Warsaw, KY Steamers UNITED STATES and AMERICA Collide, Dec 1868


The Louisville and Cincinnati passenger and mail steamers United States and America, have been destroyed by fire, and with them perished a great many human beings.
The lost boats were two of the finest steamers on the Western waters. They were built after the same model; one in 1865, and the other in 1867; were about three hundred feet long, with cabins two stories high. They were, indeed, "palatial steamers," and one could not look upon the graceful exterior, and contemplate the spacious and beautiful cabins, without a desire to enjoy a trip thereon. The two boats cost nearly a half million of dollars, and were insured at nearly a quarter million. They belonged to the Mail Company, composed of about a dozen men. Every day one left the port of Louisville in the afternoon, and the other the port of Cincinnati, and were accustomed to meet 60 or 80 miles below Cincinnati. Madison and Lawrenceburg, Ind., were the only points at which they touched between Louisville and Cincinnati. On Friday, the 4th inst., they left their respective moorings, and started on their accustomed voyages. When near Warsaw, Ky., about 65 miles below Cincinnati, they met in fearful collision -- the America ascending. The night was dark, and the pilots did not perceive each others approach until near together -- far enough apart, however, to have avoided a collision had they understood each others signals. Each says he gave the accustomed signal with the steam whistle, but the signals were misapprehended, and in an effort to escape a collision, they came together. The America struck the United States on one side of her sharp bow, and crushed through the heavy timbers, half way to the boilers. A number of barrels of petroleum were on "the States" some were crushed; the flowing oil ignited and flamed up almost instantly to the cabin above. It spread over the lower deck, ran over the sides, and the water for some distance was covered with a living flame.
It was between 11 and 12 o'clock; nearly all the passengers were in their berths, and most of them asleep. There were several bridal parties on the United States, and music and dancing had been a part of the evening's entertainment. The latest retiring parties had but just committed themselves to their couches for the night's rest supposed to be in store for them. Some were awakened by the shock of the collision, and springing from their beds, discovered the forward part of the boat all on fire. The cry of "Fire!!" rang through the immense halls of the burning boat, and her officers hastened to rouse any who were still sleeping, unconscious of the peril in which they were. A scene of the wildest confusion ensued. The cabin was thronged with undressed and half clad men, women and children, many of whom indulged in wild screams of terror, cries to God for deliverance, and appeals to mortals for help; some sought to provide first for themselves, and others did all they could to aid in the escape of those who needed assistance. The flames, with great rapidity, were driven to the rear of the boat, where the multitude had sought safety. The America, uninjured by the collision, in an effort to rescue the imperiled people on the burning steamer, was brought in contact with the flames, and was soon on fire too; but being safer retreat than the other, many sought to leap upon her. Many were successful, and made good their escape, while others falling into the river, perished in the attempt. Some leaped from the lofty upper deck of the United States , away down on to the lower deck of the America, without injury, while others received serious injuries in so doing. Some leaped into the water and swan ashore, while others sand to rise no more. Some remained on the burning steamer and were consumed in the flames. The America finally ran to the shore, and furnished a safe landing to nearly all on board of her, and made another unsuccessful effort, while burning, to render further aid. Both boats were burned to the waters' edge, and are a total loss, except, perhaps, their hulls.
Many touching and thrilling incidents are related, but which we have not space to reproduce in these columns.

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