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The Sinking of the Sultana


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During the Civil War years over sixty Union steamboats were destroyed by Confederate sabotage on the Mississippi River and in the surrounding area. Thousands of lives%u2014Union soldiers, civilian men, women, and children%u2014were lost when these steamers were destroyed. 

"...the result of no accident, but of fiendish design, and locates with much particularity the boss dynamiter and murderer of the age."

St. Louis Globe-Democrat

May 6, 1888


Having survived the  Civil War and inhuman conditions at Andersonville and other notorious POW camps, it was a cruel irony that the soldiers died just as their ordeal was about to end.

To transport POWs home at the end of the war, the government offered shipping companies a fee for every soldier they carried north on the Mississippi,  The Sultana, a 1,700-ton steamship with a capacity to carry only a few hundred people, crowded almost 2,500 soldiers aboard, and headed north for Cairo, Ill A little north of Memphis, its boiler exploded. There were no life boats or life jackets.

Another irony of the disaster is how little attention it received, despite its being America's worst maritime disaster. Occurring in April 1865%u2014the same month Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse (April 9), President Lincoln was assassinated  (April 14), the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth  ended (April 26), and Jefferson Davis and his cabinet were still at large%u2014it was obscured in the welter of other events. Yet even today, few American history books mention the disaster, despite the fact that the Sultana remains unrivalled among shipping catastrophes and adds a particularly wretched chapter to our Civil War.


An excerpt from the Memphis Argus of April 28, 1865:
The flames burst in great fury in a very few minutes after the explosion on the Sultana. No time was allowed for the people to do anything. Ladies rushed forth from their berths in the night attire, and with a wild scream plunged into the angry flood and sank to rise no more. The pitiful cried of children as they, too, rushed to the side of the wreck and plunged into the water were mingled with the hoarser voices of manhood in the desperate struggle for life. More than 2,000 people were thus compelled to choose between a death by fire and a sleep beneath the wave. Hour after hour rolled away, and the struggle for the great multitude in the river continued. Manhood was powerless. Husbands threw their wives into the river and plunged into the water after them, only to see them sink in death. Some had secured doors and fragments of the wreck and were thus enabled to keep a longer time above the water. Those who were swimmers struck for the shore, where they could find trees and bushes to keep them above the water. Some were carried down by the current until opposite the city, where their cries attracted the attention of the people on the steamers lying at the wharf. Yawls, skiffs, and every available small boat was put into immediate requisition and sent out into the stream to pick up the survivors. A considerable number were thus rescued from a watery grave. One lady with an infant in her arms was forced by the current several miles, and was finally rescued by some of the small boats that were cruising around. She exhibited the most remarkable heroism%u2013still clinging to her precious charge and supporting it above the water until rescued. The small boats from the United States gunboats did good service.


On April 28, 1912 a newspaper ran a story comparing the Sultana tragedy to the sinking of the Titanic on April 15. That account said:

"Ill-fated Mississippi River Steamboat which blew up Apr. 27, 1865, seven miles above Memphis, killing over 1,500 passengers. Most of them Union soldiers paroled from southern prisons %uFFFD A disaster as fearful as that attending the Titanic." %u2014 [Later examination of Sultana's manifest showed that the number killed was actually greater than 1,700.]\


In 1982, a local archaeological expedition uncovered what is believed to be the wreckage of the Sultana. The Mississippi River has changed course several times since the disaster with the main channel now about two miles east of its 1865 position. The blackened wooden deck planks and timbers were found about 32 feet under a soybean field on the Arkansas side, about four miles from Memphis.

An East Tennessee Sultana survivors group met annually on April 27 until 1928, when four survivors were left.


WINFIELD SCOTT POTTLE, survived the sinking. He had just been released from Andersonville. He was a member of the 54th Ohio Volunteers known as Platt's Zouaves. He was taken prisoner while trying to protect General Sherman. He was attacked by the Confederate Calvary and hit in the head with a sabre. After being taken prisoner, he was first sent to Libby Prison because of suspicion that he was a spy. He was later taken to Belle Island and then to Andersonville. He was there when the "Providential Spring" burst forth. He ran for water and was pushed over the deadline where he was shot with a couple of companions who were killed. He was left to suffer for hours until his comrades were given permission to retrieve him.


WYATT BAILEY served in the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry (Union) for about six months until he was captured at Athens, AL. He served another six months as prisoner of war at Cahaba. He survived the "Sultana" disaster on the Mississippi River. His name is listed in Saeleker's book, Disaster on the Mississippi as Wyatt Baley.

James R. Collins

James R. Collins survived the Civil War and the sinking of the Sultana.

