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I WAS born at Mansfield, Richland county, Ohio, in the year 1842, and moved from there to Wright, Hillsdale county, Mich., when ten years of age, living there until the fall of 1862. I enlisted to defend my country and to stand by the old flag in Company A of the 18th Michigan Infantry. From Wright we went to Camp Woodbury, Hillsdale, Mich.

I served with my regiment in all its campaigns until captured at the battle of Athens, Ala., on the 24th of September, 1864, by Forrest's cavalry. They robbed us of our blankets, watches, and of all our valuables, and then we marched over rough roads, through rivers, and by rail to Cahaba, Ala., where we remained until the 12th of April, 1865, when we were taken to "Camp Fisk," which is four miles from Vicksburg, Miss., there to be recruited up so that we could stand a journey north. They commenced giving us one quarter rations and increased it as we starved creatures could stand it. We remained here until we received orders to board the train at five o'clock P. M., on the 24th of April, 1865, for Vicksburg.

While at Vicksburg the steamer, "Sultana" came steaming in with passengers and crew numbering 110. The steamer remained here about thirty hours, and during that time was boarded by 1,996 federal soldiers and 35 officers—just released from the prisons at Cahaba, Ala., Andersonville and Macon, Ga., and belonging to the States of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. We were crowded on the boat like a flock of sheep until the whole number of passengers was 2,141, besides horses, mules and a large number of hogsheads of sugar; over six times her capacity. The overloaded boat steamed out of Vicksburg at one o'clock A. M., on the 25th of April and arrived at Helena, Ark., at seven o'clock A. M., and left there at eight o'clock. The boat ran smoothly and the soldiers were enjoying the thought of being homeward bound. Yes, with joy that cannot be expressed, although many of them were suffering from wounds received in battle, and all were sadly emaciated from starvation in the prison pens where we had been confined. But now we were en route for home, the cruel war was over and the long struggle closed. Battles, sieges, marches and prison pens were things of the past.

We arrived at Memphis at seven o'clock in the evening of the 26th. A guard was stationed at the edge of the boat with orders not to let any of the prisoners get off. I was not very well so I did not disturb the guard, but a number of the boys went off the boat and enjoyed themselves. After unloading the cargo of sugar she took on a supply of coal, and then started from Memphis about one o'clock in the morning of the 27th. So far the presence of danger was not manifested nor was it in the least anticipated except that the boat was heavily loaded, but in the darkness of that terrible morning, between two and three o'clock, just opposite Tagleman's Landing, eight miles above Memphis, suddenly, and without warning, the steamer exploded one of her boilers with terrific force, and in a few moments the boat burned to the water's edge. The steamer was running at the rate of nine or ten miles an hour.

Mr. Roberry, the chief mate, who had charge of the boat, and who was among the survivors, was in the pilot-house with Mr. Claton, the pilot, at the time of the explosion. At that time I was sound asleep and the first thing I knew or heard was a terrible crash and everything coming down upon us. I was lying on the lower deck near the stern of the boat. I laid still a few minutes after the explosion and my comrades said, "Thaniel, why don't you get up; the boat is all on fire?" My reply was that I could not swim, but they said, "get ready and go with us." I told them to save their own lives as I might be the cause of losing them. I went with them to the edge of the boat and there we saw that the water was full of men, horses, and mules. Several of the boys were determined to jump off into the river, but I persuaded them to wait till the water was clearer and they did so, thus saving their lives. I still remained on the boat and heard the cries of comrades for help. Some of them calling on God for help, while others took his name in vain. One poor fellow, Pat Larky, who belonged to Company E of my regiment, had secured a board, and it seemed that every time he would try it it would throw him off into the river. Pat shouted, "Come help poor Pat, he is a drowning." The poor fellow went down. By this time the flames were cracking and snapping over my head, threatening my life. I was thinking whether to burn or drown, when a woman with a little babe about two months old came to me crying for help. I told her it was every one for himself. I saw that she had on a life pereserver but it was buckled down too low. I stepped up to her and was going to unbuckle it, when she said, "Soldier, don't take that off from me." I said, "it must be up under your arms." I placed it there, and took her by the hand and she jumped into the water. She thanked me and said, "may the Lord bless you." She lost her husband, baby, father, and mother there.

