Raising The Sultana

Corporal Erastus Winters Life Story

Sylvia Clemons | 09 July 2014 | Comment(s)
Erastus Winters was born August 8, 1843, in Hamilton County, Ohio, an area known as the White Oak Settlement.  He’s father was Amos Winters Sr, a Green Mountain boy, and was born in the State of Vermont. He’s mother was Mary Ann Pine, and she was born in the State of New Jersey.  He’s parents became Christians and went to church at the Old White Oak Church of Christ where Rev. Love Jamison pastored.  Erastus Winters was the youngest son of seven boys and he also had three sisters.   

Winters went to Cincinnati, Ohio and hunted up the recruiting office to volunteer as a member of Company "K," 50 Ohio Volunteers where his cousin had signed up for as well as some of his friends.  He was sent to Camp Dennison.  On August 22, 1862 he was mustered into the United States Service for the period of three years, or during the war.  He was to receive fifty dollars bounty from Hamilton County, and twenty-five dollars cash from the Government, with a promise of seventy-five more at the close of his service. The regiment was under the command of Colonel Jonah R. Taylor, Lieutenant Colonel Silas A. Strickland, Major Defrees and Adjutant George R. Eisner.  Company "K" was commanded by Captain L. A. Hendricks ; First Lieutenant Oliver McClure ; Second Lieutenant E. L. Pine ; First Sergeant Charles Vanduezen, all fine looking officers. Vanduezen had been in the regular service, and was a number one drill master; as a result, Company "K" became in a short time very proficient in the manual of arms, and all company movements.

He moved with the regiment into Kentucky and fought his first major battle at Perryville in October 1862 as part of Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio. The regiment was posted in Kentucky after this even taking part in chasing John Hunt Morgan during the last phases of his famous Christmas Raid. In early 1864, the regiment was sent to Knoxville, Tennessee before being forwarded on to Georgia in May 1864. They then took part of the Atlanta Campaign.  Remaining in Georgia for a time, the regiment returned to Tennessee as part of the Union forces dispatched there to deal with John Bell Hood’s Tennessee Campaign. At the battle of Franklin, Winters was taken prisoner. Sent to Cahaba Prison in Alabama, Winters remained there until the end of the war.

An account of Winters time of capture he wrote in a letter home while at Camp Fisk near Vicksburg, Alabama:   "I was .captured by the enemy that day at Franklin with sixty- two others of my regiment, and taken back to Columbia and kept in an old fort there until the 14th of December, and although the weather was very cold, we got barely enough wood to cook our little cornmeal they gave us.     "All I had to protect me from the cold was a small part of a blanket that I gathered up somewhere on the route. But many of the poor boys were not that well off.     "If a prisoner had a good blanket or overcoat, the rebs would take it, and leave him with nothing to screen him from the cold winds and storms that we were compelled to lay out in.     "Leaving Columbia the 14th of December, we marched to Cherokee, Alabama. This was the worst march I ever experienced. The mud and slush were shoe mouth deep, beside the rain and snow that we had to battle with. We were eight days on this trip. We drew a little cornmeal and a little poor beef each day, until we reached Cherokee, where we were given a few hardtacks, put aboard platform cars and shipped to Corinth, Mississippi. The weather meantime was very cold, and we suffered a great deal from the exposure in riding in the night on open cars.     "We arrived here on the morning of the 23rd ; remained here till next day, boarded the cars again, and were sent to Meridian, Mississippi, arriving there on Christmas night, having passed our Christmas on the cars, and our dinner was raw corn, of which there was plenty at all the stations on the road.     "Here we were placed in a stockade and kept until the 8th of January, 1865. We did not fare so badly here. A quart of meal, a few nigger peas, a little beef, pork or spareribs for a day's ration to each man. And having got hold of some Confederate money, I bought some sweet potatoes. They were plentiful here. We had some very good eating.     "But on the 9th of January we were once more placed aboard the cars and shipped to Cahaba, Alabama, arriving there on the 12th. Here our misery began in dead earnest. There were some- thing over three thousand prisoners confined here. These were divided into companies of one hundred men each, and these again divided into messes of ten men each, and each mess drew a large bake oven.     "Once every ten days one man would be passed out after wood, and what he could carry in at one trip would have to run us for cooking purposes for ten days. The wood was mostly green, and there was so much smoke in our crowded cook-yard that some of the men were almost blinded with it.     "We did not get half enough to eat, and what we did get we had to eat half cooked for the want of wood.     "The prison was overcrowded with men. We could not sit or stand anywhere without someone crowding against us, except when lying down at night, trying to sleep ; and then we could not rest, for the place was simply alive with body lice — graybacks, we called them.     "One morning before daylight, just before we were exchanged, a few ring-leaders among the prisoners made an attempt to liberate us all. They disarmed all the inner guard except one ; he made his escape to the outside, and gave the alarm, and the plan proved a failure.     "It was three days before they found out the leaders of the insurrection, and we never got a bite to eat during that time.     "About six hundred of the men had bunks to sleep on, but the balance of us had to sleep on the ground. All through February it rained almost daily, and about two weeks before we came out the water from the Alabama River came in and covered the entire inside of the prison from two to three feet.

