Old Boat Column

The Sidewheeler Tarascon

The Tarascon at the Louisville waterfront in the 1870s.

For a contract cost of $40,900, the beautiful sidewheeler Tarascon was constructed on a wooden hull (250 feet in length by 38 feet in width) at Jeffersonville, Ind., in 1863 by James and Dan Howard.

The boat was launched on October 17 and departed the shipyard on December 2, headed for Evansville, where it commenced operations in the Evansville-Henderson trade. The riverboat’s initial departure from Louisville as a regular packet was on December 5.

While en route to the Tennessee River in December 1864, the Tarascon assisted in transporting General A.J. Smith’s army to New Orleans; from there the vessel was sent by way of the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Pontchartrain in early 1865.

An Evansville newspaper reported on November 7, 1866, that the Tarascon had resumed its place in the Louisville-Henderson trade and had recently come into port with a large wedding party aboard. Among those serving as master of the boat were Capt. Anson Ballard, Capt. J.A. Lusk, Capt. William Strong and Capt. David Penny.

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The boat sank in shallow water, two miles below Salt River, in the autumn of 1875, but was raised and repaired. The whistle used on the boat during its unique tenure on the river had seen prior service on the sidewheel packet Eugene, built in 1860 and wrecked in 1862.

The Tarascon was retired in 1877 and dismantled two years later.

The St. Louis Republican had this to say in August 1879: “The sidewheel Tarascon, now being wrecked by the Howards at Jeffersonville, has had a remarkable career. The boat operated on the Ohio River in the Louisville-Henderson Mail Line trade until it was taken by General G.H. Thomas and used as his headquarters up the Tennessee River; it assisted in moving the Schofield troops from the Tennessee River to reinforce General Grant in his ‘On to Richmond’ Virginia campaign. The riverboat later took part of the Union army’s cavalry from Louisville to join General Nelson in his raid through Alabama. The Tarascon was the first boat of the federal forces to arrive at Montgomery and also is the largest boat that ever navigated the Alabama River above Mobile.

“The boat was selected for all kinds of service on account of its speed. If any fast work was to be done, the Tarascon would be called for and it was always equal to the emergency. When there was no longer need for it, the vessel was returned to Louisville to resume its usual trade. When it is remembered that the lifetime of this class of boat is usually only from eight to 10 years, its long life is wonderful.

“A remarkable feature of the boat was its light draft. When new, it drew but 28 inches. The superiority of its business capacity is evident and the steamboat is reluctantly being dismantled. The machinery is being overhauled and renewed, to be placed on a large and fine packet now on the ways at Howard’s yard, which will be launched in a few days.”

The Howard Shipyard also built, in 1895, a large sternwheeler named Tarascon. It will be featured in a forthcoming Old Boat Column.

Editor’s note: For questions or suggestions regarding the Old Boat Column, Keith Norrington may be contacted by e-mail at curatorkeith@yahoo.com, or by mail through the Howard Steamboat Museum at P.O. Box 606, Jeffersonville, Ind. 47131-0606.