Sabotage of the Sultana – Gene Salecker Rebuttal

Sabotage of the Sultana…

Gene Eric Salecker,

author of “Disaster on the Mississippi,”

offers his rebuttal to the article by D. H. Rule,

“Sultana: A Case for Sabotage”

The owners/authors of Civil War St. Louis—D. H. Rule and G. E. Rule—have offered to host Gene Salecker’s rebuttal to the article “Sultana: A Case for Sabotage” that was published in issue 5.1 of North & South magazine. Due to copyright considerations, the full text of “Sultana: A Case for Sabotage” cannot be offered online at this time. Issues of the magazine with the article are available from the publisher.

Though both Gene Salecker and we (author of the article D. H. Rule, and co-researcher G. E. Rule) express our viewpoints with vigor below, we have no personal animosity between us and are, indeed, on quite friendly terms. Gene was a great help to us in our research and we freely acknowledge his mastery of the subject of the Sultana. As historians we are both interested in uncovering the truth which, when lost in a tangle of conflicting history and scanty records, is often a matter of interpretation. We interpret the evidence surrounding the Sultana incident differently and so present both sides of the issue. Gene said to us, “I appreciate the fact that you are willing to add my rebuttal to your website. I still do not believe that the Sultana was sabotaged, and I think that I make a strong argument against such in my rebuttal. However, I also think that it is good that people get both sides of the story.”

Civil War St. Louis is pleased to host Gene Salecker’s rebuttal to “Sultana: A Case for Sabotage”:

SULTANA: A Case Against Sabotage

Gene Eric Salecker

©2002 Gene Eric Salecker. No reproduction or distribution without the consent of the author.

SULTANA: A Case for Sabotage—The Counterargument


D. H. Rule

Disaster on the Mississippi

by Gene Eric Salecker

a new reprint by Broadfoot Publishing now available

Place Orders with the author

$25.00 plus $4.00 priority shipping to:

Gene Eric Salecker
2526 N. Davisson St.
River Grove, IL 60171-1710

“Sultana: A Case for Sabotage”

by D. H. Rule

in Volume 5, Issue 1 of North & South magazine

copies available from publisher

Volume 5, Number 1 of North & South featured an article entitled, “Sultana: A Case for Sabotage” by D. H. Rule. At best the article is entertaining. At worst, it is filled with hearsay evidence and speculation, neither of which would hold up in a court of law. There are at least five main arguments against Rule’s supposition. 1) The person that claimed that he destroyed the Sultana lacked credibility and made his claim under questionable circumstances. 2) His closest associate did not corroborate his supposed sabotage. 3) The witness who heard the testimony appears to have suffered from a bit of hero-worshipping. 4) The way the perpetrator supposedly placed a destructive device aboard the Sultana is highly suspicious. 5) The way that Rule claims the boat was destroyed is inconsistent with the facts and eyewitness reports of the actual destruction. “…filled with hearsay evidence…” whereas Mr. Salecker offers only his own  unsubstantiated opinion in the first three of his main areas of dispute and ignores significant facts in the other two.

Would it hold up in a court of law? That’s a matter of speculation. Robert Louden, saboteur of the Sultana, WAS convicted in a court of law of sabotaging steamboats on the Mississippi (Dec. 1863). Though he pleaded not guilty at the time, he later confessed that the charges were true. He also confessed to destroying the Sultana knowing that with the Presidential Pardon he had he was safe from prosecution in the matter. 1

Rule’s article contends that the Confederate mail runner and boat burner Robert Louden smuggled a lump of coal containing a hidden torpedo into the coal bin of the Sultana while the boat was stopped at Memphis on April 26, 1865. Supposedly, it was this device that ultimately doomed the Sultana and cost the lives of over 1,700 people. Although the article went on for some length, the ONLY concrete evidence that Rule provided to support her claim was a statement made by William C. Streetor to a reporter for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in 1888.1 It’s a significant point that it was not a “lump of coal” as Salecker says. It was a cast iron bomb, then called a torpedo, designed to look like a lump of coal. This type of bomb was known as a Courtenay Torpedo and was greatly feared by the Federals as it was known to be highly effective in blowing up the boilers of Mississippi River steamboats.Both of our cases are, by necessity, largely circumstantial. The case for sabotage is bolstered by the confession of the saboteur with considerable “concrete” evidence offered to establish that he met the classic standards of “means, motive, and opportunity.” Pains were taken to find confirmatory evidence from both Confederate and Union sources.2
1) The person that claimed that he destroyed the Sultana lacked credibility and made his claim under questionable circumstances.Robert Louden was a convicted murderer, a mail smuggler, and an arsonist.2 In the 1888 newspaper article William Streetor stated:

[Louden] was cool and calculating in his disposition, but at times he drank heavily, and when in his cups was disposed to talk a little too much about the war, and the burning of so many boats by the Confederate agents came up in the course of the conversation. He told me that he had fired no less than a half dozen steamboats on the Mississippi. I asked him in an offhand way what he knew about the Sultana explosion. Then he told me the story of the torpedo in the coal, and, using his own expression, “It had got to be too — ticklish a job to set the boat afire and get away from her.”3 [my underlining]

As Streetor admits, Louden was “in his cups” and drinking “heavily” when he made his statement about the Sultana. It is also interesting to note that it was Streetor, and not Louden, that brought up the topic of the Sultana (underlining above). In a court of law this is known as “leading the witness,” i.e. putting the idea of something into someone’s head. Rule even admits in her St. Louis in the Civil War Website, that “I had decided that Louden must have made his confession to Streetor while drunk as I had a good bit of evidence that Louden was very much inclined towards spending time in saloons.”4 In a drunken state of mind, Robert Louden, a convicted murderer, smuggler, and arsonist (not the most credible witness) was likely to admit anything to anybody.

The question of Louden’s nature is, in many ways, at the heart of the matter as regards his confession to Streetor. Louden had many less than admirable traits. After spending years trying to get inside his head, so to speak, and tracing down every element in his life, I don’t like him. He was a convicted killer but it was a manslaughter conviction, not murder as Salecker says.

Louden was also a mail smuggler. Whereas Mr. Salecker presents this as a negative trait, mail smuggling was probably one of Louden’s kindest, most selfless activities. He placed himself at considerable personal risk to carry letters between lonely soldiers and their families. Mail smuggling was a very dangerous occupation that carried the death penalty. It was an occupation that required steady nerves, resourcefulness, bold—even brazen—actions, and the ability to pass through Federal lines and into Union-held places where he was well known, and which were well guarded, without detection.

Louden wasn’t the sort to betray his secrets unless there was something to loosen his tongue, in this case being “in his cups.” Yet even when drinking, he’s still described as cool and calculating. You’ll notice what didn’t happen that night with Streetor… Louden didn’t go back the next day and retract what he’d said. There was no legal action Streetor could take against Louden (who had a pardon), yet very shortly after his confession Louden left St. Louis and never returned.

Credible witness against himself? With his record and proven actions? None better.

2) His closest associate did not corroborate his supposed sabotage:Absalom C. Grimes, the “Official Confederate Mail Carrier,” and a partner of Louden in smuggling and boat burning, wrote his memoirs after the war but never mentioned the Sultana or Louden’s supposed connection to it. Although Grimes wrote that Louden was busy during the war “amusing himself burning government steamboats,” and admitted that Louden had set fire to the steamboat Ruth while it was carrying military stores and $2.6 million in greenbacks, he never mentioned the Sultana, which would have been the biggest “prize” ever for the boat burners. Grimes never intended for his memoirs to be published so he had no reason NOT to mention the destruction of the Sultana. And, since Louden died in 1867, Grimes should have had no fear of causing harm to Louden by telling the truth, if indeed Louden had committed the heinous act. If Grimes felt no qualms about mentioning Louden in connection with the Ruth, why should he fail to mention the Sultana and Louden’s supposed part in it’s destruction? And, since both Grimes and Louden lived in St. Louis after the war, it is hard to believe that Grimes would not have known that his compatriot and friend had been the cause of the worst maritime disaster of all time (at that time) and would not have put it in his memoirs!5

Robert Louden supposedly told William Streetor that he “had fired no less than half a dozen steamboats on the Mississippi,” while Rule states that Louden was “notorious for the destruction of steamboats along the Mississippi River.”6 In truth, however, only the destruction of the Ruth can be positively attributed to Louden. Although Rule writes that the destruction of the U.S. gunboat Baron De Kalb was committed by “Grimes, probably accompanied by Louden,”7 (my underlining), she gives no concrete evidence to support that Louden was present. “Probably” would not hold up in a court of law!

This argument unfortunately demonstrates Mr. Salecker’s unfamiliarity with the overall situation in regards to Confederate agents, and secret service activities, at the time of the war and in later years as memoirs were being written and published.

It is not an exaggeration to say there was a “code of silence” among the Confederate agents. The code of silence was published and came from the highest authority. When John B. Castleman and Basil Duke announced their intention to publish stories of Confederate secret service activities, Jefferson Davis himself wrote to them and implored (ordered?) them not to reveal the secrets.3 Castleman and Duke complied. Castleman also is responsible for sabotaging steamboats on the Mississippi and was connected to the very organization of saboteurs of which Louden was a part.

Absalom Grimes’ memoirs reflect his adherence to both the code of silence as well as to protecting his own safety. He tells his personal tale of mail smuggling and escapes, with Louden included where the adventure requires. He leaves out material pertaining to the Confederate secret service activities and other agents even where contemporary documentation makes his knowledge and connections evident. Of the burning of the Ruth, Grimes says [my underlining], “at this late date it is safe to say…”  Consider that. In 1911, at age 76, Grimes finally felt it was safe to acknowledge that Louden, who had been dead for over forty years, really did commit an act for which he had long since been convicted and confessed.

As to the destruction of the Baron De Kalb, space limitations in the published article did not permit more lengthy discussions of some areas, this being one. Louden’s location can be established to within days either side of the DeKalb, with every indication he was a participant and no contradictory evidence that he was elsewhere. Still, the careful historian must say “probably”.

Grimes’ own position in 1865, the time of the Sultana incident; in 1888, the time of Streetor’s article; and in 1911, the writing of his memoirs, all have one other overriding thing in common: His pardon was dated December of 1864. He could not, and does not, admit to wartime connection to Louden after that date. Even ignoring that, as our current debate here demonstrates, there is and was no time in which the destruction of the Sultana was not a volatile subject.

What could Grimes say of Louden and the Sultana? There is exactly one thing he could say: “Louden didn’t do it.” And that one thing, he does not say, not in 1888 nor in 1911. Grimes’ silence on the subject is more damning than his words.

3) The witness who heard the testimony appears to have suffered from a bit of hero-worshipping.William C. Streetor, the ONLY witness to Louden’s claim, had been the chief clerk and assistant keeper at Gratiot Prison in St. Louis during the Civil War when Louden was held prisoner there in 1862 and 1864. After the war, in 1867, the two men worked together in St. Louis as painters. Louden had fled St. Louis in October 1864 but, as Rule states, “by the spring of 1867 Robert Louden was back,” cleared by a full pardon from President Andrew Johnson. In Streetor’s own words, “It was after his return home [to St. Louis] that he told me the story of how he smuggled the torpedo on board the Sultana.”8 Since Louden died in New Orleans on September 22, 1867, this leaves only a short period, from about March to September 1867, in which Louden could have made his confession to Streetor.9 The short time between the time of Louden’s confession and the time he left St. Louis suggests that, lacking any legal actions that could be taken against him, his admission to Streetor still presented Louden with a very real peril to life and limb.
According to Rule, William Streetor was a “Union man of high character, [and] well respected…” She also called him “a loyal Union man, …and a respected member of the Grand Army of the Republic.”10 If so, then it seems inconceivable that just two years after the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history, in which more than 1,700 “loyal Union men” lost their lives, that this respected veteran should discover the perpetrator of the disaster and then keep the information to himself for more than 20 years! The court martial trial of one of the officers accused of overloading the Sultana had ended only a year before (in June 1866) and in an important river town such as St. Louis, the home port of the Sultana, the memory of the Sultana would have been alive and well.11 And, with the inquisitive nature of newspaper reporters, it is a certainty that Streetor never leaked this information to anyone prior to 1888 or else the story would have made headlines long before it finally did. If Streetor truly was a “Union man of high character,” why than did he wait more than twenty years to break a story about a Confederate mail runner, an arsonist, and a murderer, that had been dead since 1867? William C. Streetor is the man I have portrayed him to be. I have a great deal of documentation stretching from 1860 to 1920 supporting this. Streetor wasn’t a famous man and doesn’t seem to have craved fame. His letters show a man of modest good humor, of forthright and unassuming character. His role during the Civil War was one of highest trust, a position he maintained through several Department of Missouri administrations and Provost Marshals. I have found not one word of reproach or doubt expressed by any of them about Streetor. His loyalty is unassailable. That he enlisted in Union service in May of 1861 in St. Louis speaks volumes about the loyalty of this man. I’d sooner take Union Provost Marshal James O. Broadhead’s and Union Provost Marshal George E. Leighton’s opinion of Streetor over that of Gene E. Salecker.The court martial for overloading the Sultana had nothing to do with the explosion’s cause. Nothing relating to the cause of the explosion affects the equally heinous crime in loading so many men on the boat.

It is not “a certainty” that Streetor’s story did not come out before 1888. The article itself says Streetor spoke “in reply to an inquiry.” Until we found the May 6, 1888 St. Louis article no one, including Mr. Salecker, knew it existed. Even in 1888 it “made headlines” only in St. Louis with the Memphis version of the article being only a short summary. What else may lie in unexplored archives remains to be seen.

The answer to that question may appears as though it lies in the 1888 newspaper article in which Streetor called Louden “a young, vigorous daredevil”, “cool and calculating”, “a remarkable man” who “possessed bravery of a certain kind, I think, equal to that of any man who ever lived.”12 Clearly, William Streetor was mesmerized by Louden. It appears as though Streetor hung on every word that Louden uttered. With a man like Streetor at his elbow, a drunken Louden could clearly make outlandish claims of notoriety, fully expecting that his words would be believed beyond a shadow of a doubt. The story of the destruction of the Sultana, plus another unbelievable story that Louden told Streetor about floating past Union gunboats while hiding inside a water-tight coffin, smack of alcohol and are fine examples of Streetor’s hero-worshipping of Robert Louden.13When Streetor finally talked to reporters in 1888 he was either lying about what he had heard in 1867, if anything; he was “pumping up” his hero; or he wasn’t the “loyal Union man…[and] respected member of the Grand Army of the Republic” that he appeared to be! What sounds to Mr. Salecker as “mesmerized by Louden”  and “hero-worship” sounds to me like frustration and disgust that Louden got away with it. (Here’s the article, decide for yourself) Present day sensibilities would have us calling Louden a “coward” in such an article. Such was not the case at that time. To call an enemy, even a reprehensible one, “brave” did not imply admiration. At that, Streetor qualifies it was “bravery of a certain kind“. Streetor even called Louden “notorious”. Hero worship?The story about floating down the river in the coffin certainly is one of boldness and daring and might, at other times and from other people, be taken for baseless, drunken bragging. But, as Mr. Salecker is apparently unaware, the story is not particularly unusual for that time and place, with comparable actions documented by numerous others. It’s not even one of Louden’s most brazen actions (even of those carefully documented by Federal sources from Federal witnesses). Louden and Grimes floated through the gunboat blockade of Vicksburg clinging to a rowboat submerged to within an inch of the surface. Others got through holding to floating logs or debris.4

When Salecker speaks of Louden making “outlandish claims of notoriety” he is writing nothing but opinion. Louden’s notoriety is clear, evident, and well-documented. As well as contemporary newspaper accounts, the 280 pages of Louden’s trial transcripts are a matter of public record.

However, we must take responsibility for Salecker misunderstanding the “remarkable man” comment. Formatting of the article on the website revised some original punctuation (now corrected). The “remarkable man” description was the reporter’s comment. It was also the reporter relaying the coffin story.

We’re to believe that Streetor, this alleged hero-worshipper, would bait his “hero” into admitting an act that could get him lynched? The publication of which could cause serious discomfort for Louden’s surviving wife and children still living in St. Louis? And that didn’t even reflect particularly well on Streetor himself? Nonsense.

4) The way the perpetrator supposedly placed a destructive device aboard the Sultana is highly suspicious.Could Robert Louden, carrying a coal torpedo “packed with ten pounds of explosives”14 and measuring about the size of a man’s head, board the Sultana, without being seen, while she was docked at Memphis and place the torpedo into one of the empty coal bins?

The 1888 newspaper article quotes Streetor as stating, “A torpedo in a lump of coal was carried aboard the steamer at Memphis and deposited in the coal pile in front of the boilers for the express purpose of causing her destruction. The man who placed the torpedo on the boat is [Robert Louden.]” Rule states in her article that “Louden had the perfect opportunity, under the cover of darkness and in the confusion of crowds of people, to place his bomb.”15 Are these statements true? The facts and eyewitness statements suggest otherwise.

