A Historical Vignette
by Tom Parquette
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The following is a postscript to the article "Who (or What) Really Dunnit?" That article addressed the possible coverup or incomplete investigation of the circumstances surrounding the explosion and fire of the steamboat SS Sultana on April 27, 1865 which took the lives of over 1700 citizens and returning Union Army former pow's following the supposed end of the Civil War. You can review that article. Parts One through Four are (1)here, (2)here, (3)here and (4)here.
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The actual, formal end to the Civil War never really took place. At least, not in the sense you might envision, say, by virtue of a formal surrender or proclamation. Insofar as the Union never recognized the South as any form of government and nothing more than a literal insurgency, it's not assumed the Union really expected a formal, all encompassing surrender. But, they (the Union) acted in many respects as if they had one.The end started to develop when Lee surrendered the Northern Virginia Army to Grant on April 9, 1865. It is important to remember that Lee was only surrendering the army in his command. Not on behalf of the entire Confederacy. Jefferson Davis was captured on the run on May 10, 1865 and charged with various crimes of treason, etc. The Confederate Congress was at that time too scattered and disrupted to have entertained or issued terms or offered surrender.
While various Generals of the Confederate forces followed suit over the days following Lee's surrender and surrender continued, no one single moment, event or document exists which encompassed the surrender of the South to the North. Thus, the battles and the sentiments understandably continued throughout the country, albeit dwindling in many respects.
General Lee Surrenders to General Grant
So then, while the North 'hoorah'd' the end with the surrender of Lee, there were still fighting factions of the Confederate forces who wouldn't give up so easy. Including the Confederate Secret Service, and, for purposes of our interest in the bombing of Sultana, the boat burners. And, Robert Louden was by his own admission, the Official Records of both the Union AND Confederate Armies, and by comprehensive, though circumstantial evidence, the likely preeminent boat burner responsible for the destruction of Sultana.
The rest of the story. Robert Louden was clearly an active, long standing associate through the Liberty Fire Company 6 with John M. Wimer. Thomas E. Courtenay was the pinnacle of the Confederate Secret Service and the inventor and manufacturer of the 'coal torpedo'. Courtenay was also a former Sheriff of St. Louis County and as importantly, was an investor/business partner of John M. Wimer.
Thomas Courtenay, Inventer
of the Coal Torpedo
Prior to the explosion of Sultana, Louden was known to be in the deep south somewhere along the river, possibly New Orleans. The balance of this story, I will leave to you, gentle reader, to write. I present below actual transcripts of the various remaining Official Records of the Union Army and of the Confederate Army and the Union Provost Martial in St. Louis. These records indicate the nature of documentation retained following the war and represent pertinent, but not all documents referring to these men. Bearing in mind Louden's two confessions of bombing the Sultana, I leave the conclusiveness of the admittedly circumstantial (but for Loudens background and confessions) evidence as to whether to posthumously convict Mr. Louden.
Given all of the circumstances surrounding the country, Missouri and the very nature of the drawn out ending of this war, were these various players acting as unabated killers unwilling to stop, or were they doing nothing more than continuing the fight for the South and their values? I leave it to you.
Was the investigation into the Sultana disaster by the Union authorities just incompetent and bungling? Or was it a purposeful way to avoid ripping the scab off of a war which was supposed to be over, a scab which would and could so painfully reignite the war? I leave that to you also.
………. Tom Parquette
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