The Case for Indemnity


The str Horizon sunk on Island No 10 near Grand Gulf, MS on 1 May 1863.  Loaded with troops and supplies, the Horizon had been ordered to steam down the Mississippi past the batteries at Vicksburg.  Running after dark on a moonless night without lights, making evasive moves, badly riddled by rebel cannons, the Horizon was not in serious trouble until the collision with the Moderator.  Reports differ on the number of troops lost.


The owners applied for compensation from the US Army Quartermaster for loss of the Horizon.  At that time the owners were John N McCurdy, Thomas S Calhoon, Richard Calhoon, and William White (Jackman T Stockdale had sold his share in late 1862).[1]   At the time, the Horizon was chartered by the US Army Quartermaster at a rate of $200 per day.  Hardly a living wage since the cost of operation of an average size steamer was $250.


His boat destroyed, Thomas S Calhoon traveled home to Georgetown, PA.  John N McNurdy stayed at the scene and tried to provide the necessary documentation for their claim.  This proved impossible.  The effort was effectively blocked by red tape, inept attorneys on both sides, inability to locate men whose affidavits were required, and wartime disruptions. [2]

On 23 Jun 1864, John N McNurdy wrote to Thomas S Calhoon that he had paid his attorney $500 to get the papers prepared for the case.  The str Horizon had been valued at $18,500.

On 27 Jun1864, John N McNurdy submitted the papers to JR Atkinson, Third Auditor in Washington, DC.  The list of documents according to Dr John Ewing, Capt Thomas S Calhoon’s grandson, included:

(1)  Bill of Sale from JT Stockdale to JN McCurdy and TS Calhoon.
(2)  Power of Attorney from John McCurdy to TS Calhoon.
(3)  The insurance of te Steamboat Horizon to TS Calhoon.
(4)  DW Swigart (Capt and AQM (Army Quartermaster)) order to the master of the Steamboat Horizon to be relieved from duty & ordered to Capt Hailick AQM at Helena, AK.
(5)  Certificate of Enrollment of Steamer Horizon by Capt CW Batchelor of Pittsburgh, PA, thirty-first day of December 1862.
(6)  Contract between John Henry Haupt AQM USA and Moorhead and Co.
(7)  Order from Capt CA Reynolds Lieut Col and Chief Quarter Master for the Steamer Horizon to report to Capt W Carter AQM for duty.
(8)  Enoch Harteus Surveyor of the Port of Pittsburgh Certificate for the Steamer Horizon date of June 5th, 1862.
(9)  Affidavit of Capt Richard Calhoon in relation to the loss of the Steamer Horizon. 

  (10)  Affidavit of TS Calhoon.
(11)  Copy of the proceedings at a Board of Survey on Steamers at Millikens Bend of which the Steamer Horizon was one.
(12)  Copy of the Certificate of the Officers that were on the Steamer Horizon at the time of her loss.
(13)  Letter from Major Rouley stating to JC O’Neill that Col Parsons informed him that the money was in the hands of the 3rd Auditor.

On 31 Dec 1865 with a new attorney whose retainer was $300 and 5% of the award, Capt McNurdy again attempted to prosecute the claim.  Thomas S Calhoon had already written the loss off thinking it fruitless to pursue the matter indefinitely.  This time the depositions were rejected because they were only copies of the original certificates.[3]


So the affair progressed, frustration after frustration, until the attempt to collect damages died of bureaucratic numbness.


As a final note, Gibsons’s Dictionary stated that the US government paid $18,500 for the loss of the sunken Horizon. [4]  My take.  The dollars to satisfy the claim were probably allocated, but never paid because the detailed supporting documentation was never completely compiled.  All in all, the loss of the Horizon was approximately $20,000 which is equivalent to more than $300-400K in 2010.





[1]  John H Ewing, Biography of Thomas S Calhoon, Heinz History Center, The Ewing Papers Box 5, p 17.
[2]  John H Ewing, Biography of Thomas S Calhoon, Heinz History Center, The Ewing Papers Box 5, p 18.
[3]  John H Ewing, Biography of Thomas S Calhoon, Heinz History Center, The Ewing Papers Box 5, p 22.
[4]  Charles Dana Gibson and E Kay Gibson, Dictionary of Transports and Combatant Vessels Steam and Sail Employed by the Union Army 1861 – 1868, (Ensign Press, Cambridge, MA 1995), p 152.

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