“…measuring about the size of a man’s head” is Mr. Salecker’s interpretation. The physical size of the Courtenay Torpedo is such that it was 1) large enough to cause the destruction of boilers, yet 2) small enough not to attract notice among the other lumps of coal.
Taken literally, Streetor’s statement infers that Louden personally placed his torpedo into the empty coal bins, and that the boat was docked at the city proper. Let us analyze this possibility. Quoted correctly, Streetor says, “…deposited in the coal pile in front of the boilers…” He also does not say that the boat was docked at the city proper, just, “at Memphis.”
The Sultana, carrying about 2,100 recently released Union ex-prisoners-of-war, and over 200 civilian passengers, crew, and guards, arrived at Memphis about 7:00 p.m. on April 26, 1865. The boat docked by nosing into a wharfboat (usually a derelict steamboat tied parallel to the levee). By “nosing” up to the wharfboat, only the bow of the Sultana touched the derelict boat. In this fashion, other steamboats could slide up beside the Sultana and a number of boats could utilize the wharfboat at the same time. (Similar to parking cars side-by-side, as opposed to parallel parking.) Lanterns aboard the Sultana, and aboard and around the wharfboat, would have illuminated the entire area. Areas specific to the Sultana are Mr. Salecker’s greatest strength. His long years of research show and provide vivid and interesting background for the various scenarios.
Once docked, a large cargo of sugar was removed from the hold of the Sultana. While this was taking place, twenty-two guards from the 58th Ohio Infantry, which were traveling with the prisoners, were placed around the bow of the Sultana to keep the men from “jumping ship” and going into town. Some, however, managed to get away before the guards were in place while others got away by helping to roll the huge hogsheads of sugar to the top of the levee and then sneaking away.16While the deckhands were unloading the sugar, the engineers decreased the pressure in the boilers from a running pressure of 135 to around 100 pounds.17 Clearly the fires within the furnaces were banked, or reduced, and the stokers would have been given a brief rest from their job of shoveling coal. Since almost every inch of deck space on the Sultana was covered with soldiers, it would be natural to assume that the stokers relaxed near, or even inside, the coal bins (which were nearly empty). In his own book, “Disaster on the Mississippi”, Salecker says “a large number” got past the guards as they docked, and dozens more snuck past with the sugar hogsheads. When one of the casks spilled sugar “onto the Memphis wharf” the soldiers “descended on the spill like ants at a picnic.” This image is a far cry from the orderly, controlled scenario Salecker is trying to portray here.
While the Sultana was at Memphis, a few civilian passengers left the boat and a few got on.18 In typical steamboat fashion, these passengers would have been met by the captain and a clerk at the foot of the gangplank and then sent up to the cabin deck for room assignment by another clerk. In other words, with the guards crowded around the bow of the boat, the stokers relaxing near or inside the coal bins, and the steamboat officials doing their usual job of welcoming passengers, it is highly unlikely that Robert Louden could have carried a “torpedo in a lump of coal… aboard the steamer at Memphis and [deposit it] in the coal pile in front of the boilers…” without being noticed. Mr. Salecker is quite correct. As he mentions several times in his narrative, the torpedo could not have been placed at the bottom of the empty bins.
Furthermore, Rule, in her article and in her Website, speculates that J. Cass Mason, captain and part owner of the Sultana, probably knew Robert Louden from a couple of earlier encounters and from the fact that they were both residents of St. Louis.19 If Mason did indeed know Louden, then it would have been nearly impossible for Louden to board the Sultana with a large lump of coal without being recognized. Captain Mason, who was in financial straits, had everything riding on the successful completion of this trip. If he could get the paroled prisoners to Cairo, IL, without any trouble, the Federal Government would pay him $5.00 for every enlisted man and $10.00 for every officer.20 He never would have let a known Confederate boat burner climb aboard the Sultana at Memphis and threaten his precious boat and cargo without raising some sort of a fuss. Yes, even if Mason and Louden did not personally know each other they certainly would have known of each other’s reputations. Mason had been smuggling for the Confederates and changed sides. He captained the boat that carried Louden’s wife into forced exile. Louden would have had no fondness for Mason and many causes to wish him harm.5 Salecker, in his book, says, “Mason turned to the bottle” and offers evidence he was drinking heavily during this trip. Yet now we are to believe this man was efficient enough to check every face of the over two thousand on board for one man he didn’t know he was looking for and may not have recognized if he did?
Likewise, in her article, Rule states that “Advisories with [Louden’s] description and orders to arrest him were sent from St. Louis to a number of other cities.”21 Most certainly one of the “other cities” would have been the important river city of Memphis and the authorities there would have been on the look out for Louden. He would have had a difficult time, at best, boarding the Sultana while she was docked at Memphis. And yet Louden wasn’t caught, not at Memphis nor anywhere else, and he even had Allen Pinkerton after him.6 It’s a measure of how good Louden was at this sort of thing. He was a professional and he had a strong support network in Memphis and the surrounding area.
Near 12:00 midnight, the Sultana cast off her lines and went up the river to a series of coal barges. There, she took on 1,000 bushels of coal.22 This coal would have been dumped into the empty coal bins – directly on top of any “torpedo” that Robert Louden may have previously placed there! If Louden had been able to elude the guards, the steamboat officials, and the stokers, and had been able to place his coal torpedo in the empty coal bins, then it would have been covered by tons of fresh coal when the new coal was hauled on board. If the coal torpedo had been covered by the new coal, then the torpedo would not have been shoveled into the fires of the Sultana until most of the new coal was gone, and the explosion of the Sultana would have occurred much further up river and much later than it actually did. We’ve already established the torpedo couldn’t have been put at the bottom of the piles in empty bins.
But, if the deadly lump of coal had already been thrown into the furnace, it would not have been buried under the new coal. Indeed. However, the Sultana remained at the coaling barges for nearly an hour, keeping up steam the entire time, which meant that her furnaces would have been constantly fed.23 If the coal torpedo had been shoveled into the furnace during this time, the device surely would have exploded while the Sultana was taking on coal. Since the Sultana did not explode while taking on coal, it is safe to say that no coal torpedo was shoveled into her furnaces while she was stopped. Yes, it is indeed extremely safe to say that!
But, what if Streetor’s statement is not taken so literally. What if the words “carried aboard the steamer at Memphis” actually meant “carried aboard the steamer while she was in the Memphis area, i.e. at the coal barges?”Even Rule speculated that Streetor’s statement should not be taken so literally. In her Website she presents a “scenario” detailing how Louden “may have” carried his bomb on board the Sultana. “At the coaling station,” she suggests, “[the Sultana] took on fuel. In the darkness and confusion of men no one noticed an extra worker carrying coal on board… Among the other workers, Louden carried aboard a lump of coal… that wasn’t coal, though. It was cast iron in the shape of coal, coated with coal dust. The inside was hollow and packed with ten pounds of explosives… Louden placed his torpedo in the coal bin, placing it where he knew it would be used in a few hours. Then he slipped away into the night.”24 Could Louden have personally smuggled his coal torpedo aboard the Sultana while she was at the coal barges? It is highly unlikely. On the contrary, it is highly probable that this is exactly what happened. Remember, this had been done before, many times. March 1864 Union Admiral David Porter said, “Amongst other devilish inventions is a torpedo resembling a lump of coal, to be placed in coal piles and amongst the coal put on board vessels.”7 On the Mississippi River alone sixty steamboats had been destroyed by sabotage. Louden had sneaked onto and off of numerous steamboats during the war years when he was a wanted man with a reward offered for his capture. His trial in 1863 emphasized his use of disguises. Getting aboard the Sultana would not even have been the most difficult thing he did in his career.
The coal barges were anchored about a mile above Memphis. The Mississippi River was at flood stage and the barges were surrounded by water.25 Louden would have had to procure a rowboat, row over to the coal barges, board the Sultana, and place his dangerous lump of coal in the coal bins. All without being seen or raising suspicion by the thousands of soldiers and civilians on board! And, since no eyewitness ever stated that they saw anything like this being done, it most definitely was not.Steamboats were refueled by the deckhands of each boat, under the direct supervision of the first mate. They were not refueled by the proprietors of the coal barges. The proprietors sold the coal, the steamboat crews put the coal on the boat. The entire area would have been lit by lantern and torch light, eliminating much of the “darkness,”26 and most of the paroled prisoners would have been lying down or asleep, eliminating most of the “confusion.” Any person not connected with the boat crew who was helping to carry coal on board the Sultana would have drawn suspicion from the first mate as well as from the deckhands. The first mate of the Sultana, William Rowberry survived the disaster. He was interviewed by one of the committees investigating the disaster and never once mentioned a suspicious character at the coal barges, or at the wharfboat either.27 This smacks a bit of an “if a tree falls in the forest” argument. If no one saw him, it only means that no one saw him. Or in seeing him, saw nothing that aroused suspicion.Louden wasn’t a bumbling fool, nor was he a novice at this. He knew steamboats extremely well and how they operated. There were a considerable number of Confederate agents associated with Louden in and around Memphis. One of them, a man named Keaton8, owned a boat supply store near the wharf. Any help he needed to pull off the act, Louden would have had at his disposal.

The number of successful steamboat destructions on the Mississippi, including the Memphis area, demonstrate most clearly bombs could and had been smuggled aboard steamboats. Nothing about the Sultana exempts it from being as much at risk as the other 60 boats destroyed by sabotage.

Then, it would have been nearly impossible for Louden to have simply “slipped away into the night,” as Rule speculates. Are we to believe that after placing his torpedo on board the Sultana, Louden simply walked to the edge of the barge, dropped into a waiting rowboat, and rowed quietly away, all without being noticed?  The proprietors of the coal barge, most of the crew of the Sultana, and even a few of the thousands of soldiers were still awake at this time, and yet not one single person ever reported such activity. Why? Because it never happened.If Louden had rowed over to the coal barges prior to the arrival of the Sultana the barge tenders would have remembered, and reported, such an act. The barge tenders helped save a number of drowning victims and went to work trying to collect the dead almost immediately after the disaster. Most certainly the tenders would have reported the suspicious activities of Louden if he had rowed over to the barges and then stayed around to personally place his torpedo aboard the Sultana. A few days after the disaster, it was reported in the Memphis newspapers that a piece of a shell was found on the remains of the wreck. (see below) Under the circumstances, the barge tenders would have come forward to report any suspicious activity. Since they did not, Louden never did row over to the coal barges.28

Additionally, just one day previously, on April 25, a Union gunboat crew, fearful of guerrilla activity, had gone up and down the river destroying all privately owned  skiffs, rowboats, and canoes in the Memphis area. Young William H. Wooldridge, who lived on a farm above Memphis, remembered hunting in the city for “several hours” before procuring a small skiff so that he could tend his mother’s livestock that had become stranded on high spots around the farm because of the flood. Then, it took him several hours to row over flooded fields and up back rivers, being extremely careful to avoid the watchful eyes of the Union pickets camped along the river.29

Louden slipped away from the White Cloud without being seen, though a Federal detective was trying to keep track of him.Louden slipped away from the Ruth after planting an incendiary that destroyed the boat and killed twenty-six people. The Ruth had $2.6 million dollars in cash aboard, eight Union paymasters, and considerably tighter security than the Sultana.

Louden slipped away from a steamer in the Potomac River when he was spotted by Federal agents. He swam away.

Louden cut off his handcuffs under the eyes of a guard of twenty-one—a lieutenant, four non-commissioned officers, and sixteen privates—on the Hurricane deck of the City of Alton. He rolled up his sleeves, picked up a tray and, blending in with the boat’s waiters, walked away from the guard. He then slipped over the side of the boat and swam away.

Louden went through the blockade of Vicksburg twice. The second time (Federal documentation) he got away from the city two days after the Union had taken control of it. Several Union steamers were destroyed by sabotage at Vicksburg though they had General Grant, his army, and the Union gunboat fleet protecting them.

These examples did not come from Louden. They came from his enemies, the ones who wanted to see him hang. Are we to believe that the Sultana was so specially and particularly guarded that it was “nearly impossible” for one man to slip away from it unseen in the night?

Union General Benjamin Butler’s steamer Greyhound was destroyed by Confederate sabotage November 27, 1864. It came near to taking the life of Rear Admiral David Porter who knew well the power of the Courtenay Torpedo and had issued reports on it.

General Grant came close to being killed at City Point, Virginia by a Confederate bombing August 9, 1864. The agents slipped in. The agents planted their bombs. The agents slipped out and got away. This was at General Grant’s headquarters, guarded by the entire Army of the Potomac!

The Union pickets stationed around Memphis certainly had reason to be watchful for guerrilla activity. The tinclad Grossbeak, the ironclad Essex, the gunboat Tyler, and the picketboat Pocohontas, along with several steamboats, were all docked at Memphis. The sentries, both north and south of the city, were so watchful that during the morning of April 27, they actually fired shots at the unknown survivors and rescue boats as they moved “suspiciously” about on the river. In fact, the sentries had standing orders “to bring to [shore] all small boats passing up and down the river, by discharging their pieces.”30 To suppose that Robert Louden could have procured a boat in a short time and rowed unseen across the river to deposit his coal torpedo in the coal bins of the Sultana is preposterous. There’s no need to “suppose”. Louden didn’t need to procure a boat in a “short time.” He had time, help, and resources on his side, as much as he needed while he waited for a good target to arrive. He had agents in Memphis and his brother-in-law, Capt. Arthur C. McCoy9 of General Shelby’s command, nearby on the Arkansas side—McCoy who was sending spies into and out of Memphis regularly. What’s preposterous is to assume the Federals had such a strong grip on the area when they so clearly did not. Look at some of the other documentation provided on this website and note how many times “Memphis” is mentioned. Memphis, whether occupied by Unionist or Confederates, was a hub of Confederate secret service activities, including sabotage.
5) The way that Rule claims the boat was destroyed is inconsistent with the facts and eyewitness reports of the actual destruction.Near 1:00 a.m., on April 27, 1865, the Sultana left the coal barges and headed towards Cairo, IL, her next stop. After going only seven miles above Memphis, at 2:00 in the morning, the center of the Sultana suddenly erupted. Rule reports, “Without warning, an explosion ripped through the boilers, scalding steam burst out, and a shower of flaming hot coal shot upward into the night, raining down on the crowded boat, which in moments was engulfed in flame.”31 Dramatic, but not factual.

The furnace of a steamboat was built directly under the front 1/3rd of the boilers.32 If a torpedo had exploded inside the furnace, the blast would have gone in a 3600 circle or sphere, sending pieces of the “cast iron” explosive in all directions at once. An exploding device inside the furnace would have blown out the top, the bottom, and the sides of the furnace. Cast iron shards hurtling downwards would have torn through the bottom of the furnace, through the main deck, and into the hold, perhaps even tearing through the hull of the Sultana. The fact that the Sultana stayed afloat for another seven hours after the explosion, shows that the hull was not damaged.33

Here we run into the single biggest problem with Gene Salecker’s counterargument:

Salecker does not believe a Courtenay Torpedo could destroy a steamboat.

His entire argument in this section—section 5)—is based on that single flawed premise. We can argue details of the Sultana’s destruction and iron shards and flying coals and furnace doors from now until doomsday without resolution, but without Mr. Salecker’s realization that the Courtenay Torpedo was an effective means of destroying steamboats his other points are futile to debate and are contradicted by numerous authorities on the subject—Union and Confederate; contemporary and current.

Not only did Union authorities recognize and fear the Courtenay Torpodo, but even as late as World War II it was still in use by the OSS! (David W. Gaddy, co-author of “Come Retribution” advised me of this in an email he sent me about the Sultana article10).