He was married.  His wife¹s name was Kiziah Seaborn.  They were married on 14 January 1866 by T. J. Wier, Justice of the Peace

 The article on the sinking of the Sultana was printed in the  Plainville, Kansas, newspaper in1908.  James R. Collins wrote the article, but he never lived in Kansas.  He lived out his life in Tennessee.  Perhaps one of his
 children had moved to Kansas and had the article published there.  James died 2 May1919.  His first wife, Kizziah Seaborn died on 16 August 1884.  He then married Nannie Sartin on 17 February 1886.  They apparently had
no children.  James Robert Collins received a pension for his service in the Civil War and his widow received a widow¹s pension after he died.  He worked as a shoemaker and harness maker in Cleveland, Tennessee, after his return from  the war.  He served as a private during the war, but was a corporal for at  least part of the time.

 The parents of James Robert Collins were Joseph H. Collins and Sarah Sherrill .

175th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Died in the Sultana Sinking:

Badgly, Benton Co. G. Pvt,  Apr 27, 1865

Barnes, Edward F Mus Apr 27, 1865

Barrere, William G 2 Lt Apr 27, 1865

Bayne, James D Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Bercaw, Norman G Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Boyd, George W. G Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Carrol, William D Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Gray, Thomas J. E Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Hendrixon, George W. E Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Holmes, Samuel A. D Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Hudson, James G Pvt Apr 27, 1865

McCoy, William H. F Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Meeker, Timothy E Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Morris, Stacy G Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Myers, William O. D Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Rice, Martin L. A Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Richwond, William D Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Shelton, William D Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Smith, Henry I Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Staton, George W. E Pvt Apr 27, 1865

Van Eman, Matthew T. G Sgt Apr 27, 1865



Sgt. John Clark Ely

On Christmas day, 1864, John Clark Ely shivered against the cold wind that blew through the small prison near Meridian, Mississippi. A sergeant with the 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Ely had been captured by forces under Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest twenty days earlier near LaVergne, Tennessee. The weeks following his capture had been difficult for the former school teacher and his fellow prisoners. By Christmas, several had already died of exposure. Ely must have wondered what the future held for him when he wrote in his diary: "[C]hristmas Day and such a day for us prisoners. Hungry, dirty, sleepy and lousy. Will another Christmas find us again among friends and loved ones?"

Ely was transferred to the infamous Andersonville, Georgia, prison camp where he was housed until March 24, 1865. On that date, their Confederate captors finally released Ely and the other half-starved, sickly survivors of his company for exchange. One prisoner later wrote of their exodus: "Coming like cattle across an open field were scores of men who were nothing but skin and bones; some hobbling along as best they could, and others being helped by stronger comrades. Every gaunt face with its staring eyes told the story of the suffering and privation they had gone through, and protruding bones showed through their scanty tattered garments. One might have thought that the grave and sea had given up their dead."

Sergeant Ely joined approximately 5,500 other prisoners released from Andersonville and Cahaba prisons at Camp Fisk, a parole camp located on the Big Black River four miles east of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Arriving at the camp on March 31, Ely expressed relief at his impending release when he wrote in his diary that he and his fellow prisoners had come to the place "we have looked for ... Oh this is the brightest day of my life long to be remembered."

While the men were still at the parole camp, word reached them that President Abraham Lincoln was dead. Since all telegraphic communications between the North and South had been cut off by the order of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, the sad news was brought to Vicksburg by way of the steamboat Sultana.

Scenerio~Sabotage of the Sultana...

The scenario of how the sabotage of the Sultana may have played out:

This is a speculative view of how the events of the night of April 26, 1865 in Memphis may have taken place from Robert Louden's perspective. Louden had numerous contacts in Memphis—the city had been a major smuggling hub for Louden, Grimes, and a number of other Confederate agents. Moving in and around Memphis was an easy matter for Louden, and nearby, able to offer support, was his brother-in-law, Arthur C. McCoy, with a band of men assigned to keep watch on the river and do what damage they could.

It was a spring evening in April of 1865 when the steamboat Sultana arrived at the Memphis levee. The boat drew attention for the swarms of people covering her decks. Over two thousand were aboard a boat meant to hold no more than three-hundred fifty. As many men as could went ashore. Many couldn’t, so bad of shape were they in, little more than walking skeletons. Most of the thousands on the Sultana were Union soldiers, returning from prison camps in the South. The boat’s owner was getting paid by the head and paid little attention to the dangers of so overloading the boat. The soldiers, themselves, were so eager to get home, they were willing to overlook it as long as the boat stayed afloat.

One of the people who took note of the Union soldiers on the Sultana looked on with cool calculation tinged with a certain amount of bitterness. These Union soldiers were going home and he wasn’t. Robert Louden couldn’t go home. Maybe ever. He had no sympathy for prisoners of war. He’d spent over a year in a Union prison; had a brother who was still a prisoner. His father had been imprisoned by Union officials. So had his wife, arrested and taken away from their young children. Louden had sworn revenge and he would have it.

For the Union soldiers, the war was over. Lee had surrendered. For Louden, the war was far from over. He was part of the Department of the Trans-Mississippi and they fought on.

