengeful Farragut, came on. The pilot and gunners could not see Arkansas until the ironclad loosed a broadside and she was not in position to drop her anchor on the Confederate. However, Hartford did fire her own broadside. "But when the Hartford stood in close, groping blindly with the anchor swaying pendulous from her yardarm, and they loosed a broadside at her, she thundered back with a tremendous salvo. An 11-inch solid pierced the side of the Arkansas just above the waterline, crashed through the engine room, killing and mangling as it went, and lodged in the opposite casemate armor, making what one of her officers called ‘a bulging protuberance outside.’ She kept firing until the river stopped sending her targets. Then once more there was silence." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 554)
Although Farragut was happy to be to the south of Vicksburg, he was still determined to wipe away the humiliation of the 15th. The next morning he contacted Davis, who still had his ironclads north of Vicksburg and proposed that they both go in at high noon and sink the Arkansas. Davis wouldn’t have any part of it. In recalling his actions regarding the Confederate Memphis squadron, he replied, "I have watched eight rams for a month, and now find it no hard task to watch one." In the days that followed Arkansas made some temporary repairs but clearly it wasn’t enough. She made a sortie but had to turn back when her balky engines failed her again. After five days Davis finally gave in to Farragut in making another assault on Arkansas. This time Davis would send one of his ironclads, the Essex, to pin Arkansas against the bank. The accompanying steam ram Queen of the West would then ram and sink the immobile ironclad. The attack came on July 21 but Brown had prepared his command to counter many types of attacks, including the type that was employed by Essex. Brown had moored the Arkansas with the bow facing upstream, as that was where the greatest threat of ramming came from. All of the Union steam rams were up river and had the additional advantage of using the current to increase speed. The Arkansas was moored with cables that could be let out to pivot the ram bow towards any attacker. As Essex approached, Arkansas presented her ram to her assailant. Essex swerved away and received a broadside from Arkansas. "The Queen, followed close behind, anxious to redeem her performance up the Yazoo the week before, could manage no more than a glancing blow. She worked her way back upstream, rejoining Davis, but the Essex went with the current, her engines badly shot up in the melee, and joined the fleet below." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 555)
When Gideon Welles, the Federal Secretary of the Navy, heard of the action, he was shocked that one Confederate ship could pull off such a feat. He considered the actions of the Arkansas to be a stain on the honor of his Navy. "It is an absolute necessity that the neglect or apparent neglect of the squadron should be wiped out by the destruction of the Arkansas," (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 555) However, his wire to Farragut came too late. Before Arkansas ever appeared, Farragut had asked for permission to move south of Vicksburg. Farragut really saw a danger of the dropping river level stranding his ships. Before Welles’ message above reached him, a message from Welles answering the first, pre-Arkansas, message arrived. "Go down the river at discretion." That is all Farragut needed to be done with the Mississippi, Vicksburg and the Confederate Steam Ram CSS Arkansas. On the morning of the 26th he raised anchor and steamed south, taking his entire squadron with him. The crippled Essex and two wooden gunboats, as well as the federal soldiers who had been on the west bank, were dropped off at Baton Rouge but the Hartford and the rest of the big ships kept going, past New Orleans, until they were back in the Gulf of Mexico. Also on the 26th Davis had his ironclad and ram flotilla raise anchor and steam northward to operate 200 miles upstream. Arkansas had beaten them all. and opened a huge area for communications, troops and provisions with the Trans-Mississippi states.
The exploits of the Arkansas in this short period had dramatically changed the strategic picture in the west. On the eve of July 14, 1862, the Confederacy really didn’t have any connection with her states beyond the Mississippi River. After the actions of Arkansas, and the Union failures to sink her, the wills of the federal commanders appear to have been shattered. Less than two weeks later, Davis took his ironclads northward and Farragut took his steam sloops southward, past New Orleans to their natural element of the Gulf of Mexico. A huge stretch of Mississippi River bank had been opened up for Confederate traffic. It was a colossal success. However, what the skill and courage of the crew of the CSS Arkansas had won, would be tossed away by the idiocy of another. In any military organization, there is always someone who is more than capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In that summer of 1862 in Vicksburg, the individual capable of such a feat was the overall commander, General Earl van Dorn.
