Steamboat SULTANA biographical information

The following information is from Way’s Packet Directory 1848-1994 compiled by Frederick Way Jr. The SULTANA is vessel number 5216 in the directory.

SULTANA

SW p wh b. Cincinnati, Oh., 660 tons. 260×42 (39 ft. floor) x 7. Engines, 25’s – 8 ft. Four tubular boilers, quite a fad at the time, each 46″ by 18 ft., having twenty-four 5″ flues. Paddlewheels 34 ft. dia. working 11 ft. buckets. Built at the John Litherbury yard, and machinery by Moore and Richardson. Launched Jan. 3, 1863, in a double ceremony, the LUMINARY, – almost a duplicate, also being launched. Built for Capt. Pres Lodwick, well known on the Upper Mississippi for his NORTHERN BELLE and NORTHERN LIGHT (both see) and was designated for the New Orleans trade. Due to the uncertainties of war, she was entered int the trade Cincinnati-Wheeling on February 12, which she continued until mid-March. In charge of the office was W.H. Cropper, with Charles Matthews, second clerk. J.W. Keniston was chief engineer. She then loaded for Nashville under U.S. auspices. Joe Curtis looked up the old U.S. Custom files at Memphis for 1864 and she first appears downbound for New Orleans on January 25, Capt. Lodwick. She was sold at St. Louis in early March 1864 to a number of firms and citizens of that place, also her new skipper Capt. J. Cass Mason, and first clerk W.J. Gamboel. They ran her St. Louis-New Orleans. Capt. Mason, about 34, was born in Lynchburg, Va., and was brought to Missouri as a child. He boated on the A.B. CHAMBERS and lately had been clerk and master of ROWENA in the Memphis trade. First clerk Gamboel lived in Glasgow, Mo., and had been a steamboat agent at Kansas City. The Memphis Custom’s entries show that due to the war she was forced to return to St. Louis from that port until along in August when she apparently went on through. On Feb. 9, 1865, Capt. J. Cass Mason, she departed Memphis for New Orleans. She was back at Memphis February 26, and returned to New Orleans from there. On Apr. 26, 1865, she cleared Memphis upbound, Capt. Mason. A notation on the Custom record: “Burned and 1600 persons perished.”

Ill-fated Sultana, Helena, Arkansas, on or about April 26, 1865

The Customs clerk used an approximation. The life-loss afterwards was set at 1,547 lives, at least 1,100 of whom were U.S. soldiers mustered out and returning to Northern homes. A popular and widespread belief was that Confederate spies had secreted dynamite in the coal bunkers, but three of her boilers had exploded without any help from spies. True, she had been having boiler trouble at Vicksburg where the troops came aboard. Nathan Wintringer, chief engineer, later testified that one boiler had been repaired there to his satisfaction. Capt. Speed, U.S.A. ordered 1,886 troops aboard this SULTANA which legally was allowed 376 persons, including the crew. It was common talk there at Vicksburg that two other large steamers, PAULINE CARROLL and LADY GAY, both bid for portions of these troops but were turned down. Landings were made at Helena, Ark. (where a photographer took a picture of her with the soldiers aboard), and another at Memphis. The night leaving Memphis was described as black with a thunderstorm gathering. A few miles above that city, in the crossing at Paddy’s Hen and Chickens, the explosion torched a ruddy glare among the cottonwoods of Tennessee and Arkansas and a dull rumble shook the countryside. The storm broke at the same time.

On the downbound trip to New Orleans, the last she made, the SULTANA carried the shocking news of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to towns and hamlets cut off from all communication save what arrived by river. Now as she returned the nation’s newspapers were loaded with columns of excitement: J. Wilkes Booth had been located and killed; Lee had surrendered; the President was dead. A country geared to appalling losses took the SULTANA disaster with seeming indifference. The explosion happened early morning Apr. 27, 1865.

See S&D Reflector, issue June 1965, pages 10-12; also September 1965, page 12.

[Source: Way, Frederick Jr., Way's packet directory, 1848-1994: passenger steamboats of the Mississippi River system since the advent of photography in mid-continent America, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio., 1994, p. 436.]

The SULTANA was built at the John Litherbury Shipyard in Cincinnati, Ohio.

According to Bill Judd on www.steamboats.org, “The Litherbury yard was on Eastern Ave. (now Riverside Drive) just about where the big crane is located at Cincinnati Barge & Rail terminal, what we old timers refer to as Sheet Metal. The Verdin Bell Co. plant is also close by. That would be in the 3000 block of Riverside Drive. The 131 3rd. address was the Litherbury residence. The Weeks shipyard was just downstream from Litherbury’s and John Litherbury was married to a Weeks daughter. One reason researchers have a rough time in this area is because it was known as Fulton and not in the Cincinnati Corporation until about the 1860’s.”

The 1860 Cincinnati City Directory lists John Litherbury at 165 E. Third Street.

The same directory also lists the following:
Ship Chandlers
Barker, Hart & Cook 44 Pub. Landing
Isham & Fisher 47 Pub. Landing

Steamboat Agents
Athearn & Hibbard 5 E. Front
Bennet, A. 14 Landing
Brown, H.W. & Co. 25 E. Front
Cox & Fulton 7 E. Front
Cunningham & Heron 22 W. Front
Irwin & Co. 22 Broadway
Johnston, Geo. L & Co. 29 W. Front
M’Burnie Theoph., 3 E. Front
Paul & Murdock 13 Water
Ross & Co. 33 Sycamore
Schram, A.D., 23 Walnut
Sherlock, Thomas 20 Broadway

Steamboat Builders
Hambleton, S.T. & Co. 1215 E. Front
Horsley & Ehler 248 W. Front
Johnson, Morton & Co. 585 Front

Steamboat Inspectors
Custom House Building
Guthrie, James V. 422 W. 6th
Haldeman, Thos. J. 57 E. 4th

Boat Stores
Barker, Hart & Cook 44 Public Landing
Cullen, James 46 Public Landing
Isham & Fisher 47 Public Landing
Witte, Ferdinand 17 E. Front

The 1863 Cincinnati City Directory lists: Litherbury, John, saw mill, s.s. E. Front e. of Willow, b. 131 E. Third

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Member - Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force, Civil War reenactor and historian since 1993, holds Bachelor's Degree in History from Concordia University-St. Paul, currently pursuing Master's Degree in History at St. Cloud State University and is author of the forthcoming book, "Muskets and Memories: A Modern Man's Journey through the Civil War."
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