Toward midnight, the Sultana crossed the river to the Arkansas side. At the coaling station she took on fuel. In the darkness and confusion of men no one noticed an extra worker carrying coal on board.

Robert Louden knew steamboats. And he knew how to destroy them.

Among the other workers, Louden carried aboard a lump of coal, indistinguishable from the other lumps of coal being loaded. Louden’s wasn’t coal, though. It was cast iron in the shape of coal, coated with coal dust. The inside was hollow and packed with ten pounds of explosives. This was the invention of a Confederate agent named Thomas Courtenay. Louden knew him; had known him for years. The bomb was called a Courtenay Torpedo.

Louden placed his torpedo in the coal bin, placing it where he knew it would be used in a few hours. Then he slipped away into the night.

The Sultana left the coaling station, heading north. The crowds of men struggled to find a place to sleep. Some got lucky and were able to get a warm place near the boilers. The boat was running smoothly on the flooded river. The engineer checked the boilers. They were running well.

Two a. m. A shovelful of coal carried the torpedo into the furnace.

An explosion shattered the night. Iron shrapnel from the torpedo tore into the boilers, bursting them. Flaming coals were scattered across the wooden decks, setting them on fire. Men were flung into the icy river. Others burned or were crushed by collapsing decks. Women and children, passengers in the boat’s cabins, struggled for cork life vests. The Sultana burned to the water’s edge.

Provost Marshal J. H. Baker's Report on the Boat-burners


Provost Marshal J. H. Baker's report on the boat-burners:

Official Records, Series I, Volume XLVIII, pages 194-198


Saint Louis, Mo., April 25, 1865.

 Hon. C. A. DANA,
Assistant Secretary of War, Washington, D.C.:

SIR: I have the honor to state that in the month of January last I obtained information from various sources of the presence, in Saint Louis and other river cities, of a number of men employed by the rebel authorities to destroy Government property and steam-boats. I gave immediate attention to the matter, using all the means at my command to find and secure the parties, with so much success that early in February 1 was enabled to make the arrest of ten of them, among whom was one Edward Frazor, the leader. One of the parties implicated at once made a full confession, upon the understanding that he should not be prosecuted. I then preferred charges against Frazor, intending to make his the test case, and turned him over with the evidence to a military commission. Circumstances over which I had no control have delayed the trial, and Frazor, probably becoming weary of his imprisonment, and hoping that he might be reprieved by giving evidence against his accomplices, a few days since made a confession of his connection with the boat burners, which not only corroborates the information I had already procured, but throws additional light on the matter.

From this statement it appears that Frazor went, in company with others, to Richmond in the summer of 1864, and was introduced to Mr. Seddon, the Secretary of War. His account of what occurred at that interview is as follows:

At Richmond, Clark introduced me to the Secretary of War, Secretary Seddon. Clark told his business, when he sent us to the Secretary of State, J.P. Benjamin. I believe he looked our statement over and took time to consider. * * * The next day I went there, and Mr. Benjamin asked me if I knew all these claims for destroying U. S. property were right and correct. I told him they were, as far as I knew. He then offered $30,000 in greenbacks to settle. I told him I could not take that. Then he said he would take time to study again.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Benjamin next offered $35,000 in gold. Then Clark went to see him, and before he went I told him to get all he could, but not take less than the $35,000 down and get all the more he could. When he came back he said he had taken the $35,000 down and $15,000 on deposit, payable in four months from date, provided those claims of the Louisville matter (burning of Government medical stores last year) were all right. I think that is the way the receipt read. I went over to Benjamin's to sign the receipt, and while I was there the President, Jefferson Davis, sent for me. I went in to see him with Mr. Benjamin. Mr. Davis was talking about sending men up here to destroy the long bridge, near Nashville. He asked me if I knew anything about it--knew where it was. I told him I did. He asked me which would be the best route to send men up here to do it. I told him I thought it was rather dangerous to send men up here who had never been here. He wanted to know if I would not take charge of it. I told [him] yes, provided he would stop all men from coming up here, as they would only hinder the work. He said he would do it, and wanted to know if I wanted any men from there to help me. I said I didn't. Benjamin said the pay would be $400,000 for burning the bridge. After we got all ready to leave Mr. Benjamin gave us a draft for $34,800 in gold on Columbia, S.C. * * * Clark got passes from the Secretary of War, twelve or thirteen in all.