Van Dorn certainly had experience in parlaying victory into defeat. In March he had commanded a small army that engaged a Union force under Sam Curtis at the Battle of Pea Ridge in northwest Arkansas. Van Dorn had greater initiative but shot his bolt right away. When the Union troops didn’t route, he was in trouble. "But Van Dorn was somewhat in the predicament of having prodded a shot bear, thinking it dead, only to have the creature rear up and come charging at him, snarling. Consequently, his main and in fact his exclusive concern, in the face of this sudden show of teeth and claws, was how to get away unmangled. Horrendous as it was, however, the problem was not with him long. His soldiers solved it for him. Emerging from the north end of the defile, they scattered in every direction except due south, where the prodded bear still roared." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 291) It is ironic that his army had disintegrated on the same day that the ironclad CSS Virginia had sunk the Congress and Cumberland. The naval victory had diminished the shame of the loss at Pea Ridge and he was rewarded with another command at Vicksburg, where he was promptly bottled up by Farragut and Davis.. Now another ironclad, the Arkansas, had pulled Van Dorn’s fat from the fire. The general was hardly the type to let prosperity or strategy interfere with his ill-considered, hare brained plans. Even before the Union flotillas had departed, Van Dorn was sending bombastic boasts to Richmond. "Glorious for the navy, and glorious for her heroic commander, officers, and men. Smokestack riddled; otherwise not materially damaged. Soon be repaired and then, Ho! For New Orleans." No material damage? Clearly Van Dorn had no concept of reality when it came to the Arkansas. Her armor was cracked, her engines damaged, her crew scythed down and further Van Dorn increased this deficiency by removing the surviving volunteer infantrymen who had served on gun crews.
The modern military uses the term "Situational Awareness" to describe a commander’s knowledge of all facts pertaining to the battlefield. The facts deal with the friendly situation, enemy situation, weather, terrain and any other aspect that influences the battlefield. At the end of July 1862 General Earl Van Dorn CSA, lacked situational awareness on many levels. First, he was completely in the dark as to the status of Arkansas but to compound this error, he had no idea of the federal dispositions. On July 27 Van Dorn dispatched his subordinate, General Breckinridge with 4,000 men to take Baton Rouge. He did this without any knowledge of Union strength there.
However, at first after the federal flotillas had disappeared, everything was fine. A cable arrived from Richmond, promoting Brown to Commander. However, Isaac Brown was ill and still had not recovered from his concussion suffered on the 15th. Brown took off four days to go up to Grenada, Mississippi, for rest and recuperation, leaving his executive officer, Lieutenant Henry Stevens, in charge. Following orders Breckinridge and his 4,000 got aboard railroad cars for the trip to the south, as Arkansas went about repairing her damages at the foot of the bluff. When Brown arrived at Grenada, he was immediately bedridden with another ailment. On July 31st Breckinridge stopped his advance towards Baton Rouge when he discovered that it was defended by 5,000 Union troops, plus the ironclad Essex and the two wooden gunboats dropped off by Farragut. Breckinridge further wired Van Dorn that there was no way that he could take Baton Rouge without support from the Arkansas. Without a thought Van Dorn ordered Stevens to have the Arkansas at Baton Rouge on August 5, for a coordinated assault with Breckinridge.
The stupidity of Van Dorn was truly monumental. The Arkansas was the only Confederate ironclad on the Mississippi. No more could be built without Memphis or New Orleans. Her exploits had repulsed two Union naval forces and she had seen both pack up and steam away from her. She was the one strategic asset that could keep communications and supplies flowing across the river to the east. Now, because he had sent Breckinridge off without any knowledge of enemy strength or dispositions, he parlayed this half-baked plan with the colossally ignorant order for the Arkansas to again pull his fat from the fire in total disregard to her material condition, personnel condition and with her commander absent.
Brown was sick as a dog in Grenada. "For another, while he was in this condition, supposedly unable to lift his head off the pillow, he received a wire from his first lieutenant, informing him that the Arkansas was under orders to proceed at once to Baton Rouge, despite the fact that her engines were under major repair and much of her rusty plating had still not been refastened to her battered sides." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 578) Brown immediately responded with a cable telling Stevens to remain at Vicksburg until Brown arrived. Brown drug himself off his sickbed and boarded the first train south to Jackson. When he boarded he collapsed on some mail bags, too sick to change his position during the jolting 130-mile trip to the capital of Mississippi. When he arrive at Jackson he got a special train to take him west to Vicksburg. However, when Brown arrived at the city that he had defended so valiantly, the CSS Arkansas was already gone.