Thomas E. Courtenay, inventor of the coal torpedo, said in November of 1864: They have destroyed many Steamers on the Mississippi River and a few months ago blew up the new Gun Boat Cherrango [sic: Chenango] at Brooklyn, New York.11

Sgt. Andrew T. Peery (3rd TN Cav.) wrote, “When the explosion occurred, I was asleep on the lower deck about the center of the boat… I ran to the side of the boat but could see nothing but water… I ran back and grabbed some clothes and started for the bow of the boat. Then the fire shot up…As we passed, the fire was getting a start and we had to pass it… Somehow I… got to the bow of the boat.”34 Peery was one of the few soldiers who actually moved from the back of the boat to the front of the boat, thus proving that the decking around the furnace was still intact and the sides of the furnace had not been blown out. J. Thomas Scharf in “History of the Confederate States Navy” says that when a Courtenay Torpedo was taken aboard steamboats with the coal it “exploded with terrible effect in their boilers.”I have found no descriptions or accounts suggesting the bottom of the boats or the sides of the furnace were blown out. The coal torpedo acted on the boilers.
Any shards of metal from an explosion of a torpedo inside the furnace also would have gone upward, into the bottom of the boilers. Punctured at the bottom, the tremendous steam pressure inside the boilers would have instantly forced its way out through the hole caused by the metal shard, i.e. through the bottom of the boiler. The force of escaping steam could be tremendous. A 1903 test demonstrated that water contained in a high-pressure boiler, heated to 150 pounds of pressure, had “enough energy to hurl the boiler over two miles into the air.”35 Such escaping pressure, coming through the bottom of the punctured boilers, would have torn the bottom out of the Sultana. But again, the hull was not damaged, proving that the explosion did not occur in this manner. Correct. Salecker’s hypothetical scenario did not occur and would not occur in Courtenay Torpedo explosion.
Rule wrote, “Several of the statements made by witnesses of the disaster lend credence to Louden’s story. William Rowberry – the first mate of the Sultana – blamed sabotage, claiming the ship [sic] was running well until the moment of the blast. The theory of a shell exploding in the furnace was ‘actively discussed and [had] many believers among experienced river men.’…A newspaper reported a witness seeing the furnace door burst open before the boilers burst. Survivors mentioned flaming coals flying about.”36First, William Rowberry made no such statement that he “blamed sabotage!” Within two weeks of the disaster, Rowberry gave a statement to an investigative committee set up by Gen. William Hoffman. He stated that he “had charge of the boat” when the explosion occurred, recounted his survival, and told about the patching of the boilers at Vicksburg. He made no statement whatsoever that he “blamed sabotage.” Both the Memphis Daily Bulletin (April 28) and the Memphis Argus (April 29) wrote of Rowberry’s survival but neither paper reported that the first mate “blamed sabotage.” In fact, the Memphis Daily Bulletin reported, “He can give no idea of the cause of the accident; says the boat was going at ordinary speed, and that all seemed well up to the moment the explosion occurred.” First mate Rowberry, nor any other member of the Sultana crew, never “blamed sabotage” for the destruction of their steamboat. Being “in charge of the boat” at the time of the explosion, it would have been convenient for Rowberry to latch onto the sabotage theory, yet, he never did.37 Rowberry on sabotage:The Missouri Republican, April 29, 1865, says, “I conversed with the first mate of the ill-fated steamer, Wm. Rowberry—who in company with six others clung to a plank, from which five fell off before they were rescued, from exhaustion, and were drowned; and he thinks there must have been some infernal machine put in the coal, as the boat, at the time, was running very steady, and so little steam on that an explosion was impossible.” [my emphasis]

This article, datelined Cairo, April 28, was also carried in the Chicago Times and the New York Times. The New York Times article ended with a further citation to the Memphis Argus, which said “Mate Paberry [sic] says that the steam was near as high on the Sultana as it was usually carried. He thinks a torpedo shaped like a lump of coal must have caused the explosion.” [my emphasis]

As you see, the first mention of sabotage by a coal torpedo came the day after the disaster. It came from the first mate of the steamer, William Rowberry, who had been in the pilot house at the time of the explosion.

Mate Rowberry of the steamer Sultana disagrees with Mr. Salecker; Rowberry certainly thought it was possible for a saboteur to get past their security.

Second, the first mention of sabotage occurred on May 2, 1865 when the Memphis Daily Bulletin reported, “…The probability of the explosion having been caused by the bursting of a shell in the furnace of the ill-fated steamer is actively discussed, and has many believers among experienced river men. One circumstance in favor of this cause is the fact that a witness before the investigating committee swore that he saw the doors of the furnace blown open, just before the explosion, and a more important circumstance is the fact that on Sunday [April 30] Capt. [William C.] Postal found a piece of a shell weighing nearly a pound among the bricks near the starboard guard knee. It was much blistered, and gave evidence of having been in intense heat.” Asked the Daily Bulletin, “Was it a Fiendish Atrocity?”38It seems strange that the “witness” who testified before the investigating committee that he saw the furnace doors blow open is not mentioned by name. The Memphis Daily Bulletin had been reporting the names of almost every other person connected with the disaster; from the men at the coal barges, to the men that drove the wagons that took the survivors to the hospitals, to the many, many rescuers. Now, suddenly, when something as horrendous as sabotage is unveiled, the newspaper declines to identify the man by name. The National Archives in Washington, DC contain the eyewitness statements from all three separate committees that investigated the Sultana Disaster and not one witness ever claimed that he saw “the doors of the furnace blown open…” This statement is entirely false and appears to be the workings of some reporter’s overactive imagination!39 It was hard at that time for them to figure out what was sabotage and what wasn’t. Many were revealed after the war was over for having been the sabotage they really were. The explosive technology being used was new. With the Courtenay Torpedo explosions triggered boiler explosions. Forensic evidence of sabotage was lost, or masked, due to the nature of the device.
As to the piece of shell that was found on the guard of the Sultana once the wreck was examined, Captain Postal reported, “We found among the rubbish portions of fire brick, pieces of coal & etc. and a piece of shell. It looked to me as if it had been subjected to severe heat.”40 Anything on board the Sultana on April 27, 1865 would have been subjected to “severe heat.” The entire superstructure of the boat burned to the water’s edge! And, if Robert Louden had been able to smuggle a coal torpedo aboard the Sultana, it certainly would not have looked like a “shell,” i.e. an artillery shell. The illustrations, which accompany Rule’s article, make that perfectly clear, and Streetor claimed that Louden had deposited his “lump of coal” on board the Sultana, not a “shell.” What did Captain Postal find? Perhaps it was a piece of the boiler, or perhaps not. We will never know. However, the three commissions that investigated the disaster came to the conclusion that the “shell” had no bearing on the explosion of the Sultana. On May 13, after two weeks of investigation, the Memphis Argus reported, “From indications about the wreck, and upon examination of the fragments of bodies raised, the idea advanced by some that her blowing up was from effects of the bursting of a shell, is explored, as is also that it was caused by the way in which she was loaded and the number of human beings on board. The true reason, as near as can be ascertained from ocular [visual] proof, is that the water was too low in her boilers and her fires were too hot, hence this sad calamity.”41 What did an exploded “shell” look like to Postal? How many had he seen and of what type? Whereas an unexploded Courtenay Torpedo would look like nothing other than coal, the exploded remnants of one may have looked to Postal like the remnants of an exploded artillery shell. Did he see interior fragments of the cast iron torpedo? Did he see a fragment of the fuse area of the torpedo?Postal’s observations may be irrelevant. Or they may be very relevant. They are part of evidence to be given due consideration, not dismissed out of hand. The three commissions barely investigated sabotage. Their focus was on responsibility for having so many people loaded on the Sultana. None of the three very brief commissions offer anything that conclusively rules out the possibility of sabotage.

Again, I emphasize a key point that Mr. Salecker is trying hard to avoid:

A Courtenay Torpedo is not a lump of coal. It is a cast iron shell shaped to look like a lump of coal. It was then covered in coal tar and coal dust to perfect the disguise. It was effective against steamboats and their boilers.

Third, regarding Ms Rule’s claim that “Several of the statements made by witnesses of the disaster lend credence to Louden’s story.” This statement appears to be a bit of an exaggeration. After studying the Sultana Disaster for more than 23-years, I have managed to accumulate the statements of 218 survivors (out of a total of about 550). Out of that number, only 4 men ever wrote that they believed in the “sabotage theory,” and three penned their reminiscences after 1888, after William Streetor managed to make his outrageous claim.42 When I said “several” I believe I was referring to three particular accounts. Thank you, Mr. Salecker for providing me with more evidence!However, it was descriptions of the explosion I was referring to, not survivor opinions about sabotage. Though on the boat at the time of the explosion, survivors really weren’t in a good position to have valid opinions about what caused the boilers to explode (unless they were steamboat men, or torpedo experts). Their personal narratives, while interesting and often heart-wrenching are of limited use in this venue.
Finally, although Rule stated that “Survivors mentioned flaming coals flying about.,” only 6 of the 218 statements that I have accumulated report “chunks of coal,” “burning coals from the furnace,” or “hot coals and cinders,” being scattered around. Undoubtedly, some hot coals were scattered around but not enough to convey the wild image of “flaming coals flying about.” And, if the “flaming coals” had been thrown all over the boat – on the bow, in the stern, all along the sides – fires would have broken out all over the place. The eyewitness statements suggest otherwise.43 “…flinging live coals and splintered timber into the night sky like fireworks.” “The Sultana Tragedy” by Jerry O. Potter, page 83.”…hot ashes and flaming coals rained across the entire length of the vessel…” Potter, page 88.
When the boilers exploded, they disintegrated and left the top of the furnace exposed. The fire that ensued broke out when the shattered decks above the boilers collapsed and fell into the open furnaces. Corp. Erastus Winters (50th Ohio Inf.) had been asleep on the cabin deck, “just forward of the smokestacks…” When the explosion tore upward through the center of the boat, Winters said, “I found myself slipping down an incline, and landed on my feet on the coal pile in front of the furnaces.” Chester Berry (18th MI Inf.) recalled, “The upper decks of the boat were a complete wreck, and the dry casings of the cabins falling in upon the hot bed of coal was burning like tinder.”44Every soldier that wrote about the start of the fire reported that the flames started in the center of the boat, proving that the furnace had not exploded outward, sending a “shower of flaming coal upwards into the night” or “flaming coals flying about!” The fire started in one place and one place only, when the shattered debris from above fell into the open furnace. In fact, had the soldiers not panicked, they might have been able to put out the fire.

Simeon Chelf (6th KY Cav.) wrote, “The men rushed to the bow of the boat and jumped overboard… After the main rush was over I had more room and could see what was going on. While gazing about I saw a fire start up in the coal that lay near the furnace. I looked for a bucket so as to get water to put it out, but couldn’t find any.” George Kayton, the pilot of the Sultana, said, “The fire could have been easily put out but all [the] buckets were blown overboard.” Corp. Thomas Sharp (2nd WV Cav.) agreed. He wrote, “Three or four men with buckets could have kept the wreck from burning.” Added Chester Berry, “A few pailsful [sic] of water would have put the fire out, but alas it was ten feet to the water and there was no rope to draw with, consequently the flames swept fiercely up and back through the light wood of the upper decks.”45

An explosion in the furnace would most likely send burning material upward through the stacks, which is consistent with the accounts of coals and ash falling, driven toward the back of the boat by wind. Salecker’s insistence that an explosion in the furnace would burst “outward”, other than through the furnace doors, seems to be his own speculative interpretation. The furnaces are not sealed units, as the pressurized boilers are. The force of the blast would direct to openings (doors, stacks) and into weak areas (boilers) with the shrapnel piercing the relatively thin boiler iron. Sides of the furnace, and the floor are the least likely areas to be damaged.A Courtenay Torpedo is not a particularly large bomb. By itself it is unlikely to cause major damage to a steamboat. It’s effectiveness, and the reason it was used, and used successfully, is that it had sufficient explosive force and shrapnel to cause the secondary explosion—it made the boilers blow up.
So, what then caused the explosion? If it was not a coal torpedo in the furnace, what was it? Again, let the facts and the eyewitness accounts tell what really happened.The Sultana carried four newly designed high-pressure tubular boilers. Each boiler measured 46-inches in diameter and 18 feet in length. The four boilers were set side-by-side over a brick and mortar furnace and connected underneath by a water pipe to maintain a common level of water in each boiler. Flues, or tubes, ran from one end of the boiler to the other, allowing hot air from the furnace to pass through the boilers. The average 1865 boiler contained two flues, ranging from twelve to sixteen inches in diameter. The Sultana, however had newly designed boilers with each boiler carrying twenty-four flues measuring five inches in diameter.46 Yes… the “facts and eyewitness accounts” that have failed for over 135 years to provide any conclusive proof as to the cause of the explosion.Mr. Salecker now provides a list of “the usual suspects.” None of these listed causes are actually proven and most of the “facts” are speculative observations and unproven theories.

There is little to say in counterargument as none of these hypothetical causes contradicts or disproves the assertion a Courtenay Torpedo triggered the boilers to explode. We know the boilers exploded. The question is what triggered the boilers to explode; a point on which Mr. Salecker does not offer conclusive proof.

To say that the Sultana had problems with her boilers would be an understatement. The boilers of the Sultana had been repaired two times in March, and again on April 24, 1865, while the paroled prisoners were being placed on board the boat at Vicksburg, The last repair had been necessitated when the chief engineer, Nathan Wintringer, discovered “a small leak in the larboard [i.e. left] boiler at the third sheet from the forward end, a few inches below the horizontal diameter of the boiler…” While the Sultana was being loaded with the prisoners, an experienced boiler mechanic riveted a temporary patch over the leak and declared the work, “a good job.” However, the mechanic felt that “from the appearance of the boiler when I repaired it, I think the iron was burned and that the boilers were used with little water.” (my underlining) Additionally, the mechanic felt that “so long as there is a sufficiency of water in the boiler there is no danger of an explosion.”47 A little further down Mr. Salecker says, “the path of the explosion proves that it was not the patch that failed.”Salecker has successfully refuted the repair at Vicksburg as the cause of the explosion. Next…
The problem with the boilers seemed to be in the design itself. The water of the Lower Mississippi was filled with silt. Since the water from the river was used inside the boilers, the silt got into the boilers and collected in pockets around the many flues. These “pockets” had a tendency to heat up, especially if the boat careened or tilted. When the Sultana went up river from Vicksburg, after having her boilers cleaned and repaired, the boat was a bit top-heavy because of all of the prisoners crowded onto her upper decks. At times, the boat careened in such a way that the crew of the boat feared that the Sultana would either capsize or that her boilers would explode. When a vessel careened, or tilted to one side, the water within the interconnected boilers flowed from the high boiler to the other(s). In other words, if there are four interconnected boilers set side-by-side, and the boilers are tilted to one side, the water in the highest boiler will flow into the lowest boiler. With no water inside the high boiler, the metal is exposed to the direct heat of the furnace and dry pockets of silt can form. These unprotected pockets turn red-hot and when the boat rights itself, the water rushes back into the boiler, hits the red-hot pocket, and immediately turns to steam. This increase in steam results in a sudden increase in pressure and if there is a weak spot on the boilers, a resulting explosion could occur.48 Mr. Salecker said the boilers had just been cleaned. So he has successfully refuted silt as the cause of the explosion. Next…
To demonstrate, present-day boiler mechanic and expert Donald Cooper of Hayes Boiler & Mechanical, Inc., Chicago, Illinois, suggested taking a glass of water and tipping it about five degrees. “The water level drops on the one side,” he wrote. “In a glass it only amounts to a fraction of an inch, but on a boiler (depending on its width) could be four to six inches.” He further suggests that to see an example of the “violent reaction of water against an overheated metal,” all one has to do is heat a frying pan and then pour some water on it. “You have to be very careful not to get burned from splashing hot water and steam.”49 The “careening” theory does have some support though not a great deal. Kayton, the pilot, who was in the pilot house at the top of the boat where effects of careening would be magnified, does mention careening but—interestingly—not at the point at which the explosion occurred. Rowberry, the first mate, was also in the pilot house and does not mention careening. Rowberry initially blamed sabotage. Careening seems to have come up as an afterthought to most who mention it at all. Most of those who do talk about careening weren’t even on the boat. How severe could any careening have been if so few onboard mention it? Wouldn’t any great degree of careening have sent a good percentage of the thousands on board to the railing puking, instead of sleeping peacefully?

Further, Hoffman, whose investigation was the most credible of the three done at the time, and who listened to the testimony of Rowberry, Kayton, and others on this point, concluded in his report that “There is nothing to show that there was any careening of the boat at the time of the disaster” [my emphasis]

The explosion that tore through the Sultana went upward and back at about a 30-degree angle. (It did not go downward!) The blast tore through the main cabin on the second deck, leaving a gaping hole in the floor and ceiling. Capt. J. Walter Elliott (44th USCT), asleep inside the main cabin, recalled, “Suddenly I find a yawning opening in the floor… The cabin, roof and texas are cut in twain; the broken planks on either side of the break projecting downward…” The blast continued up through the small collection of cabins occupied by the officers of the boat, known as the Texas cabins. Chief engineer Wintringer was asleep in his cabin, about midway on the Texas, and recalled, “I do not know how much, if any, of the Texas in front of my room was injured, but most of it behind my room appeared to have sunk down on the cabin or lower deck.”50Two men, pilot George Kayton and chief mate William Rowberry, were in the pilothouse as the blast continued upward. Only the back portion of the pilothouse was ripped off by the blast, sending the chief mate flying through the air, while the forward portion simply crumpled down into the gaping hole. Rowberry recalled, “We were seven miles up the river when the boilers exploded and I found myself in the river.” Added Kayton, “I was at the wheel and fell on top of the boilers where I was wedged in by the wreck. I crawled out [from] under the pilothouse…”51

The explosion clearly came from the back of one of the boilers, and from the top since the blast went upward and back. Since the patch that had been put on at Vicksburg was placed on the forward end of one boiler, the path of the explosion proves that it was not the patch that failed.