The party, some six in all, left Richmond, drew the money, and started for Memphis. At Mobile they were arrested, but upon telegraphing the fact to Jeff. Davis, he ordered General Taylor, commanding the department, to release them, which was done, and they proceeded on their way, entering our lines near Memphis. At this place they separated, going in various directions. The names and residences of the principal men engaged in this infamous pursuit, which has resulted in the destruction of so much valuable property and life, are as follows:

1.   Tucker, Judge  Mobile, Ala.,    Chief of this service under the Secretary of War.  Tucker formerly resided in Missouri, and was an editor; published the State Journal, and was subsequently connected with the Missouri Republican

2.  Majors, Minor ,   Next in rank to Tucker, and chief of this service in our lines.

3.    Barrett, Hon. John R.  Saint Louis, Mo.,    In charge of "land operations;" can get him any time.  Formerly Member of Congress from Missouri. Went to Europe in 1863, it is supposed on business for the rebels, where he was in conference with Mason and Slidell. Arrested by this office in 1864 on charge of being a member of the Order of American Knights, but afterward released. Has a brother in rebel artillery service.

4.    Harwood, S. B,    do, Can arrest him any time.

5.    Frazor, Edward,  do, In Gratiot Prison..

6 .   Clark, Thomas L.,   Grenada, Miss.,   Supposed to be in rebel lines.

7.    Irwin, William ,   Louisville, Ky.   

8.    Dillingham, Henry,    Inside our lines.

9.    Fox, Harrison ,   Saint Louis, Mo  

10.    Stinson, --   Mobile, Ala  

11.    Roberts, Kirk ,   do  

12.    Louden, Robert ,   Saint Louis, Mo.,   Under sentence of death. Escaped from Lieutenant Post while being transferred from Gratiot to Alton Military Prison. Last heard from in New Orleans; supposed to be in rebel lines east of Mississippi.

13.    Elshire, IsaacIn Gratiot Prison last year, but released for want of evidence; supposed to be inside rebel lines east of Mississippi River.  Burned the Robert Campbell, during which the lives of a number of soldiers were lost. 

14.    Raison, John  

15 .   Mitchell, Peter ,   Saint Louis, Mo. ,   Inside our lines.

16.    Murphy, William,    New Orleans, La.    Came voluntarily and exposed the others; afterward left suddenly; am looking for him.

17.    O'Keife,--   Natchez, Miss  

18.    Triplett, --  

19.    Parks, John G.,    Near Memphis,Tenn.   In Gratiot Prison.



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Letters written by Robert Louden from Gratiot Street Prison:

November 1, 1863 - letter by Robert Louden to brother Andrew Louden (a POW in Ohio). Louden wrote and spelled well yet used absolutely no punctuation. The letter has been broken into sentences for easier reading. Liz is his sister. Mollie is his daughter. Lulu is his step-daughter. Arthur is his brother-in-law, Arthur C. McCoy.

Gratiot Sr Prison St Louis Nov 1st

Dear Brother

I suppose you have heard of my arrest if you have received any letter from mother or Liz. At all events I was taken prisoner Sept 2nd 1863 in this city and immediately confined in Lynch’s nigger pen on 5th & Mrytle and a ball & chain on my leg. I was kept there 3 weeks and then I moved to this prison, where I have since been kept in close confinement not having even the liberty of the yard. I am in the same room that Mary was in during her imprisonment, what I am charged with, I do not know, and the probability is that I will not find out until I am about to be tried, and that event seems to be further off now than the day I was taken. I would have been over to see you had I not been taken for I was on my way there and only came here to see about Mollie and get Lulu off to the Convent. They had no one to look to for anything but me, for you are aware that Mary was banished last May and is now in Miss. somewhere. I do not know what will become of the children too. Mother wrote to you of the cruel and inhuman way the Fed’s have treated Father. Nothing had been heard of him at the date of the last letter from mother. She was about frantic at his loss and the way they murdered him but you know the old Jewish law and if you ever rejoin your command carry it out to the full letter. Of your treatment I know nothing but hope it has been better than mine, even little Mollie is not permitted to visit me nor have I been allowed to receive a visitor since my arrest. Where Mary is, God only knows. I seen her for a few minutes when she arrived south and since then have not heard from her or about her. I do not know how you are off for clothing but if you need any send me word and I will try and have some sent to you for I have some money due me by parties in town that I can draw if necessary. Aleck & Jim Buist have both deserted and are in the Yankee nation now. The old lady, Mrs. G. comes down occasionally to get my soiled clothes and generally has Mollie with her but Nellie (you remember her) has stuck to me as she always did & was the first one to come and see what I wanted. Arthur is now a major in the C.S.A. and [?] he will fight them on the last half-inch for he has a double duty to perform now, fight for freedom & revenge both. I am in hopes you will soon be exchanged and if you are well of your wound be in the service again. I do not know what mother says to you but she was in hopes you would take the oath and stay at home, poor Mother she has suffered in this war. Father and Jim gone, you and I in prison. I seen Dave Thomson he has recovered entirely from his wound and says he has enough of the war he was in the 79th Regt of New York at Bull Run. Lizzy and he are living in New York now but I understand Liz is in bad health, when you write send my love to them and to Mother. Frank write to me as soon as you can and if I can assist you let me know. Direct to Robert Louden Gratiot St Prison St Louis hoping you have fully recovered.

