The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies

No. 5.--Report of Actg. Ensign James H. Berry, U. S. Navy.

SIR: I was aroused from my sleep this morning by a call from Mr. Earnshaw, who informed me that the steamer Sultana had blown up and was burning at a short distance up the river, and that the river was covered with drowning men. I ordered all the boats manned, which was done immediately, and I went in the cutter, which boat was the first ready, and we went out to the middle of the river. The morning was very dark, it being about one hour before daylight, and the weather overcast, and the shrieks of the wounded and drowning men was the only guide we had. The first man we picked up was chilled and so benumbed that he couldn't help himself, and the second one died a short time after he was taken on board. We soon drifted down to Fort Pickering, when the sentry on the shore fired at us, and we were obliged to "come to" while the poor fellows near us were crying out and imploring us for God's sake to save them; that they couldn't hold out much longer. We pulled a short distance toward the shore and hailed the sentry, who ordered me to come on shore, and who, it seems, had not hailed me before, or if he had his hail had been drowned by the groans of the men drowning in the water. I asked the sentry why he had fired at me, and he said that he had obeyed his orders. I told the sentry what had happened, and that I was picking up drowning men. The sentry did not give me any answer, and we went out again to the middle of the river, where we fell in with the gig laying near a lot of drift which was covered with men drowning, who were so benumbed that my boats' crews were obliged to handle them as if they were dead men. Before we had taken in half of them another shot was fired from the fort, and came whistling over our heads, and I saw that they were determined to make me come ashore. It was not daylight, and though our two boats and a steam-boat's yawl, which came out to lend us a hand, made a large mark to shoot at, I would not leave the poor fellows in the water to attend the sentry on shore. When the day began to dawn the cries of the sufferers ceased, and all who had not been rescued had gone down, and I, fearing that I might be fired at again, went to the shore, and when I saw the sentry he had again raised his musket, and I called out to him not to shoot, and at the same time told the sentry, who was a negro, that if there was an officer there I wished to see him. A man came down and told me that he was an officer. I asked him why I had been fired at. He said that his orders were to fire on all skiffs. I told him that these boats were not skiffs; that they were a man-of-war's gig and cutter, and again reminded him of what had happened, and of the drowning men whose cries he could not help hearing, and for the sake of humanity why could he not execute his orders with some discretion in a time like this. He said that he had as much humanity as any one, and in firing at me he had only obeyed orders. I saw a number of skiffs and other boats laying hauled up out of the water, and from appearances no one had made any attempt to launch them, and I reminded him that that did not look much like humanity. No one at the fort offered to do anything for the suffering men in our boats except the watchman of the coal barges, who, with the assistance of some of my men, built a fire on the shore, and I left a few of the rescued men by it, who wished to remain, and the others I had put on board vessels near by, where they were well cared for. I then crossed the river, and after looking carefully around I returned on board, having taken out of the water sixty men and one lady.

I have the honor to remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Acting Ensign and Executive Officer.

 Actg. Vol. Lieut. JOHN C. PARKER,

Commanding U.S. Iron-clad Essex.

[First indorsement.]

Respectfully forwarded to Maj. Gen. C. C. Washburn for his consideration.


Volunteer Lieutenant, Commanding Essex.


[Second indorsement.]

Respectfully forwarded to Colonel Kappner for his remarks.

He will report the name of the officer who is represented to have acted so disgracefully.



[Third indorsement.]

Memphis, Tenn., May 1, 1865.

Respectfully returned, and attention invited to the inclosed statements of Capt. L. Methudy, acting assistant adjutant-general; Senior Surg. H. H. Hood, Capt. D. C. Mooney, Third U.S. Colored Artillery (Heavy), field officer of the day, Lieut. D. P. Yates, Third U.S. Colored Artillery (Heavy), and Capt. George H. Stevens.

Lieut. D. P. Yates, the officer who conversed with Acting Ensign Berry, denies the correctness of the ensign's statement, and from my personal knowledge I can say that the rescued were as well cared for as possible, the injured receiving-medical attendance, and all whisky, coffee, meat, and bread, and that the ensign's statement to the contrary is a misrepresentation. Nearly 100 men were landed on five or six different places along the shore in the fort, and the reason why not more than two or three skiffs from the fort were out is that there are no more here.


Col. 3d U. S. Colored Arty.( Heavy), Comdg. Fort and Troops Attached.

[Inclosure No. 1.]

Memphis, Tenn., April 29, 1865.

