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Perils of River Navigation


Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association; Volume X Part II, for the Year 1919-1920; 1921; pp 318 - 333

The 1913 Britannica year book states, on page 15, that:

            No single event in 1912 could compare, in the intensity of its universal appeal to human emotion, with the awful disaster to the "TITANIC." At 2:20 A. M., on April 15th, that great White Star liner, the largest afloat, on her maiden voyage went to the bottom of the Atlantic  . . about 2¾ hours after striking at full speed on an iceberg, with a loss of 1,513 souls out of 2,224 on board.

            There is a striking parallel between this disaster and one which overtook the steamboat Sultana on the Mississippi river, on April 27, 1865. Both occurred during the early morning hours, when most of the passengers and at least half of the crew were asleep. In both cases, there was a total loss of boat and cargo. A total of 1,513 out of 2,224 on the Titanic, and 1,547 out of 2,175, on the Sultana, lost their lives. In both cases, the American people were afflicted and depressed, as though each individual had suffered a great personal loss.

            The Sultana disaster was more heartrending, because the victims were nearly all burned to death and most of the survivors were badly burned or scalded. Over 2,000 of the passengers on the Sultana were union officers and soldiers, returning to their homes from the prison camp at Andersonville, and taken on at Vicksburg. Two-thirds of these were from Ohio and Indiana. They were weak and emaciated, but full of hope that, in two or three days, they would be reunited with their families. Without warning of any sort, a fearful explosion took place. Steam and hot water from the boilers scalded the men who were lying crowded together on the boiler deck, and many were killed outright by flying fragments of boilers and machinery. The steamer took fire instantly and, as one of the survivors testified, it was not twenty minutes until "the whole boat was an entire sheet of flame." Those, only, escaped who leaped overboard and were either good swimmers or were able to snatch life-preservers, or loose doors and shutters, and thus keep afloat until picked up by the Bostona, from Cincinnati, which arrived on the scene, on its way to Memphis, just in time to save hundreds of lives.[1] The Cincinnati Enquirer said on April 30, 1865:

            Beyond all doubt, the late blowing up of the steamer Sultana, on the Mississippi, attended, as it was, with a loss of 1,400 lives [underestimated] is one of the greatest accidents recorded in the annals of time. . . . The magnitude of the horror is perfectly shocking and astounding. The most of our river and ocean accidents fade into insignificance by the side of this overwhelming loss of life, terrible and calamitous as many of them have been.

            Only two weeks before this calamity, President Lincoln had been assassinated; and the general public, already wrought up to a high pitch of excitement and resentment, attributed the Sultana's loss to the malicious placing of some high explosive in the coal which was taken on board at Memphis an hour or two before.[2]

            So far as I know, no proof was ever furnished to confirm this suspicion. My own conclusion from the evidence taken before a military commission called to investigate the cause of the loss is that a series of rivet holes made in one of the boilers at Vicksburg, in order to fasten a patch upon it and stop its leaking, had so weakened the boiler that the enclosed section — patch and all — gave way, and both boilers were blown up, scalding and killing many outright and scattering red-hot coals all over the boat.

            This suggests an inquiry into the nature of the ordinary perils which beset navigation on our western rivers.

            The most obvious and the most deadly peril in steamboat navigation was fire. This was inherent in the structure of the boats themselves, in the position of the boilers, and in the  location and character of the cargoes carried. The steamers had to be of light draft in order to pass over shoal places in the channel and to make required landings. The largest passenger boats in use, in the sixties, on the Ohio river and the upper Mississippi drew only four or five feet; and smaller boats, or boats navigating affluents of these rivers, seldom drew more than two or three. The hull had therefore to be wide in proportion to its length, and practically flat-bottomed. The hold was from five to eight feet deep, and only heavy freight, such as kegs of beer and nails, barrels of liquor, heavy castings, and steel rails, was stowed there. To make room for other freight, the guards were extended from five to twenty feet beyond the hull on each side, and on this broad deck were stacked on the down trip, furniture, dry goods, groceries, coal oil, crates of crockery packed in "excelsior," kegs of powder, bales of hay, and all sorts of produce; on the up trip, bales of cotton, hogsheads of tobacco and sugar, and boxes of tropical fruit. On the lower Mississippi and its tributaries, wood was used as fuel and stacked up on both sides of the lower deck.