In the evening of August 3, Arkansas had cast off from the red bluffs of Vicksburg. To meet the arbitrary rendezvous that had been established by Van Dorn, the ironclad had 30 hours to steam 300 miles. To do this she had to steam full speed on her damaged and hastily reassembled engines. The harder she steamed, the more frequently she broke down and this viscous cycle kept occurring with greater frequency during her entire voyage south. At daybreak on the 5th Arkansas had miraculously made it to the final bend above Baton Rouge. The crew heard gunfire and artillery of the start of Breckinridge’s attack. "The Arkansas herself appeared to sense this; or, as one of her officers put it, ‘Like a war horse she seemed to scent the battle from afar, and in point of speed outdid anything we had ever before witnessed.’ Then just before rounding the bend, they heard a familiar sound: the crack and jar of naval guns mixed in with the bark of field artillery. The ironclad Essex and the two Farragut gunboats were adding the weight of their metal to the attempt to fling back the Confederate attackers. Urged on by the knowledge ‘that our iron sides should be receiving those missiles which now were mowing down our ranks of infantry,’ Stevens decided to make an immediate ram attack on the Essex, sinking her where she lay, then steam below the city to cut off the retreat of the two wooden gunboats, reducing them to kindling at his leisure." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 579)
Almost immediately the starboard engine of the Arkansas seized up and she immediately grounded into the west bank. There they sat, stuck while they could see the battle unfolding before them but at a range too great to engage. "There lay the enemy in full view and we as helpless as a sheer-hulk." Without the presence of the Arkansas to deal with the Union gunboats, their artillery halted the Confederate land attack. Breckinridge halted his attack to wait for the Arkansas but in early afternoon, when he learned that the ironclad was aground four miles up-river, he called off the attack and retreated. By evening Arkansas was again operational. Her starboard engine was again functioning and she was free of the west bank. She resumed her voyage downstream but had only gone a hundred yards when the crankpin in the rocking shaft of the starboard engine broke. Again the forges came out and smiths and mechanics worked through the night. At dawn on the 6th Essex was seen approaching from the south, making only two-knots against the current. However, the repairs were successful and once again Arkansas prepared to engage Essex. Stevens planned to go up-river at little ways and then turn to make a ram attack on Essex. The ironclad was just in the process of going upstream when the port engine suddenly stopped, throwing Arkansas back into the west bank. Essex slowly advanced and opened fire. Arkansas was hard aground and was only able to reply with one gun. "The situation spoke for itself, Stevens ordered the crew ashore and fired the vessel, tears streaming down his face as he did so. When the flames reached the gundeck, the loaded guns began to explode: so that the Arkansas not only kept the Essex at a respectful distance during her death throes, but administered her own coup de grace and fired her own salute as she went down. Thus she made a fitting end to her twenty-three day career." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 580-581)
As for Isaac Brown, when he reached Vicksburg and found his command gone, he had continued the pursuit. First by train and then by horse, he made his way towards Baton Rouge, hoping to be able to board the Arkansas. When he finally arrived, the Arkansas was gone. All that he saw were the federal gunboats steaming back and forth over the spot where she had sunk. He sadly turned around and made the trip back to Vicksburg.
For the man who had overseen and managed the huge increase in the size and power of the United States Navy, and who had taken his beloved navy from a fourth rank power to a world power in a few short years, the exploits of the CSS Arkansas, remained his chief embarrassment. Gideon Welles remained very bitter that both federal naval forces had left the scene after failing to destroy Arkansas. To him it seemed like they ran from the ship. After the war Welles wrote, "The most disreputable naval affair of the war was the descent of the steam ram Arkansas through both squadrons until she hauled into the batteries of Vicksburg, and there the two Flag Officers abandoned the place and the ironclad ram, Farragut and his force going on to New Orleans, and Davis proceeding with his flotilla up the river." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, by Shelby Foote, at page 556) Although the Arkansas would have eventually succumbed to Union force, the United States was fortunate indeed that Earl Van Dorn had a hand in her destiny.
