Memphis, TN Area Sultana Disaster book - part 5
The lights were dim, and they must have been obscured by the escaping steam from the exploded boiler. I was not long in getting out of bed and starting forward, but I did not go far. The cabin floor had dropped down at the front, without breaking off, and now made an inclined plane to the lower deck. The cots, including the one I had first selected, had disappeared. Looking down on the lower deck to the front, I was reminded of a fire in one of the old-time fireplaces. The lights in the chandeliers of the cabin had been turned down, but were still burning, and by their glimmer I could see a man some feet down on the inclined floor, whom I have always believed to be Captain McCoy.
Curiously enough, although the cots and staterooms were full of men, the explosion did not seem to have awakened them. lip to that time I had not heard a scream, and everything was as quiet as it was when I went to bed. I certainly was dazed or confused, and did not realize what had happened. Imaginations flew through my mind thick and fast. The thought came to me that I had the nightmare, and in that condition of mind I turned around and made for the stern of the boat, hardly knowing what I was doing. The ladies' cabin was shut off from the men's cabin only by curtains, and I pushed back a curtain and started through, when I was confronted by a lady, who I supposed was in charge of the cabin, with, "What do you want in here, sir ?" I paid no attention to her but went ahead, saying that there was something wrong with the boat.
I went on through the cabin to the stern of the boat and climbed up to the hurricane deck. Throwing myself across the bulwark around the deck, I looked forward toward the jackstaff. The boat's bow was turned toward the Tennessee shore, and, if I am not mistaken, one of the boat's chimneys was down, and all the men were in commotion. As I started back, realizing that it was not a dream, I heard the men calling, "Don't jump ; we are going ashore." I answered, saying that I was going back to where I came from. On getting back and looking out and down into the river, I saw that the men were jumping from all parts of the boat into the river. Such screams I never heard—twenty or thirty men jumping off at a time—many lighting on those already in the water—until the river became black with men, their heads bobbing up like corks, and then many disappearing never to appear again. We threw over everything that would float that we could get hold of, for their asistance [sic]; and then I, with several others, began tearing the sheeting off the sides of the cabin, and throwing it over. While doing this I became more calm and self-possessed.
About this time one of the Tenth Indiana Cavalry boys came to me, asking, "Have you seen my father?" I said, "I have not; but I know the stateroom he occupied ;" and started with him to go into the ladies' cabin. As we entered the door we met his father, who was coming out. They threw their arms around each other, and as they embraced I looked up to the ceiling and saw the fire jumping along from one cross-piece to another in a way that made me think of a lizard running along a fence.
I now made up my mind to leave the boat, and walked around the right side of the cabin to the wheelhouse. I feared that it was too far to jump, and on looking over to see what the distance was, I saw one of the fenders hanging just behind the wheelhouse. I lost no time climbing over the side of the boat and "cooning it" down to the lower deck. This feat was accomplished so easily that I could never tell just how it was done. Casting
The Sultana disaster by E.J. Hecker, Indianapolis, 1913, pages 171-172