Monday, August 22, 2011

Steamboat Harbinger: Eliza Battle

The sinking of the Eliza Battle

The Eliza Battle is a ghost vessel that is seen along the Tombigbee River in Alabama. 

She was a side-wheeled paddle steamer that was first launched in 1852. Throughout her life, she was a luxurious riverboat that hosted presidents and dignitaries alike. The story of the disaster that struck her has become apart of southwestern Alabama folklore.

On March 1, 1858, she carried fifty-six passengers and a crew of forty-five. She was fully loaded with more than 1200 bales of cotton. 

In the early morning hours a strong north wind began to blow, the temperature decreased rapidly by 40 degrees in just two hours. Being the winter the Tombigbee River waters ran high. 

Around 2:00 a.m., near Beckley’s Landing, it was discovered that several cotton bales on the main deck were on fire. The strong winds spread the fire quickly.

1888 photograph near site of the disaster
The crew realizing the blaze was out of control forced the passengers, who were all in their nightclothes, to seek refuge in the icy waters of the Tombigbee River. 

Some survived by floating atop cotton bales. Other survivors were found along the flooded river in treetops and rescued by local residents.

This was the greatest maritime disaster in Tombigbee River history. In the aftermath, it was found that twenty-six people in all had perished. All of these casualties were attributed to exposure to the extreme cold during the night. 

The steamboat itself after the fire started, continued out of control downstream. The Eliza Battle finally came to rest above Kemp’s Landing, near what is today the bridge near Alabama State Route 114. 

What was left of the ship sank—the burned wooden hull is still here, located 28 feet below the surface.
Tombigbee River
The Eliza Battle became known as “The Phantom Steamboat of the Tombigbee.” Many newspaper accounts of sightings of this legendary ghost vessel have been written. These sightings tend to happen on cold and windy nights. 

The ship is seen fully engulfed in flames near the exact locations the disaster took place. People have seen the name “Eliza Battle” written on the side as the ship passes and then vanishes. 

Other witnesses near the riverbank describe seeing the flames but state curiously they did not smell a fire or feel any heat. Some have reported hearing music playing within the ship as it burns.

Fishermen and captains alike in the area, consider the ghostly appearance of the Eliza Battle to be an ill omen. For she is a harbinger—if seen it is believed she warns of impending disaster.


Virginia Lamkin said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I had not heard that the ghosts of the people are seen on shore--fascinating.

Leona Joan said...

This is such a sad and spooky story. Thanks for sharing. 🎃