            In the middle of all this inflammable stuff, in the same deck and in plain sight, stood the boilers, under which the fires were kept burning, by a constant opening and shutting of furnace doors, stirring up the beds of live coal, shaking out the ashes and hot cinders, and piling on fresh wood or coal. Only a few feet above the boilers was the long cabin with a tier of staterooms running along each side. The smoke stacks ran up from the boilers, through the front of the cabin or just outside. The cabin and state rooms were, necessarily, of the lightest construction and every throb of the engines, when the boat was in motion, could be felt throughout. The long cabin floor undulated, the chandeliers swung to and fro, and doors, window-sashes, and everything not securely fastened rattled merrily. The river steamer has been likened to "a house of cards on a waiter." The staterooms were provided with life-preservers and, more than this, the light doors and shutters were so constructed and hung that they could be readily taken off their hinges and thrown overboard to support persons obliged to take to the water to escape the more terrible ordeal of fire. The woodwork was painted with a composition into which turpentine, benzine, and other inflammable substances entered. Once fire got fairly started in one of these cabins it spread with lightning rapidity and gave out an intense heat, and the man or woman who hesitated to run or who turned back, was lost. The Sultana, as we have seen, was as entire sheet of fire from stem to stern in twenty minutes after the explosion.

            Fires may be started in a hundred different ways—as by throwing a lighted match or cigar near a bale of hay or cotton, upsetting a lamp or lantern, bringing a light too near a leaky barrel of coal oil or can of benzine, or carelessly handling ashes containing hot coals or cinders. Many accidents, such as colliding with another boat, or running aground, or bursting a flue, which would cause but little damage in themselves, start fires which are totally destructive of life and property.

            Collisions are much more common on our rivers than on the great lakes or open sea. Owing to the narrow and tortuous channels, the boats are compelled to come quite near each other in passing, and strong currents, high winds, or a failure to understand or obey signals, may bring them together. To minimize the dangers as much as possible, the government framed regulations, printed copies of which were posted in the pilot house and engine room, and which every officer on a steamboat was supposed to know by heart. In spite of all such precautions and perfect good faith on the part of all concerned, collisions would occur.

            A most remarkable case was that of the United States and America, two of the finest steamboats ever engaged in Ohio river navigation. Each was a double-decker, with two cabins, one above another. Each was about three hundred feet long and, including guards and wheel-houses, about eighty feet wide. Though the construction was light, it was good; the boats and machinery were kept in perfect condition; the officers and men were old and experienced employes of the company; the navigation between Cincinnati and Louisville, to which these boats were limited, is probably safer and freer from obstructions than any river stretch of equal length on our western rivers ; and the captains, mates, and pilots were familiar with every foot of it. The owners were substantial citizens of Cincinnati and took great pride in their boats. The danger of any serious loss was thought so small that the insurance companies issued policies on these boats for an annual premium of five per cent of the amount insured, instead of the ten or twelve per cent usually charged for insurance on river steamboats. The two boats, one of them almost new, were valued at $330,000 and the insurance carried was $240,000.

