Pickens, Samuel (Private, Company A, 3rd Tennessee Cavalry)
April 28, 1865
Memphis, Tenn. Dear mother and sister Maria:
I this eavening seat mi self to inform you that I [am] well at present ever hoping these few lines ma[y] soon come to hand and find you all enjoin [enjoying] the same great blessing. It is with rgret i rit the folling sad noos wee was on our way to Camp Chase, got this fare on the evning of the 26th an left here on the moning aft the 27th at haff past 2 o’clock, proseded up the river 8 mils when the billers burst tore the boat all to peses sot her on fier, and burnd her to the water. tha was 1975 Solders on bord of which about 1200 were drowned. i must Con fess tha to the best of mi noledg [knowledge] brother William [Pvt. William Cowan Pickens, Co. B, 3rd TN Cav.] is A mong the lost. i hav not hurd of him Sens the explosion took plase an i hav no hop [hope] of ever hering of him eney more. when this accident took plase wee was about the midl of the river an at that point it was 2½ mils wide. i was blold [blowed] over bord 30 ft in to the river an got holt of some peeses of the boat that I kep from drowning. i floted down the river about ten mils an was in the river about 3 hours. i was picked up in a yall 2 mils below town too ni [nigh] child [chilled] to deth to stand Alone. i [won’t] rit eney more as you will likely see abeter account in the paper than I can rit. i will rit agane in afew dais. wee will leave here to morow for camp Chase so no more at present. give mi respect to all mi friondes [friends] reserving A liberil sher for your selves.
so no more but remain your afectnet Son untell deth.
Mrs. Sinthia an Maria Pickens
It was amusing to hear Secretary Pickens speak of trading a live horse for a dead horse, and how safely he rode him down the big Mississippi below Memphis without a balk or a kick, the most successful navigator mentioned to history.
Pvt. Pleasant Marion Keeble (Co. H, 3rd TN Cav), in spite of losing his older brother Pvt. John Harrison Keeble (Co. A, 3rd TN Cav) on the Sultana, managed a smile every time he recounted the activity of his friend, Pvt. Samuel Pickens (Co. A, 3rd TN Cav), on the night of the disaster. “Sam was on a horse in the water,” Keeble would say. “The horse wouldn’t swim away from the boat. A dead mule came floating by. Sam got onto the dead mule. We afterwards laughed with Sam about this. Sam said that his swapping a live horse for a dead mule was the best trade he ever made.”
1. Letter from Samuel Pickens to Cynthia and Mary Pickens, April 28, 1865.
2. “The Sultana,” The Maryville [TN] Times, April 30, 1890, p. 1.
3. Oden, “1700 Died When Sultana Sank,” Knoxville [TN] News-Sentinel, April 23, 1929, 23.