Baton Rouge, LA Steamer FASHION Disaster, Jan 1867



The New Orleans papers bring details of the fearful scenes and great loss of life occasioned by the destruction of the steamer FASHION, near Baton Rogue, on the afternoon of the 27th ult. The fire was discovered about half-past three o'clock, some ten feet forward of the side house on the larboard side, and is stated to have been caused by sparks from the chimney falling on the cotton, of which there were over 2,600 bales on board. The steamer was on her way to New Orleans from Vicksburgh, with about 100 cabin and a large number of deck passengers. Her crew and all told must have numbered 300 souls. Every effort was made by the officers to put out the fire with water, using the hose and buckets, also by throwing the bales overboard, but the wind blew the flames into the tier of bales, and within five minutes the whole side was on fire, thus cutting off communication between the forward and after parts of the boat.
She was immediately headed for the shore. The pilot, MR. THOS. MONTAGUE, never left his post until the boat was landed, and was probably lost by his devotion to his duty. Capt. PRATT and the second engineer, MR. HARRY HOFFMAN, succeeded in getting a line fast to the shore. Then, having secured the safety of those forward, Capt. PRATT next took the yawl from parties who had escaped in it to the shore, and went to the stern of the boat, and succeeded in saving some twelve or fifteen passengers -- six of them ladies, who were hanging to the stern and ready to jump overboard. MR. TOM HASTINGS, first mate, assisted Capt. PRATT in his efforts to save the lives of the passengers. Too much praise cannot be bestowed upon Capt. PRATT, MR. HASTINGS, MR. OLIVER FAIRCHILD, first engineer, who lost his life at his post, MR. HARRY HELLERY, barkeeper, and MR. EPHRAIM HARDESTY, steward, who no doubt lost his life in his efforts to save others, for the last that was seen of him was on the afterguards throwing over shutters to the passengers to keep them from drowning; MR. J. A. DINWIDDIE, second clerk, and MR. HOSEY, carpenter, took the yawl and picked up several children -- some of them already drowned -- and other passengers. After putting them on shore they followed the wreck as it floated down several miles, and came on to Baton Rouge.
The Bayou Sara packet Lafourche, Capt. BARANCO, was the first boat passing. She was bound up, and her crew picked up all they could, doing all in their power to relieve them. The Vicksburgh packet, Magenta, Capt. T. P. LEATHERS, bound down, came along and took off those coming to New Orleans from the Lafourche, treating them as well as it was possible to do.
The statement of the mate, MR. THOMAS HASTINGS, contains the following:
"The Fashion had on board 2,700 bales of cotton and over 100 cabin passengers, beside some 150 on deck, making 250 passengers in all. MR. HASTINGS thinks this a low estimate. About fifty or sixty passengers came on board at Vicksburgh, but they were coming on and going off all the way down, and we have no list of the lost or saved. The principal landings after leaving Vicksburgh were Carthage, Ashwood, Grand Gulf, St. Joe, Rodney, Natchez, Fort Adams, Red River and Bayou Sara. Two ladies came on board at Bayou Sara, but the main does not know their names. They were undoubtedly lost. Among the cabin passengers was a party of emigrants to Texas. They were from North Alabama. Fully one-third of them were lost. They had horses, wagons, &c., with them, all of which were consumed in the flames. But one horse went overboard."
"The passengers on deck were principally negroes. They leaped wildly into the water. HASTINGS saw fifty or sixty of them struggling in the waves at the same time. Very few, if any, were saved. The two chambermaids, MRS. CLARK and assistant, jumped overboard, and are believed to be lost."
"The boat was landed from seven to ten minutes after she took fire. To escape the flames the people ran both ways, toward the bow and toward the stern. Here they huddled together, till, pressed by the flames, they jumped overboard. MR. HASTINGS let himself down into the water and swam ashore."
"MR. THOMAS MONTAGUE, the pilot on watch at the time, remained at his post until after she struck the shore, and he was compelled by the smoke to leave the pilot-house. He then walked toward the stern of the boat and asked MR. HASTINGS, who was on the larboard guard, what he should do, and was answered to jump overboard. He cooly replied that he did not know how to swim. The last MR. HASTINGS saw of him he was standing near the stern, and the flames fast approaching him. As he was not seen or heard of afterward, it is generally supposed that he perished."
