Corporal Winfield Scott Colvin
Company F, 6th Kentucky Cavalry
At the time of the explosion I was sleeping with a number of my company on the upper deck right by the side of the pilot house [i.e. texas cabin]. My comrade was a good swimmer and in the grand rush that was made shortly after the explosion he went with the rest and was lost. I had never learned to swim and so I waited until the rush was over and until the fire compelled me to move. I then pulled a shutter from the pilot house [i.e. texas cabin] window and started to climbed down, but when I came opposite the cabin windows the flames were coming out with such force that I let go and fell into the water. On coming to the surface I got hold of a man or he holt of me (I hardly know which) and after a considerable struggle we somehow separated and I cought holt of a large trunk over another mans shoulder and held to it until it floated into the wheelhouse.
Then we let go of the trunk and took holt of the wheel. In a short time the wheelhouse burnt loose and fell over on its side. There were about a dozen men in the wheelhouse when it fell and if any of them got out except myself I do not know it. I was almost gone when I came up with the wheelhouse and it was sometime before I was able to get on top of it. After I had been on the wheelhouse sometime two other men – one of the 9th Ind. Cav. and one of the 3rd Tenn. Cav. got on the wreck of the wheelhouse with me…. We floated along by the side of the hull till it sunk. Then we floated on down the river. A little after sunrise we passed a soldier who had floated down before us and struck a small willow tree and climbed up it out of the water. He was perfectly naked and the mosquitos were about to eat him up. He was fighting them first one hand then the other. He was making a most gallant fight and I am glad to say he got out. He belonged to a Michigan Regiment. We had long since quit trying to get our wreck to shore and just let it float, as we knew that it would not be long until we would meet a boat coming up the river, and sure enough sometime between 8
and 9 o’clock the boat came in sight, ran up to us, and put out a yawl and took us in. You may be sure we felt good then.
I do not remember the name of the boat that rescued us. But I do remember that it had the pilot [George J. Cayton] and second engineer [Samuel Clemens] of the Sultana on board. [The boat was the United States picket boat Pocohontas.] The pilot was not hurt but the engineer was the most pitiable object I ever beheld. Every particle of the skin was burnt from his face and breast yet I could see that the heart was beating faintly. I am quite sure he did not live long after I saw him.
Original text taken from:
Colvin to Wolverton, quoted in Elliott, Colleen Morse and Moxley, Louise Armstrong, Tennessee Civil War Veterans Questionnaires, Vol. 1. Southern Historical Press, 1985, p. 147-8.