Raising The Sultana

Caleb's Story - By Sylvia Clemons

Roshan Gautam | 28 March 2013 | Comment(s)
Caleb Rule was born on Jul. 2, 1840 in Knox County, Tennessee to the parents of John Rule and Nancy Hood.  His father was a farmer and of a German Descent.  Caleb received a common school education.  He and one of his younger brothers, John Rule joined the Union Army in 1863 and served together.  They engaged in numerous battles at locations such as Cumberland Gap, Stones River, Okolona Mississippi, Chickamauga, Decatur and Athens Alabama.  Pvt. Caleb and Cpl. John were captured on September 25, 1864, at Sulphur Trestle near Athens, Alabama, by Confederate forces under the command of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and marched to Cahaba Prison Camp, not far from Selma where they would experience a year and nine months of the unimaginable conditions. 

Soon after arriving at Cahaba, the Alabama River flooded and the prisoners stood waist deep in water for five days and nights with no food or sleep.  The only building at the prison camp was old cotton shed.  It was large enough for about 500 men, but during the time the Rule brothers were there, it housed over 2,000. Most of the men had no shelter from the weather and little medical treatment.  The average dial ration of food was a scant one and half pints of uncooked, coarsely ground corn meal (cob and all), a piece of slab bacon about the size of two fingers, and a dash of salt.  On very rare occasions, the prisoners received treats of cow peas or pumpkin.  Prisoners had to find a way to cook their own rations. 

Regional commander, Lt. Col. Samuel Jones negotiated an exchange of Union prisoners from Cahaba Prison for captured Confederates, and the prison was evacuated in March 1865. The prisoners were then sent by train and by foot from Alabama to Vicksburg, Mississippi and there they boarded the SS Sultana for a trip to Ohio to be mustered out of service.  These two brothers were homesick for Sevier County, Tennessee, and were anticipating seeing their family once again they didn’t mind being overcrowded. Unfortunately, one the early morning of April 27, 1865 one of these brothers would not survive through the night. 

The Sultana docked in Memphis, TN to unload cargo and pick up some more coal.  They got about eight miles out of Memphis around 2 o’clock a.m. when the boilers exploded and the boat was ripped apart. Hundreds of sleeping men were shot into the air and landed on the burning deck of the steamboat or were thrown into the floodwater of the Mississippi River. Caleb was an excellent swimmer.  He swam and floated down river for seven miles before coming to a clump of trees. He grabbed a vine and ripped it free of the small tree from which it was wrapped. The vine, symbolic perhaps of Caleb's grip on life, was with him when he was picked up by a yawl. Tragically, Caleb's brother John Rule died in the Sultana explosion and his body was never recovered. Caleb always said that by the grace of God he survived the ordeal.  Caleb was taken to one of the hospitals in Memphis, TN where he recuperated and was discharged.  He later boarded another steamboat, was taken to Ohio to be mustered out of service, then walked from Cincinnati to Sevier County reaching home in time to celebrate his 25th birthday on July 2, 1865.

Caleb Rule began a new life at home. He surrendered to the call to preach and was ordained by Antioch Baptist Church in 1872.  By December he felt well enough to take the responsibility of being a husband and asked 21 year old Eliza Louise Pierce to be his wife.  They were married on December 28, 1865.  Caleb and Eliza had seven sons, Frank, Marion, William, Andrew, John, Oliver and Harvey; and four daughters, Zora (Jenkins), Nancy (Tarwater), Margaret (Froneberger) and Myrtle (Baker). Eliza sadly died in 1893 when their youngest daughter was only eight years old. 

We know that during this time Caleb Rule was the pastor at Piney Level Baptist Church thanks to an article of a story passed along from Mrs. John (Nora) Hitch.  The article was in the Daily Times in Blount County, Tennessee.  It was about an earthquake interrupting the revival meeting.  It states that the meeting had just begun when Rule asked the visiting preacher to lead them in prayer.  The preacher had just knelt down and just completed his prayer when the floor and the building began to shake.  They were left in darkness after their oil lamps fell and broke onto the floor.  No one was hurt from the earthquake itself but one of the ladies suffered a heart attack and had to be carried out of the church.  Rule remarried Martha L. Blalock on November 5, 1894 and was together for the rest of his life.    

All of Caleb’s children were grown by the time Rule pastored Zion Hill.    While Rule was at Zion Hill, he baptized six into the church family. As a 63-year old preacher, he was a great encouragement to the congregation. He led not only through his strong Bible preaching but also by his example of faithfulness to the Lord. Caleb Rule was a well-respected minister in the area and was one of seven men chosen to serve on the Executive Board of the Sevier Association in 1903. The Executive Board was the decision-making body of the association. He was rewarded for many years of faithful service with his selection to the board.  During his life he pastored 12 churches and was also a farmer, and postmaster of Gist’s Creek Post Office. Rev. Caleb Rule died January 7, 1913 in Sevier County, Tennessee. He was laid to rest in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery. 

Rev. Caleb Rule & the earthquake, Blount Co. TN
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