I remain

Your affectionate brother



With his execution nearing, Robert Louden wrote the following letter pleading for mercy. The confession of guilt sparked excited articles in St. Louis newspapers saying Louden had confessed all, and that there were many very nervous people in St. Louis, not knowing if Louden had named them or not.


Gratiot Prison

April 29, 1864

Major General W. S. Rosecrans

Comdg Dept of Missouri


Upon you as Commander of this Department devolve the duty of appointing the sentence of the Military Commission in my case to be carried into effect, and to you in this hour of tribulation I appeal for that mercy in your power to show me an afflicted wife and helpless family join in this prayer to you.

That I have violated the laws of my country I freely and humbly confess and do not seek to extenuate my guilt but I am deeply and truly penitent for all I have done and pray for forgiveness.

An affectionate wife and infant children will be left entirely destitute at my death, my long imprisonment has diminished their scanty resources and deprived entirely of their natural protection I tremble for their future. My aged parents, residing in Philadelphia have not yet received the sad news of my condemnation, although immediately on the first knowledge of it means were taken to inform them and they will make no delay in coming to see me.

I appeal to you then, to intercede in my behalf for the sake of those who will suffer so much by the execution of my sentence, my sufferings will I hope end with death, for though the intercession of our Divine Saviour I trust to be forgiven for all my sins, but at my death the suffering of my innocent family will commence, for their sake then do not turn from the pleading of an humble and penitent offender.

Throwing myself entirely on your mercy and praying that this appeal may not be in vain, but that sympathizing with my own distress and that of my afflicted and heart-broken family you may think proper to recommend my case for Executive clemency, and solemnly pledging never again to transgress the laws of my country but as a true and loyal citizen to devote myself to my family.

I remain, Sir,

With respect, Yours

Robert Louden

  • 1 Nov 1863

Remembrances of Some Survivors:

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Hodges is one of those that was immediately covered by flaming coal that must have come from the furnace.


Excerpted from "Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors" by Rev. Chester D. Berry, 1892

 * * *

My bunk was near the boiler, and on the night of the terrible accident I lay with a blanket over me. I was awakened by an explosion an found myself covered with burning coals from the furnaces. I was not long in springing to my feet and throwing my burning blanket away and getting away from that locality.


Clearly not a big fan of William C. Streetor. One wonders if Raudebaugh knew that Streetor himself had been a Union soldier.  Neither the Memphis nor St. Louis articles on Streetor say anything about "chiseled a hole" in a lump of coal.  This seems to be Raudebaugh's own interpretation. He'd apparently never heard of a Courtenay torpedo.

 Samuel H. Raudebaugh

Excerpted from "Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors" by Rev. Chester D. Berry, 1892

* * *

Now, remember, kind reader, we were on our way home from the cruel war, it being virtually over. We were on our way home from those horrid dens of cruelty and starvation. Yes, we had lived through it all, and hoped, "Yes, expected soon to see loved ones at home and enjoy at least some of the peace we had fought to restore. Home! Yes, home under the stars and stripes, once more. While thus pleasantly meditating, all of a sudden, about half-past one o'clock A.M. one of the boilers exploded and the greater part of that human load was blown into the river, while sound asleep  --some to awake in the cold water and some in eternity. Those that were not blown off at the time of the explosion were soon compelled to jump into the river so as to escape burning to death, for the boat quickly caught fire and burned to the water's edge. About 1,750 of that homeward-bound company perished then and there, and several hundred more poor fellows died in the next ten days from wounds, burns and scalds.  I say, fearless of truthful contradiction, that the explosion of the Sultana was the greatest calamity of the war against the slave-holding rebels, and it was the greatest steamboat disaster known to history.

You will naturally ask two questions, first, "How did you escape?" and second, "How did the calamity occur?" To the latter question I can but give my opinion, and that has never changed since I got ashore and took time to think. I believe that some enemy of our Union had a hand in crowding so many of us on the boat, and that he knew when that southern sugar was taken off that the rest of the cargo and the boat would meet the fate that followed. I believe that some ally of Jeff. Davis put a torpedo in the coal, while we were at Memphis, where it would go into the furnace for the first that would be built after leaving Memphis, with the intent to destroy the boat and its mass of human heroes on their way home. I can say that in May, 1888, a man in the south, William C. Streeter, St. Louis, Mo, said that he knew the man, Charles Dale, who said he chiseled a hole in a large chunk of coal, put the torpedo therein which did the deadly work, carried it with his own hands and laid it where it must soon go into the furnace.

