Otto Clem Bardon
Private, Company H, 102nd Ohio Infantry
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 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 [a piece of brick] 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 [Cpl. Jonas Huntsberger, Co. H, 102nd OH Inf.] and John Baney [Pvt. John Baney, Jr., Co. H, 102nd OH Inf.] go to the wheelhouse, 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 stated 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, [Pvt. Ignatius “Fritz” Saunders, Co. F, 102nd OH Inf.] 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 wheelhouse 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 [Bostona (No. 2)] 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 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 us 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.
We were sent to Athens on the night of September 24, 1864, and when within five miles of the place we met Gen. Forrest’s whole brigade. We fought with him for three hours when we found we were out of powder and surrounded by the enemy. We had to surrender and were taken to Cahaba prison where we were held until the latter part of March, 1865.
I suppose we wouldn’t have been released but the waters of the Alabama river flooded the prison until we were waist deep in the water. The rebels sent us to Vicksburg where we remained in parole camp until the Sultana arrived to take us home.
We were happy. We were on our way to ‘God’s Country,’ as we always called the North.
I was in the engine room of the steamer sound asleep when the explosion occurred. I was lying immediately beside the hatch hole with seven of my comrades. First there was a terrific explosion, then hot steam, smoke, pieces of brickbats 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 the hatch hole to keep comrades from falling in as the top was blown off by the explosion.
Then fire compelled me to leave my post. I saw two of my comrades from Massillon start towards the wheel house and I went after them. I tried to get a large plank but couldn’t move it so I took a smaller board and went to the wheel and jumped overboard. I went down so far that I lost my board. I strangled twice before I reached the top and then a comrade who couldn’t swim caught me and strangled me. I was about played out. I caught the wheel and clung to it until I tore off all my clothes so that I could swim.
I found a door and clung to it and some of the others joined me. We were trying to hold on with one hand and swim with the other when we saw the burning wheel house fall into the water. If we had remained one minute longer we would have perished in the flames.
We paddled along and met three men clinging to a trunk. They abandoned their trunk and clung to our door. The increased weight almost sent us under.
By this time I was so benumbed I felt I couldn’t hold on much longer. I called aloud to God for help. I rubbed my arms and got the blood in circulation.
Soon we were among the timbers of the ‘Hen and Chickens’ islands and each of us grabbed a tree. I was too benumbed with the cold to climb a tree but I had the good luck of finding a sapling under the water. I put my foot in the fork and raised myself out of the water. I got warm and swam to a larger tree but I wasn’t there long before I became so cold that I fell into the water. I swam to another tree and called aloud to God for assistance. One of the men clinging to the trunk of a tree near me drowned with his arms around the tree. The gnats and mosquitoes attacked us and we suffered untold tortures until 9 a.m., when a steamer from Memphis picked us up. The captain ordered hot coffee and whiskey and you can bet we drank it.
On the morning of April 27 I was in the engine room of the steamer, sound asleep, lying beside the hatch-hole with seven others of my regiment, when a mighty rumble shook the vessel.
First, there was the terrific explosion, then scalding steam, smoke, pieces of brick and chunks of coal came flying thick and fast. I gasped for breath. The fire that followed lighted the whole river.
I stood watch over the hatch-hole to keep my comrades from falling in, for the lid had been blown off by the blast. I remained there until the fire forced me to leave. Then I grabbed a small board and jumped into the water.
I went down so far that I had to let go of my board and paddle with all my might to reach the surface again. There I came upon a young man who almost strangled me in his efforts to save himself, for he could not swim. By this time I was about played out.
I climbed back on the boat and reached the wheel, to which I clung until I had taken off all my clothes. Fritz Saunders [Pvt. Ignatious “Fritz” Saunders, Co. F, 102nd OH Inf.] of my regiment and I found a door and we decided to try to save ourselves on it. We looked back in time to see the wheelhouse collapse. Had we stayed a minute longer, we would have perished in the flames.
Soon the steamer was out of sight. I became cold and benumbed. Rubbing my arms, I got the blood into circulation again. After some time we reached the timber on the Hen and Chickens Island.
I had the good luck to find saplings under the water. I put my foot into the fork and raised myself out of the water. I soon got warm and then swam to a larger tree. I clung to it but was not there long until I got so cold that I fell back into the water again. I swam to the same tree, clung to it and called aloud to God for His assistance. One man who was clinging to the trunk was so cold that he drowned with his arms around the tree.
We were on these trees until 9 a. m . It seemed as if the gnats and mosquitoes would eat us alive.
 Bardon reminiscence in Berry, Loss of the Sultana, 39-42.
 Bardon reminiscence in Howells, Maud M., “Wooster Men Tell of Civil War Horror,” Canton [OH] Daily News, June 5, 1927, p. 50. We were rescued by a steamer sent in search of us from Memphis.
 “Don’t Forget Their Escape From Sultana,” [Cleveland, OH] Plain Dealer, June 30, 1929, p. 1, 6.