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Tennessee Cavalry, 3rd, Co. D, Pvt., Huffaker, Jesse - Survived (2).jpg
Jesse Huffaker

Company D | 3rd Tennessee Cavalry

We ran from Vicksburg to Memphis and laid over part of the night so they could unload a
quantity of sugar out of the hull of the boat.


We were on our way to Camp Chase, Ohio. I laid down after leaving Memphis, on a
place [where] the deck hands slept, right behind the wheel. When the crash came, I was sound
asleep. I was awakened by the noise. For a moment or two everything was dark, the light being
put out by the explosion. The boat being very dry, when the fire fell on it, it soon blazed up. A
general panic reigned on the boat, some jumping, some throwing out fragments of the boat and
jumping into the water at the front end of the boat.


After hearing the explosion, I hurriedly dressed myself, then began to look around to see
what had happened. As I had to decide very quickly for myself what to do, I got a piece of plank
and where the horses were on one side nobody was jumping out. I went out over the banisters
about middle ways where the horses were hitched, with my piece of plank, not even getting my
head wet.


I tried to use my plank, but it was too light and I floated back next to the boat where there
were door shutters and rubbish all floating with the boat.
I got hold of a piece of timber, two by four and twelve feet long. I discovered a woman
lying on the rubbish with one foot lying on the scantling. I got it loose and started from the boat.
When a little distance from the boat a man, who seemed to be a good swimmer, got on the
scantling in front of me.


We laid our plans what we should do with one great aim; we swam for the Tennessee
shore, but could not see the banks, neither timber or anything for a guide. We agreed to turn
around on our timber, which put one in front of the other, and agreed to pick up every bit of drift
that would hold us up. After catching some I floated upon a snag thinking it was drift. I threw my
arms around it but it proved to be the top of an old dead tree, lodged on the upper point of an


Being exhausted and in a sleeping state of mind, I never realized when my scantling got
away from me. There was a man on the snag with me and two on a snag above us. At day light I
was aroused by a man struggling in the water nearby.
In a short time a boat came up the river and picked us up and put us on the steamboat and
took us back to Memphis.


Some that I knew who got out were Abner Long, Jim Brown and John Saylor [all privates
in Co. D, 3 TN Cav.]. Jim Brown got out into a small boat that was hanging on to the back end of
the larger boat. Another soldier got in with Brown. A bunch of the ship crew lowered it to the
water, and the crew tried to put them out. Brown told them he would sink the boat if they tried to
put them out, so the crew thought it the best policy and took them on to Memphis.
John Saylor, shortly after the explosion, left the boat and swam to the Arkansas river
[sic], where he was picked up by a boat. He being a very tall man, some one remarked that all of
them swam out, but Mr. Saylor waded out.


Sam Pickens [Co. A, 3 TN Cav.], an expert horseman, was picked up riding a dead
saddlehorse down stream, stating later that it had given him the best service of any horse he had
ever seen.


There were two large Indian soldiers on the boat [Pvt. Amos Ashkebugnekay and Pvt.
Lewis Miskogeon, both Co. K, 1 st MI Sharpshooters], one of them being picked up on the same
boat as I was on. Some one of the boys asked him where his partner was. He answered in a
casual way, “Huh! he all right.” So when we reached the “barracks” at Memphis the other Indian
was there.


This is my experience on the Sultana, on the night of the terrible catastrophe on
American waters. Many things may have been forgotten as time has changed since then.
However, this experience has been deeply planted on my mind, never to be forgotten. 1




1 “Veteran Has Thrills as Sultana Exploded 56 Years Ago Today,” Knoxville [TN] Sentinel,
April 27, 1921, p. 8.

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