Private Joseph M. McKelvey
Company I, 102nd Ohio Infantry

(as told by Pvt. Philip L. Horn, Co. I, 102nd Ohio Infantry)

That night [April 26, 1865] few of us could sleep until late.... My bunkmate, Joe McKelvey and myself found a place just over the boiler room. We were lying there listening to the pleasant noise of the boilers underneath us, and dreaming of home. We steamed up the river on our way to Cairo. We stopped a little before midnight for coal and it was while the coal was being shoveled in the boiler room that I fell asleep.

            After that I knew nothing, but I believe I lived a thousand years in a minute.  My first conception that I was alive was that I was lost in the air. My body was whirling through space.

            When the explosion took place I was lying on the left side of the boat at the foot of the stairs that went to the hurricane deck with Joe McKelvey. I was either blown through the stairway or thrust out sidewise into the air. I struck the water feet first and went down twice. I could not swim but I attempted to paddle dog fashion. When I came to the surface of the water after the second time down I encountered a piece of wreckage which I seized along with seven other men.

            It was just before daybreak and the darkness was impenetrable. As we clung to the wood, we shouted as loud as we could and finally were heard by some men and they came to us in a skiff.

            As we were helped into the skiff, I saw my bunkmate, Joe McKelvey, for the first time since the explosion, although he had been clinging to the same bit of wreckage as I had. As I got into the skiff McKelvey recognized me and said, "For God's sake help me in." I asked him if he were hurt and he said, "Yes, scalded from head to foot."

            The two of us had been sleeping under the same blanket. He was scalded cruelly. Not a bit of the steam touched me.

            We helped McKelvey into the boat and the boatman put his coat around Joe to keep him from taking cold.... We headed up stream and met a steamer in anxious search for victims of the terrible disaster. One of the skiffmen signaled the steamer and we were taken aboard. McKelvey was suffering the most and received kind attention. A bed was made on the lower deck for him, his clothing was removed and his body sprinkled with flour to mitigate, if possible, his almost unendurable suffering.

            When we arrived at Memphis I was taken to one hospital [Washington Hospital] and McKelvey to another. [Adams Hospital] 

            The next day I wanted to find McKelvey and one of my comrades and myself climbed out of the hospital window and started on a search. We were clad only in flannel shirt and drawers, having no other clothing. My shoes I had placed underneath my pillow just a short time before the explosion.

            When we found the hospital where McKelvey was he was dead. It seemed a miracle that I was not injured when Joe suffered such horrible injuries.

            When the explosion happened I thought it was another railroad disaster. We had passed through an ordeal of that kind when we were taken prisoners of the rebels at Athens, Ala. It was the same sensation, that of being nowhere. But when I struck the water I realized it was no railroad wreck. I was slightly hurt on the left side but suffered no other ill effects, except from the shock and the exposure.[1]

 

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[1] Howells, Maud M., "Wooster Men Tell of Civil War Horror," Canton [OH] Daily News, June 5, 1927, p. 50.