Posts Tagged ‘Andersonville Prison’

The Loss of the Sultana – A War Ballad

September 20, 2012

Image from Missed My Stop


By Will M. Carleton.

“MEMPHIS, TENN., April 23d, 1865. — The steamer Sultana, from New Orleans the 21st, took on board at Vicksburg, upward of 1,900 Federal soldiers, principally parolled prisoners from Cahawba and Andersonville. — When seven miles above this city, her boiler exploded and she burned to the water’s edge. Of all on board, not more than six hundred were saved.”

Down at Vicksburg, grim and smoking, on a cloudy April’s day,
Her gaudy colors flying fast, the old Sultana lay,
Waiting for the welcome signal that should order her away.

On her decks, all bright and smiling, stood a band of haggard men,
Who had smarted, prayed, and fasted, in a rebel prison-pen;
Who had faced the imps and goblins of a Southern devils’ den.

There were nineteen hundred heroes, who a prisoner’s trials knew;
From the fiery Southern furnace, nineteen hundred tried and true,
Who had doffed their faded tatters, for the legendary blue.

Pale and wasted were their features; pinched with want and prison fare;
Trampled by the hoofs of hatred, wrinkled by the hand of care;
Seamed and scarred with ruthless clawings from the tatoos of Despair.

But they waved their hands and shouted, as they g?ded from the shore,
And they cried, “Thank God’s great mercy, we are bound for home once more!”
And such lusty cheers of gladness never rent the air before!

But when last the Mississippi drank the echoes of their cry,
From the West, a roll of thunder sent an ominous reply,
And the wind swept down the river, with a sad foreboding sigh,

But they heeded not the omen; and the merry laugh went round;
In the brightness of the future all the fearful past was drowned;
And among the nineteen hundred ran the glad cry “homeward bound.”

There was one among that number, whom the past to me endears;
True as steel and firm as marble was that lad of sixteen years,
With a soul of highest honor, and a heart devoid of fears.

With a mind all clear and active, and with powers that mind to wield,
With a faith that could not falter, and a will it would not yield,
He buckled on his armor, and went forth into the field.

And at last, with hapless comrades, he the breath of prison drew,
And the pains of want and famine with the rest of them he knew;
But he clenched his teeth and muttered, “I mean to see it through!”

And he wrote unto his mother, when he lay in sickness low,
“IF they ask you ‘Is he sorry that he made his mind to go?
Does he wish he might recall it?’ Mother, proudly tell them No!”

And to-day he stood in calmness mid that fated steamer’s crew,
And he uttered words of gladness, which, alas! were but too true,
As between his teeth he muttered, “I have almost seen it thro’!”

And he thought him of a father, who for once would be unmanned,
As he welcomed him in language he could hardly understand,
But repaid the lack of speaking in the pressure of his hand.

And he thought him of a mother, with a kind and gentle face,
Who would kiss him as she used to, with a warm and close embrace,
Who would love him with affection that no absence could erase.

Of a manly little brother, who would climb upon his knee,
Who would throw his arms around him, in his glad and boyish glee,
And would think that of all soldiers there was none so brave as he.

And he thought him of a maiden, whom at twilight a hour he’d seek,
Who would meet him at the threshold, with a blush upon her cheek,
And from out her eyes would tell him all the love she would not speak.

And he stood, and all these blessings in his gladdened mind he weighed,
And within the golden future, many a glorious plan he laid;
And he murmured, “I am happy; all my sufferings are repaid.”

O, my God! that dull explosion! not a warning, not a prayer,
Ere it hurls full many a victim in the black and smoking air,
With a river for a death bed, and a moment to prepare!

With that hissing, steaming boiler, shatters many a hope that’s dear!
And a thousand shrieks and curses throw their echoes far and near,
With a thousand prayers for succor, that can reach no pitying ear.

And that youth whose cup of gladness danced so lately to the brim,
May the God of love and mercy hold a helping hand to him,
As he falls into the water, with a broken arm and limb!

But he rises to the surface, with  a look of pain and dread,
With a face all white as marble, like the faces of the dead,
And the crimson blood fast flowing from a death-wound on his head.

But a flash of manly courage fires his sinking heart anew,
And he grasps a floating timber, with the arm that still is true,
And between his teeth he mutters, “I mean to see it though.”

And he clung unto the fragment for a painful hour or more,
Vainly striving in his weakness, for the distant, gloomy shore.
For that heart of truest courage would not let the boy give o’er.

For a mortal hour he battled with the restless, flowing tide,
But the darkness gathered round him, and he stream was cold and wide,
And his pale lips murmuring, “Mother,” he relaxed his hold and died.

And with but the flowing waters to repeat his funeral lay,
Neath the turbid Mississippi lies the martyred boy to day,
His noble frame all mangled, and fast going to decay.

But if ever God reached downward, for a soul without alloy,
And if ever God had mercy on a dying soldier boy,
Rests to-day that youthful hero, in a home of peace and joy.

The Hillsdale Standard (Hillsdale, Michigan) Jan 5, 1869

Image from Civil War Family

A later, revised version of the poem ran in the Roman Citizen (Rome, New York) on June 11, 1886:

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Abe Lincoln’s Birthday: 1909

February 12, 2010

SOMEWHAR down thar round Hodgenville, Kaintucky,
Or tharabouts, a hundred year ago,
Was born a boy ye wouldn’ thought was lucky;
Looked like he never wouldn’ have a show.
But * * * * I don’ know.
That boy was started middlin’ well, I’m thinkin’.
His name? W’y, it was Abraham — Abe Lincoln.