The Old Steam Navy CSS Arkansas
The top of the hull at deck level measured out at a fraction under 21-inches but I couldn't get an accurate measurement to the very tip of the ram, which jutted out below deck level. Including length of the ram, the hull casting appears to hit 21-inches. Hull width is 3 7/8-inches but the includes the inset where the casemate sides slide into the sides of the hull. The height of the casting is 2 3/8-inches from bottom of the keel to main deck. As you can see from the photographs, the hull is not one solid slab of resin. It is hollow but the hull sides about 1/16-inch in width and further there are four internal transverse bulkheads that add rigidity to the hull. The hull sides do not squeeze in under pressure and accordingly the hull has the same stability of a solid piece of resin but without excessive weight. The hull appears to be cast top up because there were no air bubble voids along the bottom or the sides, only some along the top faces of the casting. However, since it was a hollow casting, almost all of them were inside of the hull, where they would be covered by decking. There were a handful along the raised rail at the stern and a couple at the bow raised rail but these too will be covered by separate bow and stern bulkheads.
The casting is flat bottomed except for a shallow keel, which runs the length of the hull from rudder to forefoot for the huge iron ram at the prow. This is in keeping with the design of the Arkansas, which like any steamer built for the Mississippi was flat bottomed. The bottom of the casting and most of the hull sides are extremely clean and error free. Since there is a lot of hull, that covers a lot of area. However, there were some small rough patches that will need cleaning. There were three little spots on the hull sides that will require one swipe of a sanding pad. The area around the shaft exits and where the rudderpost joins the hull will need a little bit more work, but not much. Most noticeable were a few gouges at the bow and stern, just at the top of the hull sides. Most of these can be smoothed flat with some sanding but maybe three of them could use some light putty. At the bow and stern of the hull castings there is an inset ledge in which the main decking pieces slide. When I dry-fitted the two large pieces of main deck, the bow piece slid in snugly but perfectly.
For the photography of the kit's resin parts, every item was photographed as it came from the box. No clean up was done before photography, so what you see is exactly as the parts looked when I removed them from their protective bubble wrap. As far as detail on the hull casting, there is the keel, shaft exits, and rudderposts, which are nicely done but aren't areas of big interest. One item of detail that is an obvious focal point is the massive iron ram adorning the prow. Not only is it huge but the eight large bolt heads, which secured it on each side of the hull command attention.
Next come the resin deck pieces. There are two for the main deck and one for the top of the casemate. The forward main deck was perfectly cast without a blemish right from the box. The top of the deck has very nicely done wood planking with butt ends, so you can highlight individual planks. There are nine locator holes for various deck fittings such as the anchor hoisting rig, capstan and other fittings. There is also an open square in which a white metal ventilation grate fits. Unlike some ironclads the CSS Arkansas did have wooden decks. The forward deck has been completely redone by Old Steam Navy since this review originally appeared on February 21, 2005.
The aft main deck has also been completely redone since February. It has the same fine quality as the forward deck with clearly defined individual wooden planks. As with the bow piece there are locator holes for deck fittings and another square cutout for placement of a white metal deck ventilation grate.
The upper deck piece that covers the top of the casemate is actually the largest of the deck pieces. Fine deck planking is clearly seen on the piece but the planks are narrower than those on the main deck. Unfortunately, there are no individual plank butt ends on this piece as are found on the two main deck pieces. On this piece there are two cutouts. The forward square is for insertion of the white metal armored pilot house/conning tower and there is a large rectangular cutout for the largest of the white metal castings, which is comprised of ventilation grates forward and aft of the stack base.