Again, Salecker’s interpretation of the nature of a sabotage explosion is his own contrivance and is not to be construed as having any connection to claims made in the article “Sultana: A Case for Sabotage.”
Just prior to the explosion, Corp. Robert M. Elza (3rd TN Cav) was near the boilers and was watching second engineer Samuel Clemens, the man on duty at the time of the explosion. Elza wrote:Nathan Markham [4th KY Cav.] was my bunk mate and he had made a bunk near the boilers on some poles. Between   12 and 1 o’clock I was sitting on the steps talking to J.F. Haun [Joshua A., 3rd TN Cav.], as we were going around the northwest side of the Hen and Chickens Island, endeavoring to enter what is known as Chute No. 40 to Mississippi rivermen. At this juncture I heard the engineer complain of his boilers being too full of water to make Chute No. 40, as it took a great deal of steam. He then blew some water out and closed the valve and struck the gauge, the boiler being still full of water. The engineer said, ‘D—m, it is not enough,’ blowing the water out the second time. He closed the valve and struck the gauge, and a dry steam whistle began to sound. At once I realized the danger, and went to my partner [Markham] and woke him, at the same time starting to tell Whittenbarger [Drewey A., 3rd TN Cav.] of the danger of the explosion. I said, ‘the engineer had –’ and at that juncture she blew up.52 In providing Elza’s account, Salecker damages one of his own earlier arguments. He criticized Streetor’s truthfulness and integrity because he hadn’t published his Louden/sabotage claim until 1888.Now we have the account of Robert Elza who didn’t publish his allegedly significant account until 1912!

Worse than just using a double-standard in his selection of evidence, Salecker offers no reason why Elza withheld his information for so long. Given Salecker’s earlier criticism of newspaper reporters, are we supposed to now accept an article from the Knoxville Sentinel without any secondary evidence?

Engineer Clemens was mortally scalded by the explosion but lived long enough to supposedly tell Chief Engineer Wintringer that there was “plenty of water in the boilers, and there was not an extra pressure of steam.” Perhaps Clemens was lying when he made his statement, after seeing what his “tampering” had caused, or perhaps he honestly believed that the boilers were full of water. When interviewed by the Washburn Inquiry, Wintringer admitted, “The water in boilers sometimes ‘foams’ as it is called, giving the appearance of plenty of water when there is little or none…”53 When Clemens let the water out of the boiler upon approaching Chute No. 40, he may honestly have felt that there was enough water in the boilers, when in reality there was not. A deathbed statement is a powerful thing, taken very seriously by courts of law. In an era more religious than ours, would Clemens imperil his immortal soul by going to judgment with both a lie and a guilty secret charged to him? Refuting a deathbed statement is a difficult matter.
Although the soldiers were asleep at the time of the explosion, the 1865 supervising inspector of steamboats, J.J. Witzig, rented a tugboat and followed the exact course of the Sultana just prior to her explosion. When the Sultana exploded, she had just completed crossing diagonally from the right side of the river to the left side, passing through the strong flood current. Witzig reported that when the tug followed the same course, “[it] did careen some.” When he was asked if “the Sultana with 1800 [sic] passengers on board, and no ballast or freight in the hold” would careen, Witzig replied, “My opinion is she ought to careen certainly.”54 J. J. Witzig, inspector of steamboats in St. Louis testified that he thought the numbers of men on board would cause the boat to careen and pose a danger of explosion of the boilers. However, he also reported that it was the patch that caused the explosion. Salecker has already said that the patch wasn’t the cause thus discrediting his own best witness in favor of careening. Witzig was scorned as an incompetent drunk by engineer Wintringer who said Witzig had even drunkenly fallen off the boat on the way to Memphis.12 And by early 1867 Witzig had been removed from his position for malfeasance!13 Next…
Chief engineer W. W. B. Richardson of another 1865 steamboat, reported:”The fires under the boilers of the steamboat are very intense, and but a few moments are required to heat to redness any part of the boiler not covered by water, exposed to it; and when, by the careening of the boat, the water is thrown from the highest boiler to the lowest ones, the exposed parts of the boilers may be so heated in a very little while, as to cause an explosion on the boats being righted, causing the water to flow back into the heated boilers, the sudden generation of steam thus caused being too powerful for the weakened iron. On this account a boat that is top heavy as the Sultana was, is in much more danger than a boat with its load in its hold.”55 Speculation.
Richardson went on to state that, “When a boiler bursts from the giving way of a weak place or a patch, the fracture is not confined to the point that gives way first, but it covers more or less of the boiler, which is generally wholly destroyed, and with it much of the boat, by the great power of steam which is so suddenly let loose.”56Another engineer and boilermaker, Isaac West, was interviewed on May 14, 1865. He stated, “Boilers may be destroyed either by bursting or destroying… In the second case, one or more boilers of the set are entirely destroyed by the sudden development of steam by some unusual cause, which acts on the boilers like the ignition of so much gunpowder. This explosion is in all cases occasioned by the want of sufficient water in the boilers, in which case the boilers or the flues become heated to redness, and when the water is again forced into them, the sudden development of steam, which is caused by the water coming in contact with the heated iron, acts like the burning of a mass of gunpowder, and the immediate destruction of the boilers is the consequence.”

“In the case of the Sultana,” he concluded, “…I am inclined to believe that the explosion took place from a deficiency of water in the boilers… The Sultana’s boilers were of the tubular kind, having about twenty [flues] in each boiler, and if at any time the water should be below the upper tier for a few minutes, they would become red-hot, and on the return of the water to its proper level, they would in all probability collapse which would probably result immediately in the explosion of the boilers.”57

J.S. Neal, captain of the 1865 steamboat Indiana, was interviewed and stated, “In my opinion boilers never explode except from the absence of sufficient water in them.” When asked, “What would be the effect on a steamer crossing diagonally the current of the Mississippi River if it was heavily loaded, on the cabin and hurricane decks, and lightly freighted in the hold and on the main deck?” Neal’s answer was, “It would careen even if its lower decks were freighted and much more if the boat was top heavy.”58

And finally, even Chief Engineer Wintringer had an opinion on the cause of the disaster. In his testimony before the Hoffman Investigation he stated, “…I can only assign as the probable cause of the disaster that the boat was top heavy and was consequently inclined to careen over from side to side and in this way the water has been thrown from the upper boilers to the lower ones, exposing some parts of the upper ones to be heated, which parts gave way, where the water was suddenly brought back to its proper level.”59

This is also what would happen if a Courtenay Torpedo exploded in the furnace. As with the others on the list of hypothetical causes, this in no way contradicts a coal torpedo as the cause of the boilers exploding.

New York Times, May 18, 1865:

“This was the awful contrivance employed with so much success by rebels in blowing up our transports on the Mississippi, and it is suspected that the awful disaster to the Sultana was accomplished by one of these diabolical things.”

This article is talking specifically about the Courtenay Torpedo pictured in the article; the one found in Jefferson Davis’ office in Richmond. The Courtenay Torpedo was a popular, and successful, means of destroying steamboats.

Noted historian William A. Tidwell in “April ’65” says:

“The whole truth about the Sultana may never be known, but the circumstances surrounding its sinking are almost exactly what they would have been if it had been ‘hit’ by a Courtenay torpedo.”

Tidwell also says:

“Capt. Thomas E. Courtenay developed a torpedo of cast iron in the shape of a lump of coal… At some point the device would be shoveled into the firebox of the engine along with the coal. Within a few seconds or minutes the bomb would explode and tear open the boiler, causing a secondary explosion of steam. The steam explosion would mask the cause of the disaster, making it appear to be an industrial accident instead of enemy sabotage.”


“Major Norris of the Confederate Signal Corp recommended to the secretary of war that the use of the disguised torpedoes be extended to additional places behind enemy lines.”

Instead of the impractical sabotage scenario put forth by Rule, boiler expert Cooper put forth a scenario of his own:”The Sultana, running with 135 pounds per square inch of steam pressure, top heavy, and slightly low on the water, lists thus exposing [a] portion of the boiler metal… to direct heat with no water against it. This area of the boiler overheats and the metal fatigues. The boat moves out of the main current and rights itself. The water returns to level against the overheated, fatigued metal, causing the area to explode out…”60 From St. Louis, April 25, 1865:

“Since the outbreak of the rebellion to the present time over seventy steam-boats owned in Saint Louis have been destroyed… Of this number only nine have been fired by rebels in arms, and there can be little doubt but the greater portion of the balance were fired by the above [list of organized boat-burners, including Louden] or similar emissaries of the rebel government.”

The Confederates did not find sabotage “impractical”.

Supervising Inspector J.J. Witzig concurred. In 1865 he stated, “I can only assign one cause [to the explosion] – over-pressure at the time.” Over-pressure caused by a sudden increase in steam, caused by the careening of the boat and a lack of water in the boilers. As Corporal Elza witnessed, the reason for the low water was the questionable actions of Second Engineer Clemens.In January and February of 1866, the boilers on the steamboats Missouri and W.R. Carter, respectively, exploded without warning. Steamboat historian Frederick Way, Jr., wrote, “Both were equipped with tubular boilers then considered the rage because of their fuel-saving attributes. The U.S. Steamboat Inspection Service outlawed them almost overnight. Many steamboats were withdrawn from service and were given regular Western-type boilers immediately thereafter.”61 The Sultana had been another victim of the explosion of tubular. Wrote Chief Engineer Wintringer:

“Now what did cause this explosion? The explosion of the ‘Walker R. Carter’ and ‘Missouri,’ in rapid succession, I think fully answers that question. It was the construction of those boilers. After these three fatal explosions they were taken out of all steamers using them and replaced with the old style of boiler. They were en experiment on the lower Mississippi. They had been used with some success on the upper Mississippi, where the water at all times is clear and not liable to make sediment or scale. As I said before, those boilers were an experiment on the lower Mississippi, and had not been long in use there, and it was the opinion of experts that it would have been only a question of time for all steamers using those boilers to have gone the way of the ‘Carter,’ ‘Missouri,’ and the ‘Sultana’ went, had they have not been taken out and replaced by others.”62

Witzig assigned at least three different causes to the explosion, at least one of which Salecker himself refuted.

One of the things that bothers me most about this whole Sultana sabotage question I’ve ended up immersed in is the image of Sultana as somehow existing in a bubble of uniqueness, isolated and untouched by all surrounding events and activities. This is why Mason’s connections to the Confederates and to Louden come as a surprise to so many. You can see this attitude in many of Mr. Salecker’s arguments. Sultana could not possibly have had a saboteur sneak on board because of the amazing security and guarding it had. No, it didn’t. It was a commercial transport in Union service. It wasn’t the only one. It was far from being the only one. If there had been only 200 people on board Sultana instead of 2000… there would be no controversy. There’s no controversy about Louden destroying the Ruth. Salecker’s not disputing that one. Does he know—do you know—about the Campbell with its individual tales of death as horrific as any on the Sultana? How about the Champion, the Imperial, the Hiawatha, the Post Boy, the Jesse K. Belle, the Forest Queen, the Chancelor, the Glasgow, the Welcome, the Sunshine, the E. M. Ryland, the Sam Kirkman, the James Wood, the Minnetonka, the Sally Wood, the Skylark, the Catler, the Mussellman, the W. H. Sidell, the D. A. Taylor, the A. J. Sweeney, the Venus, the West Wind, the J. W. Cheesman, the Allen Collier… do you know these names and remember them as reverently as you do the Sultana?

60 dead on the Champion. 26 dead on the Ruth. Over 100 dead on the Robert Campbell. As many as 156 dead on the City of Madison. Do you remember these lives lost as you do those on Sultana?

In summary, it was a number of factors that caused the destruction of the Sultana, including poorly designed boilers, top-heaviness, lack of ballast in the hold, careening, and low water in the boilers. However, it most definitely was not sabotage! In spite of all of Rule’s statements that “it is possible” or “may have been” or “probably” or “seems to have been,” it still remains that her only concrete evidence to suggest that it was sabotage that caused the destruction of the Sultana is the statement of a questionable “loyal Union man” reporting the drunken ramblings of a convicted murderer and arsonist. When all of the facts and the eyewitness accounts are taken into consideration, the case for sabotage simply falls apart.Dismissed. Next case please… Bear in mind this all took place during a war; a vicious, mercilessly fought war. Despite the popular—and inaccurate14—notion that the Civil War ended with Lee’s surrender it did not. The Mississippi River was still a war zone at this time. The Confederate Department of the Trans-Mississippi had vowed to fight on, and did. This was Louden’s department. Louden, McCoy, Tucker… and numerous other known steamboat saboteurs were unsurrendered and still fighting a war on the Mississippi River. Moreover, in April 1865 they were fighting a last-ditch, desperate war, a war which they would not be allowed to quit; not be allowed to go home.15Mr. Salecker can fling away the cautious “probably” if he likes in favor of his “most definitely”. Ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit his multiple theories doesn’t prove his case, nor disprove mine.

1) D. H. Rule, “Sultana, A Case for Sabotage,” North & South, Vol. 5, No. 1, 78.
2) Ibid., 78, 82.
3) St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 6, 1888.
4) Rule’s own Website, Civil War St. Louis.
5) D. H. Rule, “Sultana, A Case for Sabotage,” North & South, Vol. 5, No. 1, 79-81.
6)  Ibid., 78; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 6, 1888.
7)  D. H. Rule, “Sultana, A Case for Sabotage,” North & South, Vol. 5, No. 1, 81.
8)  Ibid., 78, 84; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 6, 1888.
9)  D. H. Rule, “Sultana, A Case for Sabotage,” North & South, Vol. 5, No. 1, 87, n. 61.
10)  Ibid., 85; Rule’s own Website, Civil War St. Louis.
11)  “Transcript of Court-Martial of Captain Frederic Speed, (hereafter Speed Court-Martial), 369-71; U.S. War Department, War of the Rebellion, 1st ser., vol. 48, pt. 1. 217-18.
12)  St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 6, 1888.
13)  Ibid.
14)  Rule’s own Website, Sabotage Scenario
15)  St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 6, 1888; D. H. Rule, “Sultana, A Case for Sabotage,” North & South, Vol. 5, No. 1, 84.
16)  Walter G. Porter’s statement in Chester Berry,  Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, (Lansing, MI: 1892), (hereafter Berry, Loss of the Sultana), 287; Hosea C. Aldrich, Cahawba Prison: A Glimpse of Life in a Rebel Prison, (Jerome, MI: n.d.), 15.
17)  Nathan Wintringer’s statement in Berry, Loss of the Sultana, 26.
18)  Charles E. Compton’s testimony in Speed Court-Martial, 147-48; “The Chicago Opera Troupe,” Memphis Daily Bulletin, April 28, 1865, 3; G. Monroe Lock, “Women on the Sultana,” National Tribune, May 31, 1923, 6; William D. Snow’s statement in “Records of Inquiry Conducted by Major General Washburn,” (hereafter cited as Washburn Inquiry).
19)  D. H. Rule, “Sultana, A Case for Sabotage,” North & South, Vol. 5, No. 1, 80; Rule’s own Website, White Cloud Incident
20)  Chester D. Berry’s statement in Berry, Loss of the Sultana, 47.
21)  D. H. Rule, “Sultana, A Case for Sabotage,” North & South, Vol. 5, No. 1, 83.
22)  George Kayton’s statement in Washburn Inquiry.
23)  Nathan Wintringer’s statement in “Records of the Investigation Conducted by General William Hoffman,” Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, Record Group 153, National Archives [hereafter Hoffman Investigation]; Nathan Wintringer’s testimony in Speed Court-Martial, 167.
24)  Rule’s own Website, Sabotage Scenario.
25)  Nathan Wintringer’s testimony in Speed Court-Martial, 167; Simeon D. Chelf’s statement in Berry, Loss of the Sultana, 87; “River News,” War Eagle (Cairo, IL), April 14 and 15, 1865.
26)  Ken Watson, Paddle Steamers: An Illustrated History of Steamboats on the Mississippi and Its Tributaries, 37, 40.
27)  William Rowberry’s statement in Hoffman Investigation.
28)  “Caring for the Living and the Dead,” and “Two Brave Fellows,” both in Memphis Daily Bulletin, April 28, 1865, 2.
29)  J.H. Curtis, “Only Living Eyewitness Details Sultana Explosion,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, January 25, 1920.
30)  James H. Berry quoted in “Ensign Berry’s Report,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, April 29, 1902, 8; U.S. War Department, War of the Rebellion, 1st ser., vol. 48, pt. 1, 225; Ira B. Horner’s and Truman M. Smith’s statements in Berry, Loss of the Sultana, 178, 327-8.
31)  D. H. Rule, “Sultana, A Case for Sabotage,” North & South, Vol. 5, No. 1, 78.
32)  Ken Watson, Paddle Steamers: An Illustrated History of Steamboats on the Mississippi and Its Tributaries, 66; Alan L. Bates, The Western Rivers Steamboat Cyclopoedium, 42-44.
33)  Jacob Homer’s statement in George Schmutz, History of the 102nd Regiment, OVI, 245; Hugh Kinser’s statement in Berry, Loss of the Sultana, 209.
34)  Quoted in “Ándrew T. Peery’s Story of the Sinking of the Sultana April 27, 1865,” Maryville [TN] Enterprise, April 30, 1975, 1.
35)  Louis C. Hunter, Steamboats on the Western Rivers, 292.
36)  D. H. Rule, “Sultana, A Case for Sabotage,” North & South, Vol. 5, No. 1, 84.
37)  William Rowberry’s statement in Hoffman Investigation; “The Chief Mate’s Testimony,” Memphis Daily Bulletin, April 28, 1865, 1; “Chief Mate, Steamer Sultana,” Memphis Argus, April 29, 1865, 3.
38)  “Was it a Fiendish Atrocity,” and “River News,” Memphis Daily Bulletin, May 2, 1865, 4.
39)  Washburn Inquiry; Hoffman Investigation; “Records of the Commission Conducted by General Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana,” Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, Record Group 153, National Archives.
40)  William C. Postal’s statement in Washburn Inquiry.
41)  “More Concerning the Sultana Disaster,” Memphis Argus, May 13, 1865, 3.
42)  Statements of Philip L. Horn, Samuel H. Raudebaugh, and Christian Ray, all in Berry, Loss of the Sultana, 177, 295, 296; James H. McCurdy, “The Sultana Explosion,” The National Tribune, August 30, 1888, 3.
43)  Statements of Otto Bardon, Wiley J. Hodges, and Albert W. King, all in Berry, Loss of the Sultana, 39, 173, 201; B.F. Johnston, “Sultana Disaster,” The National Tribune, May 10, 1900, 7; “Civil War Reminiscences – J.R. Collins Tells of Sinking of the Sultana,” Plainville [KS] Times, May 28, 1908, 1; Ralph W. Stark, “The River Steamer Sultana Disaster,” Boone [IN], Your County Magazine, July 1978, 7.
44)  Erastus Winters, In the 50th Ohio Serving Uncle Sam, 165; Chester D. Berry’s statement in Berry, Loss of the Sultana, 49.
45)  Statements of Simeon D. Chelf and Chester D. Berry, both in Berry, Loss of the Sultana, 49, 88; Thomas Sharp, “The Sultana Disaster,” The National Tribune, November 21, 1912, 7; “Testimony of the Pilot,” Memphis Daily Bulletin, April 29, 1865, 1.
46  “River News,” Cincinnati Daily Commercial, February 4, 1863, 4; Inspector’s Certificate of Sultana, April 12, 1865; Alan L. Bates, The Western Rivers Steamboat Cyclopoedium, 42-3; Ken Watson, Paddle Steamers: An Illustrated History of Steamboats on the Mississippi and Its Tributaries, 65-7.
47)  Wintringer’s statement in Hoffman Investigation; R.G. Taylor testimony in Washburn Inquiry; Wintringer’s testimony in Speed Court-Martial, 164, 166, 169-70; Henry J. Lyda’s statement in Berry, Loss of the Sultana, 28
48)  Witzig’s testimony in Speed Court-Martial, 132.
49)  Donald Cooper to author, June 17, 1993.
50)  J. Walter Elliott, “By Fire and Flood,” The National Tribune, June 30, 1887; Wintringer’s testimony in Hoffman Investigation.
51)  “Testimony of the Pilot,” Memphis Daily Bulletin, April 28, 1865, 1; Rowberry’s statement in Hoffman Investigation.
52)  “Commemoration of Heroic Deeds on Ill-Fated Boat,” Knoxville Sentinel, April 27, 1912.
53)  Wintringer’s statement in Hoffman Investigation.
54)  Witzig’s statement in Speed Court-Martial, 133.
55)  W.W.B. Richardson’s statement in Hoffman Investigation.
56)  Ibid.
57)  Isaac West’s statement in Ibid.
58)  J. S. Neal testimony in Washburn Inquiry.
59)  Wintringer’s statement in Ibid.
60)  Donald Cooper to author, June 17, 1993.
61)  Frederick Way, Jr., Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994, 326-7.
62)  Wintringer’s statement in Berry, Loss of the Sultana, 25-6.

