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Corporal Benjamin Franklin Learner
Company G, 57th Indiana Infantry

…he received the following wound, or disability, and that he was at Washington Hospt. Memphis Tenn. Then moved to the Gaoso [Gayoso] Hospt. Memphis, Tenn. Left leg badly scalded veins bursted rendering  him unable to perform manual labor… received above injury on or about the 27th day of April 1865 on steam Boat Sultana when she blew up near Memphis Tennessee; and his physical condition is leg swollen ulcerating and by using leg causes blood to gush out veins being bursted and growing worse….[1]

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            The story of the explosion of the river boat was one of the most ghastly of the war. When about ten miles from Memphis the boilers of the overloaded boat gave way, and hundreds of men who were sleeping on the upper decks were thrown into the river. Stunned by the force of the explosion, Mr. Learner was unable to move for a few moments. Everything was pitch dark and in confusion. Starting for the boat railing, he stumbled on a loose board. He threw out the board and jumped after it. In some manner he caught it and climbed on. A few moments later the boat caught fire….

            Mr. Learner floated down river and was picked up by a rescue party from Memphis. He was taken to a hospital, where he lay for days without hope being held out for his recovery. Almost his entire body had been scalded by steam. After weeks of treatment he was sent home on crutches, but he never recovered fully from the injuries. [2]

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Mr. Learner remained on the burning vessel about fifteen minutes after the explosion…. [He] was terribly scalded, but despite his agonizing burns managed to get a board from the steamer’s deck, push it into the stream and got away on it. He floated down the river until he was opposite the city of Memphis, which was nine miles below the point where the explosion occurred. There he was rescued and taken to the hospital. He remained there, as nearly as he can remember, about thirty days, recovering from his burns.

“…No two of us saw the same details,” said Mr. Learner, “but in a general way the scene presented itself to all of us alike. It was terrible beyond the power of words to describe…. It would be hardly possible to overdraw the picture of that awful hour.”[3]

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B.F. Learner, age 82, one of the last hundred survivors of the explosion on board the Sultana near the close of the civil war died here today. Burns suffered in the explosion, which never healed, led to his death from septic poisoning. Following the explosion, Learner clung to a board until he was rescued by a searching party on the Mississippi river….[4]

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            He An injury received by Mr. Learner in the explosion which destroyed the Sultana and snuffed out the lives of several hundred men, was really the cause of his death. He was frightfully burned on one of his legs [left] in that explosion. The hurt was one that never healed; though he lived nearly sixty years after receiving it. Always it was threatening to him, and finally it brought on the condition which resulted in his death.

             ...Mr. Learner was scalded so badly that the flesh came off of his left leg. he was so weak from the injury that for three months he was unable to feed himself. During the ensuing years he often battled for his life when poisoning would arise from the old wound which never healed but gave him incessant pain.[5]

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[1] Declaration of Original Pension of an Invalid for Benjamin F. Learner, September 14, 1870.

[2] Benjamin F. Learner obituary, unknown Indiana newspaper, February, 1925.

[3] “One Man from Howard Died on Sultana,” Kokomo [IN] Daily Tribune, April 29, 1915, p. 1.

[4] “Sultana Survivor Dead,” The Call-Leader, Elmwood, IN, February 2, 1925, p. 2.

[5] “B.F. Learner Passes Away at Age of 82,” The Kokomo [IN] Tribune, Jan. 31, 1925, p. 1.