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Battle of Arkansas Post
Harper's Weekly Articles

Bombardment of the Post of Arkansas on the Arkansas River

by Admiral Porter's fleet, on January 11, 1863.

Courtesy of Harper's Weekly Journal of Civilization, dated February 7, 1863

Capture of the Post of Arkansas

          The above picture is from a sketch transmitted by the correspondent of the Herald, and kindly placed at our disposition.

          On 10th Junuary the land forces, under the command of General McClernand, and the flotilla, under Admiral Porter, ascended the river, and the former disembarked with a view of surrounding the work. During the night the gun-boats fired a few shots at the work, and next morning, the troops being in position, the work commenced in earnest. The Herald correspondent says:

The Bombardment

          It was five minutes past one when the gun-boats Baron DeKalb, Cincinnati, and Louisville, all iron-clads, steamed up to within about three hundred yards of the fort, and opened fire upon it. Just so soon as the gun-boats hove in sight, and before they fired a shot, the fort opened on them. On a sort of sandy beach, by the bend in the river, the rebels had erected several targets, which were to assist them in aiming at the gun-boats. Barricades had also been placed in the river opposite the fort; but the high-water had washed part of them away and left the channel open. The bombardment increased in rapidity as other vessels of the squadron came into position. It took some time to get good range of the casemated guns and the barbette gun on the fort. The Baron DeKalb had orders from the admiral to fire at the right hand casemate, the Louisville at the middle one, and the Cincinnati at the great 9-inch Dahlgren gun en barbette. In half an hour after the bombardment commenced the casemates were struck by the shell from the gun-boats. When the range was obtained the shells from the gun-boats struck the guns in the fort almost every shot, until every one was silenced and smashed. The Cincinnati fired shrapnell at first and cleared the crew away from the 9-inch Dahlgren gun on the parapet, when the Baron DeKalb broke off the muzzle with a 10-inch shot. The Lexington, light draught, Lieutenant-Commander James W. Shirk, moved up at two o'clock, and with her rifled guns replied to the Parrott rifled guns in the for, while the Rattler, Lieutenant-Commander Walter Smith, and the Glide, Lieutenant-Commander Woodworth, threw in shrapnell, and in company with the ram Monarch, Colonel Charles E. Ellet, of the army, commanding, pushed up close to the fort. Each of the gun-boats silenced the gun it was instructed to fire at about the same time. At twenty minutes past two all the heavy smooth bore and rifled guns in the fort were most effectually silenced. The Black Hawk, Lieutenant-Commander K. R. Breese, the Admiral's flag-ship, steamed up and took part in the fight. The Admiral himself, with his secretary, Dr. Heap, was in the little tug which was all the time screaming and dancing about among the gun-boats, directing and superintending the fight.

The Land Attack

          The first gun from the fleet was the signal for the soldiers to move, and Morgan and Sherman immediately pushed forward their men, and were met by a fierce fire from the rebel works. The Herald correspondent thus describes the crisis and end of the flight:

          The troops in front were now sharply engaging the rebels in their works, while our artillery, and their field-pieces behind the breast-work near the fort, were blazing away at each other with great rapidity. In one instance the rebels galloped the horses up to the parapet with a gun, and when the horses wheeled with it, in order that it might be placed in position, our infantry fire killed all the horses in the traces, and artillerists scampered off in an instant and left their gun. At a shot from one of our Parrott guns, which knocked one of the timbers from the breast-work, at least a hundred rebels ran away from behind the intrenchment into the bastioned fort. Our caissons were now coming from the front for ammunition. At ten minutes past three most of Morgan's men were line, and the remainder were forming in columns in the rear. In five minutes more they were advancing with vigor. Sharp musketry and artillery firing was kept up all the time. At twenty minutes past three a heavy column of Morgan's men was seen moving up to the left of the line, near the river bank. It was at first supposed that it might be a storming column rushing on the works at a double-quick, for it is well known that when Morgan moves, he moves with vigor; but the next we knew the advancing column, enveloped in clouds of smoke, had halted. It was not a storming column. It was a body that was moving quickly to the front to extend the advancing line.

          The time now was fifteen minutes past three. The fight was quite severe on both sides. Although the heavy guns in the fort were silenced, the field-pieces and the infantry behind the parapet with great determination continued to resist our vigorous advance. Our line extended from the river on the left round in front of the fort, and to the bayou on the right. The engagement was general along its whole extent. Morgan sent word that his left was advancing steadily, and, as the gun-boats commanded the river, he had sent for Lindsay's brigade to return from the other side.

          It was now nearly four o'clock. The Admiral's flag-ship was coming close to the bank, and, with the other gun-boats, was pouring shot into the fort; Lindsay's brigade, across the river, was also firing into the works, while Morgan's and Sherman's men were advancing fast in front. The white flag was seen in several places on the parapet; enthusiastic cheers arose from our troops in front; the firing ceased; the rebels rose from behind the breast-work; and our troops rushed wildly forward, with flags flying; and many could not resist the rush behind, which pushed them into and over the intrenchments. The for had surrendered.

Taking Possision

          He adds:

          The moment the lieutenant in the tree had reported the cheering along the line and concluded with "I believe the fort has surrendered," General McClernand and staff dashed off, and were soon in the enemy's intrenchments, surrounded by thousands of the men. When the flag was shown on the river side the jolly Jack Tars had jumped ashore and were soon in the fort, followed by Admiral Porter and a number of his officers. Colonel Dunnington, commander of the fort, surrendered his sword to the Admiral in person. General Churchill, commander of the forces, soon appeared with his staff, and surrendered himself and his troops to General McClernand. "I am sorry to meet you under such circumstances," said General McClernand; "but your men fought bravely to-day in defending the fort." General Churchill replied, that for himself he had not intended to surrender; that there was treachery somewhere on his lines; that he had ridden to the left with his staff, and on hearing the cheering it was the cheering of his men , but on riding back into the fort had found our troops just taking possession. He said that in the morning he had issued orders to the troops that they must die in the ditches in preference to surrendering the Post. It is certain that the enemy could no longer successfully resist, and also that white flags were shown on the parapets in several places at the same time. Some of the soldiers told me the General Churchill had ordered the surrender. General Churchill told me that he did not; but, on the contrary, that the place was surredered by traitors on his lines. It may be that the soldiers, seeing that further resistance was useless, concluded to abandon the defense. One thing is certain, there was great unanimity among the rebels in the surrender.

Post of Arkansas

          He thus describes the place:

          Post of Arkansas is the oldest settlement in the State. Nearly two centuries ago there was a Spanish town in the immediate vicinity, and I believe a small Spanish fort. it is situated on the right bank as you ascend the Arkansas River, about fifty miles from its mouth, and one hundred and seventeen miles from Little Rock, the capital of the State. It was settled in 1685 by the Acadian French, and was the trading post for furs from the surrounding country. From the high point on which the fort is constructed down to the Mississippi River the land along the course of the Arkansas overflows during the winter and the spring. There is now no town at Post of Arkansas, only a few stores, and then at intervals for a dozen miles along the river an occasional house.

          The fort is a regular, square-bastioned work, one hundred yards exterior side, with a deep ditch some fifteen wide, and a parapet eighteen feet high. A number of killed and wounded were lying in the ditches when we entered and many sick soldiers in the hospital. All the heavy guns were broken by our shot, and were lying about in fragment on the ground. Ammunition captured by the rebels in the steamboat Blue Wing, a large amount of war materials and supplies of various kinds, and about five thousand prisoners have fallen into our hands by this brilliant achievement of our arms.

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