Footnotes1) Louden Trial transcript, 280 pages, National Archives; Louden letter in Provost Marshal records M345, roll 170, Louden was convicted of burning the Ruth and several other steamers, mail carrying, and spying.  St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 6, 1888

2) The original manuscript of “Sultana: A Case for Sabotage” was 6600 words and included 127 footnotes of sources (for comparison, Mr. Salecker’s rebuttal here was 7800 words with 62 footnotes). The published version of the article in North & South had about 1000 words removed and the footnotes were condensed into 61 footnotes with each footnote encompassing several sources. No single source was taken at face value but was backed by at least one independent source, in many cases two or more, wherever possible using sources from both the Union and Confederate sides.

3) John B. Castleman, “Active Service,” citing an 1886 correspondence from Jefferson Davis regarding Duke’s magazine “Southern Bivouac.” In 1917 Castleman still complied with Davis’ wishes.

4) “Blockade Runners of Vicksburg,” Valley Trust Magazine, 1926; A. A. Hoehling, “Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege”; John N. Edwards, “Shelby and His Men”; Louden Trial transcripts, NARA; Provost Marshal records M345 (several rolls); numerous others

5) The White Cloud Incident (original sources for the White Cloud Incident include trial transcripts, witness depositions, newspaper accounts, witness accounts, Federal detective reports, the Official Records, Gratiot Street Prison records, and genealogical records)

6) Provost Marshal records, J. W. Tucker file, M345, roll 270

7) Boat-Burners in the Official Records (take note of the other red-highlighted sections as well)

8) M. M. Quaife, “Confederate Mail Runner” 1926 Yale University Press

9) Arthur C. McCoy

10) Additional citations: “OSS Special Weapons and Equipment: Spy devices of WWII” by H. Keith Melton. New York: Sterling, 1991, page 97. Coal bombs were also carried by the German Spies who landed on Long Island in 1942 (Operation Pastorius). “Germany’s Spies and Saboteurs” by David Allen Johnson. Motorbooks International, 1998, page 66.

11) Thomas E. Courtenay (at a website by Tom Thatcher, a descendant of Courtenay, from published article “Military Collector and Historian”, the journal of the Company of Military Historians, Vol. XI, Spring 1959 by Joseph Thatcher). Tom Thatcher will soon be publishing an article on Courtenay and the Courtenay Torpedo which will greatly expand upon the effectiveness, targets, and physical characteristics of the torpedo.

12) Jerry O. Potter “The Sultana Tragedy” pg. 157. Quoting letter of Wintringer.

13) Senate Executive Journal, Journal of the executive proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America, January 22, 1867

14) In the foreword to Salecker’s “Disaster on the Mississippi” Jerry O. Potter says, “It [the war] ended when the tattered Army of Northern Virginia surrendered at Appomattox.” This is a popular notion but is profoundly inaccurate, especially as concerns the Department of the Trans-Mississippi, of which Louden was a part. They had vowed to fight on-and did-not surrendering until May 26th (or June 2nd, depending on who you believe had authority to surrender the department). Gene Salecker assures us that he recognizes this fact as well.
15) Author J. M. Bundy, staff officer to General Pope. Bundy personally delivered the offer of surrender terms to Kirby Smith in May of 1865. “Thousands more were Missourians who had little expectation of being allowed to return safely to their homes”. Galaxy magazine, January 1870, “The Last Chapter in the History of the War”. Also says, “Attorney-General Speed had issued an official opinion to the effect that paroled Confederate soldiers who had come from loyal border states—like Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee—could not ‘return to their homes’.” Of course Louden had a much more specific reason—he was under sentence of death!

See also:

The Boat-Burners

A. C. Grimes

Louden Letters

St. Louis articles on the Sultana survivors that led to the Streetor/Louden article

Memphis Daily Appeal article, May 8, 1888

St. Louis Globe-Democrat article May 6, 1888

Survivor Wiley J. Hodges remembrance  & Comment on sabotage by survivor Samuel H. Raudebaugh

The White Cloud Incident

The Sabotage Scenario

Baker’s list of boat-burners with part of Frazor’s confession

Boat-burners in the Official Records

J. W. Tucker and the Boat-burners

The Steamer Ruth

The Steamer Robert J. Campbell, Jr.

White Cloud Incident

Sabotage of the Sultana…

The White Cloud & the Rowena—the paths of Robert Louden and James Cass Mason cross:

Mason’s and Louden’s paths crossed early in 1863 in a curious intersection of events. February 13, 1863, on the river near Memphis, two steamers were stopped, searched and seized by the Federal Gunboat U.S.S. New Era. One of these was the steamer White Cloud. Found aboard was a large Rebel mail. According to witness testimony, it was Louden’s mail, bound south from St. Louis for General Price’s army. Louden escaped capture, slipping over the side of the boat and swimming away.

The other steamer seized was the Rowena with Rebel contraband on board. Captain of the Rowena, at this time, was J. Cass Mason. The boat was named for his wife, Rowena M. Dozier, and owned by her father, a St. Louis businessman in the river trade. The Rowena was confiscated by the Federal government. Apparently because of this event all business relations between Mason and his father-in-law ceased. After this date Mason became captain of the Belle Memphis and seems to have halted any smuggling work for the Confederates.

Is it coincidence that Mason had been smuggling for the Confederates and was caught at the same time and in the same place as Louden with his own contraband? Possibly. But Louden certainly would know of Mason and the Rowena incident. This would be the time at which Mason effectively switched sides and threw his lot in with the Union. There is evidence—records of arrests of disloyal citizens in St. Louis—that Dozier, Mason’s father-in-law was actively working with the Rebels. Mason may well have been viewed as a turn-coat by the Rebels of St. Louis.

Only two months after the WhiteCloud/Rowena incident, Mason captained the Belle Memphis that carried Louden’s wife into exile. Robert Louden was certainly familiar with Mason and his reputation. Louden was connected to every bit of news on the river. In April 1865 Mason with his boat-load of human gold (as Mason’s motivation for cramming so many on the Sultana was the price per head he got) would have struck Louden as a serious temptation and good target to strike at in many ways.

Sabatage of the Sultana – Survivor Remembrances

Sabotage of the Sultana…

Remembrances of some survivors:

Hodges is one of those that was immediately covered by flaming coal that must have come from the furnace.

Wiley J. Hodges

Excerpted from “Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors” by Rev. Chester D. Berry, 1892

* * *

My bunk was near the boiler, and on the night of the terrible accident I lay with a blanket over me. I was awakened by an explosion an found myself covered with burning coals from the furnaces. I was not long in springing to my feet and throwing my burning blanket away and getting away from that locality.

Clearly not a big fan of William C. Streetor. One wonders if Raudebaugh knew that Streetor himself had been a Union soldier.  Neither the Memphis nor St. Louis articles on Streetor say anything about “chiseled a hole” in a lump of coal.  This seems to be Raudebaugh’s own interpretation. He’d apparently never heard of a Courtenay torpedo.

Samuel H. Raudebaugh

Excerpted from “Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors” by Rev. Chester D. Berry, 1892

* * *

Now, remember, kind reader, we were on our way home from the cruel war, it being virtually over. We were on our way home from those horrid dens of cruelty and starvation. Yes, we had lived through it all, and hoped, “Yes, expected soon to see loved ones at home and enjoy at least some of the peace we had fought to restore. Home! Yes, home under the stars and stripes, once more. While thus pleasantly meditating, all of a sudden, about half-past one o’clock A.M. one of the boilers exploded and the greater part of that human load was blown into the river, while sound asleep  –some to awake in the cold water and some in eternity. Those that were not blown off at the time of the explosion were soon compelled to jump into the river so as to escape burning to death, for the boat quickly caught fire and burned to the water’s edge. About 1,750 of that homeward-bound company perished then and there, and several hundred more poor fellows died in the next ten days from wounds, burns and scalds.  I say, fearless of truthful contradiction, that the explosion of the Sultana was the greatest calamity of the war against the slave-holding rebels, and it was the greatest steamboat disaster known to history.

You will naturally ask two questions, first, “How did you escape?” and second, “How did the calamity occur?” To the latter question I can but give my opinion, and that has never changed since I got ashore and took time to think. I believe that some enemy of our Union had a hand in crowding so many of us on the boat, and that he knew when that southern sugar was taken off that the rest of the cargo and the boat would meet the fate that followed. I believe that some ally of Jeff. Davis put a torpedo in the coal, while we were at Memphis, where it would go into the furnace for the first that would be built after leaving Memphis, with the intent to destroy the boat and its mass of human heroes on their way home. I can say that in May, 1888, a man in the south, William C. Streeter, St. Louis, Mo, said that he knew the man, Charles Dale, who said he chiseled a hole in a large chunk of coal, put the torpedo therein which did the deadly work, carried it with his own hands and laid it where it must soon go into the furnace.

I will say one thing more and that is, if I were in authority I would arrest and hang the man who knew so high-handed and bloody a murderer and did not try to have him brought to justice for so gigantic a crime. [which is extremely unfair to Streetor who truly sounded upset that Louden hadn’t been hung in 1864]

Sabotage of the Sultana – Globe Democrat

Sabotage of the Sultana…

This is the last of the three Globe-Democrat Sultana articles appearing between April 23 and May 6, 1888.  It is amazing that this article seems to have been completely lost to history until rediscovered as part of our investigation.  It is a roadmap to Robert Louden’s and William Streetor’s careers.  Using it an experienced person could track down most of the rest. The most serious omission is the fact that Louden’s death-sentence was not just for spying and mail-running, but for boat-burning as well.

Streetor is being either somewhat disingenuous or modest when he talks about “the burning of so many boats by Confederate agents came up in the course of the conversation” and “I asked him in an offhand way what he knew of the Sultana explosion”.  Remember who these two men were and their history together.  They were important figures on opposite sides of the secret war in the West.  Streetor had spent most of his career during the war protecting the Union against the likes of Louden.  The two maximum security areas of Gratiot were full of Confederate secret service agents, including Louden and his mail-running partner Ab Grimes.  Streetor as assistant keeper was deeply concerned with keeping them above all others under lock and key.  Streetor had also been personally involved in thwarting one of Ab Grimes’ regular and always creative escape attempts.  As chief clerk of the prison as well, Streetor would have had access to all Louden’s records and been familiar with the charges and suspicions about Louden’s activities and connections to J.W. Tucker and the “organized boat-burners”.  Certainly Louden knew who Streetor was as well.  The casual conversation that Streetor describes is like an ex-FBI agent and a pardoned serial bank-robber sitting down for a few drinks. Can anyone be surprised where the conversation would end up?

It appears that the transcript of Louden’s Dec. 1863 trial is the origin of Streetor giving his pre-war alias as “Dale” instead of “Deal”. Louden had used “Charlie Deal” as an alias when he first came to St. Louis, principally in his connection with the Liberty Fire Co. No. 6. In taking down the testimony of Chief of U.S. Police Peter Tallon, the court transcriber apparently heard it as “Dale” and used that spelling throughout. Histories of the Volunteer Fire Department of St. Louis –one of which was written by the ex-brother-in-law of Louden’s wife and uncle of his two step-children– clearly give it as “Deal”. As for “Lowden” instead of the proper “Louden” –well, there is a consistent record of mucking-up the spelling of that in creative ways by multiple sources, Union and Confederate, with “Lowden” being the most popular of the incorrect versions.

Unfortunately, this article was practically the last thing we found instead of the first. Almost all of the revelations found in this article had been discovered by us from other sources before we ever saw it. We had talked for months about our case being built around the fact (as we see it) of the centrality of St. Louis –as opposed to Vicksburg or Memphis– to the “sabotage theory.”  More and more we convinced ourselves that if the Memphis papers had published Streetor’s story, then there had to be some significant mention of it in the St. Louis papers.  These two men were just too well known there for the St. Louis papers to have taken no notice whatever of Streetor’s accusation against Louden.

Since we are too far away to easily visit St. Louis, it was decided to take Dennis Northcott of the Missouri Historical Society into our confidence, lay out our suspicions, and ask him if he would search for the article we strongly suspected must exist in the May 5th-10th period.  Dennis reacted like a trooper  –after determining that the MHS collection of the Missouri Republican contained no such article, he volunteered to go to the St. Louis Public Library and search their collection.  A few days later a photocopy of the article below arrived in our mail. Certainly we had hoped for more detail than the Memphis paper had published, but we were shocked at how much more there was.

How could this article have been lost?  Well, for one thing, in a city that knew Bob Louden very well indeed  –both friends and enemies—there was no reaction.  His wife, who still lived there, did not come to his defense in print.  Ab Grimes, his war-time partner, still lived near St. Louis and also did not rise to challenge Streetor’s story.  It is simply not credible Ab Grimes –riverman, Bob Louden’s mail-running  partner, and sometime “guest” of William Streetor’s at Gratiot Street Military Prison–  didn’t know about this article, yet his memoirs say not a word about it, are relatively friendly to Streetor (who was, after all, a Yankee), and even confirm the post-war relationship between Streetor and Louden.  The total silence about Louden in post-war Confederate sources until Ab Grimes memoirs were published in 1926 (his daughter published them 15 years after his death; it is not clear Ab ever intended them to be read outside the family) strongly suggests a tacit understanding by all Louden’s friends that it would be better to leave sleeping dogs lie.

Sultana’s last voyage

A line drawing of this photo appeared in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat article

St. Louis Globe-Democrat

May 6, 1888


The Cause of the Horrible Disaster

Explained at Last.

Charlie Dale, a St. Louis Painter, Placed a Torpedo in the Coal Bin on the  Boat—The Steamer Just Before the Wreck.