 Col. I. G. KAPPNER,
Commanding Fort Pickering:

COLONEL: I have the honor to make the following statement: At about 4 a.m. on the 27th instant it was reported to me by one of the orderlies that a number of boats and skiffs were going down the river with persons in them who had lanterns. Lieutenant Copeland, aide-de-camp, went down to the river immediately. I was stopped on my way down by two sailors, who made me acquainted with the unfortunate event, and asked me to send whisky to the landing for those of the people who had been or were being rescued. I had no whisky to distribute, but gave orders that a sufficient amount of hot coffee be made immediately, which order was cheerfully executed by the orderlies (who are negroes) and then went on down to the river. I met Lieutenant Wilson, of Company A, Third U.S. Colored Artillery (Heavy), who informed me that his men, who are quartered on the levee, were out and were attending to those who were rescued by the employés of the quartermaster's department under Mr. Hare. Lieutenant Wilson asked-me whether I could get any whisky for the men, and I advised him to get coffee made for them, as I did not think it could be got at short notice. He told me that coffee was then being made at his barracks. Upon arriving at the levee (which was not later than ten to twelve minutes after I received the first notice) I found Lieutenant Yates and a large number of the Company A, Third U.S. Colored Artillery (Heavy), also all river guards stationed in the neighborhood, rendering all the assistance they possibly could in providing temporary shelter for those who were suffering from being scalded and bruised more than others, building fires, giving blankets, &c. The field officer of the day (Capt. D. C. Mooney) informed me that he or somebody else (I cannot distinctly remember) had sent for whisky. I then sent for the senior surgeon of the fort, not knowing that he had been notified by the field officer of the day, who soon made his appearance and performed the duties of his office. He sent to the city for ambulances to remove the rescued, and after seeing that I could do no more for the suffering, I retired. Lieutenant Copeland, your aide-de-camp, has worked in conjunction with others to the best of his abilities in administering help to the rescued; in fact, every officer and soldier (the latter were negroes) did the best they could for the suffering men after they were saved, as there are but a few small boats in the fort which were in use. To the above I certify on honor as being true, and would further state that besides mine abundant testimony can be easily procured to prove that at least that part of the letter of Actg. Ensign James H. Berry and executive officer iron-clad Essex wherein he relates that "he saw a number of skiffs and other boats lying hauled up out of the water, &c., and no one at the fort offered to do anything for the suffering men in our boats except the watchman at the coal barges," is devoid of truth.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Captain and Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

[Inclosure No. 2.]

Memphis, Tenn., April 29, 1865.

 Capt. L. METHUDY,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General:

SIR: I have the honor to report that on the morning of the 27th instant I was called from my bed at about 5 o'clock by a messenger informing me that a large number of "half-drowned men" were on the river bank in the fort requiring medical assistance. This was the first intimation that I had of the result of the blowing up of the steamer Sultana. Repairing as quickly as possible to the river I found there many of the victims of the explosion. Captain Methudy, acting assistant adjutant-general, on the staff of Col. I. G. Kappner, was there before me, and was giving such directions to the men of the garrison then present as he thought might conduce to the comfort of the rescued men. Many of them were seriously injured by scalding and contusions, and all were shivering with cold, being still in their wet clothing; but large fires were blazing and stimulants administered. Having no clothing for these men in the fort, and many of them needing treatment in the hospital, I immediately returned to my office and wrote a note to Surgeon Irwin, U.S. Army, and superintendent general, hospitals, stating the facts and requesting him to send ambulances and blankets. In a very short time these arrived. In the meantime, learning that a large number of the unfortunate men were in the hospital of the Third U. S. Colored Artillery (Heavy), at the upper end of the fort, I went there and found twenty-five of them, many occupying the   beds of my patients, who willingly gave them up to their greater need. Acting Assistant Surgeon Tindall and the hospital steward, Mr. Thomas Whitten, were busy dressing wounds. All here were supplied with coffee and other stimulants. A message from Captain Stevens, Third U.S. Colored Artillery (Heavy), informed me that several men were in his battery (M) who needed help. I went there, but found that he had procured an ambulance and sent them to the Adams Hospital. Returning to the river at the time of the arrival of the ambulance train from the city, I found there Col. I. G. Kappner, Major Williams, Lieutenants Copeland, Atlee, Helm, Newman, Wyckoff, Wilson, and Yates. There were others, but these I remember distinctly, being brought directly in contact with them. The teams of the quartermasters, Helm and Atlee, were on the ground, but were not needed, except the two ambulance teams. Lieutenant Wyckoff, provost-marshal of the fort, supplied many of these men with breakfast. All officers present were busy in rendering such assistance as was in their power. Seven men remained in the fort at 9 a.m. These I sent in ambulances to the office of superintendent Irwin, surgeon, U.S. Army. In conclusion permit me to say that, so far as my observation went, all persons connected with this garrison, from the colonel commanding down to the rank and file, were deeply interested in the pitiable condition of these unfortunate men, and that all, to the best of their ability, did their whole duly in ministering to their wants.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

 H. H. HOOD,

Surgeon, Third U.S. Colored Arty. (Heavy), and Senior Surgeon.

