The Artifact Gallery was made possible by a generous gift from the William T. Kemper Foundation – Commerce Bank, Trustee.
Construction of the ironclad ram Arkansas began at Memphis, Tennessee, in the fall of 1861, and was completed early in 1862 along the Yazoo River where the ram had been towed to escape encroaching Union forces. The Arkansas sailed to Vicksburg to aid the Confederate forces in retaking southern strongholds that the Union fleet had overrun. The federal U.S.S. Essex was often an opponent of the Arkansas on the Mississippi, as the two engaged in battle several times. At Baton Rouge on August 6, 1862, as the Confederates attempted to overtake the Union army, the federal flotilla prepared for an attack. The Arkansas and two gun-boats were nearby, and the Essex steamed up the river to attack the Arkansas before the Confederate ram could join in the attack. Despite the Essex having far fewer men and guns than the Arkansas, the Essex succeeded in setting fire to the rebel ram, which then blew up.