            On the night of December 4, 1868, the America was proceeding from Louisville to Cincinnati, and the United States was going from Cincinnati to Louisville. They came in sight of each other just above Warsaw, Kentucky. It was a gray night with what deep-sea mariners call "low visibility," and the pilot on the America evidently misjudged the distance between the boats, for although it was his duty, under the rules, to signal first which side he wished to take, he delayed the signal, until the pilot on the United States gave one blast to indicate that he wished to pass to the right. The pilot on the America blew two blasts indicating that he wished to pass to the left. Both sought to avoid an old wreck on the Kentucky side and to take the Indiana side of the channel. When signals are crossed, as in this instance, it is the duty of both pilots to give warning whistles and to stop their engines, until an agreement is reached as to which side they will take in passing. This was not done. Why? The pilot on the United States did not hear the first blast of the America, because he was blowing his own whistle at the time the sound should have reached him. He heard the second blast of the America's signal and took it for granted that it was an answer to his signal and that both agreed that the boats should pass each other to the right. They were within four hundred yards of each other when the America repeated its signal and the pilot of the United States thought he had changed it. He whistled sharply once and both pilots stopped their engines and prepared to back. Before headway could be stopped the boats came together and the sharp armored bow of the America plowed through the larboard guard and side of the United States, and burst open several barrels of coal oil standing on her guards. In an instant, a fierce flame enveloped the whole front of the United States, extending above the hurricane deck. The America backed out and the United States began to sink, but swung around, its head up stream, and came alongside of the America, setting her on fire in several places. It all occurred in a moment's time, and the clerk on the United States ran from front to rear through the cabins, shouting to wake the passengers, threw several shutters into the river to aid persons already struggling in the water, and then jumped in, himself, and swam to shore. He thought he was the last to leave the boat and that it was not more than five or six minutes from the time of the collision until both boats were entirely enveloped in flames. The United States sunk in the channel and its hull, boilers, and machinery were preserved in a more or less damaged condition, but the cabin and upper works were destroyed. The America, after backing free from the United States, landed on the Indiana shore. Most of the passengers and crew who were awake escaped by jumping into the river and swimming or wading ashore. The rest perished. The America was not injured by the collision, but completely destroyed by fire. The heat from the burning wreck was so intense that trees more than 150 feet away from the river bank were set on fire.[3]

            Here was a terrible tragedy and no one seriously at fault! The chain of circumstances which led up to the disaster was seemingly such as to defy all rules and all precautions.

            Several Cincinnati clergymen testified in their respective pulpits, the following Sunday, that the loss was due to the direct intervention of almighty God, who wished to rebuke the sin of a number of passengers who were indulging in dancing and other frivolity up to the time of the collision. It seems, however, that the clergymen must have been misinformed; for all the "wicked" dancers escaped and only the good, who retired at an early hour, were consigned to the flames.

            The next greatest loss of life and property entrusted to river steamboats in the sixties was caused by the explosion of boilers, collapse of flues, and so forth. In fact, many losses by fire were the direct result of boiler explosions. A "gentleman, who has given the subject of steam navigation a great deal of attention," gave the Cincinnati Commercial a list, confessedly incomplete, of explosions on western and southern waters from June 9, 1816, up to September 23, 1865, giving the names of the boats, dates of the explosions, and the number of lives lost on each occasion. The casualties from this cause numbered 66, and the lives lost, 3,279.[4]

            The total loss of life, by steamboat disasters in the year 1865, as reported by the board of steamboat inspectors, was 2,050. They said:

            The large number of accidents reported from some of the districts the past year may be referred to various ruling causes—recklessness, induced by the war, which extends its mischievous tendencies into all branches of trade, is particularly observable among those employed in or on board, some classes of steamers.

            A large number of boats have been used during the war as transports, tugs and freight boats — these have been depreciated by long and continuous use—purchased and put on duty without proper examination, and even without precaution or regard to safety. This will doubtless be found among the most prominent causes of the terrible calamities which seem to be beyond the reach of official remedy.[5]

            The inspectors' conclusion that many of the disasters were due to continued use of worn-out government transports is borne out by the fact that the shipyards at Cincinnati, which turned out from twenty-five to sixty-two new boats annually, before and after 1865, did not build one new boat that year.[6] The ways were occupied exclusively by old boats being repaired or made over.

            The government sold a large number of transports at Mound City in August, 1865, and the thrifty purchasers, while taking them to home ports for overhauling and refitting, putting in new boilers, etc., loaded them with as many passengers—chiefly returned soldiers — and as much freight as they could possibly carry. Thus, the Argosy, proceeding from Mound City to Cincinnati for refitting, carried a number of returning soldiers from the Seventieth Ohio. On August 21 it was blown ashore near Rome, Indiana, and the shock of striking the rocky bank exploded the mud drum. Hot water was thrown in all directions, scalding twenty soldiers, of whom two were killed outright and the others seriously injured. In the panic which ensued eight jumped overboard and were drowned.[7]

            More boats were burned, sunk, or wrecked, during the four months beginning December 15, 1865, than during any corresponding period of western river navigation. Leaving out of the account tow-boats, stone-boats, wharf-boats, barges, and the "mosquito fleet" of stern-wheelers, I have noted a total of seventy-four. Some of the boats which were sunk were raised again, but boats destroyed by fire were, as a rule, a total loss. There were twenty-nine steamboats destroyed by fire in sixteen weeks.[8] There was little or no loss of life except in eases where the boat was destroyed by fire while under way.