Winters then begins to tell about the account experienced on the Sultana.  He said that the men from Cahaba prison was used to being crowded together, so it didn’t bother them to be crowded once more that for the time being all things they just experienced was forgotten for the moment as they were on their way home.  They were excited and merry-hearted and jolly with thoughts of home taking full possession of their minds.  Most of their time on board the steamboat was spent of them playing tricks on one another, singing songs, and telling jokes.  They laughed and talked about the happy times they expected to have once reaching home.   

Corporal Winters along with his comrades bunked together choosing a spot just ahead of the smokestacks on the cabin deck at their stop in Memphis.   He was awakened  by the noise of the explosion plus getting slight scalds and burns while slipping down an incline.  He landed on his feet on a pile of coal in front of the furnaces.  It took him a few minutes to realize what had just happened.  He made his way onto the bow of the boat, but did not see his comrades he was with.  He was able to see the surrounding water was being filled up with men who were jumping overboard to escape the fire from the boat. 

Winters could not swim so he took ahold a large stage plank and helped shove it overboard and jumped after it.  Just as soon as it came to the top it was filled with men and Winters was one of them.  They drifted just a little ways before the plank was turned completely over which caused him to loose his hold and sank under water.  At that moment he lost hope of being saved to his surprise his head hit something that turned out to be the old stage plank and he once again grabbed hold of it.  He’s faith being put to the test is once again renewed as he stated he had placed his trust in his Heavenly Father and he knew it was by God’s mercy and power that he reached safety once more.  Although the plank turned over several more times he always managed to get another hold on it unlike several other comrades who were never seen again.  They made their way to a barn that didn’t have a roof but was able to get on it until they were rescued. 

They were finally rescued by a boat and that he was one of the fortunate ones to still be wearing some of his clothing where others being rescued were naked.  Once on board the boat that he was meet with a cup of whiskey in which he didn’t hesitate to drink to help warm him up, but not being a lover of it didn’t drink anymore.  He did get a good warm breakfast of hot coffee, fried sweet potatoes, biscuits, butter, and more.  When reaching shore they were met by the Christian Commission people who did what they could to comfort them and furnished them with dry undergarments.  He was then taken by Ambulance to Adams General Hospital #3 where he was given dry hospital clothing, and a cot.  Due to his wounds and burns not being as bad as others he said it was almost night time before his wounds were dressed.  While he laid resting on the cot he studied about the appalling scenes he had just witnessed.  When he awoke the next morning every muscle in his body was sore as if someone had beaten him all over his body with a club.  He heard the door open at the far end of the ward he was stationed at just to see a very familiar face his buddy Comrade Pouder.  They were very glad to greet each other once more.  They shared their experience and how they were rescued before Pouder had to leave.   Pouder told him that everyone who was able to travel were being shipped to Columbus, Ohio that afternoon so he did not see him again until he himself made it home.  They always managed to keep in touch with one another in some type of way through the years.  His friend told him that he had quite an influence over him that helped him keep his faith which helped encouraged Winters that his life was not lived in vain.  He received a honorable discharge from the United States Service by an order from the war department on May 20th 1865. 

At the time he had written his experience had been some forty years later, but said the scenes and the screams he heard that night was just as fresh as the night it happened.  It that all these men went through so much horror just to be forgotten was a shame.  During his life he was happily married three times and after a period of happiness lost each one to death.  He raised one son and four daughters in which was very proud of.  He died on March 24, 1925 in Hamilton, Ohio. He was buried March 28, 1925 in Hebron, Ky.

In the 50th Ohio Serving Uncle Sam:  
Article on Clarksville Online website: 

Family Search:
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