The four resin pieces that form the armored casemate are where detail abounds, there are two long pieces for the armored sides that fit into ledges in the hull sides and two identical shorter pieces for the forward and aft faces of the casemate. The side casemate pattern is not symmetrical. On each side the armored casemate is slightly longer from the forward face before reaching the first gun port than it is from the last gun port to the aft face. The detail on these casemate parts is abundant and spectacular. The casemate armor on the Arkansas was formed from rails torn from railroads, dovetailed and laid with the rail top showing outward and giving the ship three-inches of armor width. In the Old Steam Navy castings, each rail is clearly and cleanly incised on the side of the casemate. Each rail was secured by iron bolts, which provide a beautiful relief over the long line of rails. There are approximately 325 individual raised bolt heads on each side casemate piece. The detail doesn't end there because each side has three gun ports with all of the port fittings in raised detail. Each port has four hinge halves, as the matching halves are on white metal pun ports that can be assembled open or closed. However, given the fighting history of CSS Arkansas and the fact that the gun ports are sufficiently large for a good portion of each gun and gun carriage to be seen if the ports are open, I think that it is a safe guess that most modelers will want to portray Arkansas in her fighting trim, with ports open for business. Above each gun port is also an aperture where a chain would run through the armor in order to raise the upper port lid. There is also one other small fitting just forward of the first gun port. These castings are excellent. One side already had the gun ports open but the other side had a thin resin film covering the openings, which are easily cleaned and opened with a hobby knife.
The casemate ends, although shorter than the casemate sides are equipped with the same details as found on the casemate sides. However, on the ends, the railroad track armor is arranged differently. On the sides the rails run fore to aft but on the ends they are arranged to run from bottom to top. There are about 200 individual bolt heads that secure the rails on each of the end casemate pieces. There are two guns forward and two aft but their gun ports are different from those gun ports on the side. Instead of having hinged ports, which allow a significant degree of gun traverse, the fore and aft port openings are very restricted. The gun barrel protrudes from oval armored collar secured to the armor by six bolts. Both forward and aft casemate faces feature a twelve rung ladder that allows access to the both and stern from the casemate deck. These are cast integral to the piece. As with the casemate sides, these parts are very highly detailed and of excellent quality. The only defect was one very small notch missing at the corner of one piece. Also as with the side casemate pieces, one end piece had light resin film covering the gun openings.
The Arkansas had a large stack made of boiler plate that was attached together with rows of horizontal and vertical iron bolts. The stack in the Old Steam Navy kit really captures the homemade appearance of the Arkansas stack with clearly defined stack segments and another profusion of raised bolts. The stack is hollow for the first 1/2-inch from the top for a three dimensional appearance. Some minor cleanup work is needed here as the top rim needs a light sanding and there are casting seams present that need to be smoothed. There was also some minor resin flash along the seams towards the bottom flared apron.
There are four armored bulkheads represented by resin pieces. Two are for the bow and two for the stern. With the rough facilities available for building the Arkansas, there was no way to bend armor, so the areas of railroad track armor were very angular. The aft two bulkheads are curved. As Lieutenant Brown stated about the original Arkansas, they tacked on some boilerplate here just for appearance sake. The curved aft bulkheads reflect strips of light armor attached to the ship with a couple of series of iron bolts. There are openings in each aft bulkhead for running lines from ship to shore and also probably for use of unshipping water from the aft deck. The forward armored bulkheads are more formidable in appearance. They have the same straight angular appearance as the railed casemate armor with a greater use of bolts to secure them to the bow. They do not follow the curve of the bow but are straight line rails running from the casemate corners to an apex at the prow, leaving a sliver of deck outside. With each piece there is an opening facing to the rear for the run of anchor chain. Each of these openings is just forward of a square cutout through which a heavy cathead ran outboard for securing the anchor. The aft bulkheads appear to have less curve than the hull sides. This presents no problem for the stern bulkheads as they are thin and flexible and will easily conform to the curve at the top of the hull.
Other resin pieces include two spectacular ship's boats, forward jack staff and a couple of propeller shaft supports. Each boat comes as a one piece but there is no way that they were cast this way. The thwarts had to have been attached to the boat hull before shipment. However, there are absolutely no seams reflecting the joint between the boat hull and thwart. Each boat has planking on the hull bottom and on the aft and forward part of the thwart. Each seating plank for the boat's crew has clearly distinguishable bolts and fittings, which attach the seat to the hull. The sides and bow of each boat also have numerous fittings for oar positions and a metal reinforcing plate at the bow. The rudder is integral with the hull and depicts three metal plates on each side that secure it to the hull.
White Metal Parts
The larger white metal pieces are the pilot position and three sets of deck ventilation gratings. The pilothouse/conning tower is especially nice as it displays the railroad rail armor and is open topped in appearance. Since this position is open topped, it would have been nice to have had a pilot house deck with wheel but there is none in the kit. The large white metal piece for the upper deck has an opening for the stack in the center with open ventilation grates forward and aft of the stack opening. The to other grates are for foc’sle and quarterdeck positions. With all three grate positions, the fit is tight and will need a very slight enlargement of the openings in the resin decks.
