American Merchant Ships and Sailors eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 382 pages of information about American Merchant Ships and Sailors.

Until 1865 the steamboats controlled the transportation business of all the territory drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries.  But two causes for their undoing had already begun to work.  The long and fiercely-fought war had put a serious check to the navigation of the rivers.  For long months the Mississippi was barricaded by the Confederate works at Island Number 10, at New Madrid and at Vicksburg.  Even after Grant and Farragut had burst these shackles navigation was attended with danger from guerrillas on the banks and trade was dead.  When peace brought the promise of better things, the railroads were there to take advantage of it.  From every side they were pushing their way into New Orleans, building roadways across the “trembling prairies,” and crossing the water-logged country about the Rigolets on long trestles.  They penetrated the cotton country and the mineral country.  They paralleled the Ohio, the Tennessee, and the Cumberland, as well as the Father of Waters, and the steamboat lines began to feel the heavy hand of competition.  Captains and clerks found it prudent to abate something of their dignity.  Instead of shippers pleading for deck-room on the boats, the boats’ agents had to do the pleading.  Instead of levees crowded with freight awaiting carriage there were broad, empty spaces by the river’s bank, while the railroad freight-houses up town held the bales of cotton, the bundles of staves, the hogsheads of sugar, the shingles and lumber.  On long hauls the railroads quickly secured all the North and South business, though indeed, the hauling of freight down the river for shipment to Europe was ended for both railroads and steamboats, so far as the products raised north of the Tennessee line was concerned.  For a new water route to the sea had been opened and wondrously developed.  The Great Lakes were the shortest waterway to the Atlantic, and New York dug its Erie Canal which afforded an outlet—­pinched and straitened, it is true, but still an outlet—­for the cargoes of the lake schooners and the early steamers of the unsalted seas.  Even the commonwealths forming the north bank of the Ohio River turned their faces away from the stream that had started them on the pathway to wealth and greatness, and dug canals to Lake Erie, that their wheat, corn, and other products might reach tidewater by the shortest route.  The great cargoes from Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Louisville, began to be legends of the past, and the larger boats were put on routes in Louisiana, or on the Mississippi, from Natchez south, while others were reduced to mere local voyages, gathering up freight from points tributary to St. Louis.  The glory of the river faded fast, and the final stroke was dealt it when some man of inventive mind discovered that a little, puffing tug, costing one-tenth as much as a fine steamboat, could push broad acres of flatboats, loaded with coal, lumber, or cotton, down the tortuous stream, and return alone at one-tenth the expense of a heavy steamer.  That was the final stroke to the picturesqueness and the romance of river life.  The volume of freight carried still grows apace, but the glory of Mississippi steamboat life is gone forever.

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American Merchant Ships and Sailors from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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