The next phase of the Union advance along the mighty Mississippi was underway. A patrol consisting of the U.S.S. Carondelet and the U.S.S. Essex was pushing forward to see how the Confederate defences were organised and to interdict and enemy river traffic. What they did not expect was to encounter any enemy warships....
The C.S.S. Arkansas had spent a very trying couple of days moored and over cover whilst her engines were repaired for what seemed like the umpteenth time. Poor quality engineering, scant spare parts and woefully trained crew all contributed to making what should have been a routine repair job a major undertaking. Still, at long last the Arkansas had slipped her moorings and nosed her way cautiously back into the midstream and the resumption of her journey back to friendly territory.
With the U.S.S. Carondelet leading, the two Union ships continued their patrol along the river, the dark and sinister banks slipping by and the only sound the regular thumping of the great wheel and sibilant slap of the water.
Meanwhile, the C.S.S. Arkansas, her tired engines labouring heavily, reluctantly built up to her best speed and with her crew tensely manning her artillery and lookouts eagerly scanning both the river ahead and the banks on either side. "Smoke ahead!" cried the lookout on the C.S.S. Arkansas and immediately the small ironclad became a bustle of febrile activity; gunners checking guns, engineers (such as they were) anxiously checking the myriad valves, gauges and other assorted parts of the complex machinery driving the ship forward.
Almost simultaneously the lead ship of the Union line, U.S.S. Carondelet, spotted smoke on the horizon and so the same pattern of frenzied activity took place as on the enemy vessel as both her, and the U.S.S. Essex made ready to engage what could only be a Confederate ship. With practiced ease the two Union ships swung away from each other, the intention being to engage the enemy vessel on either flank; thereby causing her to have to split her fire. As they moved onto their new stations a strident crack rolled across the turgid brown water followed by a billowing cloud of smoke as the Confederate ironclad opened fire with her forward battery. U.S.S. Carondelet returned the complement but to no effect as the range was too long for effective fire.