The recent publication of a number of statements from survivors of the explosion of the Mississippi River steamer Sultana twenty-three years ago, has led to the cause of the disaster, a matter of much historical interest in connection with the war of the rebellion. The generally accepted theories of the explosion are faulty condition and bad management of the boilers. Mr. William C. Streetor, a painter of this city, who now has a shop at 314 Locust street, was a resident of St. Louis during the war, and was employed as a clerk in the Gratiot and Myrtle street prisons.  The facts in his possession regarding the cause of the Sultana explosion, as related to a GLOBE-DEMOCRAT reporter, yesterday, removes this much discussed subject from the field of speculation, fixes the fearful catastrophe as the result of no accident, but of fiendish design, and locates with much particularity the boss dynamiter and murderer of the age.

“Yes, I know something about the Sultana disaster,” said Mr. Streetor, in reply to an inquiry.  “I can give the cause of explosion.  A torpedo in a lump of coal was carried aboard the steamer at Memphis and deposited in the coal pile in front of the boilers for the express purpose of causing her destruction. The man who placed the torpedo on the boat is my authority, for I had the statement from his own lips. He was a notorious Confederate mail carrier and blockade runner, was captured some five or six times, and once, at least, was sentenced to death by a military commission in this city. Toward the close of the war, it will be remembered, President Lincoln issued an order that no one should be executed under military laws until the sentence had been confirmed by the President. It was while awaiting confirmation of the sentence that he escaped from the military prison in this city and made his way South, where he remained until after the close of the war. His friends obtained a pardon for him from President Johnson, and, armed with that, he returned to his home in St. Louis. It was after his return home that he told me the story of how he smuggled the torpedo on board the Sultana. His real name was Robert Lowden, but he was always known in this city by his alias, Charlie Dale. He was a painter by trade, and he worked in the same shop with me for William H. Gray, some three years after the close of the war. Dale was at that time a young, vigorous dare-devil. He possessed bravery of a certain kind, I think, equal to that of any man who ever lived. He was cool and calculating in his disposition, but at times he drank heavily, and when in his cups was disposed to talk a little too much for a man with a record like he had. It was while he was drinking one day that he and I got to talking about the war, and the burning of so many boats by the Confederate agents came up in the course of the conversation. He told me that he had fired no less than half a dozen steamboats on the Mississippi. I asked him in an offhand way what he knew about the Sultana explosion. Then he told me the story of the torpedo in the coal, and, using his own expression, ‘It had got to be too—ticklish a job to set the boat afire and get away from her.’

Out of a hundred other of Dale’s daring exploits during the war one in particular impressed me forcibly as showing the character of this remarkable man. It was accomplished while the federal fleet was lying between Memphis and Vicksburg. Dale had escaped from prison in this city, and was on his way South. He was in a quandary for several days as to how he was going to get through the Federal lines. Finally he hit upon a plan and it was successful. He got a coffin at Memphis, calked it up with white lead, and launched it on the Mississippi. Then he laid himself out in the ghastly looking boat and floated down the stream. He passed the Government gunboats at night, and two or three times when the current of the stream drifted the coffin up against the hulls of the boats he reached out with his hands, pushed his craft clear and landed in the morning safe within the Confederate lines.

“Before the war Dale was a member of the old Liberty volunteer fire company in this city and was well known to a great many people living here now. He died in New Orleans during the yellow fever epidemic along in the latter part of the ‘60s. But to return to the Sultana explosion. I have read carefully all the information I could find about it, and from the character of the explosion I have been led to believe that Charley Dale’s story of the torpedo is true.”

[Article continues with scenes from rescue of survivors. . .]

Sabotage of the Sultana – Memphis Daily Appeal article

Sabotage of the Sultana…

As would be expected, the search for information on the Sultana tragedy has mostly centered in Memphis and Vicksburg.  Consequently, the article below is the one most historians are familiar with when they talk about the Sultana and the “sabotage theory.”  Jerry O. Potter cites it directly in “The Sultana Tragedy” as does William Tidwell in “April ‘65”. Gene E. Salecker’s “Disaster on the Mississippi” does not mention this article directly in the text, but does list it in his secondary sources (Mr. Salecker was kind enough to share by email the text he has of this article  —it is slightly different from the wording given below, which we received from the Memphis Public Library).

What a pale, puny thing this article is compared to the Globe-Democrat article of two days before.  On top of the misspelling of Louden’s name and alias which were present in the original article, this article adds new mistakes –including the assertion that “what has become of him is not known.”  Most importantly, it completely fails to include Streetor’s credentials in making this assertion—his relationship with Louden during and after the war, and the position of responsibility he held during the war working with the Union Provost Marshal’s office as assistant-keeper and chief clerk of Gratiot Street Military Prison.

May 8, 1888 Memphis Daily Appeal


Another Theory of the Cause Advanced by a St. Louis Man

St. Louis, Mo, May 7  — The awful explosion on the steamer Sultana near Memphis twenty-three years ago, in which nearly 2,000 Union soldiers lost their lives, has always been a mystery.  The survivors at their reunion have recently made a number of statements regarding the affair, but the most sensational story has been told by a resident of this city, William C. Streeter.  His statement fixes the explosion as the result of design.  He claims that a noted Confederate blockade runner and mail carrier named Robert Lowden, better known during the war as Charles Dale, was the author of the terrible disaster.  Streeter claims that Lowden told him, after the close of the war, that while the Sultana lay at the Memphis wharf, he smuggled aboard a large lump of coal in which was concealed a torpedo.  This he deposited on the fuel pile in front of the boilers for the express purpose of causing the destruction of the boat.

Whether the responsibility for the awful crime rests solely with Lowden, or whether he was acting under the direction of others, Streeter is unable to say.  Lowden had an adventurous career, being captured several times while running blockades, and once narrowly escaped execution.  What has become of him is not known.

Sabotage of the Sultana

Sabotage of the Sultana…

This is the first of the three Sultana articles appearing in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat between April 23 and May 6, 1888.  While it can not be said with certainty that William C. Streetor saw this article, it certainly is possible.

St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 23, 1888

Story of the Sultana

The Steamboat Explosion Which Cost

Two Thousand Lives

How a Soldiers Longing for a Drink and a

Par of Lieutenant’s Epaulets Saved

The Lives of a Chicago Man

and His Companion

[From the Chicago Tribune.]

Friday next a soldierly-appearing German, aged about 45, whose features wear an expression of settled seriousness that rarely changes for an instant, will celebrate the twenty-third anniversary of the Sultana disaster. He is Edward F. Hedrick, for fifteen years a member of the Chicago police force, now proprietor of a well-ordered little saloon on the corner of Centre and Halsted streets. Besides himself there are said to be now living but five of the 2100 passengers aboard the Sultana at the time of the explosion. It will be remembered that about 400 were picked up alive, but a large proportion of that number survived their wounds and exposure only a few days, and many others swelled the roll of victims within a year or two. Mr. Hedrick served two years in the 8th New York Infantry, at the expiration of which time he enlisted at Indianapolis for three years in the 9th Indiana Cavalry. He was captured at Sliver Branch Trestle and imprisoned at Cahaba, Ala. With 2000 other Union prisoners he was exchanged and sent up the river. These passengers taken on at New Orleans, were on the boat when her boilers blew up. Mr. Hedrick recently told the story of the disaster, including the details of his own remarkable escape, for publication in the Tribune, so frankly and graphically that it is best reproduced in his own words:

“When we boarded the Sultana at Vicksburg,” he began, “we were a jolly crowd. Two thousand of us had just been released from a Southern prison and we were happy. The Sultana was a regular Mississippi River packet boat of that period. A thousand passengers would have crowded her uncomfortably; with over 2000 she was like a hive of bees about to swarm.

“We steamed out of Vicksburg and moved slowly up the middle of the river. The spring floods were at their highest, the stream being in some places as much as forty miles wide. We reached Memphis at 8 o’clock in the evening. Three of my prison chums were on board—Johnny Hinckley, Montgomery Hall and John Wills—and as the Captain said he would not leave till midnight we made up our minds to land and have some fun. I’m going to tell you about this because if we hadn’t gone up-town Johnny Hinckley and I would have been blown sky-high with the others. Our main object in landing was to get something to drink. But we soon discovered that the town was under martial rule and that only officers were allowed anything stronger than coffee. We were so thirsty that we went into an alleyway to reconnoiter. When we were out of sight of the street Johnny Hinckley took out of his pocket a pair of lieutenant’s shoulder-straps he had picked up somewhere, put them on, and while we waited in the alley he entered the nearest saloon. He was gone quite awhile and came back a trifle unsteady, and wiping his mouth. Then I put on the shoulder straps and followed his example with equal success. By the time Hall and Wills had performed their part of the programme it was time to start back to the boat. None of us were drunk, but we were full enough to be happy and to care little whether school kept or not.

“It was just about midnight when the boat left Memphis. Everybody was in the best of spirits. There were a number of professional gamblers on board, and as we passed the cabin door I noticed that it was crowded with officers and gamblers who were playing for high stakes. We went to bunk in the middle of the middle deck, between the office and the bar room and directly over the boilers. Hall and Wills were sleepy.  They rolled up in their blankets and were soon snoring. It was the last ever seen of them. I wanted to follow their example, but Johnny Hinckley wouldn’t have it. He was much elated over our luck with the shoulder straps. We were both a little top-heavy, so when he insisted on going to the back end of the boat and turning into a couple of the officer’s cots I readily consented. There were a great improvement over the hard floor of the deck, and we were soon sound asleep.

“The next thing I knew thee was a terrible crash. The passengers were shouting and screaming and jumping into the river on all sides. I got up, and as I moved forward to see what the matter was I bumped my head against a part of the upper deck which had fallen in. Then I saw flames creeping back toward the stern and knew that the boilers had blown up. I ran back to find Hinckley, but his cot was empty. The notion of jumping into the river, as passengers were doing all around, didn’t please me, so I slid down to the freight deck on one of the swinging bumpers that hung over the side. A big crowd of passengers had flocked to the stern, where a lot of mules were quartered. Many of the mules hand broken loose and were stamping up and down the deck. Several of us seized one and threw him overboard, intending to jump ourselves and let him swim us ashore. But the water was black with heads and arms of drowning passengers, and the mule sank instantly with a dozen men under and on top of him. We threw in several more, all with the same result. People were constantly jumping in and carrying others to the bottom with them. There wasn’t a clear space within jumping distance in any direction. The water was rough and churned the crowd of swimmers up and down as though there were logs in a broken raft.

“All the time Capt. Mason was working bravely on the upper deck throwing planks and barrels overboard and shouting to the passengers to keep cool. Many swam ashore on what he threw into the water, but he staid aboard too long to save his own life. After awhile, when most of the passengers had thrown themselves into the river, the boat seemed to drift away from them, leaving a clear space. I had thrown several shutters over, but they had all been seized by those in the water. Finally the flames had driven the terrified mules so closely about me that I was obliged to seize a bit of plank and jump for my life. By the light of the flames I saw what I took for the shore only a few rods distant, and congratulated myself that I was getting off so easily. But it was only an island, and in spite of all I could do the current carried me past the lower end of it. There was no shore in sight. Pretty soon a half-drowned man floating by caught hold of the end of my plank. He placed his whole weight on it, and we commenced to sink together. I cursed him and said: ‘Why don’t you help yourself a little so we can both be saved?’ But he was too exhausted. I let him have the plank, and started to swim with nothing under me. When I was nearly worn out a steamer came by picking up floating passengers so near that I thought of course she would take me on. But the wind was in the wrong direction. They couldn’t hear me, and I gave myself up for lost. Just then a brandy jug floated by. I worked it under me and plucked up courage again. In this way I floated down to where the current struck the bend just above Memphis, and caught the overhanging branch of a half-submerged tree. Dozens of people had floated in just as I had, and were clinging to bushes and trees. The water was so high we couldn’t touch bottom, and there was no land in sight. The blaze of the burning Sultana had been seen from Memphis, and we were presently rescued by one of the boats in search of survivors and bodies of the dead. The water was so cold that we were chilled through, but there was plenty of spirits and a blazing fire on the rescuing boat, besides piles of blankets in which we were wrapped.

“As I walked up the bank at Memphis in my blanket, almost the first person I met was Johnny Hinckley. Before jumping overboard he had secured a life preserver, and floated down to the bend without much difficultly. The people living at the principal hotel bought us new suits of clothes, and in a day or two we came North to Indianapolis. Then I lost track of Hinckley and haven’t seen or heard of him since. I would like to know where he is. You see, it was nothing in the world but his shoulder-straps that saved our lives.”

Story of Another Survivor

Frankfort, Ind., April 12—

James Payne, one of the few survivors of the Sultana disaster, lives in Hamilton County, this State, near Packard’s Mills, and there he was found by the Tribune correspondent. Mr. Payne was a private in the 124th Indiana, which was captured by the Confederates at Spring Hill, Tenn., in 1864. He spent three months amidst the horrors of Andersonville, and was then exchanged. “Orders came to the effect that 500 men should be taken out each day to be exchanged,” said Mr. Payne, “with the provision that the old men were to go first—that is, those who had been longest in the prison. But we found out that a little persuasion in the way of money had a great effect upon the officers of the prison, and as the boys of our company had succeeded in keeping a little money concealed, we bought our exchange, and consequently our company, which was now down to eleven men, got out on the first list.  One of our boys went out on a dead man’s name. When the dead man’s name was called he answered to it. We were taken to Vicksburg, and the morning of the 1st day of May, 1865, we were marched down to the wharf to embark to be sent North and home. We lost no time in getting aboard the Sultana, as that time the largest boat on the Mississippi. She was a side-wheeler of unusual dimensions. She carried eighteen boilers. The boilers and machinery of the Sultana had been inspected at St. Louis just before her down trip, and at Vicksburg just before we started.

“We started from Vicksburg about noon.  Everything went well, excepting our sickness, the result of our confinement, and the rough water, as the river was running high. We landed at Memphis at 11p.m., where we had about 400 hogsheads of sugar to unload. Here occurred my miraculous escape. A number of the boys, myself being one of them, got off here and went up into the town to see if they could get something to eat, and at least get some fresh air. A comrade, whose name I have forgotten, and myself wandered around until we heard the signal to start and then we ran for the boat, but we were too late, and the only result of our efforts was to get into the sand up to our knees. We saw that the Sultana was going to stop at some coal barges and take on some coal, and we in our desperation tried to get aboard here; but it appears that Providence was working in its own mysterious way, and we were again unsuccessful. While we were standing on the wharf, or rather in the sand, we were watching the Sultana, our hope, joy and pride, steam away, feeling our hearts sink within us.

“We watched the Sultana until she got to a point in the river where there is a small island called ‘Hen and Chickens’, seven miles above Memphis, where, to our horror, the boilers exploded, and then what was left of the vessel took fire, and, slowly drifting down the river, burned up. Of course a great many were killed by the explosion, but the greater part of them were either burned to death or driven by the fire into the water and drowned. Some few of the boys were able, by getting hold of some of the floating wreckage, to get ashore. One man, or boy, rather, J.W. Thompson, who was then only 18 years old, swam until he was opposite Memphis, which was seven miles, when he was picked up by a yawl. They were afraid to put out large boats until it became light, consequently no boats but skiffs and yawls were used until morning. A very dense fog also came up just immediately after the explosion. The river was very high at the time, all the bottom lands for miles on each side of the river being inundated. One soldier succeeded in getting upon a log, and also helped upon the log a lady passenger whom he found in the water, and by means of using his hands and feet as oars finally guided the log out of the channel and lodged it safely against some timber. She was, I think, a Chicago lady, and she has since handsomely rewarded him. As to the actual number saved I, of course, do not know, but I do know that it was comparatively few. John W. Thompson, whom I have named, lives now at Fisner’s Switch, Ind. Lieut. Elliot is now living at Indianapolis, Ind. Matthew Wright, the man who went out on the dead man’s name, is now living at Boxytown, Ind. These four men, besides myself, are all the men I think who are living, except Wesley Negley, whom I had almost forgotten.”

This is the second of the three Sultana articles appearing in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat between April 23 and May 6, 1888.  Note that it appears on the 23rd anniversary of the disaster, and talks specifically about a reunion of Sultana survivors being held in Michigan.  One way or the other, this article must be the key event that lead to the publication of the revelations contained in the May 6th article.

There are two possible explanations.  The first is that Streetor saw it and came forward on his own, contacting the paper to tell his story. The Sultana survivors only began meeting about 1885, so it is possible that this was the first notice Streetor had that such a group existed and still memorialized the event.  The second possibility is that Streetor had previously shared his story with others, who when they saw the article contacted the paper and said something like “You really ought to talk to William Streetor about this.”

St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 27th, 1888

Sultana Survivors

Reunion at Hillsdale, Mich.

Special Dispatch to the Globe-Democrat


Of the eighty survivors of the great Sultana disaster on April 26, 1865, Joseph Stephens, of Buffalo, N.Y., is the most interested in the re-unions of the remnant of persons now surviving that historical casualty. Stephens is one of the veterans not lost on that occasion and takes the deepest interest in the annual gatherings, at which the attendance grows appreciably less each spring. Mr. Stephens formerly lived in this place, and offered last year to pay the expenses of this year’s reunion if held at his old home, which offer was accepted. The reunion is to last two days.