            A number of steamboat boiler explosions occurred in the summer and fall of 1865, which did not attract much attention as the loss of life was small. These prompted a conundrum, which appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer of December 23, 1865: "Why is a husband like a Mississippi steamboat? Because he never knows when he may get a blowing up."

            In mid-winter, 1866, the public was startled by reports of the destruction by fire of three large steamboats in close succession — the Miami, January 28, the Missouri, January 30, and the W. R. Carter, February 2. The fires were caused by boiler explosions at a time when most of the passengers and at least half the crews were sound asleep, and the loss of life was appalling. Reports varied, but the total was not far from 365 lives. The boilers on these boats, as well as those on the Sultana, were of the tubular type. Public opinion, as represented in the newspapers, was at first inclined to charge the officers and engineers of these boats with criminal carelessness; and popular opinion was confirmed in the case of the Miami by a finding of the local inspectors, that the engineers were to blame for proceeding on their voyage when they knew the boilers needed repairing and for permitting the steamboat to be listed in such a way as to make the water in the boilers fall below the upper tubes.[9]

            The cause of the explosions on the Missouri and the W. R. Carter was still a mystery. Both belonged to the Atlantic and Mississippi steamship company, which had already lost four large passenger boats. The horrible suspicion that these six steamboats had been sacrificed for the sake of the insurance was happily refuted by the fact that this company had no insurance on any of its boats. The company had concluded that it would be cheaper to replace a steamboat, which might be lost now and then, than to carry insurance on all of their large fleet, at the current high rates.[10]

            To counteract still stronger suspicions that the engineers on these boats — and presumably on many others — were either incompetent or guilty of gross negligence, some novel theories were advanced. For instance, James B. Cook, an architect and civil engineer of Memphis, wrote to the Memphis Appeal, that he was "satisfied that the cause of the disasters is one over which the engineers and their subordinates . . . have no control. . . . that engineers are not to blame." He then argues that a battery of boilers, when raising high pressure steam, generates electricity; that the boat is a receiver of this electricity insulated by the water under it and thus acts like an electrically charged Leyden-jar. He adds: "When the atmosphere is antagonistic or in a negative condition, and whenever the steam generates electricity and the atmosphere is in a negative condition, the explosion occurs"![11] I don't know that mere historians are expected fully to comprehend this theory. Mr. Cook kindly volunteered to give further information to anybody who felt an interest in the subject.

            A Cincinnati attorney developed still another theory, in a suit brought against the owners of a steamboat by a passenger who had been severely injured by a boiler explosion. He argued, and produced "expert" evidence to show, that at certain seasons of the year the river water contains large quantities of vegetable and animal matter in solution which is nothing more nor less than glycerine, that glycerine in certain combinations forms one of the most violent explosives known, and that boilers full of glycerine are liable to explode at any moment—something which no steamboat owner, captain, or engineer, can foresee or provide against!

            Steamboat owners and inspectors, and the public generally, came to a much more practical conclusion, e., that, however safe tubular boilers might be when supplied with soft water free from mud and impurities, and when stationary or in locomotives, which keep the track and run on an even keel, they were extra-hazardous on steamboats, which navigated muddy water and pumped this muddy water into their boilers. The very conditions which enabled tubular boilers to make steam rapidly, made it difficult to keep them free from muddy sediment and "scale," and weakened the resisting power of the outside shell.[12]

