ABOUT
RIVERBOAT CAPTAINS
Whose Names Begin With
G

 Absalom Grimes
From site visitor, Ellen A. Hernandez:

In my posession is a book titled
Absalom Grimes, Confedreate Mail Runner,
printed by The Yale University Press, 1926,
introduction by M. M. Quaife,
Burton Historical Collection, Detroit, August 1, 1926.

The title of Chapter 1 is "Campaigning With Mark Twain".  The first
paragraph reads,

"I was born near Anchorage, Jefferson County, Kentucky,
fourteen miles from Louisville, on August 22, 1834. Soon after this event
my parents moved to St. Louis. My father, William Leander Grimes, was a
pilot on the upper Mississippi River from St. Louis to Dubuque. He was
employed on the WILLIAM WALLACE, one of the first steamboats that navigated
the upper Mississippi. This vessel belonged to Captain Absalom Carlisle, my
mother's uncle, for whom I was named."

. . . There is much riverboat info here in addition to some comical
descriptions of the early civil war experiences of Grimes and Sam Clemens.

"In the fall of 1850 I went on the steamer UNCLE TOBY with my father to
learn the river as a pilot, in the spring of 1852 obtained my first license.
This was the first year government licenses were required of pilots and
captains. I served as pilot between St. Louis and St. Paul from 1852 to
1861. At the latter date I was serving on the steamer SUNSHINE, of which
Captain Willard was owner and master. A pilot's license was issued for the
term of one year and on applying for a renewal pilots were required to take
an oath to abide by the regulations governing pilots, engineers, mates, and
captains, but such a thing as compelling a man who had been born and reared
in the United States to take the oath of allegiance to the government was
unknown. In May, 1861, my license expired and I went to the office of the
United States inspector for the purpose of having it renewed."  . . . "I
indignantly told him that I had been born in this country, as were my father
and grandfather before me....I then walked out, followed by Sam Bowen and
Samuel L. Clemens, who had entered the office just after I had."  . . .
"Clemens, Bowen, and I lived in and near Hannibal, Missouri."  . . . "None
of us were married."
Grimes, Clemens, and Bowen have left the license office and returned to
their hometown of Hannibal, MO.
". . . while there we three pilots visited the
levee every morning when the regular Keokuk packets came up from St. Louis
and landed there.  On the fourth morning we were sitting on a pile of skids
about two hundred yards below the landing.  The steamer HANNIBAL CITY came
up the river and landed about nine o'clock.  To our surprise a Federal
lieutenant and four privates came off the boat.  After a few words with
Jerry Yancey (the boat agent) they turned and walked down the levee to where
we were sitting."  . . . "We took the next boat for St. Louis, the steamer
HARRY JOHNSON.  We were permitted to sleep in staterooms with guards at our
doors.  The boat left Hannibal at six in the afternoon and arrived at St.
Louis at seven o'clock the next morning."
    Grimes, Clemens and Bowen were taken before General John B. Grey,
commander of the District of St. Louis, who said, "I understand you three
men are pilots."  . . . "It seems that the pilots are nearly all Secesh, as
they are hard to get hold of.  I want to send a lot of boats (carrying
soldiers)up to Boonville, on the Missouri River, the latter part of this
week."
   While  General Grey was distracted, the three slipped out and went back
to the Hannibal area and enlisted in a local group who's short lived service
rivals Peter Seller's "The Pink Panther"  Sam Bowen was to later be
imprisoned, released, took the oath of allegiance to the US
". . . and [Sam Bowen] went back to piloting again.  After I became the
Confederate mail-carrier, Sam Bowen and his sister, Miss Amanda Bowen, were
untiring in their effort to aid the Southern cause.  He was pilot on the
steamer G. W. GRAHAM, a regular packet in the St. Louis and Memphis trade.
His brother, Bart Bowen, was captain of the GRAHAM........After the
war he was pilot on the VON PHUL....."
". . . Sam Bowen died years afterward of yellow fever, while he was
a pilot on the MOLLY MOORE, and was buried on the river bank."

