Saturday, May 31, 2014

Prattville Dragoons Camp Meeting for May 2014 Part 3 – The CSS Arkansas

Dr. Brandon Beck was the guest speaker at the Prattville Dragoons May 2014 camp meeting on May 8, presenting "Defending Old Man River, General Earl Van Dorn, Lt. Isaac Newton Brown, and the CSS Arkansas".

A related chronology of 1862 highlighted the fall of New Orleans on April 28th of that year followed by the fall of Baton Rouge on May 9th and the fall of Natchez on May 12th. Union Commander Farragut sailed his fleet north from Baton Rouge to Vicksburg and on May 18th demanded the surrender of Vicksburg. A Confederate lieutenant responded, "Mississipians do not know how to surrender."  May 20th saw the fall of Memphis where a Yankee fleet under Admiral Charles Davis sailed south to Vicksburg. On June 28th Farragut arrived at and passed the batteries at Vicksburg. The Yankee ships had to stay out of reach of the Confederate cannon works high above the river on the bluffs of Vicksburg. 

On July 13th, the CSS Arkansas initially sailed under her own power but encountered a leak causing all the gun powder all board to get wet.  On July 15th, starting at 3:30am, the Arkansas, commanded by Isaac Newton Brown set sail from Yazoo City for Vicksburg. Before long Brown saw smoke above the trees and assumed these were federal ships steaming north.  This ruined the element of surprise that Brown hoped to have against the main fleet.  The three ships were an ironclad, a ran and a wooden gunboat (which saw service at Shiloh). The USS Tyler fought a running battle with the Arkansas down the river at such close quarters that handguns were actually used to fire upon the ships in combat resulting in the injury of 25 sailors aboard the Arkansas. By 6:30am, as the ships approached Farragut's fleet and the alarm was sounded, it was said the Tyler's decks were running with blood.  The Arkansas caught Farragut's fleet napping.  The Arkansas' boiler pressure was failing and flames were heating the engine room but aided by the current, the Arkansas sailed headlong into a forest of ships and smokestacks.  There were ships on both sides of the Arkansas and if the ship had been a ram and been able to develop more steam, the federal ships would have been easy targets. But, the Arkansas still had the element of surprise and also had the advantage of being absolutely surrounded to the point where all the Arkansas guns had to do was fire and they would hit a federal ship.  No solid shot ever penetrated the Arkansas' armored sides but, the ship was pounded and there were casualties and the decks of the ship became slick with blood.  But, Brown had won and sailed clear of the blockade and docked at Vicksburg.  The Arkansas victory convinced Van Dorn that the next Yankee advance would be by land and that they had to fortify land approaches to Vicksburg. 

Van Dorn sought to secure and seal a twenty mile long fortified section of the river between Vicksburg and Port Hudson to the south to provide east-west access for the Confederate transportation and commerce.  Confederate General Breckenridge approached Baton Rouge and said he could take the Yankee garrison there but requested the CSS Arkansas to run off the five Union gunships blockading the river there.  The Arkansas attempted to sail south from Vicksburg but experienced five engine failures and was finally scuttled on August 16th near Baton Rouge, her sailors setting her afire and casting her off akin to a  Viking funeral ship rather than to have the vessel fall into Yankee hands.   So ended the brief extraordinary service of the CSS Arkansas.  Van Dorn was correct, the Union forces next attacked Vicksburg by land but the fortifications were so impenetrable that Grant was forced to lay siege to the city and after almost two months of bombardment and starvation of the garrison and civilians in the city, Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Prattville Dragoons Camp Meeting for May 2014 Part 2 - Vicksburg Naval Blockade and the CSS Arkansas

Dr. Brandon Beck was the guest speaker at the Prattville Dragoons May 2014 camp meeting on May 8, presenting "Defending Old Man River, General Earl Van Dorn, Lt. Isaac Newton Brown, and the CSS Arkansas". General Van Dorn saved Vicksburg twice. Christmas of 1862 he rode into Mississippi with his cavalry and destroyed Grant's supply depot and previously in the summer of 1862 he saw the CSS Arkansas finished.  On July 15th the Arkansas confronted two Union fleets representing the greatest assemblage of naval force in the Western hemisphere, fighting her way through 45-50 ships to bust the blockade of Vicksburg. 

The CSS Arkansas was constructed in Yazoo City north of Vicksburg on the Yazoo River, a tributary of the Mississippi.  Vicksburg was on a bluff and her gun emplacements commanded the river below.  At the time of the War Between the States, there was a sharp bend in the Mississippi just north of Vicksburg which formed the De Soto Peninsula.  That bend is no longer there but at the time, it required ships to slow to navigate which allowed the guns above to shower down on them.  Vicksburg was often called the Gibraltar and it was also key as a transportation hub with a Southern Railroad terminus there leading to the east. 

Washington looked at the Mississippi River north-south, as a thoroughfare for getting midwest grain to the Gulf of Mexico and as a geographical feature to divide Texas from the rest of the Confederacy, anchored by the blockade of the city and port of New Orleans. The Confederacy looked at the Mississippi in an east-west orientation as they were concerned about using the seven points along the river most accessible to move men, medicine, arms, horses and cattle, sugar and salt from Texas to points east of the River in the Confederate states. New Orleans, Memphis and Vicksburg were the three best such places along the river as they also provided railroad transportation hubs eastward from these port cities. 

