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Among the numerous historic figures of prominence buried in Navarro County, perhaps Isaac Newton Brown is the most unlikely. The career U.S. Navy sailor and later Confederate naval officer lies more than 200 miles from the ocean in Corsicana’s Oakwood Cemetery.
On Saturday, July 14, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Order of Confederate Grays, and United Daughters of the Confederacy will gather at his grave at 10 a.m. to observe one of the most astounding feats in the four year history of the Confederate Navy. They will remember the 150th anniversary this weekend of Brown’s victorious fight when he took on the entire Union Navy’s fleet besieging Vicksburg on the Mississippi River.
Many are familiar with Gen. U.S. Grant’s capture of the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, but relatively few know how close the Yankee Navy came to achieving this goal a year before Grant. Rear Admiral David Farragut had succeeded in forcing the surrender of New Orleans in late April, 1862, and he immediately began to follow up this success by sending his ships up the mighty Mississippi to wrest control of the entire river from the Confederates.
Within only a few weeks, Farragut had laid siege to Vicksburg with his heavily armed ocean going warships, the battleships of that day. It was then that Lt. Isaac Newton Brown entered the pages of history as the commander of the C.S.S. Arkansas.
Brown had been assigned what many considered the impossible task of finishing the construction of the ironclad warship in a field along the muddy banks of the Yazoo River more than a couple of hundred miles from the fighting at Vicksburg. Against all odds, with few skilled workmen and only rusted rails salvaged from various railroads with which to make the iron cladding, he finished his makeshift ironclad in July.
On July 15, with a makeshift crew that had little or no experience on a ship, he steamed the Arkansas down the Yazoo River toward its confluence with the Mississippi. He blasted his way through a flotilla of Union ships sent to stop him, then entered the Mississippi above Vicksburg, and fought off more than 30 Union warships before anchoring off the Confederate city.
Farragut knew the success of his siege depended on destroying the Arkansas, but Brown made sure that his outnumbered ship was not caught off guard. By July 24, the Federal naval commander realized that his failure to destroy the Arkansas ultimately meant failure of his siege of Vicksburg.
For his tenacity, skill, and leadership, Brown was promoted to the rank of Commander and later would be honored with the Confederate Medal of Honor. In the years after the war, Brown came to Corsicana when his stepson made his home in the city. He lived there until his death on Sept. 1, 1889, a respected citizen.
Information provided by Rob Jones. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org