Memphis, TN Area Sultana Disaster book - part 4
no emergency calling for it, and especially so great a number of men who were so reduced in strength that they were not able to do much for themselves in case of an accident. Some one should have been held responsible, but I cannot say who it should have been from my own knowledge. I add the report of the official investigation. as to that matter.
Captain Mason, the commander of the boat, and a citizen of St. Louis, was as congenial a gentleman as I ever met, and afterward proved as brave as he was clever. As I saw him at all times of day between Vicksburg and Memphis, I became quite well acquainted with him. He was a careful man. I remember his cautioning the men not to crowd on one side of the boat when making a landing, because the tilting of the boat and its return to a level position would endanger the boilers. The men managed this very well except at a few places, especially Helena, Arkansas, where they all tried to get a view of the place.
The first night, about 9 o'clock, they commenced put: ting up cots in the cabin. The passengers were provided for first, and some of us were left unprovided for. I got the assurance, however, that when we got to Memphis I would have one of the cots that would then be vacated. Until we reached Memphis my bed was on the cabin floor, immediately over the boiler which afterward caused the terrible catastrophe. We landed at Memphis just after dark on the 26th, and many of the passengers left us at this point.
It being reported among the men that the boat would be at Memphis for some time, and there being no control over us, a number of us took advantage of the occasion to go up into the city in search of amusement. I was soon satisfied and returned to the boat, which shortly
after moved out into the river and pulled up stream to take on coal, leaving about one hundred and fifty fortunate soldiers behind. We took coal from a boat that appeared to be out in the river, but the Mississippi at that time was over the whole country, on account of floods in the upper river and the Missouri. The water was much colder than would have been supposed, as the trees were all in leaf.
In the meantime the cots had been put up in the cabin as usual, and I went in and threw my hat in the first cot toward the bow of the boat, while I went forward to get what little worldly goods had come into my possession at Vicksburg. On coming back I found my cot occupied by Captain McCoy, I think of the One Hundred and Fifty-eighth Ohio Regiment, who refused to give it up. We were having some very unpleasant words about it, when Lew Keeler, of the Eleventh Indiana, came along and persuaded me to release my claim and take a cot at the back end of the cabin, under the one he occupied. The cots were double-deckers, one above and one below. It was some time after midnight when I retired. The last person I talked with was Captain Mason, and if I believed in presentiments I would believe that he had one that something dreadful was going to happen, for in our conversation he said that he would give all the interest he had in the boat if it were safely landed in Cairo. I was impressed at the time by what he said, but in a few moments it wore off.
It was not long after getting into my cot until I was in the land of dreams. How long I slept I cannot say, but it must have been about 3 o'clock in the morning when I was awakened. My first sensation was of a very oppressive heat, and the first thought that came into my mind was that I was in the regions of eternal torment.
The Sultana disaster by E.J. Hecker, Indianapolis, 1913, pages 169-170