The hinged gun port doors for the broadside positions are also very nice. As you can see from the photographs, there is a lot of detail in each half as two of the pieces make up each gun port. The iron rails and the hinges are very clearly delineated. Except for brass anchor chain, all of the anchor rig is also white metal. The anchors are good metal castings with two anchors, each of two parts. There is the anchor itself and a stock that runs perpendicular to the flukes. The hole at the top of the anchor will need to be enlarged to get the stock to run through. White metal catheads run through openings in the resin forward bulkheads and it is from these that the anchors dangle, unless they are hoisted on deck. There is a large detailed rudder as well as two four bladed propellers provided in white metal. Although, these parts are very clean to start with, they still could use a little extra clean up. Other white metal parts include a large aft jack-staff (mislabeled mast on the photograph), two nice capstans, four boat davits, two types of bollards that fit into deck openings, plus different pieces of block and tackle. One interesting point is the inclusion of two pieces of gear that actually have wooden blocks with a metal wire tackle/hook. Although small, these are exceptionally fine parts. The other pieces of block and tackle are pewter and are well done but these two pieces, apparently at the end of the davits for the boat attachment, are the best. Old Steam Navy also provides a custom decal sheet for a replica of the flag worn by the Arkansas. One of the flags flown at the stern of the ships is still in existence at the Confederate Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia. This provides and nice and appropriate finishing touch for the rust red ironclad.
The assembly portion of the instructions is six pages in length and basically consists of modules for construction of subassembly. There is no step one, two, three, etc. procedure here. There are no steps showing the attachment of the decks to the hull or casemates to the hull. However, these steps are basically preordained in that they are capable of assembly in only one manner, except for the side casemates. Just remember that each side as a davit base fitting and that fitting should be at the rear of the casemate on both sides. There is also text covering casemate assembly, which recommends working from bow to stern and the importance of getting the casemate square.
The first page has a parts manifest. It appears that John Harloe of Old Steam Navy uses this as a final checklist in packaging the kit. On my copy of the instructions, each item was crossed off, indicating that the manifest is used in final packaging of the parts. Under this there are a number of general instructions about clean up, sanding and painting but the last paragraph does contain very specific textual instructions about attachment of the stack and guy wires to the stack. Don’t skip that paragraph, even though there is no drawing that accompanies it on page one.
On page two there are two drawings, both of which show the stack with guy wires. One is a plan of the foc’sle and upper deck down to the stack amidships and the other is a profile of the casemate. There is something totally odd and unexpected found on this page. Old Steam Navy admits that there are some minor errors in the kit. Here is found the mention that the gun carriages are too narrow for some of the guns. Also there is mention that to achieve the correct elevation, the bow-chasers and stern-chasers need to be adjusted. In dry-fitting them, they appear to rest too low on the deck, so one remedy would be to use some plastic sheet cut to the right shape as a slightly raised deck for these pieces. !A couple of paragraphs go into assembly, rigging and attachment of the side gun lids. This coverage is continued over onto page three.
In addition to a close up of the gun lid assembly, page three also features detail of the cathead assembly. These jut out on either side of the bow and were used in hoisting the anchors. Page four continues detailed coverage of the anchor gear assembly. Drawings include a rigging diagram showing placement of specific block and tackle associated with the anchor and a second drawing showing optional stowage of the anchor. The anchors can be attached either stowed on the deck, as they would be during travel, or with the anchor suspended from the cathead, ready to drop. Page five has the drawing and text on the boat davits with their particular block and tackle and also a drawing and paragraph on the propellers. You will need 1/16 brass rods for the propeller shafts. Page six covers the attachment of the shafts, shaft supports, propellers and rudder with a final paragraph on boat fitting. The instructions could have been clearer. They could have taken a methodical step by step approach. However, the Old Steam Navy Arkansas is not an overly complex kit. The vast majority of the parts present no problem as to ascertaining where they go. The best coverage of the instructions is applied to where it is really needed, specifically the various rigs of cable and line for the stacks, gun lids, anchors and boats. They could have been better but still are more than enough to get you where you want to go.