Raising The Sultana

Harvey Annis Story


Sylvia Clemons | 29 March 2013 | Comment(s)
Harvey Annis was born 1825 in Madison County, New York, the son of Lewis and Hannah Annis. Harvey was a carpenter by trade, and was residing at Oshkosh, Wisconsin when he enlisted as a Private with Company "F", 18th Wisconsin Infantry. He participated in the Battle of Shiloh on April 9, 1862, his regiment having just arrived at Pittsburg landing the previous afternoon. According to Larry J. Daniel's book, "Shiloh - The Battle that Changed the Civil War", the 18th Wisconsin was one of the regiments that surrendered at the "Hornet's Nest, but evidently Harvey escaped the disaster. He later rose to the rank of Sergeant of Company "K", 18th Wisconsin, and was than selected and promoted to 2nd Lieutenant of Company "G", 51st United States Colored Troops Regiment in 1864. Having served six months with this unit in the Vicksburg area, on February 11, 1865 he resigned his commission due to poor health. Ann Vessey Annis, his wife, and Isabelle (Belle) their youngest child, had traveled to Vicksburg in order to nurse Harvey, and together they prepared to travel home to Oshkosh on the vastly overloaded steamer, "Sultana" that was crowded with former Union prisoners of war from the Confederate camps at Andersonville, Georgia and Cahaba, Alabama. (as written by Helen Chandler, grand-daughter of James Willis Annis) On April 26, the ship docked at Memphis to pick up coal. At midnight she headed upriver. At 2 a.m., April 27, the repaired boiler exploded. Two of the three other boilers exploded. Fire spread through mid-ship. The two smokestacks fell on the boat, crushing the Hurricane deck killing many men and flinging others into the icy cold water. Those who survived panicked and rather than fighting the fire began to jump into the river. Lt. Annis opened his stateroom door to see what was happening. He was enveloped in a cloud of steam. He slammed the door shut, put life belts on himself and his wife, took their daughter in his arms, opened the door again, and rushed to the stern. There he shimmied down a rope to the lower deck, with his seven year old on his back, and waited for his wife Ann to follow. 

With his daughter now in his arms, Annis jumped as he must have thought Anna was right behind him. However, when she hit the water she discovered her life preserver had been fastened incorrectly. She managed to grab hold of the Sultana rudder and watched as her husband and daughter drifted off into the darkness never to be seen again. The fire began to engulf the rudder, she grabbed a small board and floated away and was picked up by a rescue boat.


Harvey Annis married Anne Vessey on November 13, 1850.  They had four children together.

1.      Lewis Annis, b. November 30, 1851; d. August 11, 1897, he married Anna Allison and they had three children.
2.      Angelina Annis, b. February 6, 1854; d. 1891, married James W Lytle and they had three children
3.      James Willis Annis, b. April 8, 1856; d. September 7, 1916, married Elizabeth Campbell in 1889 and they had two children. Elizabeth Annis died in 1893 and he remarried Maud L. in 1895, no children.
4.      Isabella Annis, b. 1858; died with her father in Mississippi River near Memphis, TN on  April 27, 1865 at the age of 7.
Tagged In:
Harvey