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.