            Newspaper editors and river reporters were outspoken in their condemnation of tubular boilers.[13] Insurance agents refused to insure freight shipped on boats with tubular boilers. Shipping agents at Louisville were instructed not to reship any freight on boats which had tubular boilers. Passengers intending to travel by boat would inquire, before taking passage, whether the boat had tubular boilers and, if so, would take some other boat. Owners of steamboats with the old-fashioned flue boilers advertised the fact as a special reason for giving their boats the preference. Owners of used boilers of the double-flued type, for which they had no further use, seized the opportunity to advertise and sell them. The United States mail line company, operating boats between Cincinnati and Louisville, lost no time, and on February 5, 1866, withdrew the United States, a new boat with all the latest improvements, so as to take out the new tubular boilers and replace them with old-style flue boilers. On February 10, 1866, the company inserted, as a part of its standing advertisement in Cincinnati and Louisville papers, this line: "The Superb and Swift Passenger Steamers, all of which are provided with double-flue boilers," which was continued throughout the year. The Atlantic and Mississippi steamship company, which had now lost six of its largest and finest steamboats, discarded the tubular boilers and sent to St. Louis a number of its boats to be supplied with old-style flue boilers. But fate was relentless, and on February 26, 1866, three of its best remaining boats — Peytona, Luna, and Leviathan — were destroyed by fire while lying at the St. Louis levee.[14]

            At last the unfortunate company was persuaded to insure the balance of its steamboat stock."[15] Other boats withdrawn from service to have tubular boilers taken out and flue boilers inserted were Wild Wagoner, St. Nicholas, Bermuda, Lady Gay, Nick Longworth, Linnie Drown, St. Charles, and W. F. Carter.[16] And during all this winter of disasters caused by boiler explosions and fire, Bostona No. 3, running between Cincinnati and Portsmouth, had a standing notice in the Cincinnati papers in which the following sentence occurs: "This steamer is provided with a magazine for the transportation of powder." [17]  It must have been very reassuring to persons who were afraid to ride on a boat equipped with tubular boilers, to find that they could ride on one that only carried a powder magazine! Other steamboats may have carried powder in those days, and probably did, but they were silent about it.

            Next to fire, the most destructive force in operation during the winter of 1865-1866 was ice. The upper Mississippi river was frozen over early in December and heavy ice gorges were formed above and below St. Louis. They gave way on December 16 and moved down with terrible and irresistible power, crushing like egg shells seven steamboats—New Admiral, Old Sioux City, Empire City, Calypso, Highlander, Geneva, and Metropolitan, which were valued at $185,000. Again, early in January, 1866, the ice on the Mississippi gorged above and below St. Louis, and steamers lying at the levee were in peril. The first break came on January 12, and in this movement, seven more steamboats —Belle Memphis, John Trendley, Prairie Rose, Julia, Warsaw, Underwriter No. 8, and Omaha—valued at $185,000, were crushed, or carried off and sunk below the city. The next day the ice moved again and caught and crushed seven more steamboats —Nebraska, City of Pekin, Hattie May, Diadem, Viola Belle, Reserve, and Rosalie—valued at $232,000. The superstitions accounted for the loss of the Rosalie, by the fact that it was launched on Friday, always sailed on Friday, and, of course, was sunk on Friday. But this did not account for the loss of thirteen other vessels in the same catastrophe.[18]

            To this wholesale destruction of boats by ice, must be added the sinking of the Pine Grove, at Buffington, Ohio, in January, 1866, the U. S. Grant in the Missouri river, near Plattsmouth, March 18, 1866, and the Northern Light in the Mississippi near LaCrosse, April 12, 1866.[19]

            Among the unseen perils of river navigation are the rocks which are brought into the steamers' course by a shifting of the channel, the wrecks of sunken steamboats and barges, and snags and sawyers—fallen trees which finally become fixed in the bed of the river and stretch out greedy fingers to snatch the frail craft coming towards them. All are unseen, because our western river water is nearly opaque at a navigable stage. The rocks were dangerous chiefly in the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers and their tributaries. Wrecks might be encountered anywhere. Snags and sawyers infested the lower Mississippi and its tributaries. It was reported that fifty-four steamboats were sunk in the Red river alone between June, 1865, and March, 1866.[20]

            The casualties from unseen perils, during the four months on which we have concentrated our attention, numbered twenty one.[21] Many boats were raised and theloss was seldom total. Passengers generally escaped uninjured and cargoes were saved, though more or less damaged. The list (note 21) is probably far from complete, as news of these lower river accidents was slow in coming and many of the boats were considered of too small importance to report.

            While this disastrous four months period has never again been equaled, there were enough losses—some of them highly sensational — during the next ten years to establish the conviction that steamboat traffic is extra hazardous. The insurance on boats and freight rose rapidly to twelve, fifteen, and even twenty per cent; and, even at those figures, insurance companies either voluntarily retired from marine insurance business or were bankrupted by their heavy losses in that line. Out of thirty-six companies engaged in the insurance business in Cincinnati, in the sixties, but one remains today.

