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1865 July 1: 200 Lives Lost as Steamer “Kentucky” Sinks

July 5, 2015

This article on the Kentucky disaster comes from The Prescott Journal of July 1, 1865.  On the evening of June 9, 1865, the steamer Kentucky left Shreveport bound for New Orleans with 800 passengers, baggage, provisions, and 250 horses.  Most of the passengers were Confederate prisoners who had been paroled two days earlier and were headed home.  Two hours into her voyage, the boat struck one of the partially submerged logs that made the Red River notorious, and sank.  A subsequent investigation by Union Major General Frances J. Herron, commander of the Northern Division of Louisiana, found the ship’s officers innocent of any wrong doing.  The investigation did result in an order prohibiting transports on the Red River from running at night.

For much more detail, see “Disaster on the Red,” by Russell Cappo, Jr., on the website [accessed July 1, 2015].  The image below showing the various parts of a river steamer comes from this website.


Disaster on Red River—Sinking of a Steamer and Loss of 200 Lives.

[Dispatch to the Chicago Republican.]

CAIRO, June 20.—New Orleans dates of the 14th are received.

The United States transport Kentucky left Shreveport on the 9th, with 1,200 troops.  Within twelve miles of Shreveport she struck a snag, and sunk in half an hour.  The loss of life was over 200, mostly paroled prisoners from different regiments of Tennessee and Alabama.

LATER.—The steamer Lady Gay, with New Orleans dates of the 15th, containing further particulars of the Red River disaster has just arrived.—The United States transport Kentucky, with about 900 passengers, principally prisoners and families returning to their  homes, left Shreveport for New Orleans on Friday June 9th at 6 ½ o’clock, p. m.  About 9 o’clock the same night, it was discovered that the boat was making water rapidly, and before the boat was landed and the stages got out, she sunk in about twenty feet of water, her timbers breaking and crashing. The loss of life must have been terrible, she being crowded and sunk inside half an hour.  It is supposed that some 200 perished.  She had about 260 horses on board, all of whom were lost except three.  The passengers lost everything.  The United States steamer Col. Chapin came to rescue, and rendered valuable aid in rescuing hundreds who clung to the wreck.

It was fully half an hour after the snag was struck before the steamer went down.  She ran about four miles after commencing to leak, passing some three miles beyond the Chapin which was tied up for the night, before the final disaster occurred.  The Chapin started for her as soon as possible and rendered a great deal of timely assistance, rescuing and saving unfortunate passengers struggling in the current, which was very strong and clinging to portions of the wreck remaining above water.

It was thought by many passengers and by those on board the Chapin that great loss of life might have been prevented had an effort been made to effect a landing at a certain moment.  The Captain, finding the water gaining rapidly on the steamer, made for the shore at last, but found that she had settled too much to get near enough to the bank to put out stages.  A stern line was got to the shore but snapped immediate.  The boat then careened and sunk instantly, the water washing over the hurricane-deck forward.  The stern remained above water.

As the boat careened, a great rush took place to the hurricane-deck.  Many of the passengers were in their berths and were saved almost wholly destitute of clothing.  A large number were caught between decks and drowned.  The ladies generally succeed in gaining the hurricane-deck, and were all saved.  Some children were lost.  Some passengers gained the nearest bank, and others reached the opposite side in safety.  To render the disaster more appalling, the texas took fire after the steamer careened, it was supposed from the upsetting of coal-oil lamps by the shock and the spilling of their inflammable contents on beds.  The fire was, fortunately, quickly extinguished, otherwise a very large number would have been added to the mournful list.

The paroled prisoners were principally members of Missouri regiments.—There were some Arkansas soldiers and a small number of Louisianians on board.  No federal soldiers were among the number.  The officers of the Kentucky, it is believed, were all saved.

From "Disaster on the Red"

From “Disaster on the Red” (click on image for link)

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