August 8, 2012

The USS Essex, CSS Arkansas, and 4th Master D. P. Rosenmiller

Location: Baton Rouge, LA, USA
Destruction of the CSS Arkansas by the USS Essex, August 6, 1862 (Library of Congress)
Continuing the trend of literate Lancasterians serving aboard various vessels in the Western Theater, the Lancaster Inquirer of July and August 1862 featured a couple letters by D. P. Rosenmiller aboard the USS Essex.  An ironclad, the saw some of its most important combat over those two months as it battled its nemesis, the CSS Arkansas, in an attempt to clear the Mississippi River of Confederate ships.

Born in 1841 in York, David Porter Rosenmiller (bio) was the son of a Lutheran pastor who came to Lancaster in 1857.  Rosenmiller began studies at Franklin and Marshall College, but would only complete two years of studies before joining the Navy, which makes sense as Admiral David Dixon Porter was a not too distant relation.  His service began with the Essex and lasted over three years, and his postwar career included law, Republican politics, and two years as Mayor of Lancaster in the mid-1880s.

USS Essex, as depicted in an engraving by David M. Stauffer from a sketch by W. D. Porter
(Lancaster Daily Evening Express, May 10, 1862)


USS Essex at Baton Rouge in late July 1862 (Source)

We actually learn about Rosenmiller's departure from Lancaster, which included a ceremony in Trinity Lutheran Church, on March 24, 1862, from an account in the Daily Evening Express:
A CHRISTIAN SOLDIER. An interesting and impressive ceremony took place at the Trinity Lutheran Church, last evening. Mr. D. P. Rosenmiller, son of Rev. D. P. Rosenmiller, of this city, has enlisted for the war, having received an appointment as the 4th master on the gunboat Essex, of the Mississippi fleet. His orders were, to leave his home this morning for active duty. Before entering the service of his country as a soldier, this estimable young man performed a duty that should be a warning and an example to all who jeopardy their lives in the battle field. In the midst of his friends and in the presence of his companions, he made public profession of religion, and was, on the last evening of his stay in the city, confirmed a member of the Lutheran church. The ceremony took place in Rev. Conrad’s church, in Duke street, and was solemnly impressive. Mr. Rosenmiller was a student of Franklin and Marshall College; he was an active member of several literary and miscellaneous societies in the College and the city, in all of which he proved himself a valuable member and a genial companion. He carries with him the good wishes and prayers of many warm friends and associates, who will take pleasure in his success, and be glad to greet his speedy return. 
His first public letter, dated July 27, 1862, off Baton Rouge, appeared in the Lancaster Daily Inquirer two weeks later.  It told of the unsuccessful attack on the notorious Confederate ironclad Arkansas in which the Essex ran the batteries of Vicksburg, and time spent afterwards along the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg search for scornful Confederates and trying to find an alligator.

On August 6, 1862, Rosenmiller and the Essex had another chance to battle the Arkansas, which was supporting a Confederates trying to recapture Baton Rouge.  The standard account is that Arkansas's steering mechanism jammed after engaging the Essex, forcing her to be scuttled.   

USS Essex battling the CSS Arkansas (HW, 9/6/1862)

CDV of Cmdr. W. D. Porter
(Source)
A first report praising the Essex and Rosenmiller specifically appeared in the August 18, 1862, Inquirer, and a personal note to his father from Commander William D. Porter dated August 7 was reprinted for the Inquirer's readership on August 20.  A full account from D. P. Rosenmiller from just after the battle describing "one of the most brilliant victories on record" was published in the August 26 Inquirer.  It included the following lengthy description of the battle.
On the day after the battle at Baton Rouge, we started up, all the vessels remaining here, at their anchorage, excepting the Cayuga under command of the gallant Fairfax. He kept along side, until the top of the enemy became plainly visible, and then the brave commander of the Cayuga became alarmed, turned tail, and went back to his anchorage. Presently the Sumpter (a ram belonging to the upper fleet) came up and Captain Porter enquired where the Cayuga had gone, and learning that she had returned, he said “go back and tell her to come back immediately.” Back went the Sumpter and brought word in return, that Captain Fairfax said, that they were fighting down there, and he must needs remain at his anchorage, and for this reason the Sumpter also returned. During all this time the Essex was in sight of the Arkansas, which was now streaming down towards us. We kept up a continual firing at her, and forced her to retreat into a small bayou. We continued the attack on her until an explosive shell entered one of her ports and ignited the cotton and wood, with which she was lined, and the glad news was announced, that the rebel vessel was on fire. In five minutes after we fired the shell, we saw the crew rushing on deck, and in ten minutes she was reported to be unmistakably on fire. The engagement was short and exciting. It was between the two hard nuts of the Mississippi, and we proved our vessel to be the hardest. We could not go near her when she was on fire, as the danger of her exploding was to great. We passed up the river as she swung out into the current, and go ahead of her, and followed in her wake as she drifted down the river. Onward she went, sending high up in the air, huge volumes of smoke and flame, whilst every second, shell after shell on board of her became ignited and exploded. All her guns, likewise were loaded, and these discharged from the same cause. Long before this, her crew had managed to escape to the shore. Two of them came on board the Essex, and were afterwards sent to New Orleans. We continued following the burning vessel down, until the fire got into her magazine, and then she exploded. And such a sight! It was the grandest I ever beheld. After the smoke of the explosion had cleared away, not a fragment of the Arkansas could be seen, but the river for half a mile around was covered with particles of clothing, and of the cotton with which she had been lined. She was one of the strongest vessels ever built. She had first an inside lining of 16 inches of solid wood; then a layer of compressed cotton bales, then wood, and the whole was covered, with two layers of railroad iron interlocked.
The destruction of the vessel by the Essex, is one of the most brilliant victories on record. No other vessel was near to witness the conflict, or to see anything of the action, nor were there any land forces to co-operate. Yet Gen. Butler, away off at new Orleans, says in his official report, the Arkansas, scarcely awaited the gallant attack of the Essex, but set herself on fire. Captain Fairfax, being very much chagrined at the cowardice he displayed on the occasion, naturally felt very jealous of the Essex, and the act itself being such a big thing, excites the jealousy of nearly all the naval commanders, and they do their best to detract from the well earned laurels of our gallant Captain and his crew. Here was a monster which struck terror into the heart of the upper fleet, and sent off Commodore Farragut’s fleet to New Orleans, captured and destroyed by our vessel, in a single handed conflict. But we feel confident that the Government will appreciate and duly reward our brave and skilful Captain for this action, which can well bear comparison with any other naval conflict which has occurred during the history of the present war.
See the letters and notes mentioned above in the entirety in the following document: (alternate link)



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