When I saw my condition I went down upon my knees and asked God to be merciful to me, a sinner, and offered up the following prayer: "O Lord, if it is thy will for me to be drowned in the Mississippi all is well, or, if not, may I return home to see my father, brothers, and sisters." I then climbed up on the banisters close to the rudder; being weak and feeble I almost lost my hold, I grasped tighter and drew myself up and getting a new hold, reached out my arm so that I could just place my fingers and foot on the rudder, then bent my head and body, shoved my arm around the rudder, and as I let go dropped down on to the lower deck. While hanging to the rudder a man cried, "Get off from me." I replied, "In a minute." There were nine of us that had hold of that rudder and I being the top one kept quiet. Soon the coals from above began to fall on my head and shoulders and I began to think that I must get out of there. A part of the deck burned off and fell into the water, and I tried to get those that were under me to swim and get on to it, but all they said was: "My God, if we let go of this we shall drown." I answered, "Let us die like men, helping ourselves, for God helps those who help themselves in this case and I believe in all others." The coals came thicker and faster so that I had to brush them off my head and shoulders with one hand and hang on to the rudder with the other.

It will be seen that I had now to do something, consequently, I made up my mind, by the assistance of God and his mighty power, that I would jump into the water, and cried "Here goes for ninety days." I sank three times, and as I came up the third time I grabbed a comrade by the heel. While catching my breath he kicked me loose and down I went again. As I came up I grabbed the same comrade by the ankle with one hand and with the other grabbed a wire rope to which I hung, being nearly exhausted. Looking around I found a piece of scantling about 3x4, and I thought it would help me in getting to a piece of deck which had floated away from the boat, so I went kicking and paddling like a dog till I reached the piece of deck. As I climbed upon it I heard comrade Borns of my regiment say, "My God, is that you?" I replied, "Yes, all that is left of me." He then said, "I have two boards and you shall have one."

I then started for the center of the deck. There was a hole burned in it which I did not observe and down I went, but throwing out my arms I recovered myself before falling far. Afterwards I was more careful, moving around closer to the edge of the piece of deck, when, behold, there laid one of the deck hands and two women scalded to death. I found a door and a piece of siding. I took the piece of siding and shoved the door down to the comrades that were hanging on to the rudder, and finally they all got upon the piece of deck.

By this time the citizens had their raft made and came and took us to the shore where there was a log stable, and near it was a log heap where we warmed ourselves and dried our clothes. As Sergeant Borns was destitute of clothing, and the wind being very chilly, I took my pants and blouse and gave them to him thus leaving me with my shirt and drawers. Borns said to me, "Foglesong, let us go and pray to God, thanking Him for saving our lives and permitting us to stand upon the earth once more?" I agreed, and he made the best and most fervent prayer that I had ever heard.

Soon after this a boat came along, took us on board and carried us bank to Memphis. I crawled into a bunk and soon fell asleep. The first thing I knew two Sisters of Charity came along and said, "Here is a soldier." They awoke me and I asked: "What do you want?" They said: "We want to put dry and clean clothes on you." I was so weak that I could not stand alone, but they dressed and led me to the top of the stairs where a lieutenant of an Indiana regiment took me, carried me down and placed me in a bus with those two ladies. They took me to the Overton hospital, and as I went into a ward one of my comrades of my regiment, Sergeant Nelson Voglesong, grabbed me, saying, "I never expected to see you again after I left you on the boat." He is dead now. They took me to the next ward which was quite well filled with the boys that were on the boat, some of them nearly dead and dying with the injuries received from the exposure. I remained in the hospital ten days, then went by boat to Cairo, Ill., and from there by rail to "Camp Chase," Ohio, where I was discharged from the service on the 21st of June, 1865, and then went home to Wright, Hillsdale county, Mich., where I now reside.

Full List of Michigan Men  |  Reminiscences Of Survivors

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Civil War Files On This Site

Michigan Civil War Files | 1883 Michigan Pensioners | 1894 Civil War Veteran Michigan Census
African Americans Who Served From Michigan | 1st Michigan Sharp Shooters Co. K | Loss of the Sultana
Honor Roll Interments in Michigan