The programme consists of an address of welcome by the Mayor, response by the President of the society, election of officers and the spinning of yarns about the fatal day. The Grand Army veterans here and the Woman’s Relief Society are taking a leading part in the entertainment of the survivors. A banquet will be given tomorrow night. Only half a dozen of the survivors have arrived up to this evening. A fair representation of the total number is looked for to arrive on the late trains tonight and early in the morning. The celebration proper takes place on the second day.

Story of a Survivor

Special Correspondence of the Globe-Democrat.

FORT WAYNE, IND., April 26.

Two veterans of the late war were distinguished yesterday above the many hundreds of their fellow solider-citizens in Forth Wayne, by receiving circular invitations to attend a meeting of the survivors of the explosion on the Mississippi River steamer Sultana, perhaps the most melancholy incident of the rebellion. The survivors have long since formed an association, and the meeting referred to is to take place at Hillsdale, Mich., on Friday, April 27, the twenty-third anniversary of the catastrophe.

The two gentlemen referred to are Louis Schirmeyer, a clothing store clerk, and Geo. H. Fredericks, a fireman on the Wabash Railway. Mr. Schirmeyer was called upon today by a Globe-Democrat representative, and related his personal experience. It was a thrilling tale, and in substance is as follows:

“I was a member of the 32d Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and had been captured at Chickamauga. I was first sent to Libby Prison, then to Pemberton Prison, next to Danville, Va., and finally to Andersonville, where I remained until the war ended. I was then taken to Vicksburg and placed on board the Sultana with 2,100 others, mostly discharged prisoners. The boat stopped at Memphis at 8 o’clock in the evening and many of us went ashore, and an opportunity for drinking was not neglected. A friend of mine had money and I filled up with beer and almost missed the boat, which resumed its course at midnight. In fact, I was the last to cross the gang plank, which was at once drawn in after me.  In the vast crowd it was difficult to find a place to lie down, but I found one on the top-most deck, just in front of the pilot house. Here I fell into a deep sleep. I was awakened by the noise of a terrific explosion of the boilers, and found myself being hurled upward through the air.  I must have gone up 20 or 25 feet. In falling I struck the shattered pilot house. My face was cut and bleeding, and my hair was half singed off by a flame that burst over me. It was a rude awakening. I swung myself down a rope that hung over the boat’s side, and from a perch on the lower deck peered out into the river. The night was moonless, but the flames spread a bright gleam over the swollen stream. Never can I forget that scene. The heads of the people in the water were so numerous that it seemed as if an apple thrown in any direction must have surely hit one of them. Some cursed, some prayed, all cried out for help. Every few minutes a hand would be uplifted helplessly, and the next moment its owner would be swept out of my sight. The flames grew hotter, and approached more nearly. My place of observation could be held but a little longer. To remain would be to burn to death. To jump would be to drown, for I was an indifferent swimmer. The increasing heat decided me.  I sprang into the water. A mattress, which had been thrown from the cabin deck, floated by me. Two Irishmen seized it. I cautioned them not to bear their entire weight upon it, but they gave no heed and were soon sprawled on its top. The mattress became water-soaked and sunk. The two Irishmen sunk with it. Scenes like this were constantly occurring. I paddled on as best I could. At last, when my strength was almost exhausted, I was struck from behind, and turning about, grasped a floating piece of timber that had probably been a deck support. I threw my arms over it, and in an hour had floated into the branches of a tree that overhung the swollen river. I clambered to a place of safety. Four others found places in the tree. Here we remained until daylight, when one of the many boats that had been sent up from Memphis for the relief of the survivors approached near enough to hear our cries. We were lifted on board. I fainted at once. In three days I was able to pursue my journey by another steamer to Cairo, and at Indianapolis I received an ovation and was mustered out.”

Louden Letters

Louden Letters…

Letters written by Robert Louden from Gratiot Street Prison:

November 1, 1863 – letter by Robert Louden to brother Andrew Louden (a POW in Ohio). Louden wrote and spelled well yet used absolutely no punctuation. The letter has been broken into sentences for easier reading. Liz is his sister. Mollie is his daughter. Lulu is his step-daughter. Arthur is his brother-in-law, Arthur C. McCoy.

Gratiot Sr Prison St Louis Nov 1st

Dear Brother

I suppose you have heard of my arrest if you have received any letter from mother or Liz. At all events I was taken prisoner Sept 2nd 1863 in this city and immediately confined in Lynch’s nigger pen on 5th & Mrytle and a ball & chain on my leg. I was kept there 3 weeks and then I moved to this prison, where I have since been kept in close confinement not having even the liberty of the yard. I am in the same room that Mary was in during her imprisonment, what I am charged with, I do not know, and the probability is that I will not find out until I am about to be tried, and that event seems to be further off now than the day I was taken. I would have been over to see you had I not been taken for I was on my way there and only came here to see about Mollie and get Lulu off to the Convent. They had no one to look to for anything but me, for you are aware that Mary was banished last May and is now in Miss. somewhere. I do not know what will become of the children too. Mother wrote to you of the cruel and inhuman way the Fed’s have treated Father. Nothing had been heard of him at the date of the last letter from mother. She was about frantic at his loss and the way they murdered him but you know the old Jewish law and if you ever rejoin your command carry it out to the full letter. Of your treatment I know nothing but hope it has been better than mine, even little Mollie is not permitted to visit me nor have I been allowed to receive a visitor since my arrest. Where Mary is, God only knows. I seen her for a few minutes when she arrived south and since then have not heard from her or about her. I do not know how you are off for clothing but if you need any send me word and I will try and have some sent to you for I have some money due me by parties in town that I can draw if necessary. Aleck & Jim Buist have both deserted and are in the Yankee nation now. The old lady, Mrs. G. comes down occasionally to get my soiled clothes and generally has Mollie with her but Nellie (you remember her) has stuck to me as she always did & was the first one to come and see what I wanted. Arthur is now a major in the C.S.A. and [?] he will fight them on the last half-inch for he has a double duty to perform now, fight for freedom & revenge both. I am in hopes you will soon be exchanged and if you are well of your wound be in the service again. I do not know what mother says to you but she was in hopes you would take the oath and stay at home, poor Mother she has suffered in this war. Father and Jim gone, you and I in prison. I seen Dave Thomson he has recovered entirely from his wound and says he has enough of the war he was in the 79th Regt of New York at Bull Run. Lizzy and he are living in New York now but I understand Liz is in bad health, when you write send my love to them and to Mother. Frank write to me as soon as you can and if I can assist you let me know. Direct to Robert Louden Gratiot St Prison St Louis hoping you have fully recovered.

I remain

Your affectionate brother


With his execution nearing, Robert Louden wrote the following letter pleading for mercy. The confession of guilt sparked excited articles in St. Louis newspapers saying Louden had confessed all, and that there were many very nervous people in St. Louis, not knowing if Louden had named them or not.

Gratiot Prison

April 29, 1864

Major General W. S. Rosecrans

Comdg Dept of Missouri


Upon you as Commander of this Department devolve the duty of appointing the sentence of the Military Commission in my case to be carried into effect, and to you in this hour of tribulation I appeal for that mercy in your power to show me an afflicted wife and helpless family join in this prayer to you.

That I have violated the laws of my country I freely and humbly confess and do not seek to extenuate my guilt but I am deeply and truly penitent for all I have done and pray for forgiveness.

An affectionate wife and infant children will be left entirely destitute at my death, my long imprisonment has diminished their scanty resources and deprived entirely of their natural protection I tremble for their future. My aged parents, residing in Philadelphia have not yet received the sad news of my condemnation, although immediately on the first knowledge of it means were taken to inform them and they will make no delay in coming to see me.

I appeal to you then, to intercede in my behalf for the sake of those who will suffer so much by the execution of my sentence, my sufferings will I hope end with death, for though the intercession of our Divine Saviour I trust to be forgiven for all my sins, but at my death the suffering of my innocent family will commence, for their sake then do not turn from the pleading of an humble and penitent offender.

Throwing myself entirely on your mercy and praying that this appeal may not be in vain, but that sympathizing with my own distress and that of my afflicted and heart-broken family you may think proper to recommend my case for Executive clemency, and solemnly pledging never again to transgress the laws of my country but as a true and loyal citizen to devote myself to my family.

I remain, Sir,

With respect, Yours

Robert Louden

Sabotage of the Robert J Campbell

Sabotage of the Robert J. Campbell, Jr….

The Steamer Robert J. Campbell, Jr., destroyed September 28, 1863 by Isaac Elshire, one of the Organized Boat-burners:

Excerpts of a passenger’s account published in Boston:

“I was a passenger on board the steamer Robert Campbell, Jr. I stood upon the boat with four other men until everyman, women and child that was not burnt was overboard, nor did I leave it then until my neck, face and hands commenced to burn… I saw a women rise for the last time, with her two hands raised to Heaven for help. I recognized in her the mother of two children on board; and as she already sunk twice, my resolution was taken either to save her or perish in the attempt. No sooner thought of that I made for her just as she was going to sink. I got her by her clothing and pulled her into the wheel-house and seated her on the paddle. I then commenced to built a raft out of such things that floated near; and those were principally trunks and boxes of clothing… she was raving about her children“her little angels.” It was an awful moment, but not a moment to be spend in idleness. I had already broken up three boxes and lashed them together, but the raft was not needed, for they came to our relief with a boat. When we got on shore we inquired about the children, but they were not found. The little girl was seven years of age, the boy nine. Both were drowned. I held out the hope to her when we were in the wheel-house that her boy was saved. I saw a man take him under his arm, but I did not tell her that I saw a man jump right on his back as he struck the water… I need not dwell on the horrors of that scene; but the tragedy is played, and I have witnessed it all. It will never be forgotten by me. The cries of those women and children, the groaning and bellowing of the 200 cattle on board, are still ringing in my ears… It is not doubted that the burning of the Campbell is one of a series of similar rebel atrocities, and that the perpetrators of this act came on board at Goodrich’s landing, leaving the steamer just before the discovery of the fire, and getting ashore by means of life preservers.”

Known dead of approximately 40 fatalities:

  • David L. Lynch, age 28, son of William A. and Catherine Lynch, former brother-in-law of Mary Louden (her first husband was David Lynch’s older brother William L. Lynch)
  • Assistant Adjt Gen. Lowden, of the 40th Illinois
  • Lt. Warner of the 53rd Illinois
  • Lt. Hopkins of the 40th Illinois
  • two children, boy aged 9, girl aged 7, of Mrs. Cooley of New Orleans

Sabotage of the Ruth

Sabotage of the Ruth…

The Steamer Ruth, destroyed August 5, 1863:

On the night of August 4, 1863, shortly before midnight, after a refueling stop at Cairo, Illinois, the Ruth burned. The Ruth was enroute to Vicksburg with eight Union payroll masters and $2.6 million dollars in army payroll on board. The money was reported destroyed. Twenty-six of the one hundred fifty passengers, military and civilian, were killed. Grimes, in his memoirs, places the blame squarely on Robert Louden. St. Louis Provost Marshal documents also link Louden to the burning of the Ruth. Louden ultimately confessed to destroying the Ruth, was tried and convicted.

From The Missouri Republican, August 6, 1863:

“Ruth burned last night. Crew saved. Twenty-six lives lost. Boat, cargo, books and two million six hundred thousand dollars total loss. One Paymaster and three Paymaster Clerks lost… the flames spread all over the boat in less than five minutes. There  is no satisfactory theory as to how the fire originated. It is believed, however, to have been fired by an incendiary in the interest of the rebel Government.”

Known dead of 26 fatalities:

  • Maj. Theodore D. Greenwaldt, paymaster
  • L. R. Martin, clerk
  • S. G. Sampson, clerk
  • H. C. Fletcher, clerk
  • Frank Oglesby, clerk of the steamer (son of the captain of the Ruth)
  • two negro deck hands
  • a chambermaid
  • colored woman deck passenger
  • One corporal and four privates of Company I, Ninth Wisconsin
  • several passengers

Provost Marshals

Provost Marshals

by D. H. Rule

James O. Broadhead: Ardent Unionist, Unrepentant Slaveholder by Kirby Ross new December 6, 2002

George E. Leighton – George Elliot Leighton, Born March 7, 1835 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Came to St. Louis in 1858. Lawyer in St. Louis. Lieutenant in 3rd Missouri US Reserve Volunteers, April 1861. Major in 5th Missouri State Militia Cavalry. Married Isabella Bridge October 23, 1862. Son George B. Leighton born 1864. Provost Marshal of St. Louis fall 1861 through 1862. 1863 Colonel of 7th Regiment Enrolled Missouri Militia. Later President of the Missouri Historical Society. Died July 4, 1901.

“I was on the other side myself, but I recollected Colonel Leighton’s administration, and, though this was a Southern city, I can say that the only recollection of it to most of us is admiration for the man himself. I can’t say that we indorsed all his moves, of course, but most of his orders were worded with great humanity, and were carried out in the same manner so long as he was personally present to supervise them. He was not responsible for the doings of some of his subordinates.” Jefferson Meek, 1901


Saint Louis, Mo., December 4, 1861.

I. Lieut. Col. Bernard G. Farrar is hereby appointed provost-marshal-general of this department. Capt. George E. Leighton is provost-marshal of the city of Saint Louis and its vicinity. All local provost-marshals will be subject to the orders of the provost-marshal-general, who will receive his instructions direct from these headquarters.

Saint Louis, Mo., December 4, 1861

I may be permitted to say that on my appointment to the position I hold I found the department greatly disorganized and that from the date of the proclamation of martial law there had been exercised a very general jurisdiction over civil as well as military matters. Perhaps at first it was in a measure necessary, but if so the necessity exists no longer; and it has been my aim by thorough organization to increase its efficiency though operating with a less force and disentangle it from all connection with civil matters except in cases of absolute necessity and where it is believed the interests of the Government imperatively require it.

The police department of the city is under the control of men of unquestioned loyalty, and a thorough understanding exists between the chief of that department and myself so that there may be co-operation when desired. The executive of the city while he is not to be considered loyal is not one who would give aid or assistance against us. He has scrupulously avoided all chance of collision and where the peace and good order of the city has been involved has not hesitated to operate in connection with this department.

The council and aldermen are all of undoubted disloyalty but nothing is to be apprehended from them, the police and executive being the only branches of the city government with which it is desirable that this department should co-operate.

I have the honor to be, general,



“I was informed Colonel Leighton was to be married that night at the Trinity Episcopal Church… Out of pure deviltry I proposed to attend the ceremony. To this some of my friends seriously objected, while others said I would not dare do such a risky thing, when all the government officials and the police were on the alert to capture me. A dare or a challenge was a thing I never dodged, so I determined to undertake it. My dear friend, Miss Lizzie Pickering, proposed to accompany me and we were present when the ceremony was performed. We occupied seats near the rear of the church and left promptly after the ceremony. A few days later I wrote Colonel and Mrs. Leighton a note of congratulations, and he had the note published in the St. Louis Globe under the title, ‘Insolent Nerve.'” — Absalom C. Grimes

James H. Baker – former Secretary of State of Minnesota, fought in the Sioux uprising. Born in Monroe, Ohio, May 6, 1829. Moved to Minnesota in 1857 where he served two terms as Secretary of State. Married Rose Thurston September 25, 1852. She died March 21, 1873. Two sons, Arthur and Harry Baker. Married December 23, 1879 to Zula Bartlett. Baker died May 25, 1913 in Mankato, Minnesota. Provost Marshal of St. Louis and Department of Missouri 1863-65. Baker’s Correspondence in the Official Records

From the 1864 St. Louis Directory:

Provost Marshal General’s Dept. of the Missouri

Office, 5th st., cor. St. Charles

Colonel J. H. Baker, P. M. General

Lt. Col. C. W. Davis, 1st Asst. P. M. General

Capt. Saml. S. Burdett, 2d Asst. P. M. General

Lieut. J. C. Bradler, 3d Asst. P. M. General

Lieut. G. H. Richardson, 4th Asst. P. M. General

Lieut. Geo. W. Shinn, Chief of Bureau of Examiners

Samuel S. Boyd, Solicitor

Capt. Peter Fallon [sic–Tallon], Chief U. S. Military Police

A. B. Converse, Asst. Chief U. S. Mil. Police

James O. Broadhead – James Overton Broadhead. May 28, 1819-August 7, 1898. Lawyer from Virginia with many Southern friends and sympathies, pro-slavery. Married Mary Snowden Dorsey. Children: Nannie Dorsey Broadhead-1849, Charles L. S. Broadhead-1853, May Mary W.Broadhead-1856, John D. Broadhead-1858.

