Here is the newspaper article which appeared
in 1908 - told by my great uncle, James Robert COLLINS. His
father, Joseph Henry COLLINS, my maternal great, great grandfather,
died in the tragedy. There is a Sultana
website (http://sultana.org/) and a Sultana line (SULTANA-L@rootsweb.com) for those interested. I will post the report on the recent reunion in Knoxville soon.
Appreciate your interest,
Mary Anne Burkhart Kuebel
CIVIL WAR REMINISCENCE
J. R. Collins tells of the sinking of the Sultana.
It was during the
summer of 1864 that the third Tennessee cavalry, to which the writer
belonged, was encamped near Nashville, Tenn., along with the fourth
Sometime about the middle of June of that year two regiments received orders to proceed south and we at once broke camp and took up the march southward, traveling down through middle Tennessee and on into Alabama.
The first stop of any duration was at Mooresville, Ala., a small town in the northern part of the state, a few miles south of Decatur. The stop at Mooresville was of two or three weeks duration and we then moved on to
Decatur, where we again went into camp.
At the time of which I write, the country surrounding Decatur and, in fact, the entire region of the state, was infested by prowling bands of guerillas and deserters from the army and after arriving at Decatur, we were detailed on scouting duty against those miscreants as well as against the regular enemy.
While we were at Decatur the famous Rosseau raid was organized, and was composed partially of troops stationed there at the same time that our command was there, the fourth Tennessee cavalry parting with us there and going on that expedition. Our stay in Decatur was only a few weeks duration, when we again broke camp and proceeded to Huntsville, Alabama, and from there on to Athens, Ala., at which place we again went into camp and resumed our scouting operations through the surrounding country.
About the 23rd of September, 1864, while on one of these scouting expeditions, our force, consisting of about 15 men came in contact with the command of Nathan B. Forrest, between Athens and Florence, Ala. Forrest was then on the march toward Athens with a heavy force, and as our force only consisted of a scouting party, we made a detour, evading the Confederates and continued our expedition. On our return trip a day or two afterward, when we arrived at Sulphur Trestle, some six miles out from Athens, we learned that General Forrest had attacked the place with his force, and captured all the troops stationed there.
At Sulphur Trestle there was a small force and one piece of artillery; and after some delay and consultation among our officers, we took possession of this little force and prepared to defend ourselves against an attack. This attack was not long in coming. Early the following morning Forrest¹s troops appeared on the scene and an engagement between our little force stationed in the fortifications and could only have been one result of such a one-sided affair, and after a hot fight, lasting five hours, we were compelled to surrender. This was on Sunday morning, September 25, 1864.
Our captors immediately started with us, under strong guard, southward, after traveling three days we came onto a railroad, the name of which I do not now remember. Here we found two trains of freight cars waiting to carry us to the Confederate prison at Cahaba, Ala. Boarding these trains we now started on one of the saddest and most gloomy rides many of us had ever undertaken. To make matters worse, the front train was wrecked by being derailed.
We were on this train about two days, passing through Corinth and Meridian, Miss. Arriving at Cahaba River in Ala. We left the cars and embarked on a steamboat, there awaiting to carry us to the Confederate prison at Cahaba, Ala. The voyage down the river was soon complete, and in a few hours we arrived at our destination, and bank of the river. This prison had been an old cotton warehouse in former days, and within its dark and gloomy walls we took up our abode, not having the least idea when we could get out of there.
The horrors of the battle field and of war in general were tame in comparison to what soldiers had to endure in these fearful prison houses.
Starvation and disease were the enemies to be encountered here and were two fold more deadly than musket balls.
I shall not endeavor to give a detailed description of the routine and monotony of our prison life. Suffice it to say that we suffered untold horrors there. In addition to the want of food, the proximity of the prison to the river allowed the water, when the river became swollen from the frequent rains, to rise up into the building and cover the floor to a depth of from one to three and four feet deep. Our building was not far from some cordwood which our captors furnished us, and on these pens we were enabled to keep out of water when the place was flooded. For six
long weary months we lived in this dreadful existence, and ached every day for a breath of pure air and a sight of the glorious blue sky once more.
Finally to our intense joy and relief, word came that we were to be sent to the exchange camp at Vicksburg, Miss., to be exchanged. Words cannot begin to express our feelings when we knew that we were again to leave
that horrible hole. Hears full of gratitude and thanksgiving to the great Almighty beat riotously in the bosom of every prisoner and the tears coursed unrestrainedly down every cheek when the glad news was made known.
In a few days we left Cahaba, and started on our journey to Vicksburg.
