Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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Arkansas I (Screw Steamer)

(ScStr: t. 752; l. 191'; b. 30'; dph. 19'; s. 15 k.; cpl. 88; a. 4 32-pdr. sb., 1 12-pdr. r.)


Arkansas was admitted to the Union on 15 June 1836 as the 25th state. The name is derived from a word used by the Quapaw Indians to designate the territory that now comprises the state. The Jesuit missionary and explorer, Pere Jacques Marquette and his confreres recorded the term as Alkansas and as Akamsea. No meaning for the Algonquin word itself has been found.


The first Arkansas, a wooden-hulled, barkentine-rigged, screw steamer built at Philadelphia in 1863 as Tonawanda, was purchased by the Navy at Philadelphia on 27 June 1863 from Messrs. S. & J. M. Flanagan; and commissioned in the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 29 June 1863, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant William H. West in command.

Assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, the new steamer reported for duty on 10 October 1863 to Commodore Henry H. Bell who had temporary command of the squadron while Rear Admiral David G. Farragut was home on leave. She was given the task of maintaining communications with and carrying supplies to the Union warships which were stationed on blockade duty along the coast of Texas. Throughout her naval career she alternated with Augusta Dinsmore on logistic cruises which took them as far south as Brownsville, Tex.

On 27 September 1864, while steaming in the gulf on one ofthese supply runs, Arkansas, then commanded by Acting Volunteer Lieutenant David Gate, encountered the schooner Watchful purportedly sailing from New York to Matamoras, Mexico, with a cargo of lumber and petroleum. Her master claimed that his ship had begun leaking; and he, therefore, had changed course to New Orleans to seek repairs. However, when Gate examined the schooner's cargo, he found crates of arms hidden under the lumber and consequently seized the vessel which he sent to New Orleans under a prize crew for adjudication.

After the collapse of the Confederacy, Arkansas departed New Orleans on 5 June 1865 and sailed north to Portsmouth, N.H. She was decommissioned in the navy yard there on 30 June 1865 and was sold at public auction on 20 July 1865 to Mr. George S. Leach of Portsmouth. Redocumented as Tonawanda on 1 August 1865, the steamer served as a coastal merchantman until she was stranded on Grecian Shoals, Fla., on 28 March 1866 and was lost.

Published: Thu Jun 18 13:17:05 EDT 2015