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Battle of Arkansas Post
January 9 - 11, 1863
As Described in Harper's Weekly
February 7, 1863
Web Author's Notes:
The following is a detailed account of the battle of Arkansas Post as it appeared in the weekly publication Harper's Weekly, on February 7, 1863. An associated sketch of the battle can be viewed.


On 10th January 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:


It was five minutes past one when the gun-boats Baron De Kalb, 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 casemate 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 shrapnel at first and cleared the crew away from the 9-inch Dahlgren gun on the parapet, when the Baron De Kalb 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 fort, while the Rattler, Lieutenant-Commander Walter Smith, and the Gilde, Lieutenant-Commander Woodworth, threw in shrapnel, 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 time 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 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 fight:

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 the 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 in 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 fort had surrendered.


He adds:

The moment the lieutenant in the tree had reported the cheering along the line and had 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 hit troops to General McClernand. "I am sorry to meet you under such circumstances," said General McClernand; "but your men fought bravely today 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 supposed 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 that General Churchill had ordered the surrender. General Churchill told me that he did not; but, on the contrary, that the place was surrendered 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.


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 bank an occasional house.

The fort is a regular, square-bastioned work, one hundred yards exterior side, with a deep ditch some fifteen feet 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 fragments 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.


The following sketch of Admiral Porter, who commanded the gun-boat attack, will remind the reader who he is:

ACTING REAR-ADMIRAL DAVID D. PORTER, the Commander of the Mississippi Flotilla, is the son of the famous Commodore David Porter of the Essex, and was born about the year 1814. In 1829 he entered the navy as midshipman on board the Constellation, and served six years on that ship and the United States. In 1835 he passed his examination, and served six years as passed midshipman on the Coast Survey. In 1841 he was commissioned a lieutenant, and served with that rank on board the Congress for four years. After a brief period of service at the Observatory at Washington he was placed on active duty under Commodore Tattnall in the Gulf of Mexico, and took a leading part in the (initial?) operations of the Mexican war. In 1849 he was allowed to take command of one of the Pacific Mail Company's steamers, and remained several years in the service of that Company. While he commanded one of the California steam-ships--the Crescent City--he performed an exploit which attracted no little attention at the time. In consequence of the Black Warrior affair the Spanish Government had refused to permit any United States vessels to enter the port of Havana. Running under the shotted guns of Moro Castle he was ordered to halt. He promptly replied that he carried the United States flag and the United States mails, and, by the Eternal, he would go in; and he did, the Habaneros fearing to fire upon him. He said afterward that he intended firing his six-pounder at them once, in defiance, after which he would haul down his flag.

At the beginning of the year 1861 he was under orders to join the Coast survey on the Pacific, but, fortunately, had not left when the rebellion broke out. His name at this time stood number six on the list of lieutenants. The resignation of several naval traitors left room fur his advancement, and the "Naval Register" for August 31, 1861, places him number seventy-seven on the list of commanders. He was placed in command of the steam sloop of war Powhatan, a vessel of about twenty-five hundred tons, and armed with eleven guns. After doing blockading duty for some time, he left that ship to take special charge of the mortar expedition. The active part he took in the reduction of the forts below New Orleans will make his name ever memorable in connection with the mortar fleet, or "bummers," as the sailors term them. After the capture of New Orleans he, with his fleet, went. up the Mississippi River, and was engaged in several affairs on that river, including that of Vicksburg. From that place he was ordered to the James River, and returned in the Octorara. When off Charleston, on his way to Fortress Monroe, he fell in with and captured the Anglo-rebel steamer Tubal Cain. He was then appointed to the supreme control of all the naval forces on the Mississippi River, with the rank of Acting Rear-Admiral. The force under his orders, in vessels, guns, and men, is larger than has ever heretofore been under the command of any United States naval officer. His squadron is distinct in every way from that of Admiral Farragut, who still commands the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron.

The capture of the Post of Arkansas is the first exploit performed by the Admiral in his new command. We may hope that it will be the precursor of many others.

Admiral Porter is a man of wiry, muscular frame, handsome feature, of medium height, and, a few years ago, universally admitted to be the strongest man in the navy. He is about forty-five years old, and exhibits but few marks of age. He is married to a sister of Captain C. P. Patterson, formerly of San Francisco, by whom he has several children. He is most truly "a worthy son of a worthy sire." He belongs to a family of naval patriots; for besides the subject of this sketch, there are in the navy H. B. Porter, acting midshipman, appointed from New York, November 29, 1859; T. K. Porter, master, appointed from Tennessee, May 20, 1852; William C. B. S. Porter, lieutenant, appointed from the District of Columbia, March 25, 1849; and William D. Porter, Commodore, appointed from Massachusetts, January 1, 1823. The last-named commanded the Essex gun-boat on the Tennessee River, and fought the rebel ram it Arkansas on the Mississippi River. Major-General Fitz-John Porter is a cousin of the subject of our sketch, adding another hero to the family.


MAJOR-GENERAL JOHN A. McCLERNAND is a lawyer by profession, and has figured prominently as a leading Democratic politician from Illinois. He was a leader of the Douglas Democrats, and did battle for them valiantly at Charleston. At the outbreak of the war he took sides manfully for the Union, and shortly afterward was nominated a Brigadier-General of Volunteers. In the Belmont fight he manifested that he possessed very good military capacity, and during his administration of military affairs at Cairo he secured the good-will of the men under his command. In the reconnaissance in the rear of Columbus, during the advance upon Fort Henry, and at the grand battle before Fort Donelson, General McClernand manifested superior military ability. For his gallantry on these occasions he was, on the 21st of March, made by Congress a Major-General of Volunteers, and accompanied the advance up the `Tennessee River toward Savannah. At the battle at Pittsburg Landing he distinguished himself exceedingly. On 2d January he superseded General Sherman in command of the army which was repulsed at Vicksburg, and proceeded immediately to attack the Post of Arkansas as narrated above.

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