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Walton Family Story

“…The last voyage of the Kentucky started at 6:30 p.m. on June 9, 1865. The Kentucky left Shreveport bound for New Orleans with 900 passengers, baggage and provisions. The steamboat had a length of 222 feet, a beam of 32 feet and a depth of 5 feet 6 inches with a capacity of 375 tones. It was built as a large, elegant packer for use on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and had the same layout as other steamboats of the day.  

The main deck had four boilers mounted to it that fed two high-pressure steam engines, and was fitted with guard that extended the deck out from the hull to protect the paddle wheels. The main deck served as the principal cargo deck with the boiler deck above it where passenger accommodations were located. A long, narrow cabin was centrally located with 52 staterooms opening onto it from the sides. Each room was furnished with carpets, chairs, a sofa, bedding, tables and tableware. The sexes were separated aboard packet boats, with the gentlemen’s salon located forward and the ladies in the rear. Above the boiler deck was the hurricane deck and the crew quarters, and the officers were quartered in the texas on the next level. The pilothouse was atop the texas, behind the chimneys. 

The biggest part of the 900 passengers were paroled Confederate prisoners, veterans of the Missouri and Arkansas regiments that had defended Shreveport. They were being taken to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to take the oath of the government. Among the passengers were Captain Anthony Walton of Glasgow, his wife, Mary Winn Walton, and their six children ranging in ages from four months to 18 years of age. (Shreveport Journal, July 10, 1974). Mary and the children were crowded into the “ladies’ cabin” on the rear portion of the boiler deck with the families of some of the other soldiers. The forward part of the main deck was packed with 250 horses that the parolees had been allowed to keep after the surrender.  

After traveling about two hours that evening, the steamer struck a snag – a partially submerged log that the Red River was notorious for. The boat ran for about four miles after it began to leak but by the time the captain finally turned for shore, the Kentucky had settled so much he could not get close enough to the bank to put out the landing stage. A line was run to shore but it broke immediately.  

In the New Orleans Times on June 15, 1865, a survivor described what happened those last few minutes: “As the boat careened, a great rush took place to the hurricane deck. Many 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 succeeded in gaining the hurricane deck and were all saved. Some children were lost.” 

The boat sank instantly with water washing over the hurricane deck while the stern remained above water. In the over-crowded decks below, pandemonium broke out as passengers rushed for the hurricane deck. A large number of people were trapped in the forward cabin and drowned…Another steamer, the Col. Chapin, got word of the disaster and it’s Captain, Stephen J. Webber, ordered steam to be raised and set out in the night to travel the 5 to 7 miles back downstream to help survivors. When the steamer arrived at the site around 11:30 p.m., there were 400 to 500 people crowded onto the elevated portion of the stricken Kentucky. Captain Webber was able to get two lines from the shipwreck to shore and began ferrying the survivors ashore in two small boats. The Walton’s oldest daughter, 18 year old, Clemmie, made it to shore with her infant sister Nannie’s gown clutched between her teeth. Mrs. Walton and three other children were rescued by the Col. Chapin’s boats. Her husband and son were missing. 

Reports of the missing and dead ranged from 20 to over 200. Bodies of the men trapped between decks were pulled from the wreck for days after the sinking. Mrs. Walton’s husband and son were never found and she and her five remaining children made their way back to Missouri. Most of the Missouri men were from the 9th Sharpshooters division with others from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Cavalry and 10th, 11th and 16th Infantry, Hooper’s Cavalry, Shank’s Cavalry and Elliott’s Cavalry.” 

Compilation from the files of Neil Block, Commander, William T. Anderson Camp #1743 SCV; transcribed by Lisa Perry. “Search commences for descendants of Confederate soldiers (lost) in SS Kentucky shipwreck in 1865”, Monroe County Appeal, Paris, MO., Sep 15, 1997, page 11.