"MR. OLIVER FAIRCHILD, first engineer, remained at the engine too late to escape, and perished on the steamer. MR. E. HARDESTY, the steward, is lost. MR. RICHARD COSTELLO, the second mate, is lost. MR. McMURREN, a planter, from near Natchez, jumped off an eight tier of cotton on the bank and broke his thigh. A lady, name unknown, threw three children, overboard, when pressed by the fire, and leaped in after them. She saved one of her children but the other two were lost. Another lady, bound to Galveston, jumped overboard with her child, and was picked up by the yawl, and finding herself safe, called for assistance to others, before she had been scarcely hauled over the side."
"One of the officers had first gotten into the water two boats. The first filled and the other went adrift. He had the window blinds and doors of the staterooms thrown overboard, but few of the people knew their value or tried to save themselves thereby. There was a great deal of confusion and excitement, and finally a perfect panic. There were some forty or fifty persons struggling in the water at the same time, a most appalling sight."
"When the cotton burned off forward the unfortunate steamer floated off to the head of the Reach above Baton Rouge, where she was still burning when the Magenta left. There were three incendiary fires on the Magenta during the passage down -- one at Morville Landing, one below Baton Rouge, and one below Carrollton. The latter was about daylight. During the alarm the ladies' state-rooms were many of them entered and plundered by river pirates and thieves. One of the Morville thieves was arrested, another jumped overboard. By this fire eleven bales of cotton were destroyed."
The New Orleans Times of Saturday says: "The Fashion was one of our finest lower river steamers, and was quite popular in the trade between New Orleans and Vicksburgh, in which she had been plying for some time. She was thoroughly overhauled and repaired about two months ago, and had a complete outfit in every particular. Her officers had an enviable reputation for the care manifested in the conduct and management of their vessel."
"The Fashion was owned by A. S. MANSFIELD & CO., of this city, and was insured in New Orleans offices. She was built at Cincinnati in 1865, was 262 feet long, forty-two feet wide, seven feet in depth, and fourteen feet in height, measuring 1,194 86-100 tons. Her loss will fall pretty heavily on New Orleans underwriters. MR. MANSFIELD does not escape severe loss, but his greatest concern is for the safety of those on board."
The Picayune, of Sunday, gives the following additional details:
"MR. GEORGE H. GEIB, who was passenger on the Fashion, thinks therer were from 350 to 400, black and whites, on her at the timeof the fire, of whom there were not more than eighty survivors. There were about one hundred in the cabin, and the rest were negroes coming to the city on a holiday excursion, hardly knowing what for. When the flames began to sweep toward them they plunged wildly into the water, and there was no possibility of rescuing them. The 2,700 bales of cotton were piled up eight tiers high, and it was difficult to move about on the boat without coming in contact with the flames. Only those who had presence of mind, and were cool and self-possessec in their movements, were saved. A few moments later in effecting a landing and all would have been lost, so violently did the flames leap through and over the burning cotton."
The steamer Lafourche, Capt. BARANCO, has just arrived. Among her passengers were MESSRS. SHAW and LUDWIGSEN, clerks of the ill-fated steamer Fashion, also the following passengers of the Fashion: MR. GERRARD and wife; WM. SELLERS and wife; DR. J. A. OWENS and son, of Arkansas; MR. GEO H. GIEB, of New York; MR. SCHRIBNER, of New Orleans; MR. J. E. TOWNSEND.
MR. SHAW was badly burned in endeavoring to save his books and papers, in which he was unsuccessful. MR. LUDWIGSEN was also slightly burned.
MR. SHAW informs us that he thinks he will be able to make out a tolorably correct list of the cargo and consignors of the Fashion. But his registry being lost he can give but imperfect information of the passengers. It is believed, however, that there were fully 300 in all, and the loss is supposed to have been much greater than at first reported.
MR. THOMAS MONTAGUE, the pilot on duty at the time, is certainly lost. He stood by the wheel bravely and faithfully to the last. He was still quite a young man, and leaves an interesting wife and child to mourn his loss. He was a good and amiable citizen, and all his acquaintances and associates on the steamer, as well as his employers, speak in the highest terms of him. He certainly stood boldly up to his post, in the midst of smoke and flame, when most men would have quailed, and all honor be to his memory."
"Since writing the above, we learn that MRS. SHEER, one of the ladies who came on the Fashion at Bayou Sara, was saved. Her companion, MISS EDWARDS, is believed to be lost. MR. GEORGE H. GEIB, the well known piano manufacturer of New York, was on the Fashion at the time, and saved. He tells us that nothing more was saved than is reported."

The New York Times New York 1867-01-05