I will say one thing more and that is, if I were in authority I would arrest and hang the man who knew so high-handed and bloody a murderer and did not try to have him brought to justice for so gigantic a crime. [which is extremely unfair to Streetor who truly sounded upset that Louden hadn't been hung in 1864]


Born in Amsterdam, Licking Co., Ohio lived there untill I was two years old then Father & mother mooved to Ashland Co. Ohio lived there three years then mooved to Deleware Co. Ohio from thence to Van Wert Co. Ohio I was 11 years old then there I lived untill the war of the Rebellion broke out. I enlisted in Co. G 76 O.V.I. for three years on or about 20th of Nov 1861 in Jackson Town Licking Co. Ohio one mile from where I was born. I served my country as a Soldier 3 years & 7 months. I was a Prisoner of War 6 months in Cahoba prison Alabama paroled March 1865 was on the Vesal Sultana that blu up Aprile 27 1865 was bad scalded discharged at Camp Chase Ohio went home was married Oct. 1 1865 was converted in Feb 1866 at Suga Ridge united with the Church of God preache for that body for about 15 years then united with the Church of Christ ben there untill the present time am living in Mo for 25 years am in Douglas Co. Mo have had many bright times many dark times am going down toward the setting of the sun. made many crooked steps but I trust in Christ my savior.

The Tragic Story of Tom Horan

There’s an empty grave in the McCutchanville Cemetery marked with a somewhat impressive marble stone carved with an American flag and inscribed:

Thomas W. Horan.
Co. H. 65th Indiana Volunteers.
Died in the explosion of the steamship.
Sultana, April 27, 1865, Age 25 years.

The grave is empty because Horan’s remains were never found.

Thomas W. Horan, the only son of the widow Hannah Horan, who lived in a log cabin on North Green River Road in Vanderburgh County, enlisted in the Union Army on August 18th, 1862. He fought with his unit in several battles in Kentucky and Tennessee until he was captured by a scouting party of Texas Rangers near Tazwell, Tennessee.

From then on his life was a hell on earth.

He was shunted from prison to prison. At Morristown, Tennessee, as he wrote later:

”We were drove into a pen like hogs and kept until the 2nd of Feb. when were marched into Russellville. On the evening of the 8th, we took cars to Bristol, Va. and arrived there that night. I will give a slight idea of our rations on this trip.”

”When we arrived at Bullsgap, they turned us out to help ourselves to beef which was in great quantity but not quality, but we skinned and eat quite hearty of the beefheads that our forces left after butchering them some three week before. It had not a nice smell I assure you, but it wasn’t the smell we was after.”

Horan was finally interned at Bell Island.

”Here we find a retched place. Men died more or less every day with cold and hunger. Our rations per day are two spoons full of beans and a little piece of corn bread equal to a pint of meal”

”Here we were turned on the island destitute of blankets or shelter with two sticks of cordwood to 20 men for 24 hours. Men froze to death every night.”

Finally he was taken out , hopeful that maybe he was going for an exchange. Instead he was transferred to the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia. That was March, 18, 1864.

”If there is a hell on earth it’s one. Here I was turned in the stockade without a blanket or a shoe to my foot and the skies above me for shelter, and I remained in that condition until the 13th of December.”

”During this time I saw sights and went through hardships too numerous to mention. During my stay in this place from 18 March to 13 September the number of deaths was 13 thousand and 800 …I have saw men lying not able to help themselves with maggots working in their wounds with them alive.”

On September 13, Horan and a companion managed to escape by tunneling under the fence. For weeks they tramped through swamps barefoot, living on whatever they could find until they were recaptured and returned to the Andersonville Prison on Christmas Eve.

By the following March the war was almost over , and on March 18, 1865, the prison gates at last were opened. The prisoners had been liberated by the Union forces. They were then taken to Camp Fisk near Vicksburg , Mississippi, to await transportation home.

When the gate was opened, “I felt I could march 50 miles as poor and as weak as I was. When I was captured my weight was 175 pounds and when I was released I weighed 106 pounds. Thank God I am spared to return to the land of plenty.”

The foregoing excerpts are from a long letter he wrote home as soon as he arrived at Fort Fisk. Tragically he did not “return to the land of plenty.”

The United States government was offering steamboat captains a $5 a head for enlisted men and $10 a head for officers to transport them upriver to their homes. There seems to have been some skullduggery afoot and bucks passed under the table.

It appears that a Captain Williams, who was in charge of arranging transportation for the men, was getting a rakeoff from the captain of the steamboat Sultana.

On the morning of April 24, they began loading men aboard the Sultana until, it has been estimated , there were 2,400 soldiers, 100 civilian passengers and a crew of 80 aboard the boat – which had a legal load limit of 376.

This occurred while other boats were standing by empty, eager and willing to take on passengers.

Finally, the overloaded Sultana headed upstream. On April 26, she took on fuel at Memphis. Tennessee. Then at 2 o’clock the following morning, when the boat was about 40 miles above he city, the boilers exploded. The vessel was ripped apart and burst into flames; it sank within a hour. Fewer than 1,000 survived, which meant more the 1,400 perished.

