Memphis, TN Area Sultana Disaster book - part 1

THE SULTANA DISASTER

There was never a happier lot of men than those who marched out of Andersonville Prison on March 20, 1865, on the way to freedom ; not that any of them were in a physical condition to cause happiness, but because of the horrors they were leaving and the comforts they hoped soon to find. The rosiest dreams of children on Christmas Eve are no fairer than the visions that floated through their minds.
I was one of them. I had been captured at Spring Hill, near Franklin, Tennessee, on November 30, 1864; and had been transported with other unfortunates to Andersonville, by way of Meridian, Selma, and Montgomery; so that I had over two months in the "hell on earth," and that was long enough to gain a residence that could never be forgotten, though I think that the "officers' pen," in which I was confined, was not quite so bad as the main pen where the private soldiers were kept.
There was no ceremony about our release. We were simply told that the hour of deliverance had come, and without giving us time to arrange our toilets—which, indeed, was not necessary, as there was nothing to make them with—we were marched up to the railroad to await the train for Montgomery. We had been there a short time when the prisoners from the large pen began to come up.
It was one of the most pitiful sights I ever beheld, and I doubt very much if Ezekiel's vision in the valley of dry bones excelled it. 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 the sea had given up their dead.
They waited patiently for the train, but when it finally arrived there was a wild scramble to get on board, every man for himself, as if in terror lest he be left behind. But there were some like the one at the Pool of Siloam, who were unable to help themselves, and had to be lifted on as little children. But, in wretched plight as we were, it was a great pleasure to meet the boys of my company after our weeks of separation—at least those that were left, for some had died in prison.
And there were others who barely escaped it, for there was hardly a station on the road where we did not leave the remains of some poor fellow to be buried by strangers. How hard to die in the morning of their deliverance, with all the bright hopes of meeting father, mother, wife or children ! It is not strange that those whose memories go back to such scenes should find it hard to restrain a feeling of bitterness toward those who caused the war, with all its sacrifice and suffering.
A tiresome ride of several hours on the cars brought us to Montgomery, where we were transferred to a steamboat that was waiting for us. While at the wharf I met my first outside acquaintance, in the person of a colored man who had been a slave of the proprietor of "Montgomery Hall," in whose employ I had been when I resided in Montgomery for a time before the war. The boat soon backed out into the river, and we were quickly out of sight of that beautiful city. Within a few hours

continued (below)

The Sultana disaster by E.J. Hecker, Indianapolis, 1913, pages 163-164