Wednesday, April 22, 2015

POW Sgt. John C. Ely: His journal and dreams board with him on steamboat Sultana

Sgt. John Clark Ely, Company C, 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, was finally heading home. He had endured captivity at Andersonville and other Confederate prison camps. On April 24, 1865, Ely and hundreds of others were sent from near Vicksburg, Ms., to board a steamboat for the journey north. (Journal entries courtesy Andersonville National Historic Site).

April 22, 1865 (Saturday)
Fine day, very cool last night, almost frost, wrote to Julia.

April 23, 1865 (Sunday)
Beautiful day, all men parolled were taken away today. Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee are yet left.

April 24, 1865 (Monday)
Beautiful day but very warm sun, about 10 a.m. we were ordered to take train for Vicksburg and then up the river, went from cars to boat Sultana, a large but not very fine boat. Vicksburg is truly a city set on not only a hill but hills. Left sometime in night for Cairo.

April 25, 1865 (Tuesday)
Fine day, still going up river very high over country everywhere, no places along the river where white people live but very many monuments of where people had been.

April 26, 1865 (Wednesday)
Very fine day, still upward we go.


Sultana a day before the catastrophe (Library of Congress)

Early on the morning of April 27, 1865, the gaunt school teacher’s dreams of home and the embrace of Julia and his four children came to an end.  Ely and nearly 1,800 others, most of them freed Union prisoners, would die in the horrific explosion and fire on the steamboat Sultana. 

The disaster, a few miles above Memphis, Tenn., on the Mississippi River, is the worst in U.S. history. The boat was licensed to carry 376 passengers; up to 2,400 actually were on board. 

Ely, from south of Cleveland, was buried at the national cemetery in Memphis. His grave marker lists him as a lieutenant, a rank he was supposed to be awarded in life. The Franklinville, New York, native was 36 or 37.

Ely's journal, one of two (the first disappeared), was found on his body. It is cared for today by descendants.

The small diary captured the soldier's despair, anguish, privations -- and hope. On Christmas Day 1864, three weeks after his capture in Tennessee, Ely wrote: "Christmas Day and such a day for us prisoners. Hungry, dirty, sleepy and lousy. Will another Christmas find us again among friends and loved ones?"

It was not to be.

No comments:

Post a Comment