Sabotage of the Maria...

"Hell and Maria"

by

G. E. Rule

Way's Packet DirectoryWay's Packet Directory

by Fredrick Way, Jr.

 


More on steamboats destroyed by the Boat-Burners:

St. Louis Globe-Democrat article May 6, 1888on the sabotage of the Sultana

The Sabotage ScenarioHow the scene on the Sultana at Memphis may have played out

The Steamer RuthAnother steamboat destroyed by Robert Louden

The Steamer Robert J. Campbell, Jr.Destroyed by Louden associate Isaac Elshire

The Confederate Secret Service Attack on the St. Louis Levee, September, 1864 by John B. Castleman


Courtenay Torpedo

the coal bomb

More on Thomas E. Courtenay and the Courtenay Torpedo (this is at a website by a descendant)

When your name gets memorialized by generations of rivermen (see "Ways", entry #3744) with "Hell and" in front of it, something bad indeed has happened. Dec 11, 1864, at Carondelet, Mo, the steamer Maria, carrying parts of two Union cavalry regiments, entered river lore with this dubious distinction.

Lying at the landing, making moderate steam, her boilers blew at the forward (furnace) end, and at least 25 people, mostly Union soldiers, lost their lives. She had left St. Louis, after coaling, the night before. The front end of the furnace was destroyed, burning coal shot out starting a fire, the deck above crashed down onto the boilers, and men slid down onto the partially destroyed furnace. The engineer on duty swore that there was plenty of water and no excess of steam. Within half an hour she was a mass of flames, eventually burning to the waterline. At least some members of the crew were convinced that "some fiend has placed a shell, or other explosive missive, among the coal used for fuel, which was thrown into the furnace and produced the disaster".

Sound familiar? The similarities to Sultana are striking, with none of the risk factors that have lead many to doubt that sabotage was the cause of Sultana’s demise. No overloading, no reports of careening, no excessively muddy lower Mississippi water, no recently repaired boiler. Indeed, Maria and her boilers were only on their third trip since being built. This would be enough use to prove their soundness, while not yet having sustained significant wear.

Like Sultana, Maria was a commercial steamer in government employ, carrying Union troops and supplies when she was destroyed. Also like Sultana, she had coaled at a port known to have an active and effective Confederate secret service/OAK presence.

Was it a Courtenay Torpedo that destroyed Maria? While it may never be known for sure, it certainly must be considered a prime possibility. The report that one of the victims was "confident he smelled burning powder" at the time of the explosion, combined with the circumstances, the damage to the boilers and furnace, and the crew’s reports, strongly suggests that Maria may indeed have been another successful operation of the "organized boat-burners".

While the death count was reported the day after the disaster at twenty-five, by the descriptions of the injuries, it is likely that within a few days that count was significantly higher. Luckily for the Union troops on board, she was lying at the landing at Carondelet when the explosion occurred. The account below makes clear that the loss of life would have been much worse if she had been underway –as a saboteur slipping a Courtenay Torpedo in her bins at St. Louis would have expected-- when the explosion occurred.

It is interesting to note that Maria does not appear on any of the lists prepared by J.H. Baker, Provost Marshal General of the Department of the Missouri. For whatever reason, Baker relied on the distinction, explicitly made, of "owned in St. Louis" in making his lists of boats he suspected were sabotaged. Maybe because that was his area of responsibility, or maybe because the owners were right there to complain bitterly to him about their losses. At any rate, Maria, a Cincinnati-owned boat, may have been left off his lists for this reason.

We will continue to work on uncovering the story of Maria. . .a boat and disaster that today, in spite of her adding to the store of river expletives, is practically unknown. Since this story has been practically lost, we’ve included the complete text of the article, including the casualty list, for those who may be searching for family history. The details of the explosion and theories as to its cause can mostly be found in the second paragraph and below the casualty list, and have been marked in bold that did not appear in the original.

