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Boat Burner on St. Louis Levee Tells All

John B. Castleman recruited 41 men from Lexington, KY and formed the Second Kentucky Cavalry under John Hunt Morgan.  According to his own account, he led a group of men in St. Louis in burning riverboats on the St Louis levee.  The levee was a favorite target of the Order of American Knights (OAK) to generate logistic pressure on Grant’s Vicksburg effort. There were several multiple boat-burnings recorded but Castleman’s 10 boat effort has not been documented except by his own account.  His favorite weapon of choice was Greek Fire.  The recipe for Greek fire included at various times sulfur, pitch, charcoal, incense, tow, naptha, and petroleum.

Other boats were damaged or destroyed by the use of fake coal torpedos which were a disguised explosive introduced into a ships coal bunker.  Such a device was said to be used on the riverboat SS Sultana by Robert Louden, who made a deathbed confession to the vile act.  The coal torpedo was invented by Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay, a former resident of St. Louis.


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