            In 1865-1866, the arrivals and departures of steamboats from Cincinnati averaged more than ten a day, excluding Sundays.[22] This meant, of course, many more than ten a day during the eight months favorable for navigation. The river front was lined for several blocks with handsome passenger steamers; and they were well patronized until tourists were admonished that a river trip was equivalent to an attempt at suicide. Large parties used to be formed to make the round trip to New Orleans and back in some favored steamboat, especially about the time of Mardi Gras. It grew more and more difficult to make up such parties, and I cannot remember any large excursion of that sort since 1875.

            It is doubtful whether other than purely local passenger travel on such boats can ever be revived. This is much to be regretted, for the scenery on the upper Mississippi and on the Ohio from Pittsburgh down is most pleasing, and would afford much enjoyment.

            The only hope for such revival rests in the possibility of constructing cabins and staterooms of non-inflammable material, which at the same time is as light as the old wooden superstructure. Aluminum, or some of its amalgams, may be used for such purpose some day, combining lightness and beauty with safety.

            Our rivers can, and ought to, be used for the transportation of heavy freight, coal, iron, and so forth; for the long haul can undoubtedly be made much more cheaply by steamboat than by rail. But for such traffic the tow-boat and accompanying barges are the best carriers.



[1] Detailed acounts of this disaster may be found in the Memphis papers of April 28, 1885, and Cincinnati and St. Louis papers, of April 29 and 30. See also St. Louis Republican, May 16, 1865.

[2] The Cincinnati Gazette, May 1, 1865, said, "The destruction of passenger steamers is an organized system of Southern warfare. We need not recall the examples of it. It has been openly declared in the South and frequently carried into execution on the Mississippi. So also the secret obstruction of railroads to precipitate passenger trains to destruction. Arson was organized to fire Northern cities. Assassination . . . is brought into play to restore or avenge a defeated cause. Is it not in accordance with all this . . . that these insurgents should conspire to sink, explode and fire the vessels conveying our returning soldiers?"

[3] This account is derived from the records and briefs in the two test suits brought by Thomas Sherlock et al., owners of the United States mail steamboats, against the Germania insurance company and the Globe insurance company. 25 Ohio state reports, 33, 50.

[4] Cincinnati Commercial, February 11, 1866.

[5] Quoted, ibid., February 11, 1866.

[6] C. F. Goss, Cincinnati, the queen city, 1788-1918 (Chicago, Cincinnati, 1912), 2:106.

[7] Louisville Democrat, August 24, 1865.

[8] The following table lists the boats destroyed, and notes newspaper accounts of the disasters.

December 16, 1865,

Peerless, value $60,000, at mound City. Cincinnati Enquirer, December 16

January 5, 1866,

Eleanore Carroll, $125,000, Louisville. Ibid., January 5.

January 9,

Buenos Ayres, in the Oomulgee river. Ibid., January 18

January 13,

James Q. Christopher, Savannah river. Ibid.

January 17,

E. 0. Stannard, $52,000, Ouachita river. Ibid.

January 28,

Miami, $35,000, Mississippi river near mouth of Arkansas river. Ibid., January 31, and February 2.

January 30,

Missouri, $150,000, near Evansville, Indiana. Ibid., January 31

February 2,

W. B. Carter, $126,000, 35 miles above Vicksburg. Ibid., February 6. Cincinnati Commercial, February 4, 5.

February 3,

Mary A. Bruner, $37,000, mouth of Red river. Ibid., February 6.

February 5,

General Halleck, Memphis. Ibid.


Lady Grace. Cincinnati Enquirer, February 11.


Elwood, $24,000, near Memphis. Cincinnati Argus, February 20.

February 23,

Winchester, $80,000, near East Liverpool, Ohio. Cincinnati Commercial, February 24, 25; Cincinnati Enquirer, February 24, 27.

February 24,

Nannie Beyers, $30,000, near Madison, Indiana. Ibid., February 25, March 8.