Missouri Republican

Dec. 12, 1864

DESTRUCTION OF STEAMER

MARIA.

The Boat Blown Up and Burned.

Some Twenty-five Lives Lost.

About 7 o’clock Sunday morning, the steamboat Maria, loaded with Government troops, horses, mules, wagons, etc, was blown up while lying at the landing at Carondelet, and afterwards burned to the water’s edge. About 6 o’clock Saturday evening, the Maria, Lillie Martin, and the Ella Faber, having on board a considerable number of cavalry, principally belonging to the 3rd Iowa and the 4th Missouri cavalry, left the levee at St. Louis, and dropped down to Carondelet, about seven miles below, where they were lying when the disaster took place –the Maria between the other two. She had on board Col. Benteen, commanding brigade, with his staff and escort, Col. B. S. Jones, 3rd Iowa cavalry, a portion of his command, and detached troops, amounting in all to about one hundred men, besides the crew of the boat, en route for Cairo. She had no freight, except 200 sacks oats, 40 bales of hay, one ambulance, nine army wagons, about sixty four mules, and one hundred and twenty horses, with the necessary equipments.

The explosion, by whatever means caused, threw the forward end of the boilers apart, landing them on the deck, without disturbing the after ends, and dashed the front of the furnaces and a quantity of burning coal forward, setting fire to bales of hay, twelve of which only were on deck, the remainder, with the oats, being in the hold. At the moment the explosion took place, the floor of the cabin was burst up, and falling back, precipitated a number of the soldiers down upon the boilers and burning wreck. The office floor also gave way, carrying with it the first clerk, Mr. W. B. Dravo, of Pittsburgh, Pa., together with the safe and other contents of the office. Mr. Dravo fell upon one of the boilers, and is burned in the hands and feet, and scalded about his face, arms and body generally. He is seriously, though not dangerously injured, and is well cared for on board the steamer Bertram, laid up at Carondelet. Jerry Fowler, steward of the Maria, is on the Bertram, having severely injured his ankle by jumping from the boat after she had taken fire. A negro deck hand was struck on the head by some missile, besides being severely burned by the coal thrown on him as he stood at the furnace. He died about noon. With these exceptions, none of the boat’s crew was injured.

The names of the soldiers injured and missing belonging to the 3rd Iowa cavalry are:

Lieut. C.L. Hartman, co. F, burned in side and hip severely.

Sergt. James Pain, co. B, burned in hands and face severely.

John Balbach, co. H, in hands and chest severely.

Chas. M. Hume, co. A, one leg broken and the other badly crushed.

A. L. Curtis, co. H, leg bruised slightly.

Francis E. Robb, co. F, hands and hip burned severely.

W.W. Blair, co. H, breast and head burned slightly.

J. Famulener, co. H, foot burned severely.

O. B. Parker, co. H, legs and arms burned severely.

Bazel Gurwell, co. H, burned severely.

James Owens, co. H, wounded slightly.

David Hurlbert, co. H, wounded slightly.

James W. McCormick, co. F, shoulder dislocated.

Volney Henry, co. G, hand and leg burned slightly.

Sergeant Perry Newell, Bugler Jacob C. Boone, and privates Martin Sigler, J.W. Vandeventer, co. H, and Jacob Worley, co. E, are all missing, and supposed to be dead.

Patrick McCormick, co. F, 10th Missouri, is badly burned in the hands and face.

J.W. Frank, co. D, 4th Iowa, has both legs broken.

Patrick Highland, co. E, 3rd New Jersey, badly burned on the legs, one hand and face.

Coleman, a negro servant of Col. Benteen, was severely burned, and Dick, a negro belonging to the 4th Iowa, was badly burned and otherwise hurt, and is dead.