PORE whites his folks was? Yes, as pore as any,
Them pioneers, they wa’n’t no plutocrats;
Belonged right down among the humble many,
And no more property than dogs or cats.
But * * * * maybe that’s
As good a way as any for a startin’.
Abe Lincoln, he riz middlin’ high, for sartin!

SOMEHOW I’ve always had a sort o’ sneakin’
Idee that peddygrees is purty much
Like monkeys’ tails — so long they’re apt to weaken
The yap that drags ’em round. No use for such!
But * * * * beats the Dutch
How now and then a lad like Little Aby
Grows up a president — or govnor, maybe.

Indiana Evening Gazette (Indiana, Pennsylvania) Feb 12, 1909

When, back in the middle of the ’50s, Abraham Lincoln was a plain lawyer, practicing in Springfield, Ill., he appears to have indulged but one office luxury — an office boy, Epenetus McIntosh, aged 10.

McIntosh afterwards became a drummer boy in the civil war, rose to the rank of major, and survived Andersonville and the great Sultana disaster to become prominent as a poet, writing a book of Grand Army songs.

Major McIntosh, now of Omaha, Neb., was the first to enlist in the first Grand Army of the Republic post ever formed — that at Decatur, Ill. — and he is now the only survivor of that post.

Neither Lincoln, who was regarded by his office boy as merely a good lawyer, nor Epenetus McIntosh, who was regarded by his employer as only a good office boy, could foresee that the one was to become the greatest figure in the nation’s history, while the other was to write one of the most remarkable human-interest views of the martyred president ever printed.

Today, 100 years after the birth of Lincoln, Major McIntosh tells his story for the first time in any publication. He wrote the following exclusively for this newspaper, and it is a document that will endure among the more personal annals of America’s greatest chief executive.



Lincoln’s First Office Boy.

The fact of which I am proudest in all my long life is that I was Abraham Lincoln’s first office boy.

The one possession which I treasure above all others is a little drum which Lincoln gave me.

It was not much of a job. And it was never much of a drum. But they were enough to keep my life sweet at its core.

I was the first office boy Lincoln ever had; at least I never heard of his having had an earlier one.

Just as office boys anywhere do today, I then thought myself the important member of the establishment. Mr. Lincoln seemed to think well of me, for he kept me two years, gave me much advice of the direct homely sort, such as only Lincoln co[u]ld give, and he gave me the drum.

I must tell of the drum first, because it came first, and has been treasured to the last.

A dozen or so of us urchins were playing soldier in my father’s yard, which was across the street from Lincoln’s office. I was the drummer boy, using a tin pan and a couple of sticks. The lawyer, whom we even then regarded as a great man, looked over the fence and said to us:

“Boys, train up right; we may need you some day.”

Christmas came soon after and with it a little drum. Upon that drum I learned to play; and seven years afterward, when Lincoln was president and called the nation to arms, I, a well grown youth of 17 and a good drummer, was the first man to take my stand in front of the old court house at Bloomington, Ill., and then I beat the roll which called for volunteers. It was not the little old drum I used that day, but a new one that could be heard all over town.

I have both drums yet, and I have the precious memory of marching off to war as a drummer beating steps for the troops.

But this has carried me ahead of my story. an old man must be pardoned if he rambles as he writes of matters so close to his heart.

With the little drum Mr. Lincoln gave me I drummed myself into his further notice, and one day he offered me the job of whitewashing his fence, I did it well; and as he stood admiring my work, he asked me if I cared to be his office boy. I eagerly accepted, and remained with him until my father moved to another town.

I have always remembered one of the first things Lincoln said to me. It was:

“Work hard, be honest; never gamble; keep smiling, and you will succeed.”

He had many quaint sayings about cheerfulness. One I remember was this:

“The world has no use for a grumbler who always keeps his head down and always sees the dark side of life.”

Another was this:

“If a cow kicks over a bucket of milk, just milk the next cow and keep on smiling. Smiling will get you more milk than kicking back.”

He was never so at ease as when tilted back in his chair with his big feet resting on the table. In that position his great length seemed even greater than it was. It may not seem possible to connect the Lincoln so revered today with an attitude so undignified; but I have often seen him so, and the natural ungainliness of his lank figure rendered him very ludicrous.

His only chair was a Windsor of the hard, rugged, old-fashioned sort, as different as could be imagined from the elegantly upholstered chairs in the offices of leading lawyers today. For visitors there was an uncushioned bench along one wall.

I have heard many stories of his bringing his lunch to the office and eating it off the office table while discussing cases with clients; but I never saw him do that and do not believe he ever did it. But he liked to work in his shirt sleeves when alone in the office.

I have no recollection of any tilts with my boss. He was always kind and good-natured.

He had little respect for smokers. He once remarked of a pipe: “A fire at one end and a fool at the other.”

Another recollection I have of him is that he shaved himself and always came to the office with a perfectly smooth face except in winter, when he allowed his whiskers to grow.

I cannot better close my reminiscences than by quoting a saying which I have heard him utter to many people, which I have never seen in print:

“Keep a stiff upper lip and a steel backbone, and don’t let any one discourage you.”

It healed the heart wounds of many a worried client.

San Antonio Light (San Antonio, Texas) Feb 12, 1909