Proceedings of the
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
. . 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. The
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.
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
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
A most remarkable case was that of the
two of the finest steamboats ever engaged in
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
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
was proceeding from Louisville to Cincinnati, and the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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. 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
for refitting, carried a number of returning soldiers from the
Seventieth Ohio. On August 21 it was blown ashore near
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.
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. 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
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
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.
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"! 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.
Newspaper editors and river reporters were outspoken in
their condemnation of tubular boilers. Insurance
agents refused to insure freight shipped on boats with tubular
boilers. Shipping agents at
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
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 —
Leviathan — were destroyed by fire while lying at the St. Louis levee.
At last the unfortunate company was persuaded to insure
the balance of its steamboat stock." Other
boats withdrawn from service to have tubular boilers taken out
and flue boilers inserted were
Bermuda, Lady Gay,
Linnie Drown, St. Charles,
and W. F. Carter. 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
papers in which the following sentence occurs: "This steamer is provided with a magazine for the transportation of
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,
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,
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,
Belle, Reserve, and
$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.
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.
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
rivers and their tributaries. Wrecks might be encountered
anywhere. Snags and sawyers infested the lower
and its tributaries. It was reported that fifty-four steamboats
were sunk in the Red river
alone between June, 1865, and March, 1866.
The casualties from unseen perils, during the four months
on which we have concentrated our attention, numbered twenty
one. 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
In 1865-1866, the arrivals and departures of steamboats
averaged more than ten a day, excluding Sundays. 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
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
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.
WILLIAM C. COCHRAN
acounts of this disaster may be found in the
papers of April 28, 1885, and
Cincinnati and St. Louis papers, of April
29 and 30. See also St. Louis Republican, May 16, 1865.
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
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?"
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
insurance company and the Globe insurance company. 25 Ohio
state reports, 33, 50.
Commercial, February 11, 1866.
February 11, 1866.
 C. F.
Cincinnati, the queen city,
1788-1918 (Chicago, Cincinnati, 1912), 2:106.
Democrat, August 24, 1865.
following table lists the boats destroyed, and notes
newspaper accounts of the disasters.
December 16, 1865,
value $60,000, at mound City.
Cincinnati Enquirer, December 16
January 5, 1866,
Carroll, $125,000, Louisville.
Ayres, in the Oomulgee river.
Christopher, Savannah river.
Stannard, $52,000, Ouachita river.
Mississippi river near mouth of
January 31, and February 2.
Ibid., January 31
Carter, $126,000, 35 miles above
February 6. Cincinnati
Commercial, February 4, 5.
Bruner, $37,000, mouth of Red river. Ibid.,
Lady Grace. Cincinnati
Enquirer, February 11.
$24,000, near Memphis. Cincinnati
Argus, February 20.
$80,000, near East Liverpool, Ohio.
Commercial, February 24, 25;
Enquirer, February 24, 27.
Beyers, $30,000, near Madison, Indiana.
February 25, March 8.
Leviathan, $150,000, and Dictator,
Republican, February 27;
Commercial, February 28.
$30,000, Red river.
Times, March 4;
Cincinnati Enquirer, March 7.
Ibid., March 6.
Lockwood, $60,000, near Memphis.
March 6, 7; Cincinnati
Commercial, March 6.
B. H. May,
$10,000, Savannah river.
Constitutionalist, March 8.
No. 2. (Ferry-boat), $15,000, at Covington,
Enquirer, March 14.
Frank Bates, $60,000, Fanny
Majors, $25,000, and
Deans, $30,000 at St.. Louis.
St. Louis Republican, April 8.
$50,000, near Pittsburg.
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.
Enquirer, February 6, 1866.
Enquirer, February 7, 28, 1866.
 Copied in
Cincinnati Commercial, February 11, 1866, and
Enquirer, February 14, 1866.
 The local
published a communication about tubular boilers in which
"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
Commercial, February 11, 1866.
Enquirer said, February 1, 1866, of the
"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."
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
Republican, quoted in
Enquirer, April 3.
Enquirer, February 7, 9, 15, 18, 22; March 10, 20;
April 1, 11.
This sentence is not
italicised in the original.
St. Louis Democrat,
December 17, 1865;
St. Louis Republican, January 13, 14, 15, 1866;
Commercial, January 13;
Enquirer, January 13, 17.19
Enquirer, March 21, 30; April 13, 18; Dubuque
Herald, April 13.20
Enquirer, March 18, 1866.
is a list of the boats destroyed, and of newspaper
notices of the disasters:
December 15, 1865,
Plum Point. Cincinnati
December 17, 1865.
$15,000, Alexandria, Louisiana.
January 13, 1866.
January 3, 1866,
$40,000, near Cairo.
Dell, Black's bluff,
Trenton, Ouachita river.
May, Loggy bayou. True
(New Orleans), January 17.
Arkansas river. Cincinnati
Martin, Bed river. Ibid.,
January 27, February 2.
Surma, Bed river. Ibid.,
Nicholas, Bigbee river. Ibid.,
February 9, 11.
Tate, Grand bayou, Ibid.,
Ibid., February 13, March 20.
Era, near Guyandotte,
February 15, 20, March 20.
near Augusta, Georgia.
Ames, $125,000, near
Gaty, $60,000, Mississippi river above Cairo.
queen city, 2: 106-107.