Western Kentucky genealogists and historians are familiar with John Hunt Morgan and his activities on land during the Civil War. Fewer of us are familiar, though, with his capture and destruction of the steamboat Alice Dean. The following account is found in the Henderson Reporter of Thursday, 16 July 1863.
From Captain James H. Pepper, who was in command of the Alice Dean at the time she was captured and burnt by the rebels under John Hunt Morgan, and who arrived in this city yesterday, we learn particulars of the occurrence.
The Alice Dean was on her way from Mound City to Cincinnati and when, on Tuesday last, near Brandenburg, Kentucky, Capt. Pepper discovered the steamer McCombs lying near the shore, apparently in distress, making signals for him to bring his boat alongside. As the Alice Dean came up, in obedience to the summons, Capt. Pepper discovered that the McCombs was in possession of rebel troops, who evidently intended to board and capture his boat as soon as she came within reach, but all his efforts to get his boat again underway, and escape, were unavailing. She was immediately boarded by a large force of rebels, and himself, officers and crew placed under arrest, the soldiers in the meantime helping themselves to such valuables as came within their reach. When Capt. Pepper found that it would be impossible to escape with his boat, he ran to the office with the intention of secreting the money there belonging to the boat, the silverware &c, but he found himself confronted by a number of soldiers, who leveled their guns and ordered him to desist.
The rebel commander, General Morgan, informed Capt. Pepper that a large number of his troops had arrived at Brandenburg; that he wanted to take them across the river; that having no boats of any kind of his own, he was compelled to take possession of the Alice Dean to be used for that purpose and that as soon as his men and their horses and equipment, artillery &c were safely on the Indiana side of the river, she would be released and allowed to proceed on her way.
There were but few stores on the Alice Dean at the time she was captured, which were taken possession of by the rebels.
Tuesday evening Capt. Pepper received an order to prepare supper for 50 men, which, he informed the officer bearing the order, it was impossible as he had no provisions. The next morning a similar order was received and a like answer returned.
Capt. Pepper and his crew were engaged about 2 days in ferrying the rebels and their equipment across the river, during the whole of which time they had not a mouthful to eat, nor were they allowed to take any rest.
After all the rebel troops had been ferried across the river, Capt. Pepper received the following order:
"Indiana, U.S., July 2.
Capt. Pepper: Sir, in keeping with order from my superior officer, Major General John H. Morgan, I hereby order you to move your crew from your boat, Alice Dean, together with all your individual property as I am ordered to burn your boat. I am, sir, respectfully, Your obedient servant, Jas. W. Mitchel, Captain and Provost Marshal. Second Brigade, Morgan's Div. C.S.A."
Capt. Mitchel very politely informed Capt. Pepper that he could take from the boat such articles as he desired. Capt. Pepper placed the silverware belonging to the boat and a few other articles in a satchel and then went ashore, when his men were drawn up in line in front of the rebel soldiers. Capt. Mitchel told his men they could go on the boat and take such articles as they desired as he intended to burn her. Capt. Pepper asked the same privilege for the crew as a compensation for the labor they had performed for the rebel General, which was readily granted. They all helped themselves to bed clothing and such things as could be removed when the noble vessel, the finest on the Ohio River, was fired by the rebel Captain, and in a short time all that remained of the beautiful, finely furnished and fast running Alice Dean was a charred and smoking hull.
The Alice Dean was valued at $60,000 and was not insured against the vicissitudes of war.
Added note: Way's Packet Directory, 1848 - 1994, p. 12 states that a steamer of the same name was built in 1864 and ran the Cincinnati - Memphis route With Capt. Pepper commanding. After only three trips, the second Alice Dean hit the bank in March 1864 and sank.