CSS ARKANSAS: THE YAZOO CITY IRONCLAD

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CSS Arkansas. Sepia wash drawing, R.G. Skerrett, 1904. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC.

Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Russell Mallory immediately recognized the need to construct ironclads to defend the South’s harbors and the Mississippi River watershed. By October 1861, there were five ironclads under construction in New Orleans, Cerro Gordo, Tennessee, and Memphis. It would be an extreme challenge to place these ironclads in the water as effective warships with limited industrial infrastructure. It was all about the questions of time, iron, workers, and engines!

CONTRACT SECURED 

Mallory knew that it was imperative to block the Union gunboats’ ascent down the Mississippi River. As Mallory grappled with starting ironclad construction projects, prominent Memphis riverboat constructor and businessman John T. Shirley traveled to Richmond to meet with Mallory to obtain a contract to build two ironclads at Memphis. These boats were to support Confederate fortifications defending the river. Shirley’s contract entailed building the CSS Arkansas and Tennessee at the cost of $76,920 each. Before leaving Richmond, Shirley consulted with Chief Naval Constructor John Luke Porter to gain knowledge of casemate design. [1]   Read more

Battle of Memphis

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Mississippi River from Memphis to New Orleans. Courtesy of J. V. Quarstein.

Complete control of the Mississippi River Valley was a key war aim for North and South alike. It was critical for the Confederacy to defend the Mississippi from Union attack to protect significant agricultural resources and manufacturing centers. Likewise, the Union needed to open the river to the sea to maintain the commerce of the Midwest. This contest along the ‘father of all rivers’ was a tremendous struggle. Victory would be achieved with new and improved ship designs and industrial superiority.

RIVER DEFENSE FLEET

The Confederates rushed to build fortifications to defend important river ports along the Mississippi; however, more was needed. This resulted in the creation of the River Defense Fleet and the construction of several ironclads. The quickest way for the Confederates to build a fleet was by acquiring various steamers in the vicinity of New Orleans. Many of these ships were constructed in Algiers, Louisiana, and Cincinnati, Ohio.    Read more