Otto C. Bardon, Reminiscences of the Sultana Disaster, April 27, 1865

    Source citation
    Reproduced in Chester D. Berry, Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors: History of a Disaster... (Lansing, MI;Darius D. Thorp, 1892), 38-42. 
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    John Osborne
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    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.
    I was born in Wooster,Wayne county, Ohio, August 28, 1841, and enlisted in the service of the United States, at Wooster, Ohio, August 8, 1862, in Company H, of the 102d Ohio Volunteer Infantry, just in time to take part in protecting Cincinnati from being destroyed by Kirby Smith. Was then sent to Louisville, Ky., against Gen. Bragg and followed him through the State of Kentucky 375 miles; back to Bowling Green for winter quarters, which were cold corn-stalk camps, for we had no tents that winter of 1862 and 1863. On Christmas eve of 1862 we recaptured Clarksonville, Tenn., on the Cumberland river. In the fall of 1863 we were sent to guard the Chattanooga railroad, then back to Nashville, Tenn. In the spring of 1864 we were sent to guard the Tennessee river, and in August 1864, we were sent after Gen. Wheeler along the Chattanooga railroad and drove him across the Tennessee river. From here we went to Decatur, Ala., and on September 24, 1864, a detail was made, at one o'clock at night, consisting of 250 of the 102d Ohio regiment, and 150 of the 18th Michigan regiment, to go to Athens and see what was the matter. We got within five miles of Athens when we met Gen. Forrest's whole brigade. We drove him five miles and fought with him for three hours, when we found that we were surrounded and out of powder. In a charge we lost our best officers and were out of ammunition. We had to surrender on the 24th of September, 1864. We were sent to Cahaba, Ala., where we were held as prisoners until the latter part of March, 1865, when we were taken out on account of the high water, the Alabama river having risen so high that we were waist deep in water for five days. The rebels sent us to Vicksburg, where we remained in parole camp. While here we heard of the sad news of the assassination of President Lincoln by a rebel. The prisoners became wild with indignation and started for the rebel head-quarters. The rebel major that had charge of us fled across the Big Black river bridge for safety until we learned the particulars of the President's death. We were put on the steamer, "Sultana." About 2,400 men were on their way to "God's country," as we called the North, and we all felt happy to know that we were on our way home and that the war was over (hallelujah, Amen). On the morning of April 27, 1865, I was in the engine room of of the steamer sound asleep, lying by the side of the hatch-hole with seven others of my regiment, when the explosion took place. First a terrific explosion, then hot steam, smoke, pieces of brick-bats and chunks of coal came thick and fast. I gasped for breath. A fire broke out that lighted up the whole river. I stood at this hatch-hole to keep comrades from falling in, for the top was blown off by the explosion. I stood here until the fire compelled me to leave. I helped several out of this place, I saw Jonas Huntsberger and John Baney go to the wheel-house, then I started in the same direction. I tried to get a large plank, but this was too heavy, so I left it and got a small board and started to the wheel to jump into the water. Here a young man said to me, "you jump first, I cannot swim." This man had all of his clothes on. I had just my shirt and pants on. I said to him, "you must paddle your own canoe, I can't help you." Then I jumped and stuck to my board. I went down so far that I let go of my board and paddled to get on top of the water. I strangled twice before I reached the top; then the young man caught me and he strangled me twice. By this time I was about played out. I then reached the wheel, and clung to it until I tore off all of my clothes, with the intention of swimming with one hand. I looked around and recognized Fritz Saunders, of my regiment, by my side, I said, “ Saunders, here is a door under the wheel, let us get it out." We got it out and found it had glass panels in it. I said, "let this go, here is a whole door." The rest on the wheel took the first door and we started after them with the other. We had not more than started when a man swam up and laid across the center of our door. I looked back and saw the wheel-house fall—it had burned off and fell over. If we had remained there one minute longer it would have buried us in the fire. I said to Saunders, “ let's go to the right, it is nearer to shore." He replied, "no, there is a boat; I will paddle for it." And when we were in the center of the river the steamer was about out of sight.‘ We met three young men clinging to a large trunk; they grasped our door for us to steer them into the timber. We had not gone far until these bore too much weight on our door; that put us all under the water. I gave the trunk a kick and raised on the door and brought it to the surface of the water. Then I said, "boys if you don't keep your weight off of the door, then you must steer the trunk yourselves." By this time I was cold and benumbed and was in a sinking condition, but having presence of mind I reached and got my board and called aloud to God for help. I rubbed my arms and got the blood in circulation again. Soon we were among the timber on the “ Hen and Chickens" island, clinging to trees, but being too cold and benumbed to climb a tree. I had the good luck of finding saplings under the water. I put my foot in the fork and raised myself out of the water. I soon got warm and swam to a larger tree, and clung to it, but was not there very long until I got so cold that I fell from the tree into the water. I swam to the same tree and clung to it and called aloud to God for His assistance. I saw a man break open this trunk, it contained only ladies' dresses so it was no help to us. One of these men that had clung to the trunk was so cold that he drowned with his arms around a tree. We were on these trees until about nine o'clock A. M. It seemed as if the gnats and mosquitoes would eat us alive. We were rescued by a steamer sent in search of us from Memphis. The captain of the steamer that picked us up, ordered hot coffee and whiskey (you bet we took it); and the Christian commission furnished as under-clothing, and the third day "Uncle Sam" gave us a suit of clothes, free. On the fourth day we took a steamer for Cairo, and were sent from here to Camp Chase and discharged May 21, 1865. Present occupation, carriage trimmer, and postoffice, Wooster, Ohio.
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