February 26,

Peytona, $115,000, Luna, $130,000, Leviathan, $150,000, and Dictator, $160,000, at St. Louis. St. Louis Republican, February 27; Cincinnati Commercial, February 28.

February 27,

Mary Rein, $30,000, Red river. New Orleans Times, March 4; Cincinnati Enquirer, March 7.

March 1,

Diamond, $20,000. Ibid., March 6.

March 4,

B. J. Lockwood, $60,000, near Memphis. Ibid., March 6, 7; Cincinnati Commercial, March 6.

March 5,

B. H. May, $10,000, Savannah river. Augusta Constitutionalist, March 8.

March 14,

Covington No. 2. (Ferry-boat), $15,000, at Covington, Kentucky. Cincinnati Enquirer, March 14.

April 7,

Nevada, $36,000, Frank Bates, $60,000, Fanny Ogden, $60,000, Alex Majors, $25,000, and Effie Deans, $30,000 at St.. Louis. St. Louis Republican, April 8.

April 12,

Financier, $50,000, near Pittsburg. Cincinnati Enquirer, April 14, 15.

There were 910 registered steamboats on western rivers reported in 1866, accordng to the Cincinnati Enquirer, January 20, 1866. The losses, during the four months noted, equaled nearly one-twelfth of the total registered.

[9] Cincinnati Enquirer, February 6, 1866.

[10] Cincinnati Enquirer, February 7, 28, 1866.

[11] Copied in the Cincinnati Commercial, February 11, 1866, and Enquirer, February 14, 1866.

[12] The local inspectors at Louisville published a communication about tubular boilers in which they said:

            "The great and insuperable objection to the tubular boiler lies in the form of its construction. Those using them have thought it necessary in order to render them as perfect as possible, to fill almost the entire shell of the boiler with a number of small tubes of, in some instances, less than six inches diameter; and in many cases so close were these tubes together, that less than one inch of water space was left between them and the sides of the shell. . . . The blowers and escapements from the engine of the exhausted steam were turned into the chimneys and then the tubulars were found to work admirably and to generate steam with great rapidity; and everybody must have tubular boilers. But . . . the thin sheet of water within these boilers then became troublesome to manage . . . and no human watchfulness and skill could keep such boilers well, properly and safely supplied with water. So well was this feature of the working of these boilers known, that many of the best and most skillfull of our engineers refused to go on boats which had them in at all. Indeed, there can be but little doubt that some of these late and terrible disasters that have happened are to be attributed to this cause alone. . . . Another and grave objection against the use of these boilers is found in the fact that, in order to obtain sufficient fire surface to generate steam, it was necessary to increase the size of the shell, and many of such boilers are in use at this time, or recently so, particularly in the ill-fated Missouri and W. R. Carter. The boilers of both these boats were forty-six inches in diameter, with nineteen six-inch flues, or return flues, each. Now in order to obtain the amount of pressure the owners of these boats required, it became necessary, under the law, to increase the thickness of the iron of which the shells were made. . . . The outer lap of the sheet, with such thick iron as was in either of these boats was so far away from the water, and becomes so heated with such a blast under them . . . that the tenacity of the iron is destroyed and the seams pull apart from the lengthwise pressure, and if it does not give way, must, at least, be at once repaired, and this process must be gone through almost at the end of every long voyage. . . . If men of the character and skill of Philips, of the Missouri, and Townsend, of the Carter, can not manage and control these boilers with safety to life and property, it is doubtful whether any one does possess the skill as an engineer that can do so." Cincinnati Commercial, February 11, 1866.