Our ranks were not so full now as on the day when we entered those gloomy prison walls, for some of the poor fellows had succumbed to the fearful hardships and exposure they were compelled to bear.
Going part of the way by rail, part by boat and part by foot, we arrived at the exchange camp Vicksburg about the latter part of March, where we went into camp.
On the 9th of April, 1865, General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomatox, and the war was over, so that there was no need of our being exchanged.
Orders were issued from the War Department that we should proceed to Camp Chase, Ohio, there to be mustered out of the service and to go home.
The steamboat Sultana came up to Vicksburg
to carry us to our destination and we boarded this boat 2200 strong, all
joyful and happy that peace had come at last, and anxious to get home to
the loved ones once more.
We left Vicksburg about the 24th of April, 1865, and steamed up the Mississippi to Memphis, where the boat made a short stop, late in the afternoon of the 26th. During the night we again got under way going on up the river toward Camp Chase.
The horrible, heart rendering catastrophe that was within a few hours to befall us was drawing nigh, but never a thought of danger disturbed our slumber. Many a weary soldier lay at night in the ill-fated boat dreaming of home and loved ones, full of inexpressible happiness that at last all dangers and hardships were over, and that the white dove of peace had perched upon the flags of hostile armies, and song and laughter would take the place of groans and tears of agony.
At about three o¹clock in the morning of the 27th day of April, after having steamed ten miles up the river from Memphis, while every soldier on the Sultana was wrapped in profound slumber, suddenly, without any kind of warning whatever, an explosion rent the air, and the Sultana was shivered and splintered from bow to stern by a mighty rending force, which sent men and timbers flying through the air to fall into the surging waters of the great river. Then a scene of horror augmented by death and the most frantic excitement and confusion ensued which is beyond the power of mortal tongue or pen to describe.
The first I knew of the terrible catastrophe that had befalled us was when I awakened from sleep by the timbers of the upper deck together with clouds of cinders and ashes, falling on me and pinning me to the deck, I being asleep on the lower deck.
Hundreds of other soldiers were sleeping on this deck, crowded together as thick as they could find room to lie. The other two decks the upper and hurricane‹were likewise crowded with sleeping men.
As soon as I awakened from sleep, I found myself fastened tightly by the mass of timber that had fallen from above, so that I could hardly move. The immense cloud of hot coals and cinders rained down upon us and I could feel my flesh being burned and scorched as I lay there, exerting all the energy I possessed to clear myself from the wreckage. I was successful in extricating myself, after being badly burned by the hot cinders and scalding steam from the exploded boilers of the boat.
Never will I forget the scene that I then witnessed. Quickly following the explosion the Sultana caught on fire and soon she was a blazing furnace of angry, devouring flames.
When the tremendous shock came most of the men sleeping on the upper and hurricane decks were blown into the river and nearly all of them were drowned on the spot.
Hundreds of poor fellows sleeping on the lower deck where I was were securely pinned down by the great heap of wrecked timbers that fell upon them, and all efforts to rescue them were futile, on account of the fire, and many of them who had not been killed at first were burned alive before the eyes of their helpless but more fortunate comrades, who could do nothing to save them from their horrible fate.
Had the boat not caught fire, those imprisoned by the wreckage could have been rescued, but the flames which quickly gained an uncontrollable headway, made it imperative for every man who could to save himself..
Men lay everywhere scalded to death by the hot hissing steam that came from the exploded boilers. Some were killed outright by being struck by falling timbers; others met death from the shock of the explosion, and everywhere on the ill-fated boat death was visible in countless horrible and shocking forms.
As soon as I could clear myself from the wreck, I began to look for my father, who was on the boat with me. I soon found him and saw that he was badly hurt, though he had also succeeded in getting clear of the wrecked
I knew that we could remain a very few minutes as the flames were mounting higher and higher and seething more angrily each moment, so I spoke to my father and told him we would have to try to save ourselves the best way we could. We bade each other good-bye, and at once prepared to jump into the river. My father sprang into the water and seized a plank. That was the last time I ever saw him. I made my way to the bow of the boat, and catching hold of a rope that was hanging from bow down to the water, I let myself down into the river. Just as my feet struck the water, a drowning man seized me in a deathless grip, and all that saved me from sharing his fate was my hold on the rope. I saw the poor fellow at last loosen his hold and go down to rise no more.
Then losing my hold on the rope, I sprang into the raging, chilly water. The spring freshet was then on, and the great Mississippi was out of banks and spread for miles over the country on each side of its course.
