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

 EXPLOSION OF THE SULTANA

 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.

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