Steamboats in the Civil War

Joined
Apr 25, 2019
Messages
10
Location
Chicago, IL
#1
We all know about the famous railway chases and the primitive technology that ran on them. They were responsible for hauling tons of supplies, supplying iron when torn up and moving troops faster then a supply train could. However, on rivers like the Mississippi, the steamboat prevailed. To what extent did the riverboat serve in the ACW?

It should be noted that they peaked around the 1850's, when government regulation was subtle and most (if not all) boats (and their owners!) forced the passengers (and people owning cargo) to sign outrageous waivers....
 

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
17,870
Location
Central Pennsylvania
#3
We all know about the famous railway chases and the primitive technology that ran on them. They were responsible for hauling tons of supplies, supplying iron when torn up and moving troops faster then a supply train could. However, on rivers like the Mississippi, the steamboat prevailed. To what extent did the riverboat serve in the ACW?

It should be noted that they peaked around the 1850's, when government regulation was subtle and most (if not all) boats (and their owners!) forced the passengers (and people owning cargo) to sign outrageous waivers....

Holy cow would that be a lengthy answer! I'm not the one to take it on but will mention their use as part of the hospital transport and floating hospitals. Have the numbers used by just the Sanitary Commission somewhere and it's staggering.Type ' steamer ' or ' hospital ship ' in the search engine here, around a million threads will come up.

Interesting, didn't know passengers signed wavers. Given the number of disasters involving boiler explosions, seems unsurprising albeit chilling. Just re-read Twain's account of his brother's death, a casualty of one ( although an over helpful doc was the final cause, dosing too much morphine ).
 
Joined
Feb 18, 2013
Messages
6,148
Location
Hoover, Alabama
#5
Riverboats were (especially on the Western waters) the pack mules of the Civil War with them being the most efficient way to move troops and supplies as railroads were spotty and roads difficult.
 
Joined
Apr 25, 2019
Messages
10
Location
Chicago, IL
#8
Holy cow would that be a lengthy answer! I'm not the one to take it on but will mention their use as part of the hospital transport and floating hospitals. Have the numbers used by just the Sanitary Commission somewhere and it's staggering.Type ' steamer ' or ' hospital ship ' in the search engine here, around a million threads will come up.

Interesting, didn't know passengers signed wavers. Given the number of disasters involving boiler explosions, seems unsurprising albeit chilling. Just re-read Twain's account of his brother's death, a casualty of one ( although an over helpful doc was the final cause, dosing too much morphine ).
Oh yeah, they signed waivers. It would be a long list! I mean, the 'steerage' or the large holdings were places where commoners would sit and waste away.

I think the fact that steamboat captains were mainly motivated by profit was another factor.....I mean, take a look at the Sultana that was over three times capacity! Over a 1000 casualties but it was only after the war that the government started to truly regulate steamers.

But, I mean, how much of the South's profit was shipped northward to factories by river instead of train? So what happened when those were cut off? Did captains try to find a way around the blockade between North and South?
 
Joined
Apr 25, 2019
Messages
10
Location
Chicago, IL
#9
One advantage of rivers over railroads - people like Nathan Bedford Forrest couldn't burn or destroy them!
TRUE-- but to what extent did riverboat sabotage affect the outcome of the war? And why were railroads glorified instead of the riverboat, even if one was much more reliable then the other?
 

NH Civil War Gal

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
Messages
2,747
#10
The boilers are what scare me. I was reading, about the prewar Pulaski, exploding and everyone thought that was the latest and greatest and safest. I'm not sure the riverboats ever overcame over the boiler explosion issue. Someone, I think @DBF mentioned Albert Sidney Johnson's son being killed on a smaller steamboat in California because people panicked, moved to one side and the boat listed.

I know they were the workhorses of both sides but man they were dangerous when combined with greed and drinking.
 
Joined
Feb 18, 2013
Messages
6,148
Location
Hoover, Alabama
#11
The boilers are what scare me. I was reading, about the prewar Pulaski, exploding and everyone thought that was the latest and greatest and safest. I'm not sure the riverboats ever overcame over the boiler explosion issue. Someone, I think @DBF mentioned Albert Sidney Johnson's son being killed on a smaller steamboat in California because people panicked, moved to one side and the boat listed.

I know they were the workhorses of both sides but man they were dangerous when combined with greed and drinking.
Think Sultana.
 

Carronade

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Messages
4,351
Location
Pennsylvania
#12
TRUE-- but to what extent did riverboat sabotage affect the outcome of the war? And why were railroads glorified instead of the riverboat, even if one was much more reliable then the other?
I don't think riverboat sabotage had much effect overall, although as @piratehunter noted there were instances of Confederate forces capturing or destroying riverboats. Destruction of railroads, especially wooden trestle bridges, was far more significant; also of course the Union made considerable effort to repair or replace them promptly.

As for glorification, one factor may be that river transport was more significant in the west - "west" in Civil War terms meaning west of the Appalachians - while much of the public, press, and subsequent historians' attention focused on the eastern theater.
 
Joined
Feb 18, 2013
Messages
6,148
Location
Hoover, Alabama
#13
I don't think riverboat sabotage had much effect overall, although as @piratehunter noted there were instances of Confederate forces capturing or destroying riverboats. Destruction of railroads, especially wooden trestle bridges, was far more significant; also of course the Union made considerable effort to repair or replace them promptly.

As for glorification, one factor may be that river transport was more significant in the west - "west" in Civil War terms meaning west of the Appalachians - while much of the public, press, and subsequent historians' attention focused on the eastern theater.
The Confederates developed a coal torpedo which was a hollow cast iron shell designed to look like a lump of coal and filled with black powder which would explode when placed in the steamboat or locomotive's firebox, but except for the unsupported claim that this is what did in the Sultana, I don't think that it was ever used.
15284035_1131247573618986_1139278738005322304_n.jpg
 
Joined
Apr 25, 2019
Messages
10
Location
Chicago, IL
#14
The boilers are what scare me. I was reading, about the prewar Pulaski, exploding and everyone thought that was the latest and greatest and safest. I'm not sure the riverboats ever overcame over the boiler explosion issue. Someone, I think @DBF mentioned Albert Sidney Johnson's son being killed on a smaller steamboat in California because people panicked, moved to one side and the boat listed.

I know they were the workhorses of both sides but man they were dangerous when combined with greed and drinking.
Oh hell yeah, those things were knocked up. The metal used was also quite primitive, resulting in structurally unsound boilers that were unfit for steaming. Fissures and pressure-cracks were common........

I mean, imagine a drunk stoker trying to get steam out of one of those clunkers- that's a pretty bad combination!
 
Joined
Apr 27, 2017
Messages
972
Location
NC
#15
Western theater, the biggest problem was the early loss of New Orleans. Eastern side, rivers open to steamboat operations didn't go very far inland. Moving things between Atlanta, Richmond, and Chattanooga, rail was the best option. When blockade runners couldn't get into Charleston, you could get things ashore elsewhere and go the rest of the way by rail.
 

Similar threads




(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Top