[Inclosure No. 3.]

Memphis, Tenn., April 30, 1865.

 Capt. L. METHUDY,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General:

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report that on the morning of the 27th instant I was officer of the day and made my rounds between 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning. As I was going toward Battery A I met a guard, who told me that a steam-boat had blown up and some of the passengers were floating down and were being picked up. I immediately went to Battery A, found some five or six soldiers from the wreck. These men had dry blankets furnished them and were walking around to keep warm while fire was being built. Lieutenants Yates and Wilson had coffee made and given them, and those that were burned taken into quarters and their parts that were burned dressed and flour put on. I then went to Quartermaster Helm and had him send some whisky down for them. The quartermaster's employés, under Mr. H are, did good service in rescuing the soldiers, who were well taken care of, and everything furnished them that could be had to make them comfortable. All that were rescued near the upper part of the fort were taken to the hospital immediately, where dry clothes and beds were given them. I saw all that were rescued in the fort, and I must say they were exceedingly well taken care of; officers and men were making every exertion to make them comfortable.

I am, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Captain, Third U. S. Colored Artillery (Heavy).

 [Inclosure No. 4.]

Memphis, Tenn., April 29, 1865.

 Capt. L. METHUDY,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Fort Pickering:

CAPTAIN: In compliance with instructions received, I have the honor to make the following statement regarding a memorial of acting ensign and executive officer of the U.S. iron clad Essex, who makes allegations in his document which are in violation of truth, as by numerous officers and men stationed in the fort can easily be proved: Early in the morning of the 27th instant a shot was fired by one of the sentries on shore. I immediately went out to ascertain the cause of it, which was apparent in a moment. All the men (some thirty or forty), Lieutenant Wilson, and myself rendered instantly such assistance as we could for the poor sufferers. After two or three small boats had delivered rescued men, and a good fire, under my orders, had been built, Captain Methudy, acting assistant adjutant-general, suggested that coffee be furnished them, saying that he had ordered some made at the headquarters. I immediately ordered coffee made, then gave them all the whisky and blankets happening to be on hand, and three or four of the most suffering had been carried into the barracks and covered warmly, and the remainder had likewise been provided with blankets and clothing to make all comfortable; then a boat neared us and one of the persons in it spoke to me in a manner which approached more to "slang" than to the remarks set forth in the document referred to above. Some of the men (negroes) to whom he also addressed himself said it would be well to put his sufferers (one or two, I believe) ashore that they might be better cared for, but for some reason or other he took no notice of the suggestion. Where he built or caused to be built any fires is not known to me; certainly it was not done on that part of the levee, where a large number of the rescued were landed. After making (under instructions from Surgeon Hood and the officer of the day, Captain Mooney) the men who had been landed quite comfortable, I went up the shore a short distance, where I met Colonel Kappner, Surgeon Hood, another surgeon, and Lieutenant Copeland, aide-de-camp, who informed me that all the sufferers were doing well. I have to state that our sentinels are instructed to bring to all small boats passing up or down the river, by discharging their pieces, and on the morning in question not a cap was snapped after the sad accident was known; also, that I did not make such a reply as stated by Acting Ensign Berry. The discourteous language by that officer in regard to an officer of the U.S. Army and to U.S. soldiers, if even colored, in his memorial, also the fact that he so fully explains the leading part taken by him in rescuing the suffering, are not for me to pass judgment upon; but I owe it to the officers and men of the garrison of Fort Pickering who were present and used their honest efforts to render all assistance in their power to state that the document forwarded by Acting Ensign Berry is in no way in accordance with facts. I beg respectfully to inclose a list of names of men who were landed in front of my quarters, many of whom thanked me for what we had done for them when they were being taken away in the ambulances.

I am, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


First Lieut., Comdg. Company A, Third U. S. Colored Artillery.


Second Lieut. J. N. Shaffer, Company F, One hundred and fifteenth Ohio Infantry; First Sergt. C. W. Mills, Company K, Tenth Indiana Cavalry; Sergt. William Duke, Company D, Seventy-second Ohio Infantry; Sergt. L. E. Brooks, Company C, Second Michigan Cavalry; Corpl. William H. Peacock, Company G, Ninth Indiana Cavalry; Private S. W. Wescott, Company B, McLaughlin's Squadron Ohio Cavalry; Private James Moore, Company A, One hundred and seventy-fifth Ohio Infantry; Private Joseph Nolen, Company H, Fourth Ohio Cavalry; Private James E. Wood, Company C, Third Tennessee Cavalry; Private R. T. Hall, Company C, Second Kentucky Cavalry.

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