See: James O. Broadhead: Ardent Unionist, Unrepentant Slaveholder by Kirby Ross new December 6, 2002

“With the approbation of Governor Gamble, General Schofield appointed as a staff officer and assigned to duty as provost-marshal-general one James O. Broadhead, who, it is said, declared recently in Saint Louis that every damned abolitionist in the country ought to be hung, with Chase and Stanton at their head. Under this new administration, faithful, diligent, and competent assistant provost-marshals were arbitrarily removed without any cause being assigned and their places supplied by those whose sympathies were with the Conservatives.”BROADHEAD, James O., lawyer, was born in Albemarle county, Va., May 19, 1819. He was educated at the high school, and when sixteen years of ago studied for one year at the University of Virginia. In June, 1837, he removed to Missouri, where he studied law in the office of Edward Bates for three years. In 1841 he began the practice of the law in Pike county, Mo., and in 1845 was elected as a delegate to the constitutional convention of the state. In 1846 he was elected to the state legislature from Pike county, and in 1850 to the state senate, and served in that capacity four years. In 1859 he located in St. Louis, and in February, 1861, he was appointed U.S. district attorney of Missouri, but resigned when he found it interfered with his duties as a delegate to the state convention, “for vindicating the sovereignty of the state, and the protection of its institutions.” Under the provisions of resolutions offered by Mr. Broadhead, this convention abolished the existing state government, and established a provisional government, which for the first three years of the civil war managed its affairs, raising and organizing a military force in support of the United States government. He was commissioned lieutenant-colonel of the 3d Missouri cavalry, and was assigned to duty on the staff of General Schofield, as provost marshal-general of the department of Missouri. In 1876 he was [p.416] appointed by President Grant as counsel on the part of the government in the prosecution of the “whisky frauds.” In 1878 he was chosen president of the American bar association, which met at Saratoga, N.Y. In 1882 he was elected a representative to the 48th Congress as a Democrat, and in 1885 was appointed by the government as special agent to make preliminary search of the record of the French archives in the matter of the French spoliation claims, making his report in October, 1885. He was U.S. minister to Switzerland, 1893-’97, and on his return he took up the practice of his profession. He died in St. Louis, Mo., Aug. 7, 1898.

Johnson, Rossiter, ed. Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, – Vol. I-X (10). Boston, MA: The Biographical Society, 1904

From the  Westliche Post, a German newspaper in St. Louis:


Our Jail, under the administration of General Schofield and Provost-Marshal Broadhead, has become area; “slave-pen? Every day blacks and colored people of all shades–men, women, and children–are thrown into it, who had believed in the gospel of liberty proclaimed by “honest “–it is too great a shame that this word must now be written with quotation marks–by honest Father Abraham. This honest man has made Missouri a real hunting-ground for nigger-catchers, and the authorities appointed by him protect this “honest” calling in every possible way. If we say the Jail has become a slave-pen, we don’t mean to censure the jailer. He is bound to receive the slaves that are arrested by order of the provost-marshal and brought to jail; he is bound to do it as his duty, and we are sure it is a disagreeable duty to him. But who has given our Provost-Marshal-General Broadhead authority to recall and declare null and void the free papers which have been given by his predecessors or by former commanders of this department to the slaves of rebel masters? Does a slave become a free man by a certificate of liberty, duly made out by competent authority, or is such a certificate of liberty a mere piece of paper, which may be torn up at pleasure? Is the great liberty proclamation of the President himself also a mere rag, which every provost-marshal may spit upon and kick with his feet, if he so chooses? Every day fugitive slaves from all quarters of the rebellious States are arrested in our streets by professional rascals and dragged to jail. The process of such an outrage is a very- simple one. Any rebel from Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, or any other slave State sells his human property to a dealer in men’s flesh, who is, of course, a “loyal” man, Just as Mr. Lincoln is an “honest man, and this slave-trader puts immediately his blood-hounds on the track of the scented game, which is then surely fated, for the provost-marshal-general never neglects to play his role. Thus, in the past month hundreds of liberated slaves have been carried back into slavery; thus, yesterday, six of them sat in the jail waiting for the next boat to Kentucky, and thus things will continue as long as Schofield and Broadhead are at the head of affairs, and probably as long as “honest Old Abe” sits in the White House. We spoke to an old soldier of the Twelfth Regiment, who had carried a musket in the service of liberty since the commencement of the war, and we heard him say, “May my right hand wither before it ever again throws a ticket for Abraham Lincoln into the ballot-box and may my lips be struck dumb if ever I pronounce that name otherwise than with contempt!A negro who has gone through all the toils of the Twelfth Regiment for two years is now a fugitive slave in the jail, caught on Lincoln’s slave-hunting ground in Missouri.

To such a pass has a weak-brained and weak-spirited Republican administration brought affairs in Missouri that it has incurred the hatred and the disgust of all true Union men, of all true emancipationists, and of all those who are honestly in favor of liberty: while noon its head descend the blessings and the praises of those who stigmatized the conquerors of Camp Jackson as murderers and the author of the emancipation proclamation as an Abolitionist. Be it so. Italia far a da so. We will help ourselves.

Thomas T. Gantt – Thomas Tasker Gantt. Lawyer. Born in the District of Columbia July 22, 1814. Attended West Point 1831-33 but a military career was prevented by an injury. Moved to St. Louis May, 1839. In 1845 Gantt was appointed by President Polk as United States District Attorney for the District of Missouri, as which he served four years. City counselor of St. Louis 1853 for two years. Elected to State Convention February 1861 from the city and county of St. Louis as an unconditional Union man. Gantt became a colonel in the Army of the Potomac August 1861 by appointment of General McClellan. He served as judge advocate. Resigned due to ill health and returned to St. Louis in July 1862. Served as unpaid Provost Marshal from July to November 1862. Returned to law practice until 1875 when he was first a member of the Constitutional Convention of Missouri, then a judge of the Court of Appeals. In January 1877 he returned to private law practice. Died June 17, 1889.
“He is a man of warm impulses, and a generous friend. By his own industry, energy, and enterprise he has acquired a competent fortune; is a fine scholar, a finished and accomplished lawyer, and has won for himself in the community where he has so long lived, the reputation of an honest man, and an upright, public-spirited, worthy citizen, ever to be relied upon in the hour of danger and public emergency.” –Personal Recollections of John F. Darby (mayor of St. Louis 1835)

Thomas Gantt building in St. Louis, built 1877

A link to photos of Gantt’s grave on Find-a-Grave

(use your back button to return here)

Franklin A. Dick – Franklin Archibald Dick. From Pennsylvania. Lawyer. Lieut. Col. and Provost-Marshal-General, Dept. of the Missouri, brother-in-law of Frank Blair. Married Mira M. (Midge) Alexander November 25, 1851 (she was the sister of Blair’s wife). Credited with getting the dress from his mother-in-law that Nathaniel Lyon wore on his scouting trip into Camp Jackson (see Lady With Spurs).

“Hither came the trusty agents of Missouri’s cruel hyena, F. A. Dick, Provost Marshal of St. Louis…” from Shelby and his Men by John N. Edwards, 1867

SAINT LOUIS, March 5, 1862.


DEAR FRANK: There is one thing that at first was inexplicable to me—it is the feeling or policy that induces U. S. officers to grant extraordinary privileges to the rebel officers who are taken as prisoners, such as releasing of a number of them in this city on parole by General Halleck, thus giving them the opportunity of going freely among our wealthy secessionists. The consequence of this was that these home rebels ran after the officers, dined and feted them, encouraged them to stand firm in their disloyalty, and so bold and defiant did they become as I am informed that General Halleck has revoked the parole, gathered up the officers and sent them to confinement at Alton.

I was surprised that so judicious a man as Halleck should have fallen into this error; but with his usual correctness he soon saw his mistake. From what I have learned of the feelings of the regular officers I am inclined to believe that Halleck fell into this error through their influence. I have heard most loyal and sensible officers of the U.S. Army say that they had no personal feeling whatever in the war nor toward the officers whom they captured. This I suppose because these officers of ours have kept aloof from political contests and do not recognize in the rebel officers the instigators and workers up of this rebellion. In our eyes Buckner, Floyd, Jo. Johnston, &c., are traitors, and none the less so because they hold in this rebellion the place of officers. If the rebellion had been less formidable and soon put down these men would not have been treated as officers but as felons if captured. There are necessary reasons why to a certain extent we have to treat them as conducting a war and therefore according to the rules of war. The only reason that I recognize for this is that we may save our own soldiers from severe treatment when captured by them. Beyond this there is no necessity for our going, and I say that it is only necessity or in other words our inability to do so that prevented us in the beginning from hanging them all as traitors. The privates and non-commissioned officers in the rebel armies are mostly ignorant men who enlisted as they believed to protect their country from an unjust aggressive war. The proper treatment for them—all I believe concur in this—treat them fairly, correct the errors they have been educated in, inform them of the truth and let them go back home when it can be safely done. But these men who under a mock government are called officers, who are but political desperadoes in military garb and disguise, must be punished; if not for their misdeeds certainly for the sake of the country. Will the privates, the masses, believe their leaders criminals or in the wrong when they see them set at large on their honor and allowed to associate with the wealthy rebels who so openly honor them?

I call your attention to this matter at this early day hoping that you will think it Worth while to bring the matter before Secretary Stanton. The officers of the Army do not feel the effects of this rebellion as the masses of the people do. To them (the officers of the U.S. Army) it is a war merely, and not a political struggle—maddened, desperate, and aimed to destroy rather than submit to a political defeat. Believing as I do that the practice I have spoken of is a serious evil and that the only way of remedying it is for the Secretary of War to make general regulations upon the subject, to be departed from by commanding officers only for pressing reasons, I therefore suggest that you call his attention to the matter. I have no fear that General Halleck will again fall into the error, but in my opinion few of our officers are equal to him in correctness of judgment.

Yours, very truly,


Saint Louis, January 15, 1863.

Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:

I telegraphed a request that I might confer by letter before executing your telegraphic order concerning provost-marshals’ orders, and the provost-marshals generally.

The provost-marshal system is not of my planting or growth, but is now so old, deep-rooted, and wide-spread it cannot be summarily disposed of without danger of losses and disasters. It began in General Fremont’s administration, by the appointment of Major McKinstry in this city, who was followed by Colonel McNeil and Captain Leighton; neither of them were properly in the United States service. From this it spread out through the whole department, and when I came in command Colonel Gantt was provost-marshal-general, and hundreds were elsewhere located; most of them not officers in the United States service, except by virtue of their appointment as provost-marshals. General Halleck had given the system a head by creating a provost-marshal-general, and issued some orders devolving specific duties on these functionaries, and, by a kind of common understanding, provost-marshals took charge of prisoners, watched contraband trade, discovered and arrested spies, found out rebel camps, and pursued and arrested the rebels in their neighborhoods. They operate with volunteers, militia and police force, just as circumstances require, and in Southern Iowa and large districts of Missouri, where recruiting guerrilla agents strive to organize their bands, they are the only stationary, permanent official sentinels, who keep me advised and guard the public safety. Public arms, prisoners, contraband property, and forfeited bonds are held by them and properly disposed of, and immediate discharge would create loss and confusion where everything is now quiet and secure For instance, the provost-marshal at Glasgow has 30 or 40 prisoners. At Columbia last Sunday the provost-marshal resisted an effort to rescue a parcel of most desperate prisoners—one a Confederate recruiting officer.

I send you the letter of Colonel Dick, my provost-marshal-general, to show other duties devolved on these men. Soon after my assuming command, I presented to the General-in-Chief the importance of more exact and uniform rules in regard to the system, and desired the matter might be taken up at Washington, but, in the absence of any instructions, I directed the provost-marshal-general to compile and construct some general and uniform rule of action. This he did in Orders, No. 35, which I suppose is the order disapproved by His Excellency the President. It contains the gist of a great many old orders and some new ones, but in the main it conforms to the current business of the system. No paper or person here has made complaints against the order, and I am surprised that such apprehension and immediate necessity should be presented at headquarters. As far as possible, action under the order is suspended, but I presume most of it will be found to be a mere condensation of our police regulations.

I have been urged to send away my regular volunteers, and have stripped portions of my department to comply with pressing demands elsewhere. To compensate for this, provost-marshals, taken from the Enrolled Militia, are earnestly endeavoring to keep me posted and maintain public tranquility. If they are to have no supervision of trade, commerce, or anything but the discipline and government of the troops in the United States service, how am I to prevent contraband of war, guns, ammunition, and other supplies going into the hands of the guerrillas, and how am I to know what is doing or to be done in various parts of my district when I have no other command, and what am I to do with the prisoners and other rebels that are held either in fact or fear by these provost-marshals?

I regret that I am thus forced to defend a system I never did approve and have often condemned. I could not find either statute or military law to rest it upon. I have not appointed one, except to fill the vacancy of the provost marshal-general; but the system has started and grown up from surrounding necessities; it is now working very extensively and quite harmoniously, and I believe it must in some shape be continued during the war. When a nation is at war, war exists everywhere, and we must have some sort of military representatives wherever military offenses can be committed. It costs too much to keep stationary troops everywhere, but without such officers as I may trust and constantly employ in every county of this State and in various parts of my department, I must have many more troops in actual service in Missouri. While, therefore, there is no apparent necessity of a sudden radical change, I most respectfully request that some substitute may be allowed me for a system of military power which now serves a most important purpose throughout my command, or so order the matter that we may perfect what now seems to be a useful military expedient.

I have the honor to be, Mr. Secretary, your very obedient servant,



[ Inclosure. ]

[SAINT LOUIS, Mo.,] January 15, 1863.

Maj. Gen. SAMUEL R. CURTIS, Commanding:

GENERAL: The telegram of the Secretary of War, of the 14th, to the major-general commanding this department, contemplating a change in the system of provost-marshals in the interior of the State, requires of me that I should present to you some of the duties performed by them.

Commanding officers in the field turn over prisoners captured by them to provost-marshals, who take the evidence against the prisoners and forward it and them to Saint Louis. With guerrillas and marauding bands operating in the State, whenever opportunity occurs, appearing at first one place and then another, our troops are kept moving, and the officers in the field do not furnish the evidence against the men they capture. Were these prisoners considered prisoners of war, and to be sent forward for exchange, but little evidence would be needed, but they are many of them lawless men, known in certain localities. After their capture their friends constantly make efforts to have them released, and it is through the provost-marshals that the facts relating to them are ascertained, and upon which the proper action can be based, as to holding or releasing them. These provost-marshals are made by your orders conservators of the peace. They know and report the state of the country, and can and do determine better than any one else which men can safely be enlarged and which not. Remove them, and to whom shall we apply for the information constantly needed at your headquarters, and to whom will commanders in the field send their prisoners to be examined and forwarded? Again, it is well known that rebel recruiting officers and spies are constantly coming into this State. It is the business of provost-marshals to keep on the watch for them, and to break up their practices; and, but for their efforts, in many counties recruiting for the rebel army would be carried on without danger. There are many disloyal farmers who would constantly aid the rebellion with supplies of different kinds, but for the provost-marshal system. Remove the danger of detection, and the State would furnish (to the rebs) considerable amounts of supplies, and the stream of rebel soldiers southward would be largely increased.

I have released, all the time, men in whose promises reliance could not be placed, but I have felt justified in doing it by placing them under the surveillance of the provost-marshals of their counties. If, however, they have no local officer to care for, they either cannot be released or would soon again be led off into aiding the rebellion. Provost-marshals, too, give confidence to the Union men through the State; they stand as the representatives of the United States Government, and if a neighborhood becomes so rebellious as to endanger Union men, they feel that the report of the provost-marshals will call the attention of the military authorities to the condition of things. To relieve the provost-marshals will be a shock to the Union cause in this State, and will have a most depressing effect upon those who require the support of the Government. They acquire a local knowledge which is valuable and reliable. The men who have been disloyal in Missouri, most of them, remain so; and it will prove a costly mistake to act upon a contrary hypothesis. They are Southern sympathizers who have taken up arms, and they are none the less sympathizers because for the time disarmed; and I feel safe in making the assertion that, if they believe it not too perilous to do it, they will again take up arms, or by other means aid the rebellion. My belief is that these people have got to be kept down while the war rages, and my every day’s experience confirms that belief. After the rebellion becomes powerless, then the Missouri rebels will give up their plans of co-operation, and not until then. So far as they have ceased hostilities, it has been from force, and not voluntary submission, and to consider these people no longer enemies of the Union is to fall into a practical error. They have had pretty hard experience in this war, and I believe, by vigilance, can easily be kept down; but a show of military power is necessary, and the presence of some military force, too, accompanied by the continuation of the military system sufficient to keep them sensible of this, that renewed hostilities on their part will be promptly met by force. If my hypothesis is correct, then the system of military law cannot be dispensed with in Missouri, while disloyal men believe that the Union will be dissolved, and they very generally do believe it. If my judgment and opinions are incorrect, then let the capture and detection of guerrillas and marauders be turned over to the civil authorities, and let military action be confined only to regular movements in the field; and it may be that it will be found that the State is

I consider it my duty as an officer to make this statement relating to the disloyal men in Missouri, believing that the reliable supporters of the Union cause in this State are the men who feel that the safety of this State lies in the control of it by the military power of the United States, so long as this rebellion continues defiant; and these men who alone constitute the strength of the Government in this State will have bitter sufferings to endure, if the protection of the Government is withdrawn.

I have the honor to remain, most respectfully, your obedient servant,


Lieut. Col. and Provost-Marshal- General, Dept. of the Missouri.