Memphis, TN Area Sultana Disaster book - part 7
point, and I heard the familiar voice of a Kentuckian that I had often heard at the front, say that he was on land. A few moments later we got past the point and struck a cross-current that came in on the other side, and which, on striking the main current, made a whirlpool. Into this we went, and such a twisting and turning round, upside down and every other way, was never seen; but I held on to the steps with an iron grip. In my boyhood days I had read "Faust," and the description of the devil dragging him down into hell came pretty near fitting me. But Satan, who then claimed me as his own, finally let loose his icy hold, and we shot out into the current and on down the river, less one man who was left in the whirlpool and drowned. As he had been doing a good deal of praying, I have no doubt he is in the better world.
We finally came up with a man who was on the end of a large log, and with his consent we joined forces, one of our men throwing himself partly on the log and partly on the steps. The other man then crawled over onto the log, and I crawled up on the steps, where I was when I was picked up. We made no further exertions to get on shore, but floated on down the river with the current.
must have become unconscious or only semi-conscious, as I have no recollection of how the steps got separated from the log. I remember passing Memphis, and seeing the gas lights burning in the streets. Then it is all blank until I heard the splash of an oar, and tried to call for help, but my voice seemed to have left me. It was some such feeling as when one tries to call out in a nightmare.
The young gunboatman who rescued me, and whose name, as I recollect it, was Neal, told me that for some time before I came down the men had been floating by and calling for help. The gunboat had fired up, and he had set out in one of the boats, with a half-gallon measure of whisky. He said that when he lifted me into the boat I went down in the bottom in a lump like a wet rag. He raised the measure to my lips, and the whisky went down my throat with no more effect that water down a rat hole. When we got to the gunboat and he lifted me aboard, both of us came very near going into the river.
I think the gunboat was what we used to call a "tin-clad ;" e., a light-armored boat, covered with sheet-iron about an eighth of an inch thick, to protect it from rifle and musket balls. I got the impression that it was a ferryboat remodeled, but it had two decks, and it probably had been what is called a transport. I do not know what its name was. I was not in a condition to pay attention to details. When they got me on board they cut off my tow shirt, and got rid of my remaining sock, and then rolled me up in a blanket, and laid me up close to the boilers to thaw out.
I soon got over the chill, and as the boat went on down the river picking up others they ran out of blankets, and about 8 o'clock I gave mine up for another sufferer, and went forward and sat down with the fireman. I had no clothing on me, but was very comfortable in the warmth of the furnace. Neal came forward with a large cup of coffee, and as I looked up into his bright face, all covered with smiles, he said, "Old boy, you came very near taking me overboard with you." I don't know how he felt toward me, but I felt as though I belonged to him.
By this time the boat had gone several miles down the river, and was on the way back to Memphis, where we arrived about 9 o'clock. I was conscious of very little that was going on around me, and to give any description of my feelings would be beyond my powers, for I had certainly gone as far beyond this life as a man could
The Sultana disaster by E.J. Hecker, Indianapolis, 1913, pages 175-176