General Van Dorn was appointed Departmental Command of the defense of Vicksburg on June 20, 2862.  He immediately grasped the strategic significance of Vicksburg and knew it must not fall and placed the city under martial law.  He knew the Yankee blockade of Vicksburg by Farragut's fleet must be broken.  Van Dorn sent Lt. Brown to Greenville MS to finish the CSS Arkansas.  At that point, the ship was just a hull in a cotton field.  The armor was sunk in the Yazoo River and parts were strewn about.  Brown brought the hull and parts to Yazoo City to finish construction because it had better shipyard facilities.  He had five weeks to ready the ship.  He needed skilled labor, more iron besides the armor raised from the bottom of the Yazoo River, apparatus for bending iron, fifteen iron forges, drill presses, someone to design gun/cannon carriages and a crew.

The Arkansas had three sister ships, the CSS Louisiana, CSS Mississippi, and the CSS Tennessee.  The Louisiana and Mississippi were under construction in New Orleans and were destroyed by the Confederates with the fall of New Orleans.  The Tennessee was under construction in Memphis and was also scuttled during construction. Only the Arkansas survived to see combat.  The Arkansas was 165 ft long, 35 ft at the widest with a draft of 13 ft. It was constructed of 1 ft thick oak and railroad iron.  It had ten guns, two 8" 64lb guns at the bow, two rifled 32 lb guns at the stern and two 100 pounders and one 6" naval gun on each broadside.  Her engines developed 400hp operating off 120 psi steam.  Her crew consisted if thirteen officers and 230 men.  Her Achilles heels was her immense smoke stack and weak engine.  Her strengths were her armor, guns and carriages and her crew. 
Dr.Beck Presents the History of the CSS Arkansas

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Prattville Dragoons Camp Meeting for May 2014 Part 1

Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 1524 held there monthly camp meeting on Thursday May 8th at the Shoney's on Cobs Ford Rd in Prattville.  Chaplain Snowden opened the meeting with an Invocation following the pledges to the U.S., Alabama State, and Confederate Battle Flags led by Color Sgt Brent Jenks and Commander Waldo reciting the SCV Charge.  There was a fine crowd of twenty seven in attendance including a number of ladies, wives of Dragoon members. The highlight of the opening portion of the meeting was the swearing in of a new member for the camp, Jeremy Roberts.  Jeremy had already attended a few camp meetings including the April picnic where he and his wife helped set flags on the graves of the veterans in the two cemeteries at Confederate Memorial Park. 

Following the swearing in by Commander Stuart Waldo and Chaplain Snowden, the upcoming events of interest were relayed to the gathering including:

                        Alabama Division Reunion, Athens AL, May 16-17, 2014
                        Memorial Day Program with Bill Myrick Guest Speaker, Troy AL, May 26th
                        Jefferson Davis Birthday at First White House - 3 June 2014, 11 a.m. 
SCV National Reunion, Charleston SC, July 16-19, 2014

Then special announcements were provided including:

Report on Confederate Memorial Day Observances and Prattville Cityfest – Tyrone Crowley
Danny Smyth Camp Banner Pole Repairs
Benny Harris Leading Indian Hills Cemetery Renovation Project for the Camp
Desert Storm/Shield Veterans Sought for Prattville July 4th Parade Honorees
Dress shirts with SCV logo and personalized with name and Camp available – see Tyrone Crowley

The guest speaker was Dr. Brandon Beck who provided another wonderful informative lecture on the C.S.S. Arkansas ironclad and it's brief glorious service.  The SCV Closing was then read by Commander Waldo and the enjoyable meeting was brought to a close with a Benediction by Chaplain Snowden.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Prattville's Indian Hills Cemetery Renovation by Dragoons SCV Camp 1524

          Dragoon Benny Harris is heading up a clean-up of the historic old Indian Hills Cemetery on Golson Road (County Road 86) in Prattville AL.  The work days are listed below.  See if you can come and help out.  Bring any trimmers, chain saws, mowers, and anything else you have, or just bring willing hands to do the work.

            Directions to get to Indian Hills Cemetery:   From the junction of Highways 82 and 14 in west Prattville, go north (toward Tuscaloosa) on Highway 82 for two miles.  Turn left onto County Road 86.  Go 1.6 miles and you'll see Indian Hills Cemetery on your left.

            There are several Confederates buried in this cemetery, some of whom are on the original roster of the Prattville Dragoons.

                 Benny reports:  I have identified six dates for cemetery clean-up days at the Indian Hills Cemetery between now and the end of the year.  I will be working to secure the resources we will need in order to successfully restore this very historic cemetery to a respectable condition…..resources such as monument repair experts, money to purchase the monument repair supplies, brick masons to repair the brick walls, chain saw operators and a bucket truck to removed dead trees and problem trees, burn permits from the City, Boy Scout Troop participation for more manpower, etc.  Camp members can plan to bring chain saws, rakes, lobbers, bush axes, weed eaters, etc.  My target Cemetery Clean-up dates are…..

Scheduled SCV Cemetery Clean-up Days at the
Indian Hills Cemetery in Prattville, Alabama

Work-day #1      Saturday, June 7th
Work-day #2      Saturday, August 2nd
Work-day #3      Saturday, August 16th
Work-day #4      Saturday, September 27th
Work-day #5      Saturday, October 11th
Work-day #6      Saturday, December 13th