[13] The Cincinnati Enquirer said, February 1, 1866, of the Missouri, "She had tubular boilers, and is another boat added to the long list of explosions from the use of these boilers." And February 6: "The belief has long been entertained by all practical engineers and mechanics that tubular boilers on our Western waters are unsafe and we have repeatedly called the attention of the public to it, but until very lately but little heed has been paid to the subject. Now, however, after so many fatal disasters have occurred in rapid succession, the public are aroused, as it appears that nearly all, if not every one, of the late disasters, were boats with tubular boilers. . . . The great objections urged against them were that they would get clogged with mud sediment and 'scale' that is made so freely in our muddy waters; also, that it is impossible to clean the boilers, an indisputable necessity on our rivers." And on February 9: "Many of our exchanges are out in strong terms against the carelessness which must be the cause of some of the many steamboat disasters which have occurred of late, and also against the use of tubular boilers, which have been proven by experience unsafe. We also unite our voice with those of our contemporaries in the general protest, for within the last week not less thy three hundred mortals have perished miserably on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Arkansas Rivers, from the explosion of steam-boilers and the consequences resulting from these explosions. . . . These three explosions of the MISSOURI, the MIAMI and the CARTER, all having tubular boilers, ought to be decisive against this form of generating steam, if experience is of any value in scientific mechanics." The Cincinnati Commercial said, February 5: "The tubular boiler has been used in a great many new boats. Its supposed advantages are found in the fact that the tubes are smaller than flues, and more of them are put in the boiler, to carry the fire through, thus presenting a greater surface and producing steam more rapidly than in the old way. . . . The great number of them put in a boiler makes it extremely difficult to keep clean when, as is usually the case in Western rivers, the water is muddy. . . . The head of the boiler presents a large surface to the steam. The boilers of the MISSOURI were forty-six inches in diameter, and contained twenty-one tubes, each six inches in diameter, weakened by twenty-one six-inch holes, imperfectly supported by the tubing, and subjected to a pressure of one hundred and fifty pounds per square inch. It is easy to see that after the frequent expansion and contraction of boiler heads and tubes, unless the job was perfect and the iron of extreme tenacity, the pressure would overcome the resistance and that is just what happened."

[14] Cincinnati Enquirer, February 6, 7, 8, 9, 15, 17; March 1, 7, 8, 10, 24; April 1, 7, 8, 17; Cincinnati Commercial, February 10-12, 17-23, 27, 28; St. Louis Republican, February 27, 28

[15] St. Louis Republican, quoted in Cincinnati Enquirer, April 3.

[16] Cincinnati Enquirer, February 7, 9, 15, 18, 22; March 10, 20; April 1, 11.

[17] This sentence is not italicised in the original.

[18] St. Louis Democrat, December 17, 1865; St. Louis Republican, January 13, 14, 15, 1866; Cincinnati Commercial, January 13; Cincinnati Enquirer, January 13, 17.19

[19] Cincinnati Enquirer, March 21, 30; April 13, 18; Dubuque Herald, April 13.20

[20] Cincinnati Enquirer, March 18, 1866.

[21] Following is a list of the boats destroyed, and of newspaper notices of the disasters:

December 15, 1865,

Darling, Plum Point. Cincinnati Enquirer, December 17, 1865.

December 30,

Huntress $15,000, Alexandria, Louisiana. Ibid., January 13, 1866.

January 3, 1866,

Minnie, $40,000, near Cairo. Ibid., January 4.

January 3,

Haslet Dell, Black's bluff, Ohio. Ibid., January 13.


Etna, Red river. Ibid.


Goldena, $20,000, Cincinnati Commercial, January.

January 10,

Trenton, Ouachita river.


Ida May, Loggy bayou. True Delta (New Orleans), January 17.

January 17,

Sherman, $40,000, Paducah. Cincinnati Commercial, January 18.


Agnes, Arkansas river. Cincinnati Enquirer, January 21.

January 18,

Dora Martin, Bed river. Ibid., January 27, February 2.


Anna Surma, Bed river. Ibid., January 30.

February 5,

St. Nicholas, Bigbee river. Ibid., February 9, 11.

February 8,

Lissie Tate, Grand bayou, Ibid., February 9.


Catawba, Jacksonport. Ibid., February 13.

February 6,

Fleta, Campte. Ibid., February 13, March 20.

February 12,

Golden Era, near Guyandotte, West Virginia. Ibid., February 15, 20, March 20.

February 16,

Amason, near Augusta, Georgia. Ibid., February 17.

February 21,

Madison, $20,000, Louisville. Cincinnati Commercial, February 22.

February 21,

Henry Ames, $125,000, near Memphis. Cincinnati Enquirer, February 22.

February 23,

Sam Gaty, $60,000, Mississippi river above Cairo. Cincinnati Commercial, February 24; Cincinnati Enquirer, February 25.

[21] Goss, Cincinnati, the queen city, 2: 106-107.



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