Isaac, the third son of Isaac Fulkerson and Rebecca Neil, and grandson of Captain James Fulkerson, was born (in KY?) in 1813. Only three other facts are currently known about his life: (1) he married Mary WHEELER, reportedly on 6 Sep 1837 at Cape Girardeau, MO, (2) his occupation was listed as "boatman" in the 1850 census, and (3) he was Captain of the Confederate Navy's sidewheel ram, the General Earl Van Dorn.
The Van Dorn, a fast and powerful sidewheel steamer, was built at New Orleans in early 1862. Specially constructed for close-range naval actions on the Mississippi River, this ironclad was armed with cannons and had a strong bow for ramming enemy ships. She was pressed into service immediately after her launching and outfitting, attached to the Mississippi River Defense Fleet commanded by Captain (Commodore) J. E. Montgomery, a former river steamboat captain. Her careeer was short and glorious:
"The General Earl Van Dorn left New Orleans on 25 March 1862 and was detained at Memphis, Tenn., until 10 April while her ironwork was completed. She then steamed north and operated off Fort Pillow, Tenn., in defense of the river approaches to Memphis.We assume he was smart enough to get clear of the ship before it blew, but nothing further is known of Isaac or his family. Please e-mail me if you have any further information.
On 10 May 1862, General Earl Van Dorn under Capt. I. D. Fulkerson, with seven other vessels of Montgomery's fleet, attacked the ironclad gunboats of the Federal Mississippi Flotilla off Fort Pillow. In the action of Plum Point Bend, which followed, General Earl Van Dorn, with skillful fire from her 32-pounder, succeeded in silencing Federal Mortar Boat No. 16 ("fired into it at 20 yards distance" - also shown in the picture below). She then rammed the USS Mound City, forcing her to run aground to keep from sinking. General Earl Van Dorn herself ran ashore and sustained a terrific cannonade for a few minutes until she was able to back off.
General Earl Van Dorn (circled) in action at Fort Pillow
On 1 June 1862 a large number of Federal rams and gunboats appeared at Fort Pillow. General Earl Van Dorn and the other ships of Montgomery's fleet held them off until Fort Pillow was successfully evacuated. The Confederate force then fell back on Memphis to take on coal.
Following the Federal capture of Fort Pillow, Flag Officer Charles H. Davis, USN, commanding the Mississippi Flotilla appeared off Memphis on 6 June with a superior force. [The Confederates,] unable to retreat because of [their] fuel shortage and unwilling to destroy [their] boats, engaged the Federal force against heavy odds.
All of the vessels of the Confederate River Defense Fleet at this engagement were either captured or destroyed except for General Earl Van Dorn which managed to escape because of her superior speed. She was chased down the Mississippi and up the Yazoo River by the Federal rams Monarch and Lancaster under Col. C. Ellet, Jr. USA.
They arrived below Yazoo City on 26 June 1862 in time to see General Earl Van Dorn being burned along with Polk and Livingston to prevent capture. According to Lancaster's log, they were 'all oiled and tarred ready to be fired on our arrival,' and, when first seen by the Federals rounding the bend, 'all on fire and turned adrift within a few hundred yards of the battery at Liverpool. We backed down under the point, when the Van Dorn blew up, which shook the hills.'"
BATTLE OF PLUM POINT:
Participating CSN ships and their commanders, on 10 May 1862:
Little Rebel (Flagship): Capt. J.E. Montgomery
General Bragg: Capt. William H.H. Leonard
General Sterling Price: First Officer J.E. Henthorne
Sumter: Capt. W.W. Lamb
General Earl Van Dorn: Capt. Issac D. Fulkerson
General M. Jefferson Thompson: Capt. John H. Burkel
General Lovell: Capt. James C. Delaney
General Beauregard: Capt. James Henry Hurt
Report of Commodore Montgomery:
FLAG-BOAT LITTLE REBEL, Fort Pillow, Tenn., May 12, 1862.
General G. T. BEAUREGARD, Comdg. C. S. Army of the West.
SIR: I have the honor to report an engagement with the Federal gunboats at Plum Point Bend, 4 miles above Fort Pillow, May 10:
Having previously arranged with my officers the order of attack, our boats left their moorings at 6 a.m., and proceeding up the river passed round a sharp point, which brought us in full view of the enemy's fleet, numbering eight gunboats and twelve mortar boats.
The Federal gunboat [Cincinnati] was lying nearest us....The General Bragg...dashed at her; the [Cincinnati], firing her heavy guns, retreated toward a bar....The Bragg continued boldly on under fire of nearly the whole fleet, and struck her a violent blow that stopped her further flight, then rounded down the river under a broadside fire and drifted until her tiller rope, that had got out of order, could be readjusted. A few moments after the Bragg struck her blow the General Sterling Price...ran into the same boat a little aft of her starboard midship, carrying away her rudder, stern-post, and a large piece of her stern. This threw the [Cincinnati's] stern to the Sumter...who struck her, running at the utmost speed of his boat.
The Earl Van Dorn (circled, upper right) at the Battle of Plum Point Bend, during the first Federal attack on Point Pillow. Isaac Fulkerson is running his ship past the Union gunboat Carondelet (left) to ram the Mound City. Another Confederate gunboat, the General Price, is in the right foreground.
The General Earl Van Dorn...directed his attention to the Mound City, at the time pouring broadsides into the Price and Sumter. As the Van Dorn proceeded, by skillful shots from her 32-pounder...silenced a mortar boat that was filling the air with its terrible missiles. The Van Dorn, still holding on the Mound City's midship, in the act of striking, the Mound City sheered, and the Van Dorn struck her a glancing blow, making a hole 4 feet deep in her starboard forward quarter, evidenced by splinters left on the iron bow of the Van Dorn. At this juncture the Van Dorn was above four of the enemy's boats.
As our remaining boats, the General M. Jeff. Thompson...the Colonel Lovell...and the General Beauregard...were entering boldly into the contest...I perceived from the flag-boat that the enemy's boats were taking positions where the water was too shallow for our boats to follow them, and, as our cannon were far inferior to theirs, both in number and size, I signaled our boats to fall back, which was accomplished with a coolness that deserves the highest commendation.
I am happy to inform you, while exposed to close quarters to a most terrific fire for thirty minutes, our boats, although struck repeatedly, sustained no serious injuries.
Our casualties were 2 killed and 1 wounded--arm broken. (Brig. Gen. M. Jeff. Thompson, Missouri State Guard, listed the casualties as follows: "W. W. Andrews, steward on the Van Dorn, killed; --, third cook on the Bragg, mortally wounded, and 8 or 10 slightly wounded, among whom is Captain Fulkerson--a contusion on the hand, more painful than dangerous.")
To my officers and men I am highly indebted for their courage and promptness in executing all orders.
On the 11th instant I went on the Little Rebel in full view of the enemy's fleet. Saw the [Cincinatti] sunk near the shore and the Mound City sunk on the bar.
The position occupied by the enemy's gunboats above Fort Pillow offers more obstacles to our mode of attack than any other between Cairo and New Orleans. But of this you may rest assured, if we can get fuel, unless the enemy greatly increase their force, they will never penetrate farther down the Mississippi.
I am, with great respect, your obedient servant, J. E. MONTGOMERY, Captain, Commanding River Defense Service.