I intrepreted the above to mean that Sam and not his brother Bart was pilot
on the VON PHUL.  Grimes later was told that the bank caved, exposing the
coffin.  Twain learned of it during one of his trips from New Orleans to St.
Louis and requested the Pilots' Association have Bowen's remains reinterred
to a safer place.  The costs were defrayed by Twain.

pg. 22, Grimes unit has been in service for a while now, their first
battle was in tearing up the tracks of the Hannibal & St. Joseph RR at
Shelbina, MO. 
. . . "We reached the Missouri River at Glasgow. We had been there one
day when we saw a steamboat going down the river.  Porter and Green had
three pieces of artillery which were planted on the levee at Glasgow, and
these were used to bring the steamer into port. It proved to the the
SUNSHINE, with Captain Willard in command."  . . . "On the boat were two
Federal officers and twelve soldiers. I pulled down the Stars and Stripes
from the jackstaff and hoisted the Confederate flag. Captain Brent, 
a former first clerk of the Keokuk Packet Company, took Captain Willard's 
place."   
. . . "George Vickers and Jum Reed were the pilots aboard. We used the
steamer to ferry our men across the Missouri from Glasgow to the west 
side."
Vickers and Reed deserted and went to St. Louis.

"About one o'clock at night I was aroused and ordered by Captain Brent to
take charge of the pilot wheel on the SUNSHINE, and ferried troops across
the river all the next day until late in the afternoon.  The army then
proceeded north by land to Lexington. We stopped the boat overnight at
Cambridge, nine miles above Glasgow. During the night federal troops across
the river shot holes through the boat with their rifles.  Captain Brent,
the engineers, and myself were not long getting our horses off the boat."

In the above, I have typed Jum Reed just as it appears in the text.
Sometime after December of 1861, Grimes is captured, escapes, captured again
and kept in Myrtle Street prison, formerly Lynch's negro pen, an old slave
market.

(Pg.44)
"On March 30 [1862] about thirty prisoners from the negro pen and two hundred from
Gratiot were sent to the levee and put on board the ALTON, destined for the
penitentiary at Alton, Illinois."  . . . "I asked lieutenant Griscom, who
was in charge of the guards and who had been a steamboat friend of mine
before the war, if he would permit me to go to the pilot house to visit my
old friend, Jim Montgomery, the pilot of the ALTON."  . . ."Just before we
reached Alton we passed the steamer HENRY CLAY."

Grimes hid on the ALTON when everyone else left. During the search for him
a german sergeant fell overboard and under the outside wheel of the ALTON,
killing him.

. . . "Shortly afterward the engineer, Mr. Lovett, came to me and said...(?)
Soon after daylight the HANNIBAL CITY came down the river and landed just
above the ALTON, which was still lying at the wharf."  . . . "I boarded the
HANNIBAL CITY, went up to the pilot house, where I had a big time with my
old chum, Arthur Matson, pilot of the HANNIBAL CITY, and thus I returned
safely to St. Louis, having been gone about sixteen hours."

pg. 50, Grimes is in St. Louis, April 1862
I left st. Louis May 1 on my way south....on the steamer FAR WEST, Captain
William Blake, an old friend of mine. At Nealy's Landing, sixty miles below
St. Louis, I left the boat and made my way to the home of John Gramer, a
retired steamboat pilot."  . . . "When I had floated about four miles below Bird's
Point I removed the willow covering and lost no time in getting away from
Cairo. The federal mosquito fleet lay anchored about Island No. 9. This
fleet consisted of stern-wheel and other boats remodeled and covered with
iron about two inches thick. These boats had been armored under the
direction of John Eads, who afterwards built the famous Eads Bridge at St.
Louis. There were six or eight boats and many transports. The fleet had
four big flatboats about fifty feet long and twenty wide. Each flatboat had
an upright portable steam boiler which furnished power to run two saws, one
on each forward corner of the boat. There was a long hose connecting the
saw with the boiler. The saws were about eight feet long and so arranged
that with them the largest trees could be sawed off eight or ten feet below
the surface of the water. Then the trunks of the trees were sawed up and
dragged out of the way by steam tugs. It was about two and a half miles
across the point and those Yankee beavers were only two days cutting the
trees out of the way and passing their fleet through to New Madrid, which
was below Island No. 10."

Grimes is now across the river from the landing at Osceola, Arkansas, at a
farmhouse 2 miles above the fleet when a Federal launch landed.
"The officer in charge was one Harris, who had been with me on the steamer
LUCY MAY on the upper Mississippi.....I told him unblushingly that I had
quit the Rebels and had taken the oath of allegience and was learning the
lower river under Captain Tom Taylor, a pilot on the WISCONSIN, one of the
government gunboats."

For more on Civil War and Riverboats please see these:
Articles on Riverboats and the Civil War

Cotton Clad Gunboat Uncle Ben
Bits and Pieces About Riverboats in the Civil War
Millitary Life and Steamboats
Civil War On The Coosa River
Diary of a Confederate Mail Runner
Letters From Three Soldiers

* Source: Way's Packet Directory, 1848 - 1994 
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