One of the survivors, William McFarland, a distant relative of Horan’s, was one of the soldiers aboard. He reported that just minutes before the explosion, he had walked to the stern. When the boilers exploded he was thrown into the river but managed to cling to debris until he was rescued the next morning.

He said he remembered seeing Horan lying asleep beside the boiler room because that was the warmest place on a cold April night. Horan’s body was probably torn to bits. No remains were ever found.

Although this was the greatest inland marine disaster of all time, it received almost no notice in the nation’s newspapers because it was just 10 day after Abraham Lincoln was shot, and all the papers were filled with accounts of his funeral and the capture of John Wilkes Booth.

Several other Tri-State soldiers also lost their lives, including Anton Heinrich, Remig Moushart, and Joseph Smith of Vanderburgh County and James Redman of Posey County.

The history of the 10th Calvary, 125th Regiment, which was made up partly with men from the area, states that 23 enlisted men and three officers from the unit died on the Sultana, but their names were not given.

It has been said that Horan’s mother refused to believe her son was lost. For months she kept a light in her window at night awaiting his return. But he never came back.

*Editor's note: In 1888, a St. Louis resident named William Streetor claimed that his former business partner, Robert Louden, had made a deathbed confession to have sabotaged the Sultana by means of a coal torpedo. Louden was a former Confederate agent and saboteur who operated in and around St. Louis. Louden had the opportunity and motive to attack the Sultana, and he may have had access to the means (Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay, the inventor of the coal torpedo, was a former resident of St. Louis and was involved in similar acts of sabotage against Union shipping interests.) Supporting Louden's claim are eyewitness reports that a piece of artillery shell was observed in the wreckage. Louden's claim is controversial and most scholars support the official explanation.



April 27th, 1865.

Less than 2 weeks after the assasination of Abraham Lincoln stunned the nation into silence, The Sultana pulled out of Memphis heading up the Mississippi River with 2134 passengers on a steamboat designed to carry 375. On board were 1875 straggling half-starved ragged Union Army prisoners of war recently released from the notorious Andersonville prisoner of war camp. In spite of their condition the soldiers were jubilant and intoxicated on their new sense of freedom. They were going home. In addition to the soldiers there were 259 souls including the crew. Of the civilians most were men of the merchant class: gamblers, traders, real estate speculators, and rogues of the worst kind. A dozen freed Blacks, 7 women and 5 men. And 3 White women; one pregnant and one carrying a 2 month old baby girl tucked in a heavy reed basket. Top to bottom all were standing like a vertical load of timber. The crush kept those who fainted from falling.

The engineer had stoked the boilers red hot and at 11:30 PM the boat eased out into the main current. Through the megaphoned tube the captain called out for full steam. The boilers were exceeding their limits and the needles in the guages were red lining at their capacities. At 2 1/2 miles an hour the boat was pushing hard in the strong current but barely making time. 8 miles above Memphis the boilers exploded, spewing splintered wood and bodies. Smokestacks caved in to a fury of sparks and exploding steam. All either voluntarily or forcefully went overboard into the dark river. Of the 2134 passengers, only 401 were able to swim, drift, or be pulled ashore.

As dawn broke along the bluffs of Memphis, the debris began to float past. Jagged shards of wood, whole sections of railing, a stair case with people clinging to it, and bodies. Voices crying out, trying to reach shore. Along the river bank and at the mouth of the Wolf River, good citizens were alarmed to the disaster. Everyone with a small vessel went to the river to aid and also plunder. Bodies, dead and alive, were pulled from the river like muskrats.

Along the shore women were wading into the slow current. One reached for a floating reed basket and cried out, "A child!"

Though the child was of mixed ancestry, Indian with African with European it was hard to tell, she was raised in a white family. Christened Mary she was taken in by the Neely's who lived on Adam's Street in what is now known as Victorian Village. She was raised in that world of privilege and style. But would never be allowed to completely ascend into those social ranks. An eccentric cousin of the family came to visit. He was a photographer's apprentice to Matthew Brady during the Civil War and recently returned from New Orleans where he was working with a photographer there named Bellocq taking pictures of the prostitutes in Storyville.He had Mary pose tastefully nude. In the scandalous aftermath she was introduced to the brothel trade and though she fell, she eventually became the wealthiest Madam from St. Louis to Natchez.

Her red brick house, located at the corner of Mulberry and Talbot streets, still stands today 4 blocks south of Downtown Memphis. During the severe Yellow Fever epidemics of the 1870's, 80's and early 90's Memphis Mary's house became an infirmary where many were said to survive the short but deadly fever. It was thought that the special broth she served helped counter the delirium. The liquid is said to be made from the sun in a summer tomatoe, the movement of first breeze in a morning herb garden, sprinkled with the strength of red pepper to counter the fever, and warmed with smoke from the forest of ancient hickory.

Michael Dougherty~Super Survivor

Michael Dougherty, from Falcarragh, County Donegal.