Swimming part of the way, and then turning on my back and floating, I went several miles down the river, and finally came to some saplings into which I climbed. I did not know that I was burned so badly until I got out of the water. But when I pulled myself up into the branches of one of those trees, I found that I was badly burned and scalded on several different portions of my body and as soon as I had left the cooling influence of the chilly water, the pains from the burns became intense.
I had hardly got secure in the tree, before some one called to me from a small bunch of trees near by, and asked me to come over there, that there was a floating log there wedged in among the trees, upon which we could stand. I accepted this comrade¹s invitation and was soon beside him on the floating log. I then ascertained that there were three or four more men in the trees that were scattered about..
One poor fellow who was in a tree a little distance from us seemed to be terribly wounded, from the groans that escaped his lips, and in a few minutes we heard him strike the water, and then all was still. He had undoubtedly been so seriously hurt that his strength had failed him after he had reached the tree, and he fell into the water to be instantly drowned. We had not been in our precarious refuge very long before we heard a boat coming up near the opposite shore. We screamed and yelled with all the strength of our lungs to attract their attention, but it went straight on, and we almost despaired of being rescued at all.
I shivered from cold, my clothes, of course, being dripping wet, and suffering intense agony from the burns on my body, and never shall I forget the horror of those long hours I spent out there in those trees in the great river, hoping against hope that some kind fate might rescue us from our terrible plight.
It seems that providence must have heard our cries, for some time after daylight we saw, to our great joy and relief, the same boat that had gone up the river and passed by, coming down again on our side and making straight for us. The boat was soon alongside of our refuge, and numb with cold and sick with pain we were picked up and put aboard. Our rescue was then on down the river to Memphis, picking up men all the way down. Arriving at Memphis, all those disabled were sent to the hospital. I remained in the hospital until my wounds were partially healed, sufficient to enable me to travel. From Memphis we were transferred to Camp Chase, Ohio, the place to which we had started on the unfortunate Sultana.
There we were paid off, and by a special order of the war department we were sent to our respective states to be mustered out of service.
The Tennessee troops were sent to Nashville, and there we found the remainder of our regiment, the third Tennessee cavalry, and we were mustered out together, after which each fellow struck out for his own, dear sweet home, happy, Oh! so happy to get there again.
So thus ended one of the most tragic and lamentable events that ever occurred in the history of our country. When the news of that awful tragedy was sent abroad, many a home was darkened with grief and sorrow that had been happy in anticipation of the home-coming of a father, a son, or perhaps a brother or sweetheart.
And those poor fellows who died in that awful catastrophe! They had gone through four long years of war, had undergone countless hardships, and suffered hunger, pain, and sickness, on the battlefield, and in the prison, and after all these, they were now going home to loved ones, their hearts filled with a great shout of joyous thanksgiving that all war and strife and danger were over, and that they could once more greet the dear ones at home who they knew were waiting anxiously for their return.
But for many a poor fellow on that boat, this dream was not to come true. Seventeen hundred of them were either burned to death or went down into a watery grave at thebottom of the great river.
The names of the men lost on the Sultana from Bradley County as remembered by the writer are as follows: J. H. Collins, father of the writer; Hugh S. Campbell, brother of L. D. Campbell; James O. Beard, brother of French Beard; Madison G. Hysinger, brother of John and Ben Hysinger.
(The above article was taken from the
Plainville Times from Plainville,
Kansas, and dated May 28, 1908.)
(J. R. Collins, writer of this article, is a brother to Mrs. Ruth M. Geren, and J. H. Collins is her father.)
Information on James R. Collins as compiled by Jack Lee Murray of Albuquerque, NM:
James R. Collins survived the Civil War and the sinking of the Sultana.
We know from census figures that he was living in Miegs County, Tennessee, in 1880. 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
The children of James Robert Collins
and Kiziah Seaborn were
Sarah M. D. Collins (listed as Dona in 1900 census) b. 12 Jan 1867
John R. and James Nathan Collins, twins b. 26 Sep 1868
Viola B. Collins b. 20 Aug 1870
Mary J. Collins b. 18 June 1873
Joseph R. Collins b. 6 July 1878
Zach A. Collins (appeared as son in 1880 census and again in 1900‹not listed in family Bible)
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 m. 7 Dec 1843 in Haywood County, North Carolina, by Joseph Keener, a justice of the peace.
This Article was donated by Mary Ann Burkhart Kuebel, of Germany and Jack Murray is responsible for furnishing a copy to her, for which we are grateful indeed!
Best wishes, Mary
Anne Burkhart Kuebel, Germany
Back to the Warstory and Letters Page