1865 was a momentous year in America. The 13th amendment to the US Constitution—abolishing slavery—was submitted to the states for ratification. On Palm Sunday, General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, effectively ending the four-year American Civil War. On April 14, President Abraham Lincoln was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater; he died the next day.
On April 17, 1865, the double engine, sidewheel steamboat, Twilight, weighing 230 tons, eased into the Mississippi River by the St. Louis levee. Inland, St. Louis was then America's third busiest port after seaports New York and New Orleans, and thought to have unlimited potential for trade. St. Louis-based steamboats pursued trade routes that "radiated to the four points of the compass," a local editor explained. Steamers heading up the Missouri River were said to offer the most adventure and face the most danger since they would encounter "a wild and empty subcontinent" in their quest for furs, homesteads, and fortunes.
St. Louis was "the entreport" of all river trade, Edgar A. Holt explained in a 1926 piece in the Missouri Historical Review. "A proud citizen of St. Louis observed 'that the steam marine at the wharf presented a fine appearance. For more than a mile there is a solid mass of boats, every one of them engaging in receiving or discharging freight. The levee itself is covered with goods and thousands of people are hurrying to and fro, intent on business and dodging the drays and other vehicles that occupy the place assigned to them.