Dougherty, a private in the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry in the Union Army, won the Medal for leading a group of comrades against a hidden Confederate detachment at Jefferson, Virginia, ultimately routing it. The official report noted that "Dougherty's action prevented the Confederates from flanking the Union forces and saved 2,500 lives." Later, Dougherty and 126 members of his regiment were captured and spent 23 months in various Southern prisons, finally arriving in Georgia at the notorious Andersonville death-camp.

Of the 127, Dougherty alone survived the ordeal, "a mere skelton," barely able to walk. But he walked aboard the homeward-bound steamship "Sultana," crowded with more than 2,000 passengers, six times its designated capacity. The crammed steamship was slowly moving up the Mississippi River toward St. Louis, when, on the fourth night out, the boilers exploded, cracking the ship in two and tossing Dougherty and the other passengers into the Mississippi. Only 900 survived, including Dougherty, who somehow found the strength to swim to a small island, where he was rescued the next morning.

Finally, after an absence of four years, 21-year-old Union veteran reached his hometown, Bristol, Pennsylvania. That's why AOH Division #1 of Bristol, in Bucks County, is known as the Michael Dougherty Division.


Sliver of Wood from the Sultana

story image(s)
At left is a scan of the sliver as it appears in one of the copies, above a photo of a girl standing next to a wood carving from the Sultana that the sliver was taken from..

They Never Made it Home

Capt. Pink Cameron enlisted Gilford and Issiac Morrison June 17, 1864 in  Nashville, for a three-year hitch with the Third Tennessee Calvalry of the Union Army. They were brothers. They were 17 and 19 years old. Life was an adventure to them then. Tennessee was strongly divided  in sentiment and the state sent troops to both sides during the Civil War.
       For just three months the boys were part of Company L. Youths were constantly drawn by the glamour of bands playing, men marching in uniforms carrying weapons and stories of the clash of troops.
       Although fortunes were turning against the South that late in the war, one Rebel general kept many Federal soldiers on edge. That was General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a raider and calvalry leader.
       There might have been motivation for Gen. Forrest to look up the Third Tennessee Calvalry Sept. 24, 1864. Months earlier his brother, Col. Jeffery Forrest, was killed and a number of high ranking Confederate officers captured in a bruising battle with that unit.
       Forrest attacked a small fort at Sulphur Branch Trestle, Ala., taking hundreds of prisoners and returned to overwhelm 150 returning scouts of the Third Tennessee which practically wiped out the regiment. Among those captured were the Morrison boys.
       Gilford and Issiac Morrison were among prisoners taken by train which derailed en route to Cahaba Prison, an old cotton shed with partial roof located in Dallas County, Ala., on the Alabama River near  Selma. A steamboat carried them on the final leg of the journey.
       Cahaba Prison was designed to temporarily house 500 prisoners until Confederates could transfer their captives to a more permanent facilty.
       As the war took its toll and funds dwindled, Cahaba Prison was housing 2000 to 3000 Union prisoners by the fall of 1864. Once known as Castle Morgan, it was anything but a castle. The small brick building was surrounded by a wooden stockade. Funds for warmer clothing or fuel for fire that late in a war  were non-existent.
       Artesian well water was diverted inside the prison to drink and was high in sulfurous content and  usually polluted. During the winter of 1864, prisoners had to stand in flooding waters seeping into Cahaba Prison for several days. The quality of food deteriorated. Usually, no more than two meals per day were given prisoners. Conditions weren't much better for the Rebel guards.
       Now was it a coincidence that 45-year-old Pleasant Morrison decided to ride to Knoxville and enlist in Company A, 3rd Mounted Infantry Regiment of Tennessee a few months after his sons' capture?
       Prisoners had heard of a Federal force close enough for them to plan a prison break, but after some hostages were seized, they backed down. The sons' father was fighting in the Battle of Nashvile in December, but too far away to gain freedom as prisoners at Cahaba Prison struggled just to live.
       The war ended. The Morrison brothers were among elated prisoners released from from Cahaba. They boarded a train that was jarred by several mishaps injurying some returning Union boys. They finally arrived in Vicksburg, Miss., an exchange point. The soldiers were told they could be mustered out of duty at Camp Chase, Ohio.
        Instead, on a dark night beyond Memphis, the Sultana, carrying prisoners from Andersonville and Cahaba prison, April 27,1865 exploded. Nearly 1700 deaths were recorded. More survivors died later.
       The nation was interested in getting the prisoners safely home, but stunned by the assassination of President Lincoln.
       The loss was too much for the sons' father who after months awaited a reunion that never came. He took his own life, according to Dalton's Morrison who researched the events.


By Moody Conell-City Editor,
The Daily Citizen-News, Dalton, Georgia
April 6, 1987

Contributor: bgill
Created: June 6, 2007 · Modified: June 7, 2007

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