When the Maria left St. Louis, she was in advance of the Ella Faber, who had aboard men recently belonging to the 4th Missouri cavalry. Eight of the men of this regiment, left behind, got on board the Maria. Two only of those are known to have got off unhurt. What has become of the others is not known. It seems to be thought they may have come up to the city on the cars, immediately after the disaster occurred. Fourteen of the privates of this regiment have been reported "absent without leave," among whom are those who went down to Carondelet on the Maria. Their names are Kirber, company B, Henipke and Hengel, company D; Ahrens, Gerhardt and Mitzger, company H; Arntman, Gieber, Heicleman and Thoma, company G; Hetzel, Schneider and Sonbauers, company K, and Schlepper, company M. Their officers seem to think these men safe and "straggling".

Of the freight on board nothing was saved except two horses and two or three mules, which broke their halters and managed to get ashore. The soldiers lost all their arms and equipments, except a few who had their side arms on when the disaster occurred. Several of them did not even save a suit of clothes. The officers and men of the boat’s crew lost everything, except a portion of their clothing in three or four trunks saved. Everything belonging to the boat was lost. Col. Benteen lost a fine mare, valued at $1,000, and a horse worth $500. Had the disaster occurred with the boat under way, every soul on board must have perished, as the water was so intensely cold that no one could have remained in it any length of time without perishing. A number of mules that got into the water perished among the floating ice, on account of the cold chilling them before they could swim out.

Immediately after the accident occurred, the Lillie Martin, which had steam up, fell down and took off the men on board on the after part of the boat, and also three ladies. Col. Jones, his Surgeon and other officers and men of the 3rd Iowa, speak in high terms in praise of Capt. John Hare, of the Lillie Martin, for his promptitude in rendering assistance, and for the generous treatment rendered the wounded men conveyed on board his boat.

In half an hour after the explosion, the boat was a mass of flame, allowing time to save nothing but the load of human life aboard. As the flames got well under way, it was stated there was a quantity of ammunition in the hold. To avoid the danger that would result from its explosion, Mr. Andrew Acker, second mate, cut the cable with an axe, and let her loose. The high wind prevailing from the west, drove her out into the river, and she floated off, the hull lodging about two miles below, at the point of the island. It turned out there was no ammunition on board.

All the officers spoken to, excepting the first clerk, are very positive there was no explosion of the boilers, or of the flues. The second engineer says he had examined the water a few minutes before, and found it in plenty. The steam was only up to 115 pounds, while the boilers were capable of carrying 145, with safety. The second mate had been on the watch, and had just retired to the room of the Texas. When the explosion took place, some body was projected upward through the Texas, and he is confident he smelt burning powder. The mate of the Ella Faber, lying a few rods below, at first thought the noise produced was that of a cannon discharged to the west of where his boat lay, while the Maria was directly North. A person on the Lillie Martin, lying a few rods above, mistook the sound for the discharge of a cannon, signaling the three boats to cast off. No one says he observed steam, as would have been produced, had the boilers exploded. They, therefore, have come to the conclusion that some fiend has placed a shell, or other explosive missive, among the coal used for fuel, which was thrown into the furnace and produced the disaster.

The only evidence to rebut this conclusion, as yet discovered, is the opinion of the first clerk, (who thinks [emphasis in original] the boilers must have burst because his feet are scalded on the top of them, which might have been done without the explosion) and the statement of the second engineer, that a moment previous he heard an unusual hissing, a sound that is sometimes heard immediately preceding an explosion of steam. He, however, is very positive no explosion of steam took place. An examination of the boilers, which has not yet been had, may determine the cause of the disaster.

The Maria is a new boat, built at Cincinnati, her trip to St. Louis being her third since built. Her cost was $35,000. She is insured in Cincinnati, but for what amount we did not learn.

The officers of the Maria are: Captain, Alex. Montgomery; Wesley D. Dravo and Wm. Dravo, clerks; Washington Couch and Frank Canger, engineers; Thomas Bours and Andrew Acker, mates: Sol. Catterlin and David Blashfield, pilots.

 

 

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©2001 G. E. Rule

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