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I was born in Girard, Erie county, Penn., in the year 1845, and enlisted at Charlotte, Mich., August 1, 1861, in Company I, 6th Regiment Michigan Volunteer Infantry. Re-enlisted August 2, 1863. Enlisted again August 3d, 1864, in Company C, 2d Regiment Michigan Cavalry. I was taken prisoner November 5, 1864, at Shoal Creek, Ala., by rebel Gen. Hood. Was taken across the river, and the first night camped at Tuscumbia. The next morning we started for Corinth, arriving there in the evening about eight o'clock. The next morning following we were put on the train and taken to Meridian, Miss., reaching there at five o'clock P. M. The first thing that greeted my ears on arriving at the prison was "fresh fish." I had a few rations and was told to look out or some one would steal them. I was much surprised to think that they would try to steal rations from a soldier who had put over three years in the service; so I took two pieces of rail and laid them down, took my hat, put my haversack in it and put them both between the rails, and I then laid down on all and said to myself, "you will fool an old soldier, will you?" I slept good all night, and on awaking in the morning reached for my rations, but found none. Some one had dug a hole under the rails and stolen them. I tell you I was the most beat man you ever saw. Experience No. 1 as a prisoner.

About the 20th of November a party of eight of us commenced digging a tunnel. It was slow work for we had to look out for the guards, and they kept very close watch but we succeeded at last. Six of us got out, but when about sixty miles away were recaptured by an old woman and fifteen dogs and brought back to Meridian the worst looking lot of men you ever saw. We were covered with clay from head to foot by going through the tunnel, which was half full of water at the time of our escape. Everything went along quietly for about a month and then we started for Cahaba, Ala., the prison known as "Castle Morgan." At this time my clothing consisted of shirt, drawers and one shoe. About six miles from Demopolis, John Corliss and myself made our escape by jumping out of the car window. I did not stop immediately but rolled along after the train quite a distance. I tell you I was badly mangled and had a big hole cut in my head, but I thought it was all right for I was free once more—that is, I was in my mind, for it was not but a short time before I heard the dogs and we had to go, but we kept away from them for five days and five nights when we were recaptured. We were almost starved and nearly frozen. Had nothing to eat but raw corn and no fire, and wallowing through the swamp in the month of December. If it was down south the weather was awfal cold, for it would freeze icicles on the trees from three to four inches in length.

We were taken back to Meridian and then transferred to Cahaba. When we got there it was the same old story, "fresh fish." I was in prison about one month, and then succeeded in getting out again by cutting a hole through the wall next to the river. John Corliss and myself got out but were caught before we had hardly got a start. We were north of Selma when recaptured and were put in a large hall about eighteen feet from the ground. We managed to get a hole through the brick wall, doing our work with an old knife and a piece of round iron—I think a piece of a poker. We got out all right, but did not get out of the city and were recaptured and taken back to Cahaba. In March, 1865, the water from the river flooded the prison to the depth of three or four feet, in consequence of which we were ordered for exchange.

The next move was to place us on a stern wheel steamer with, four large cannons on the bow, but before we reached our destination the boys had all the four guns spiked with old files they found on the boat. At last we arrived at camp, four miles from Vicksburg, and were there when President Lincoln was assassinated. In a day or two after this we were taken to Vicksburg and put on board the steam boat "Sultana." Everything went smoothly until we reached Memphis, Tenn., where they unloaded a large quantity of sugar that was in the hold of the boat. I, for one, helped.

Now, if my memory serves me right, there were about 2,300 people on board the "Sultana." We left Memphis in the evening, went across the river to a coaling station and took on a large quantity of coal. I was asleep when we left and was lying on the promenade deck between the smoke stacks. I did not hear the explosion. I think I was stunned, for the first I recollected I heard some one calling "for God's sake, cut the deck, I am burning to death." Then I tried to find out where I was and when I did I found I was in the coal in front of the arches. The deck I had laid on was on top of me. My arms were scalded and the hot steam was so thick I could hardly breathe, and in fact I gave up. My partner, John Corliss, was lying across my legs and was dead, killed by the deck falling on him. I then heard someone say, "Jack, you can get out this way." It was some comrade helping his bunkmate out. This is the last I can recollect until some one put his hand on my shoulder and said, "What will I do? I cannot swim." I looked around, and my God, what a sight! There were three or four hundred, all in a solid mass, in the water and all trying to get on top. I guess that nearly all were drowned, but that was not the worst sight. The most horrid of all was to see the men fast in the wreck and burning to death. Such screaming and yelling I never heard before or since. It makes me shiver to think of it. At this time I was sitting on the bow of the boat with my arm around the flag staff, facing the Tennessee shore. At length the flames burned it down and I was forced to take to the water. I turned around and got in the water on the Arkansas side. There were some amusing things transpired. For instance one man was on a beer keg, and he would crawl up on it and pray. He got up a little too far and over he went still hanging to it. He came up on the other side of it and the first thing I heard him say was "d—n this thing, it will drown me yet." I drifted away from him, and could hear some poor soul say, "My God, I cannot hold out any longer," and down he would go. All this time I kept up good courage and was sure I could get out all right. I got close to the islands but could not make the trees. The islands were all overflowed and some of the boys got in the tree tops. I could hear someone calling "Morgan, here is your mule." It was a mule that saved my life and a dead one at that. I was almost a goner, when I saw a dark object in the water and made for it, and it was a dead mule, one that was blown off the boat. He was dead but not quite cold. I crawled up on him and was there when I was picked up at Fort Pickens three miles below Memphis. I was unconscious at the time, being chilled through, having been in the water about four hours. I was put in an ambulance and taken to Memphis to a hotel and remained there for six or seven days. Was then sent to "Camp Chase," Columbus, Ohio, and from there to Jackson, Mich. From Jackson to Charlotte, my home. Three months after I was weighed and my weight was 109 pounds.

My present occupation is shoe clerk, and my post-office address 720 Corunna ave., Owosso, Mich.

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