La Crosse, WI Steamer WAR EAGLE Fire & Sinking, May 1870
From the difficulty of escape experienced by those who were up and measurably prepared for the emergency, the most painful conjectures are formed in regard to all who were in bed and asleep.
About thirty passengers were transferred from the midnight train to Milwaukee to the War Eagle, besides the passengers who went aboard from La Crosse, and those who came up from the lower ports on the steamer. Of those who went on board from La Crosse, one young lady, who was reported safe, is missing. She was Miss Mary Ulrich, she accomplished niece of Alderman John Ulrich, editor of the Nord Stern. She was going to Fountain City to visit some friends. Miss Ulrich, we learn by one of the stewards, occupied state-room “A.” on the starboard side, being the first state-room in the ladies’ cabin as one entered from the gentlemen’s or front cabin; and her death, after her reported safety, brings grief to her relatives and a large number of devoted friends.
One elderly and heavy gentleman from Kentucky, who occupied stateroom No. 8, on the starboard side of the boat, is supposed to have been burned. He was going to St. Paul in pursuit of pleasure, and intended to visit Northern Minnesota on a fishing and shooting excursion.
Thirteen cabin passengers from lower ports took supper on the War Eagle Saturday evening three of whom paid for their tickets, because they had reached their place of destination before supper time. This would leave then “through cabin passengers” on board before receiving passengers at La Crosse, of whom it is estimated about thirty arrived on the midnight train. This would make about forty cabin passengers from the South and East. Besides the cabin passengers, there were, on the lower deck, a score or two of deck passengers, some of whom were German and Norwegian immigrants, the most of whom were, doubtless, saved.
During the fire on the steamer, an explosion took place accompanied by a terrible concussion, which was felt throughout the city. Some of the crew think it was a keg of powder in the rear of the boat, and between the two decks. Others are of the opinion it was the gasoline.
We have conversed with the ship carpenter of the War Eagle, W. T. Bennett, of Viroqua (son of John M. Bennett, Esq., of Hillsboro, Wis., who lost an arm by injuries received during the tornado that visited Viroqua in 1865), and learn that he was driving the hoops close on the leaky gasoline barrels, in accordance with orders from Captain Cushing; and Mr. Bennett attributes the fire to the ignition of the gas arising from the cask to the light of the lantern, which was exploded. Mr. Bennett was slightly injured by fire on his face.